Tag Archives: Stokesay Castle

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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Medieval Tiles – A Review

Medieval tiles

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’m interested in medieval floors in general and medieval tiles in particular. Tiles were very expensive, as they took a long time and a great deal of skill to make. They were mostly used in ecclesiastical buildings, although some people, like Laurence of Ludlow, were wealthy enough to be able to afford to have them in their houses.

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Medieval floor tiles, Stokesay Castle

When I saw Van Lemmen’s book in the English Heritage shop at Stokesay Castle, there was never any doubt that I was going to buy it. There are only 40 pages, but those pages are glorious. Since most of the pages are full of colour photographs and drawings of medieval tiles, there is not much room for scholarly text.

The photographs in this post are not from the book, they’re mine. The ones in the book are much better.

14th century tiles

Fourteenth century tiles, St Bartholomew’s, Hyde

Such text as there is is very informative, although I would love to know more about how tiles were made. There is a wonderful drawing of a fourteenth century kiln, which highlights what a hit and miss affair tilemaking could be. An imperceptible flaw could destroy a tile and it would be several days before this would be known. It took about six days to load, fire and unload the kiln. A medieval kiln looked like an earthwork. Given the number of days it took to fire a tile, there was no point in making them small. It was sensible to make as many tiles as you could.

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Medieval Tiles, St Mary’s Guildhall, Coventry

Until I read the book, I wasn’t aware that mosaics were made in fourteenth century England. There are some lovely examples in the book from Rievaulx and Byland Abbeys. I can’t share the exact photos with you, but those links are to other photos of the mosaics in question.

It is the pictures which make the book worth buying. They include many examples of medieval tiles from all over England. My favourite photograph is one showing Diana Hall’s modern replacements of damaged tiles in Winchester Cathedral. Her tiles have the colour and vibrancy that all medieval tiles must have had when first laid.

Making tiles was incredibly labour intensive and here are two videos showing how much time it could take just to get the clay into the moulds.

The first is from Guédelon, where a castle is being built in Burgundy using thirteenth century techniques. The second is a  documentary about Diana Hall and her life as a tilemaker.

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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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