The grassed area that you can see in the photograph of Portchester Castle above is about a third of the outer bailey. The original Roman fort was built in a square and the medieval castle retained the Roman walls. The castle itself is built in one corner of the site. A church and a graveyard occupy the corner diagonally opposite.
By comparison, the inner bailey is very small.
The word ‘bailey’ derives from a very similar Old French word meaning ‘enclosure’. A bailey is simply an enclosed space within the walls of a castle. The original castles built by the Normans were ‘motte and bailey’ castles. The motte was a hill, sometimes man-made, on which a wooden tower was built. The space around it was the bailey, which was enclosed by a wooden palisade.
The outer bailey at Old Sarum is also huge. Old Sarum’s foundations are much older than Portchester’s. The castle was built on the location of an Iron Age hillfort. There are indications that people lived in the outer bailey there.
The only photograph that would give you a true idea of its size is an aerial one, but I don’t have a drone. The best I can do is to tell you that a cathedral, along with its attendant monastery, was built in a small part of it.
Whereas Portchester Castle is a square, Old Sarum is a circle and the outer bailey forms a circle around the walled part of the castle.
The outer bailey was used for ceremonial occasions. In 1086 William the Conqueror had all the land-owning men in England come to Old Sarum and swear an oath of fealty to him. This meant that if their overlord rebelled against William, their loyalty would be to William rather than to their overlord.
When I took this photograph at Kenilworth Castle, I didn’t know that I was standing in what had been the tiltyard. Jousting took place here, although that was in the later Middle Ages. This particular stretch isn’t very wide, but it’s wider behind me. Earlier tournaments and jousts needed much more space. The former, in particular, were more like mini battles.
During the early Middle Ages there was a fair amount of open space within the walls of Kenilworth Castle. When the Earl of Leicester took it over in the sixteenth century, however, he went on a bit of a building spree. He is responsible for one of the more memorable features of the castle. At least, I found it memorable. It was the thing that stuck in my mind from my first visit twenty years ago. His Elizabethan garden has been recreated by English Heritage, but on my recent visit, it wasn’t at its best after a long, hot summer.
You might be wondering by now why castles needed so much outside space. Even allowing for the churches, stables, kitchens, bakehouses, mews and other buildings, there was a lot of empty space.
I mentioned last week that castles were garrisons. They were full of soldiers. The soldiers didn’t just spend all their time standing guard at various entrances or exits, or looking out for possible trouble from the tops of towers. They had to be able to cope with any trouble that arrived. That meant training.
They fought one another outside to improve their technique, and thus their chances of surviving. They learned how to scale ladders in a siege situation. They practised archery. They learned how to work together when under attack. The knights and squires practised fighting on horseback. All of this took up a lot of space.
Some months after I posted this, Viral History, a YouTube history channel, included drone footage of Old Sarum in one of their videos. The video also shares some of the recent research into the site.
Old Sarum – John McNeill
Kenilworth Castle – Richard K. Morris
Portchester Castle – John Goodall