Anatomy of a Castle – The Well

Well, Old Sarum

Well, Old Sarum

Despite the importance of its subject, this post is very short.  In my previous post I wrote that most castles were on the tops of hills and didn’t, therefore, have access to running water. They relied on wells. Given that the rivers could be full of sewage or industrial waste, this was probably a good thing. It also meant that they had a source of water that couldn’t be poisoned or cut off during a siege.

Well, Richmond Castle

Well, Richmond Castle

In castles, wells were usually lined to prevent seepage from a wet moat or latrine pits getting into the water used for cooking and making ale. Given than castles were on hills, wells had to be dug deep in order to find water.

This is the well at Sherborne Old Castle. It’s 40 feet deep and was cut through rock to find the water table. These days it’s out in the open, but it was originally in a courtyard near the kitchen. Above the gravelled rectangle that you can see in the background was the great hall where most of the food was eaten. You can see the line across the wall where the joists for the floorboards of the hall were.

Well, Sherborne Old Castle

Well, Sherborne Old Castle

As you would expect, most wells were outside, near the kitchen and the bakehouse. Portchester Castle, however, has one in the keep. I don’t know why.

Well in the keep 2

Well in the Keep, Portchester Castle


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

16 responses to “Anatomy of a Castle – The Well

  1. Short but succinct, don’t suppose there’s much more to wells!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’ve often wondered how they coped for fresh water on hill forts. Few that I know of seem to have had wells.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It really makes sense that they had wells. As always an interesting read.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Short and sweet, indeed! What were the wells usually lined with?

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Imagine the cramped conditions of the well digger! Seldom room for more than one man, who must have been a scrawny little thing, chipping away at solid rock after the dirt was removed.

    And were these men the same ones who lined it with stone (dirt area), THEN crimped huge sheets of lead around & securing it? I’ve worked with sheet lead; super heavy, quite limber & liable to tearing. Couldn’t have been a task for just any guy. If the lead was not crimped, but melted together, that had to have been an even dicier task.

    Did the solid rock portion really require lead, or was it just for the areas where filthy water might leak in?

    Speculation; the keep well might have been for extra security, to monitor who drew water. Remember, wells could be poisoned. Was it absolutely the only well in the castle? Questions, questions, questions!

    Once again, April, your writing makes us want more! WELL DONE!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I’m afraid I don’t know about the niceties of lining wells. All the ones I’ve seen have covers, so you can’t see very far down them. My guess is that they would only be lined where seepage would be a problem.

      I don’t know whether the well in the keep at Portchester was the only one. The castle is surrounded on three sides by the sea, so I’m not sure what they would find if they dug a well in the middle of the bailey. Perhaps in those circumstances they did need extra security for the well.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I”m trying to imagine the job of digging the well – through rock – for 4o feet, or more. I’m digging support piers 42″ into the ground and it’s bothering me.

    Liked by 2 people

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