is just a tiny selection of some of our grand and beautiful British
Castles, which is a living testament to the outstanding skills,
talents and craftsmanship of those who built them.
castles of Britain are numerous, and many of these historic
structures figure among the best castles in the world. As such, the
UK is a major, and very popular castle tourist destination.
castle was a special kind of manor holding. Usually castles could
only be built by the approval of the king, who wanted to ensure that
any good fortified castle was in the hands of someone he could
trust. In times of anarchy there was generally an outbreak of
illegal castle building and fortification.
Norman conquerors developed castle building into a fine art. They
had to; it was such a turbulent and insecure period that defence was
a necessity of life. When most people think of castles they tend to
picture a massive stone structure, but before 1100 castles were
primarily thatched wooden buildings on the motte and bailey plan.
and Bailey Castles
castle was built on top of a large artificial or natural mound (the
motte), surrounded by a deep ditch. Around this was an area of land
called the bailey. Inside the bailey were various buildings for the
people who lived and worked in the castle, including stables,
storehouses, bakeries, kitchens, cottages, and quarters for
soldiers. The bailey was surrounded by a wooden palisade and an
outer ditch, or fosse. Sometimes the fosse was filled with water
diverted from a nearby stream. There are no good examples of these
early motte and bailey castles remaining. Most were rebuilt in the
early and mid 12th century as stone donjons, or keeps.
keeps, of which few survive, were set on artificial or natural
mounds. Stone walls 8-10 feet thick and 20-25 feet high enclosed a
circular or polygonal area of 40-100 feet in diameter. Within the
walls residential buildings in stone and possibly wood were built. A
stronger design was the square or rectangular Norman keep which
developed mainly in the middle and late 12th century. These
immensely strong keeps were too heavy for artificial mounds and had
to be built on natural high points. The keep walls were 20 feet
thick at the base, rising to over 100 feet in height. Bedchambers,
garderobes (latrines), and passages were built inside the thickness
of the walls. Corner turrets provided an unobstructed line of sight
along each wall.
basement of the keep was used for storage, and possibly dungeons,
although the dungeons might be on a separate, deeper level. The
ground floor was the domain of soldiers and servants. The first
floor contained the great hall, the centre of life in the castle.
The second floor housed the lord and his family, and often contained
a chapel built into the wall. The roof above boasted the kitchens
and ovens. In times of war these could be easily converted to heat
up oil, water, burning brands, or sand to hurl at enemies. Sand?
Yes, sand. When hot sand was poured on enemies attempting to scale
the walls it got into their armour and caused severe discomfort and
outer defensive wall surrounded the keep. The main doorway was
protected by a second tower or set of towers. This gatehouse or
barbican was pierced by a portcullis of iron and wood which could be
raised or lowered on heavy chains. A ditch might surround the whole
keeps were ideal for the time in which they were built, but by the
middle of the 13th century needs had changed. A base that could be
used for offensive operations rather than as a purely defensive
stronghold was needed. So the keep was discarded in favour of a
concentric design. These castles are often called
"Edwardian" after Edward I, who perfected the style in the
castles he built in Scotland and Wales.
castles have no central strong point like a keep. Instead they rely
on rings of walls, one inside the other, with towers along the
length of the walls. Most Edwardian castles have three concentric
rings of walls and towers. The central space was kept as an open
courtyard around which were clustered separate domestic buildings.
The outer wall was ringed by a moat with access over a draw bridge
through a separate gatehouse or barbican. Several Norman keeps were
converted into concentric castles. The central keep was retained for
needs declined in after the 14th century, and the invention of
canons made castles less easy to defend in any case. Attention
shifted from defence to comfort and accommodation. Large castles
became palaces, and smaller ones became fortified manor houses.
in the castle were held in the great hall, on long trestle tables.
The lord's table was raised on a dais at one end of the hall. At the
other tables guests were arranged by social standing. The lower
classes were seated on the far side of the salt cellar ("below
the salt"). Diners were often entertained by musicians seated
in a gallery, or loft, overlooking the hall. Other entertainers were
jugglers, acrobats, and troubadours. Troubadours might be retained
by the lord, or they could be traveling musicians, spreading news
and gossip as they travelled through the country. Their repertoire
consisted of "chansons de geste", or songs of deeds, and
"chansons d'amour", or songs of love.