Category Archives: Castles

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.

Herstmonceux Castle Medieval Weekend

The Main Gatehouse

The Main Gatehouse

Pat and I went to Herstmonceux Castle‘s medieval weekend. It was a busman’s holiday for me as I needed to buy some new kit.

The castle is only a few miles from us but it was the first time we’ve visited. We’d been put off by the castle itself being closed to most visitors but the outside is spectacular and the grounds beautiful.

The science centre (it was the Royal Observatory from 1948 for forty years) looks great and we’ll be back to visit that another time.

The castle itself is one of the earliest built in brick. It was substantially demolished around 1770 but was repaired and rebuilt in the first half of the twentieth century. There’s more, with links, at Gatehouse Record.

The medieval festival has been running for 20 years. Re-enactors come from all over Europe to take part in the sieges,  jousts and entertainments. The traders’ fair is extensive. The medieval food available encompasses Doner Kebabs, Tikka Massala and Fish and Chips (and, to be fair, a hog roast). It’s a good (but pricey) day out for the family and the enthusiast.

It was good to meet up again with friends made at the Bodiam Medieval Weekend. If your looking for a pair of medieval spectacles (and I was) I can recommend GOCB.

The siege begins

The siege begins

Siege negotiations about to break down

Siege negotiations about to break down

Part of the encampment

Part of the encampment

Owls!

Owls!

Hawks!

Hawks!

Locals at the local

Locals at the local

Pat's new watch

Pat’s new watch

My new friend

My new friend.

There were nice sculptures like this (above, right) all around the gardens. There were no labels or explanations, which felt right. Not all art needs a 6×4 card.

Pat and sculpture

Pat and sculpture

The other side of the same piece

The other side of the same piece

Another well-positioned work

Another well-positioned work

Magic

Magic

and so to bed

and so to bed

Jerusalem

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

Alfriston and Pevensey Castle.

The village sign

The village sign

We’re New in Town so we can still play the tourist near to home. Today we headed to Alfriston to see the Clergy House. It’s a small but beautiful medieval building – an example of a Wealden Hall. I am (professionally) very envious of their bread oven and fine collection of baker’s peels. It has nice gardens as well.

The village is lovely, so we stayed for a while. We walked along the river, visited a tea room, bought some bits and pieces at the award-winning Much Ado Bookshop and had lunch at the Ye Olde Smugglers Inne. Most places in South Sussex have a Smugglers Inn – tax evasion having been a popular pastime in these parts for centuries.

Clergy House and Church

Alfriston Clergy House (L) next to the church. Seen from across the mighty Cuckmere River.

Pat spotted a small, simple model boat she liked in an antique shop’s window. The label was discretely turned over so we went in to check out how much it was. If it was, say, £50 I might have considered buying it as a Christmas present. It was £650. Pat revived me and we headed back to the car.

On the way back we visited Pevensey Castle. It’s odd that we haven’t been there already. It’s 5 miles from home and I’m supposed to know about castles and all that old stuff.

Pevensey Castle

By Pevensey_Castle_aerial_view.jpg: Lieven Smits derivative work: Hchc2009 (Pevensey_Castle_aerial_view.jpg), via Wikimedia Commons

The Roman Fortress, built around 290AD,  is impressive in its scale and completeness. It’s supposed to be the site of the 1066 Norman invasion, but some, controversially, disagree.

There’s a charge to see inside the medieval castle within the fortress, but it’s worth a visit. The keep is mystifying in its construction – with seven different towers in a small area. There’s a small exhibition in the North tower which includes artefacts found on site. Much of the interior would have been timber built, but there are plenty of clues in the curtain wall to how the place worked.

We walked around the outside as well – it’s very intimidating from what would have been the shoreline 900 years ago.

After a brief reinforcement at the time of the Armada (1588), the castle ceased to be militarily significant for hundreds of years. Remarkably it was reinforced and garrisoned in 1940 when there was a real threat of a German invasion. Machine guns posts and pill boxes were built into the Roman and medieval walls, disguised with flint to blend in with the original stonework. Two of the towers were lined with brick and had floors added to serve as barracks for the troops. These twentieth century upgrades have been left in place – part of the site’s long and continuing history.

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.