Bodiam Castle Bits #2 – “the Lady’s Bower”
Bodiam Castle Bits is a series of posts looking at details of the castle that may have passed you by. Bodiam Castle is a NT property in East Sussex, England.
This post looks at a detail found in the area traditionally referred to as the Lady’s Bower.
“The Lady’s Bower”
The Lord’s and Lady’s apartments stretch for the majority of the east range bridging between the two great public rooms: the great hall to the south and the chapel to the north.
William Cotton (1831), Mark Lower (1871) and George Curzon (1926) refer to part of this sequence of rooms as “the Lady’s Bower” – though none seem absolutely confident about this attribution. It would have been a space, they say, where the lady of the castle would have spent time with her female companions and guests.
Most of the range had three floors including the cellars (M). The east tower (accessed via doors L and K) has an extra floor above. Each of the suites would probably have been divided into at least three rooms. There would have been some sort of ante room to the right of this picture. The largest rooms (B and C) would have been in the centre. They were heated by the large fireplaces. The yellow lines indicate a possible line for the dividing walls – this is merely indicative, I’m not aware of any evidence for the precise position. The lower left room (D) is the one most often referred to as the Lady’s Bower. The room above (A) is sometimes referred to as the bedchamber, but some writers place the bedchamber(s) in the east tower behind.
These type of apartments have evolved from the solar – originally a small room just off the great hall that the lord could retreat to. At Bodiam this range offers far more accommodation than the great hall. Social change – increasing separation – is written in these spaces.
The detail I want to look at today is most noticeable in the fireplace of “the Lady’s Bower”. Notice on the picture above that, although rooms A and D are similar in size, the lower fireplace (F) is much bigger than the one above (E). Let’s take a closer look:
The fireplace, with its tile fireback, is not untypical of Bodiam’s other thirty-odd fireplaces apart from the strange aperture on the right. The hole is set too low to be an oven. It’s well engineered which suggests that it’s not a later addition. Let’s go inside the east tower:
There are no floors remaining in the east tower so you can stand in what was the cellar and look up at the three rooms above. All three have garderobes (toilets) but only the upper two storeys have fireplaces (FP1 and FP2). Also, uniquely at Bodiam, the spiral staircase runs only between the top two storeys. There is no direct link between the room off the Lady’s Bower and the room above. So what does the lower room have instead of a fireplace?
This is taken from the cellar level and the low angle makes it a little difficult to work out. The doorway (K) is the other side of the door from the Lady’s Bower. The niche looks a bit like a fireplace but there is no flue. There’s no fireback or lintel stone either. The stonework looks rough, but it was probably originally plastered over. The bright light to the left of the niche is the other side of the aperture in fireplace F. F is larger than E because it’s supplying heat to this room as well. Specifically, it’s keeping the niche very warm.
What is the niche for? If you know, do tell me. I’ve heard speculation that it is a bathing place (the seclusion of the room works well with this idea). It has been suggested that it’s a place to keep food warm (I’m less convinced – it don’t think it would be warm enough and the siting seems unlikely). Another ‘runner’ is that this is a nursery, although there are other things in this room that make this less likely – a future post will enlarge on this.
An interesting detail but, as with most of these ‘bits’, it raises as many questions as it answers.