Category Archives: Manor House

Fiddleford Manor — A Bit About Britain

Last month I wrote a guest post for Mike Biles’ site A Bit About Britain. It’s a wonderful site, full of posts about places in Britain and British history, all accompanied by good quality photographs. If you go there to read my post, look around for a bit, as there’s bound to be something else that will interest you.

A Bit About Britain is delighted to welcome author April Munday, as a guest writer introducing us to Fiddleford Manor. Fiddleford Manor, such a great name, is a small manor house in North Dorset. 17 more words

Fiddleford Manor — A Bit About Britain

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB
TheHeirsTale-WEB

Amazon

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Anatomy of a Castle – Latrines

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Garderobe, Aydon Castle

Since my novels are romances, arrangements for some of the more mundane aspects of life are rarely mentioned, although Tilda, the heroine of my novel The Monk’s Tale, does use a visit to the outhouse at an inn as an excuse to meet Mark, her prospective rescuer.  My recent visits to castles in the North East has provided me with many examples of latrines and garderobes and I thought some of them might be of interest.

Since castles were usually built on top of hills they weren’t always near running water, which could be a problem when it came to disposing of waste. If you were fortunate enough to be by a river or the sea, garderobes could be positioned over the moat, which would take the waste to them. None of the castles I visited this year were that blessed.

In many castles, like Aydon in the picture at the top of the post, the garderobe chutes jutted out a little from the external wall and waste simply fell to the ground. I’m sure one of the lower servants was tasked with clearing it up and taking it away every now and again.

Some people had private garderobes. This wasn’t a matter of privacy, but of status.  Privacy wasn’t something that really concerned people in the Middle Ages. Many latrines were communal, with people sitting next to one another. They weren’t always situated where they were most needed, but the lord could have one where it was most convenient for him.

Strictly speaking, Aydon Castle isn’t a castle, but a fortified manor house. I’ll still use it as an example, though, as its lord had a private garderobe. As you can see in the photograph below, the Garderobe Tower extends beyond the wall of the castle and is on the edge of a ravine. It was just off the solar block where the lord and his family slept and spent most of their time when they were indoors. Only they had access to their garderobe.

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Garderobe Tower, Aydon Castle

Garderobes and latrine blocks today, like other castle buildings, look grim and grey, but that’s not necessarily how they looked in the Middle Ages. Here’s a photograph I took of an English heritage information board at Old Sarum. It’s an artist’s impression of the king’s privy. As you can see, it might have been quite cosy. You’ll notice that the king has a servant with him.

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Old Sarum

The king’s privy was over a deep pit at the bottom of which were straw and bark chippings. Someone had to be lowered on a rope into the pit to dig it out when the king wasn’t in residence. I imagine the smell would have disturbed him too much if it had been done while he was there, since it was close to the royal apartments.

Here’s a latrine pit at Old Sarum.

Latrine pit, Old Sarum

Latrine pit, Old Sarum

There are latrines everywhere at Conisbrough Castle, serving not just the lord’s family, but soldiers and servants as well.

The one in the photograph below was probably for the soldiers guarding the keep. It’s just off the entrance chamber at the bottom of the keep. There would have been some kind of wooden seat on top of the stone, but the hole would have been open to the elements. It would have been unpleasant to use at any time of year, but must have been particularly bad during freezing weather in winter.

Latrine off entrance chamber, the keep, Conisbrough Castle

Latrine, off the keep’s entrance chamber, Conisbrough Castle

This one was the lord’s. It was private, just off his bedchamber. It really doesn’t look any more comfortable than that of the soldiers. It was higher up, though, and further away from any unpleasant smells.

Latrine off the bedchamber, the keep, Conisbrough Castle

Latrine off the bedchamber, Conisbrough Castle

It has a long chute.

Latrine off bedchamber, the keep, Conisbrough Castle

This one might have been for prisoners in their prison cell, but it’s just as likely to have been for soldiers and servants.

Prison with latrine, Conisbrough Castle

Here’s the latrine pit, which, you guessed it, someone had to dig out.

Latrine chute, Conisbrough Castle

Latrine pit, Conisbrough Castle

There were, as you can see, a few ways of dealing with waste. None of them can have been entirely satisfactory, especially if you were the one who had to dig it out and dispose of it.

 

Sources:

Aydon Castle by Henry Summerson

Old Sarum by John McNeill

Conisbrough Castle by Stephen Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

 

 

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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.

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The Hall of a Medieval Manor House

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Sokesay Castle

Last week I was on holiday and I visited Stokesay Castle in Shropshire. Despite its name, it isn’t a castle, but a fortified manor house. Eight miles north of Ludlow, the house is in the Marches, where fortifying everything against the Welsh was a good idea in the thirteenth century.

Despite this, it was built more for show than anything else. The house was not built by a wealthy noble, but by a merchant, Laurence of Ludlow, in the 1280s. I thought it would be interesting to compare his hall with that of the Southampton merchant, whose house I visited back in May. Both houses were built about the same time, one in the middle of a town, the other in the middle of the countryside. Their locations reflect the sources of their owners’ wealth. The Southampton merchant made his money from wine, mostly imported from Gascony. His house, with its shop, was located only a few yards from the quay where the ships bringing the wine from France moored. Lawrence of Ludlow was a wool merchant, making his money from the sheep on the Shropshire hills he could see from the windows of his country house. He was one of the richest men in England, even lending money to Edward I, and his house was built to demonstrate his wealth. Its decorative, rather than defensive, nature was to show that he was not a threat to the more powerful lords nearby, English and Welsh. All it had to do was protect his wealth from robbers. The house is on the road between Shrewsbury and Ludlow, which would have seen a lot of commercial traffic in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It would also have been travelled by outlaws and thieves.

The hall, Stokesay Castle 1

The hall, Stokesay Castle

Both houses are run by English Heritage, but they show two different approaches in how such properties can be presented to visitors. The merchant’s house in Southampton has been restored and its rooms filled with copies of fourteenth-century furnishings. Stokesay has not. With one exception, the walls are bare and the only furniture is a bench and a table in the solar. Even though it’s not in the hall, I thought you’d like to see the bit of wall which retains its fourteenth-century decoration.

Decorated wall, North Tower, Stokesay Castle

Decorated wall, Stokesay Castle

The most obvious difference between the hall at Stokesay and the hall at Southampton is size. I estimated that three or four Southampton halls could fit inside Stokesay.

In one thing they’re the same, both are open to the roof. Stokesay has a wonderful cruck roof.

Cruck beams, the hall, Stokesay Castle 2

Cruck roof, Stokesay Castle

Unlike the Medieval Merchant’s house, Stokesay Castle has a solar. It’s a first-floor room at the southern end of the hall. In this photograph you can see the small windows from which Laurence and his family could look down into the hall to see what the household was doing.

Windows at the rear of the hall, Stokesay Castle

Windows from the solar, Stokesay Castle

The hall at Stokesay Castle is also different in the size and number of its windows, the upper parts of which were glazed. There is plenty of light in this hall.

Windows of the hall, Stokesay Castle

Windows of the hall, Stokesay Castle

There was a fire in the middle of the hall, its location marked by an octagon of stones on the floor.

Location of the fire, the hall, Stokesay Castle

Location of the fire, the hall, Stokesay Castle

Everyone except Laurence, his family and visitors would have slept in the hall. Excluding servants, it’s estimated that his household numbered about 25 people, about the same as a knight’s household. Very few people slept in bedchambers and even fewer slept in beds. Most people slept on a mattress on the floor.

Laurence did not live to enjoy his new house for very long. He drowned at sea in 1294.

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The south tower, Stokesay Castle

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