In the last post I caused some confusion by mentioning ground and first floors. I believe they don’t mean the same thing to Americans as they do to me. Since there was more that I could write on the subject of looking up when visiting a medieval site, I thought I’d add another post, with a few more photographs to explain what I mean.
I made this diagram last year to show where the great hall was in Richard II’s palace at Portchester Castle.
As you can see, the great hall was above the servants level, which is at ground level. Medieval lords and abbots lived above: on the first floor. Great halls, refectories and solars were upstairs. The halls of men of lower status were on the ground floor.
People had to climb stairs to reach King Richard’s hall. It showed that he was a man of high status. His hall also had large windows, not that you can see them in the photograph. The wall on the right is an exterior wall of the castle, not just of the hall. It has no windows for the sake of security.
When I first started visiting medieval sites properly, I was confused by many of the things I saw. It was ages before I understood even a little about how to look at medieval buildings. This photograph from Rievaulx Abbey will illustrate this well.
This space is labelled ‘Refectory’ and you might wonder, as I did the first time I saw something similar, why there are walls in the refectory. The refectory should have been a large open space where the monks had their meals. The refectory is not at the bottom of the picture, though, but at the top. The walls below are what remains of storage rooms. The refectory starts where the walls change from rough stone to the paler, more finished blocks of stone above. These walls would have been plastered and painted with colourful designs.
This is another refectory, this time in Easby Abbey. Since I was on ground level when I took it, it’s a bit easier to see the vaults below and the magnificent windows of the refectory above.
The photograph below shows John of Gaunt’s great hall at Kenilworth Castle. It looks very odd when you see a fireplace halfway up a wall, but, once again, the hall sits on top of storage vaults. The huge windows and the fireplaces are the clues that it was in the room upstairs that the lords of the castle spent their time.
Looking up and asking questions about what you’re seeing at a medieval site is a good way to learn more about how people lived in the Middle Ages.