Category Archives: Bodiam Castle

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.

The north end of the Lord's and Lady's apartments

The north end of the Lord’s and Lady’s apartments (click to enlarge)

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:

A close up of the lower fireplace

A close up of the lower fireplace (click to enlarge)

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:

Looking up at the east wall of the east tower

Looking up at the east wall of 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?

A bit of a mystery

A bit of a mystery (ignore the Christmas decoration)

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.

Do you know of any bits of Bodiam Castle that might be missed by most people? Do let me know if you do and I’ll try and include them.

Bodiam Castle Bits #1 – SW corner of the courtyard

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.

The South West corner of the courtyard

The South West corner of the courtyard is the most complete section of the castle’s inner wall.

The SW corner of the courtyard

The SW corner of the courtyard

Beyond the fine windows in the right hand corner was the great kitchen. Behind the two lower windows were the buttery and the pantry. The left hand door led into the screens passage of the great hall and on to the postern gate.

However, this series is not here to look at the big picture. It’s here to look at the bits – the details.

Do you see the stone in the junction?

Do you see the stone in the junction? (click to enlarge)

The right angle junction between the South and West ranges is topped with a nicely shaped piece of stone. I had been in the castle on and off for eighteen months and never noticed this feature. A visiting archaeologist pointed it out to me.

It’s interesting because Bodiam has lost a lot of it finely worked stone. But it’s not that finely worked…

No, it’s mainly interesting because it’s possibly  the only remaining indicator of how high the interior walls once were. This style of moulding probably ran around the interior walls of the courtyard at or near this height for most of the circuit.

It’s difficult with my camera to get a close view, but here are a couple of my better efforts:

Close up

Close up

You can see the profile of the moulding quite clearly here. It matches mouldings elsewhere in the castle on the towers and chimneys. There seems to be something strange in as the lower part of the moulding turns – it looks a little like a cylinder projecting. This may be a separate piece of or a trick of the light.

A wider view

A wider view

I’ve included this view to give a little more context. What you notice as the wall continues along the South range (to the left) is that it seems to be higher but not to have the moulding. It could be:

  • that this wall was always higher,
  • that it has been capped at a higher level during repairs or, whisper it,
  • that the moulded piece has been reset in the wrong place.

This view does show how the internal wall behind the moulding butts in neatly behind it.

Do you know of any bits of Bodiam Castle that might be missed by most people? Do let me know if you do and I’ll try and include them.


JerusalemWe went to see Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem in that London yesterday. As has been already noted, it’s a fine production of a wonderfully messy play. Do go and see it if you can (it’s sold out for the current run).

Mark Rylance heads up a company that revels in the revels. The audience (even in our restricted view area) were rapt for the whole three hours. It gives you faith in theatre again.

We decided that Rooster Byron would fit in very well in Hastings. Every third bloke there is a pirate, a shaman, a storyteller and/or a dealer.

The play has set me of on a new line of research for next year’s character at Bodiam. I’ve ordered some books on English folk tales and folklore.

That London was a bit disappointing. There are very few Christmas decorations and the place felt a bit grim. Buck Palace is illuminated, but only up to the levels of an East European railway terminus. Perhaps it’s a theme.

Meeting your heroes

The job at Bodiam Castle may be indifferently paid and involve idiosyncratic hours but it does have many compensations. It is the best office I’ve ever worked in and I do like working with people when they’re intent on enjoying themselves.

This month has been extra special though. I’ve got to meet and work with one of my all time heroes. You might have thought it was impossible for Father Christmas to live up to all the hype, but no: he’s a generous, hard-working colleague with time for everyone and not a cynical bone in his body. Here’s a picture of me and the big guy (that’s him on the left. I’m the one on the right).

Father Christmas

Father Christmas

Baker’s peel

I’ve managed to locate and buy a baker’s peel in a local antique shop. I’ll be using it in the story of the paindemain loaf at the castle.

At last, a prop I can really lean on.

Bodiam Castle – Season 1

The gatehouse

Bodiam Castle, The Gatehouse

Sunday marked the end of my first ‘season’ as a costumed interpreter at Bodiam Castle. I’ll still be working there through the Winter but much less frequently.

My cycling season reviews can fixate on times and numbers. This is less easy to do with interpretation. I did, however, give over 160 presentations and 14 school tours in my 83 days at the castle.

I have enjoyed the historical and social research. This has been formal (books, research visits etc.) and informal (conversations with visitors and colleagues). Developing a new expertise is always fun. I’ve been tested a few times, but I’m happy to learn from people.

Getting back into being a performer was a trial but, in the end, I’ve enjoyed working with an audience again. I always tell my student writers that it’s important to understand the relationship between performer and audience.  I’m learning that lesson again myself.

Writing the presentations has been hard work. It’s not enough to download information for people. The piece has to have structure. It has to engage with the reason (many reasons) that people are there. It has to make a link between the audience member, the building, its social functions and its history. I wish I’d discovered Tilden’s principles earlier, particularly point 4.

‘Writing’ isn’t conventional scriptwriting of course. It’s a more dynamic process. The presentation can be very different depending on the constitution of the audience, size of the audience, weather, other activities in the castle, etc.. I did write something on paper at the beginning, but I didn’t learn my lines. I learnt structure, principles and escape routes.

The next few months…? Catching up with other areas of my life, driving KHOROSS forward, my other jobs, writing etc.. I’ll also be developing a new ‘character’ to run in parallel with Benet Whitbread the Baker for next season.

Performance 101

Today I clocked up my 101st presentation to the public at the castle (I can do up to 5 a day). Each performance lasts 15 minutes, so that over 25 hours of telling people stuff.

Baker talk

Most of the presentations have been the story of the Pandemain loaf (a.k.a. The Baker Talk). It’s evolved into a nice piece with a good story arc. It’s had some positive feedback as well.

I’m not a natural performer. I wish I’d paid more attention when I was told how to project (and protect) my voice. I’ve got more confident with the material though. It does sometimes feel repetitive but often the final show of the day is the best – you get on top of the story and can be more playful with it.

I’m now developing a new piece and next season I will need a couple more. It’s like real work – except that I’m dressed up and in a castle.

Guy in the middle distance

Some nice photos by Tom Davies. I happen to be in them (GITMD) but I like them because of the contexts. Thanks, Tom.

Bexhill from the beach at dusk

West Parade from the beach at dusk. I'm the silhouette with the MD

The baker talk

Back to the camera giving the baker talk

This was taken at Bodiam Castle’s medieval weekend. That’s me presenting the Baker Talk to a small audience in front of the West Range. I’m afraid that the hat has since been eaten by a dog.

A walk around Bodiam Castle

I caught the bus to work the other day. This gave me the chance to approach the castle from the public side. I thought ‘what this most photographed of English castles needs is another set of pictures’. So I did it.

Bodiam's NT sign

Welcome to Bodiam

River Rother

The mighty Rother

The official justification for the building of the castle was the defence of coast. The River Rother (above) would have been wider then. The sea was closer in 1385 – when Sir Edward Dalyngrigge received his Licence to Crenelate from Richard II – and sea-going vessels could sail up to the wharf here. Winchelsea and Rye had been attacked in previous years.

The castle comes into view as you climb up from the mill pond.

The castle comes into view as you climb up from the mill pond.

The path takes you around the site of the old mill pond (Lord Curzon, who owned the castle between 1917 and his death in 1925, thought that it was the old tilting field where jousts were held). The squat brick structure is a Second World War pill box. It was built to defend Bodiam Bridge against a German invasion. The Northern parapet of the bridge was removed to give the soldiers a clear line of fire.

The Southern range

The Southern range

The South range is the first to come into view. A bridge would have crossed the moat here to the Postern Gate. Curzon discovered the stone foundations of the bridge (including a drawbridge) when he drained the moat in 1919.  To the right of the central postern tower is the large window of the Great Hall.

The postern tower

The postern tower

A closer view of the postern tower. It is topped by some impressive machicolations. Between the two windows are a jousting helm and three shields. The two outer shields are blank but the central, tilted shield shows the arms of Sit Robert Knolles. Knolles was Dalyngrigge’s military mentor and a key figure in the Hundred Years War. Above the shield is a carved ram’s head jousting helm – also associated with Knolles. Knolles is reputed to have been feared by the French. Perhaps the inclusion of his insignia is a tribute to the man and a discouragement to potential French raiders.

The postern had its own portcullis and still has a set of ‘murder holes’. A climb to the top of the tower rewards you with great views of the river valley across to the Kent and East Sussex railway.

The east range

The East range

The East range contains the finest residential apartments (the Lord’s and Lady’s apartments). The large window to the right is the Chapel’s East window.

The East and North ranges

The East and North ranges

As you cross the moat’s overflow the North range, with its massive gatehouse, comes into view. The gatehouse is topped with more machicolations. The remains of the barbican can be seen to the right. There would have been a drawbridge of some sort between the barbican and the castle.

The barbican and octagon

The barbican and octagon

A closer view of the barbican and octagon. The barbican was a two storey mini-fort with its own portcullis. The link to the octagonal island would have been a drawbridge. The octagon had a crenelated wall and a garderobe.

The north range

The North range

Another view of the Northern range. The gatehouse portcullis has been carbon dated and is over 600 years old – it’s the original. Above the gate are the coats of arms of the Wardeux (Dalyngrigge’s wife Elizabeth’s family), Dalyngrigge and Radynden. The Dalyngrigges had a habit of marrying well and an ancestor had married into the prestigious Radynden line. Above the shields is a jousting helm mounted with a unicorn – Dalyngrigge’s chosen mark.

The octagon viewed from from the original bridge abutment

The octagon viewed from from the original bridge abutment

The current bridge runs straight from the octagon to the bank. The original ran from this abutment across in front of the battlements. The original wooden foundations were revealed by Curzon in the 1919 draining. In theory the indirect line would have given archers a broadside shot at any attackers who would be slowing to take the right angle turn. There was a drawbridge at the abutment end of the bridge. The abutment itself was crenelated which seems strange from a defensive point of view.

The west range

The West range

The West range has far fewer windows than the East. Possibly because the higher ground to the West made it more vulnerable to attack. Or possibly because this is where most of the servants were lodged. The South West tower (right) is attached to the kitchen and contains the well and a dovecote.

The West range from the South

The West range from the South

The circuit is complete. As you look back at the castle you see the bungalow that Curzon built for his museum and a custodian. Behind the bungalow is a vineyard and above that an earth platform (not part of the NT castle grounds). This used to be called the Gun Garden but is now described as a pleasance – a place to view the beautiful castle. It was thought that this had been created in the late 16th or early 17th century but archaeological excavation suggests a medieval origin – perhaps created at the same time as the castle. It seems that Bodiam Castle was conceived of as a place to view and admire from the very start.

Holed stones

The beach at Bexhill is pebble-ridden with flinty stones. It plays havoc with your feet, but it’s an interesting environment with a lot of potential.

Some of the stones are curiously pierced. People comb the shore looking for good examples – children and middle-aged metal detectorists are particularly enthralled by them. Apparently the poloponised  rocks protect against bad luck.

Over the past few weeks we’ve started a little collection of these holy stones. I’ve even incorporated one of them into my baker talk at the castle. Below are a selection of finds…

Holy stones

Some Bexhill beach holed stones.

According to folklore, if we hang these above our stable door it’ll stop our horses getting hag-ridden. Worth a try (if we had a horse… or a stable).

I’m not sure what causes the holes. Someone suggested a stone-eating worm was involved, but this seems unlikely outside the world of computer games. Whatever the process it produces some remarkable results. The small white stone leaning on the brown stone bottom left is almost a cylinder. The small brown stone in the middle of the bottom row has three equal-sized holes – all linked.