Monday, 10 March 2014


There is a wonderful book by John Goodall, Architectural Editor of Country Life. It’s called The English Castle, and it’s horrendously huge and heavy with loads of pictures and 547 pages. A great weight to carry home from the library, as I did once, but a book I look at every time I visit to admire the wonderful photographs and check facts.

In his introduction, Goodall says we have the French to thank for our ancient castles. Evidently the overthrow of the French nobility after the revolution in 1789, and the subsequent necessity for the government to care for the medieval buildings that were left, meant that the ancient buildings in this country were studied, analysed and valued. At the same time, Walter Scott had something to do with it too; the success of his novels Ivanhoe and Kenilworth, which celebrated castles and all things chivalric, fed popular interest and as early as 1882 we had the Ancient Monuments Protection Act.

It’s often hard to distinguish a castle from a hall. I’ve noticed that in my own locality when I was wandering around Aydon Castle/Hall and wondering which term to use. The definition is this: a castle is a private and fortified residence of a lord. The Normans introduced castles at the Conquest to enforce the Norman, feudal political settlement over an unwilling Anglo-Saxon population. When government failed, people retreated to their castles and waged war on each other. Governments made attempts to obstruct the building of private castles, but it was only when new siege technology made earth and wood defences obsolete in the late 12th century, that the sheer cost of building in stone limited their construction.

You would think that something built of massive stones would last forever, but it is not so. Rain and wind do their damage by trickling inside the stones or between them. In winter the water freezes and expands, cracking the stone or rupturing the wall.

 Wind scours sandstone, as in the picture, which is essentially a soft stone, but easy and attractive to use.Too much rain and landslides occur, taking castle walls with them. Even a small subsidence will do damage. Trees and shrubs sprout in the oddest places and look attractive, for a while. We've seen buddleia growing in someone's forty foot high gutter!  But trees and shrubs grow, and push stones apart and eventually bring down walls. Fire damage cracks stone and destroys roof beams. Once the roof is gone, the place is doomed. Nothing, not even castles, live for ever. Treasure the ones we have.

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