The Solar Revisited

The solar, Stokesay Castle (2)

The solar, Stokesay Castle

Some time ago I wrote about medieval solars in a rather general way, but I visited Stokesay Castle in Shropshire during the summer and now have a few photographs of a medieval solar. Stokesay is really a house with ideas above its station, but it shows, in many ways, how the living spaces of the wealthy functioned in the fourteenth century.

Although a seventeenth-century owner of the house covered the room with the wood panelling that was fashionable at the time, the elements of the medieval room can still be seen.

The solar was designed to be a comfortable room. There’s a fireplace to keep it warm and windows to let in light. The fireplace in the photograph is also from the seventeenth century, but there was a fireplace there in the fourteenth century. It was here that the lord of the manor and his family spent most of their time. The lord’s bed would be here and he would conduct his business here.

Whilst most people slept on the floor or on sacks filled with straw, the bed of the lord of the manor would be something that we would recognise as a bed today. A fairly substantial mattress would have rested on a wooden bed frame. He would have had pillows and sheets and blankets. A canopy would have hung from the ceiling and the curtains attached to it would be drawn around the bed to provide both privacy and warmth.

The solar, Stokesay Castle

The solar, Stokesay Castle

Chairs were almost as rare as beds, but the lord of the manor probably had one in his solar. Cushions would have made it comfortable, and it would have been brightly painted.

Solars were built at the opposite end of the hall to the kitchens so that they were out of the way of any unpleasant odours. Bear in mind that there were no fridges to preserve food and whole animals might be used for a meal. In the summer the kitchen was probably not a good place to be. Being at the other end of the house also meant that there was less risk to the solar and its inhabitants if the kitchen burned down, which was not an unusual occurrence.

They were also built on the first floor as a sign of the status of their occupants. In addition, it enabled the inhabitants of the room to look down into the hall to see what was going on there.  Here’s one of the windows looking from the solar.

Window from solar to hall Stokesay Castle

View from the solar into the hall, Stokesay Castle

Here are both windows seen from the hall.

Windows at the rear of the hall, Stokesay Castle

Windows from the solar, Stokesay Castle

The rest of the household spent a lot of their time in the hall, even sleeping there, so the windows provided a means of seeing or hearing what was going on.



Filed under Fourteenth Century, Manor House, Medieval Interiors

35 responses to “The Solar Revisited

  1. For some reason I had always imagined a solar to be round…no idea why…maybe I read about one in a turret?…so thanks for the pictures.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Nice pictures. I quite like the wood panelling, presume that would be warmer than the stone.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the pictures and the great explanation. Thanks, too for reminding us that their kitchen wasn’t the family gathering place modern kitchens have become.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lydia

    I never would have guessed that chairs and beds (or at least what we think of beds) were once such rare things to have. How interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ali Isaac

    I think I could quite comfortably live in a room like that, but surely it would have had it’s own private garderobe? 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Possibly. There’s no sign of one now.


      • Ali Isaac

        I was at Fore last week, a medieval Benedictine monastery, every monk had his own private apartment with seperate personal garderobe, and what a view they had to contemplate whilst they… um.. carried out their ablutions! Mind you, I’d say they were a tad cold and drafty! 🤣

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m impressed. I thought monks lived fairly austere, communal lives.


          • Ali Isaac

            They did initially, and there were hermits too. But there was a lot of corruption in later years, too, and those in higher positions, such as the abbots, came from wealthy families. Some were even chieftains, had families, and passed on their position as abbot to their sons! But that was an abuse of their power.


  6. Not quite what St Benedict had in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I enjoy seeing these pictures. I have read a lot of novels that mention a solar, but could never clearly picture it. I can’t help but wonder if they might have had plain leaded glass or colored glass windows.
    I am pleased that you do research like this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. It is useful to be able to see things that confuse you a little when you read. I don’t know whether the glass would have been plain or coloured. That’s something else to investigate.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was lucky enough to spend two nights in the wonderful Long Crendon Manor – 12th century hall, 14th century chambers/bedrooms. The glass in all the windows was ancient and clear, and although it rained most of the time we were there, the owners told me that when the sun shines on the glass first thing in the morning, because of all the imperfections in it, it bkazes with colour and looks as though it is on fire. I would have loved to have seen that. It must have been stunning.

        Liked by 3 people

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  9. Reblogged this on lorettalivingstone and commented:
    Solar power!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Excellent shots! I’m joining in the chorus of people who had different expectations of what a solar would look like. Thanks so much for yet another interesting bit of information!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Shaunn Munn

    I may be all wet or just showing a wide romantic streak, but I’ve looked upon the solar as a ladies retreat. While the men finished their meals in the great hall & conducted business, the women gathered in the solar to nibble on fruit & comfits, embroider, discuss child-rearing, music, romance, gossip, & hum-drum domestic matters.

    I see the solar in a northern tower of the castle grounds, with at least one south-facing, glazed window, overlooking a family-only portion of the inner court. From there, the ladies can watch children run about below. Perhaps the solar relied on braziers for warmth. In a corner, stood a screened close-stool for her ladyship’s & lord’s personal needs.

    Many rooms of castles relied on outside stairways. Perhaps this tower housed a room above, overlooking the outside, which would be for storage
    and defense. A lower room might be a nursery. These rooms may share a stairs with the solar, or have entirely separate means of entry. The upper-most room might be part of a crennelated outer-work accessed only by a cat-walk.

    When business was conducted, the lord would come to retire for the night. Perhaps a guest of rank would be entertained privately for a bit. Later, the ladies prepared their mistress for bed & left for their pallets outside the door. Once she was abed, the male attendants would come & bank the fire or brazier and disrobe the lord. Warm mead, ale or spiced wine & a charger of sweetmeats & dried fruit were set out. Then, the bedtime ritual would conclude as the lesser folk bowed their way out.

    Yeah, I’m very much a romantic! But maybe it DID happen this way somewhere!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Would the windows have been 14th century or 17th century?


  13. Do you remember if the circular part of the center window had geometric circles with in the overall ocular window?


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