Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Heat and Light

Fireplaces have been found in English castles as early as 1081, but they were unlike modern fireplaces in that they projected out into the room they heated, and they didn’t have a chimney. The smoke escaped through small holes in the external wall at the back.

By the early twelfth century builders had devised a flue that carried smoke to an external chimney on the roof. By the fourteenth century fireplaces lost their projecting hoods and were recessed into the wall, usually on a long wall, and often off-centre, so they were closer to the “higher” end of the hall. In France, the practice was to place the fireplace behind the dais. Decoration included abstract patterns cut into the stone in the twelfth century and heraldry in the later middle ages. The decoration of fireplaces never transferred to internal doorways in English architecture, possibly because wall hangings and tapestries often obscured doorways. In direct contrast, the French habit, commonplace by the fifteenth century, was to extensively decorate door mouldings.

Lighting was difficult in castles. Most light sources were portable, either suspended as chandeliers of wood, brass or iron. Small wall niches are found in stone walls of corridors and latrines. Lamps could be mounted on projecting brackets in smaller chambers, usually to either side of the fireplace.

Of course, like everything else, there are castles, and castles. The big ones, like Warkworth in Northumberland, had sophisticated living areas, but small castles at the business end of things, like Harbottle, also in Northumberland and much closer to the border with Scotland, had few amenities. I’ve talked about Harbottle before on this blog but not about Warkworth. I’ll save that for the next post.

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