Anatomy of a Castle – Other Interior Spaces

The Church, Ludlow Castle

The Church, Ludlow Castle

We’ve looked at the main spaces within the castle, but there are still a few more, smaller, places worth thinking about.

The buttery and the pantry were located next to the hall. To my great disappointment, I discovered that the buttery didn’t store butter. Instead it was where wine and ale were kept. ‘Buttery’ is derived from ‘bottle’. Water couldn’t be drunk, so people had to make do with wine and ale – at every meal. Ale didn’t travel well and was always drunk close to where it was made. There might even have been a brewster in the castle. Not only did ale not travel, but it also went off quickly. That meant it had to be brewed often.

Unless it was specifically brewed for a celebration of some kind, ale was very weak. Wine, on the other hand, was very potent. Much of it came from Gascony, where the English kings were the dukes from the eleventh to the fifteenth century.

The pantry was the room where the bread was stored. The word is derived from the Anglo-Norman ‘paneterie’, which came from the Latin ‘panis’ – bread. It was a large room. Everyone ate bread every day and slices of bread (trenchers) were usually used as plates.

Outside in the bailey there were some other buildings.

Many castles had their own churches or chapels. Old Sarum had a whole cathedral.

That was a bit unusual, though. One of my favourite castle churches is the round church, built in the Templar style, at Ludlow, which you can see at the top of the post.

One of the main purposes of a castle was to house mounted soldiers. When the lord moved to another location, the garrison would stay behind. The number of soldiers remaining there would depend on the escort needed for the lord’s own personal safety whilst travelling and the type of threat, if any, facing the castle he was leaving.

The soldiers weren’t the only ones who used horses. When the lord travelled, his goods would be carried in carts, pulled by horses. The lord and his family would also have their own horses for hunting or for visiting their local estates.

Where there are horses, there are stables. Sadly, medieval stables must have been made from wood, for there doesn’t seem to be any trace of them at the sites I’ve visited. There is a brick stable block at Kenilworth Castle (now a tea room), but it’s Tudor.  The horses who resided there must have thought they were in heaven.

The mews where the hunting birds were kept would also have been wooden. Men with even a modest amount of wealth kept birds for hunting.  Rich men had many birds and a falconer to train and look after them.

In a similar vein, many castles had dovecotes. These were usually circular and housed pigeons. Many were built from brick or stone and some survive. Pigeons were bred to be eaten.

And what of Hollywood’s favourite part of the castle: the dungeon? Well, as you’ve probably come to realise, there wasn’t a lot of space for keeping prisoners. The photograph below is of the prison at Portchester Castle.  There aren’t any schoolchildren inside to give you an idea of the scale, but the plaque and the stones should be enough to tell you that it’s small. It’s just in front of the keep and, as you can see, above ground level.


The Prison, Portchester Castle

It’s the only prison I’ve come across.


Castle by Marc Morris


April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Castle, Medieval Buildings

36 responses to “Anatomy of a Castle – Other Interior Spaces

  1. The grass at Ludlow is looking very yellow. That’s a photo taken last summer?

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  2. Ludlow looks a fab castle. Really enjoying these posts April.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. That looks like a stunning view from Ludlow Castle.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I think I would have spent a lot of time in the mews. 😉 I love these posts April. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I wonder if the lack or small size of dungeons was due to prisoners being sent to other facilities? I can’t imagine all prisoners needed such incarceration. Maybe house arrests, being sent to city gaols, or dungeons of larger castles sufficed?

    If a lord was in residence, or his wife or other entrusted individual present, there might not have been need to hold a prisoner very long. A quick trial might have found one innocent, or guilty enough to hang or be sent somewhere for the King’s justice to deal with.

    I’m pretty hazy on this subject. Despite the horrors I saw in the London Dungeon, surely petty crimes didn’t merit long & terrifying stays in dank places filled with rats & instruments of torture?

    Oh, I hope this series is not winding down! So enjoyable!

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    • Incarceration wasn’t much used as a punishment in the fourteenth century. Most crimes were dealth with by fines or execution. People were only kept confined while they waited for the arrival of the appropriate person to deal with that particular level of crime. I don’t really understand why Portchester Castle specifically has a place designated as a prison.

      Prisoners were undoubtedly tortured, but it wasn’t sanctioned by the law. Not in the fourteenth century.

      I’ve got two more posts planned in this series.

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  6. I never would have guessed that dungeons were that small! Wow.

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    • Space was at a premium. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t a dungeon. The donjon was the keep. I’m not sure how it came to mean something completely different.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I’ve always wondered about that, too! On the matter of prison cells in castles, do you think that rooms originally designed for other purposes, e.g. storage or accommodation, were converted to cells in later centuries? I’m thinking 17th or 18th. Even so, they’d have been used for people awaiting trial.

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        • In the eighteenth century the whole of the keep at Portchester Castle was turned into a prison for French prisoners of War. In my own town, a room in the medieval gatehouse was used as a prison for centuries.

          We both know that the Tower of London was used to keep political prisoners out of the way, so it must have happened elsewhere.

          Sadly, the majority of castles were slighted after the Civil War, so there wasn’t much of them left that was secure enough to hold prisoners, although some cellars would have been reasonably intact.

          I shall keep my eyes open for information about prisons when I visit other castles.

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  7. Really interesting April, I did know people had to drink Ale (was it mead made from honey?) as they couldn’t drink the water, but I never knew it had to brewed at the castles because it went off quickly. Also I’ve never seen a reference to prisons at castles, that one looks so small. I do enjoy your posts April 😊

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    • Thank you, Sam. Hops made a big difference to brewing when they arrived in England in, I think, the fifteenth century. It wasn’t until the late eighteenthc century (again, I’m not entirely sure) that beer could be transported with any success.

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    • The castle brewster would brew for castle, & maybe for townsfolk, but in the town proper, I thought certain people were licensed to brew for the general population. A sprig of fresh greenery was displayed at the door when a fresh batch was made. I suppose it had to remain there until the ale was gone. My guess is that that as the sprig (bush) withered, it would indicate the ale was going stale.

      Do my suppositions have merit, or am I stale as well? ☻

      Thank you!

      Liked by 3 people

      • That’s more or less what happened. People weren’t licensed, but the ale wasn’t supposed to be sold until the aletaster had approved it. One of the most common causes of fines was selling ale before the aletaster had called.

        It’s probable that the brewing was staggered, especially in villages. This would mean that it could be brewed in large batches and villagers would buy from that house until the beer ran out or went off, by which time another woman had a batch ready. Each house didn’t have to be constantly brewing beer.

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  8. Ludlow looks a fab castle📸

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  9. So interesting! I am so surprised the Buttery didn’t keep butter but wine and ale instead.

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  10. Pingback: Anatomy of a Castle – The Bailey | A Writer's Perspective

  11. Another fascinating post, April! This may be a silly question, but if people mostly drank ale (even if it was weak), did they ever get dehydrated?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Nice. I love the story. Are they personal owned properties?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: Medieval Dovecotes | A Writer's Perspective

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