Category Archives: Sussex

A Taste of Britain

Bodiam Castle features in episode 1 of BBC1’s new programme ‘A Taste of Britain’ with Janet Street-Porter and Brian Turner. You can catch it on iPlayer here for the next 13 days. I get a walk on part at about 18 minutes in!

Inside Kent Magazine

The team get a mention on page 106 of May’s Inside Kent Magazine, which is nice. The relevant paragraph says…

To add to the charm of the castle, there are a number of volunteers [sic], dressed in era-appropriate  garb, who will inform you of the life within a busy castle and tell tales of many interesting things that would have occurred within. I was surprised at how these colourful characters added such significant depth to the overall experience.

I particularly like that last sentence. I add the [sic] as the team has a core of staff live interpreters working in conjunction with volunteer live interpreters.

The team is working hard on presenting our ‘May Games’ programme of presentations this month. We’re also preparing next month’s programme which will consist of some ‘Untold Stories’.

It’s been a hard few months building the new team and trying out new ideas but we’re learning a lot and, I hope, interpreting the castle imaginatively and entertainingly. I look forward to having a bit of time to reflect on it all.

Onderox Magazine

The live interpretation team have received a review in Onderox Magazine (in Flemish). I’m not quite sure how significant Onderox is, but it’s nice to be international.

Google translate renders the section on Bodiam as…

The medieval castle
For a portion of history we pull back inland. Bodiam Castle, in a small village, dating back to the Middle Ages, was built by Edward Dalyngrigge, a wealthy soldier. He constructed it as a residence for his family, but also as a defence against predators. The outside walls still look as they did, but once inside you will notice that only a few of the rooms are left. That is more than compensated for by theatre pieces that actors [sic] stage here daily. With the ringing of a bell, the visitors are invited to sit and see – of course in English – a scene from the life of several hundred years ago. Children from a primary school visit and watch with fascination. Since 1926 Bodiam Castle is part of the National Trust, which ensures the continued conservation and keep it accessible to the public. After your visit to the castle, you can take a walk in the estate and relax in the Wharfside Tea Room.

Sussex Life

The new Sir Edward Dallingridge outfit © 2014 Helene Marler

The new Sir Edward Dallingridge outfit © 2014 Helene Marler

My work as a live interpreter at Bodiam Castle was mentioned in an article in Sussex Life magazine recently.

In other news the new outfit for Sir Edward Dallingridge has arrived (see left) and I’ve tried it out on a couple of occasions. It is a magnificent piece of work by Black Swan Designs. We now need to find accessories and shoes that will do it justice.

It’s been an extraordinarily busy last few months – hence the lack of recent posts. I’ll write more if things quieten down.

The other storm

After the ‘St Jude’s Day’ storm came the ‘not quite stormy enough to be named’ storm on the following Sunday. Apart from scaring me silly while driving home it didn’t have much of a lasting effect. However, these things must be documented…

Shingle flung several inches on to the promenade

Shingle flung several inches on to the promenade

Storm damage leads to Bexhill's first restaurant dedicated to male extra terrestrials

Storm damage leads to Bexhill’s first restaurant dedicated to male extra terrestrials


At work

It’s been a tough couple of days at work.

At the weekend Bodiam ran an All Souls evening event called The Red Lady – a kind of adventure game / theatre piece. I was the audience’s guide as they strove to solve a series of riddles. It was great fun and wonderful to be working in the castle after dark.

The Sunday night late show was a pretty damp affair, though the worst of the wind and rain was only really winding up as the show finished. It was a pretty frightening drive home.

A great deal of credit to producer Laura, writer Simon, the cast (including the Heathcliff Heroics contingent) and the guys from the Premises team who set up the lights to make it possible. Do look out to see if the event is repeated in Bodiam’s 2014 calendar.

New images

A visitor to the castle – Jim Barker – sent me some pictures of me in action as William the Forester. I have very few pictures of me at work and I really like these. These pictures are displayed with Jim’s permission. Click on an image to see the gallery.


Bodiam Castle Bits #5 – The Gatehouse

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 considers the main gatehouse


Apologies – It has been a long time since the last post but the winter season at work will allow a bit more time to re-engage with blogging, though probably not as regularly as before.

During the summer I managed to buy a couple of eighteenth century prints of the castle from eBay. This one shows the castle courtyard looking north towards the main gatehouse.

Bodiam Castle Gatehouse

The gatehouse viewed from the courtyard

The seller described it as “A plate taken from Francis Grose’s Antiquities of England and Wales. London Printed for Hooper & Wigstead, 212 High Holborn facing Southampton Street, Bloomsbury Square. Published 27th May 1785 by S Hooper”. This would be the era of Webster ownership. I suspect the original image dates from a few years earlier.

It’s a good impression of the castle – fascinating to see the trees, bushes and ivy which were only eventually cleared by Lord Curzon after 1917. The earth seems to pile up against the wall on the left (west). The reason I’m interested in the image, however, is its depiction of the gatehouse. I know that it is not a photograph and cannot be read as fact, but it is not just an artist’s impression either. At the very least it begs some questions.

The gatehouse today is recognisably the same building…

The gatehouse today

The gatehouse today

The crenelations have been restored and a couple of chimney pots have gone but the images (taken from slightly different angles) line up pretty well.

The differences

There are a couple of differences, though, that are worth a second look. Here’s a close up from the 1785 engraving…

Close up of the gatehouse (1785)

Close up of the gatehouse (1785)

The proportions inside the arch seem a bit awry but the rest is pretty good.

The gatehouse’s stair turrets are rather odd. The main turret which goes from ground level to the summit is set in the first (further) bay and is largely the same in both images. The shorter turret butts up against the main turret but only goes to the first level above the second (nearer) bay. The second bay was added late in the building process and is of a poorer quality of construction. The second stair turret seems to be a late addition to the design and blocks some of the lights to the main turret necessitating the construction of through lights.

The photograph shows that this second turret is now ruined. The first few steps are visible (one of only two staircases in the castle that turn anticlockwise) but are cut in half by a large buttress (19th or early 20th century?) added to support the second bay.

The 1785 engraving shows this turret still intact. It has a flat top and only goes as far as the platform above the second bay. No door is visible from the courtyard. The remaining stairs do not start until a few feet above ground level so it might be that access was from the chambers on the ground floor of the east side of the north range.

There are no lights shown in the face of the turret, so it is not clear how daylight could have got to the through light in the photograph.

The other major difference between the two images is a large buttress projecting from the left hand side of the arch into the courtyard. I can see no evidence of this in the photograph or in situ. Was this an early repair since removed?

Of course, all of these ‘differences’ may be the result of the engraver misinterpreting or simplifying an original watercolour made by an artist who felt at liberty to ‘improve’ the original to make it more picturesque.

I hope to find time this winter to look through some archive photographs of the castle taken in the early twentieth century. Maybe there will be a few more clues there.

Previously on Bodiam Castle Bits…

  1. SW corner of the courtyard
  2. “The Lady’s Bower”
  3. A chapel window
  4. Chimneys

Bodiam Castle Bits #4 – Chimneys

Lord's and Lady's apartments (E range): fireplaces with chimneys above

East range: fireplaces with chimneys above (click to enlarge)

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 considers the chimneys


The context

There are, I am assured, thirty three fireplaces at the Castle. They vary in size from the 13′ (4m) wide kitchen fires to small fireplaces in the tower rooms. When the Castle was in full occupancy they would have consumed enormous amounts of firewood. Somewhere on site would have been a substantially sized wood store.

Firewood was a major ‘crop’ from the woods of the Weald. There are records of firewood being shipped from Bodiam to the continent during the time of the Castle’s builder, Sir Edward Dallingridge[1].

The plumbing of the chimneys is sophisticated. Where fireplaces are one above the other the flues run one behind the other. In the photo (L) you can just make out the two chimney pots in line. This is an impressive feat of design and execution.

The chimneys

You can look up some of the chimneys to see the sky. This is particularly easy in the kitchen’s ‘pottage’ fire (the ‘roasting’ fire on the outer wall’s chimney has been capped) and the fireplaces in the controversially named ‘retainers’ kitchen’ in the West range.

Looking up one of the chimneys in the 'retainers' kitchen'

Looking up one of the chimneys in the ‘retainers’ kitchen’

If you’re looking up the chimneys of some of the smaller fireplaces in the towers, do watch your head. I speak from experience on this matter.

Lower's 1871 sketch showing crenelations

Lower’s 1871 sketch showing crenelations

Many of the chimney stacks have disappeared but there are still a few to be seen. There are good examples on the North and East ranges. The stack on the accessible North range battlements  has gone, but this does give you the opportunity to look down the chimney flue towards the fireplace.

Mark Lower (1871) described the chimneys as octagonal, over 9′ tall and in the late perpendicular style. He suggested that they may originally have been topped with crenelations but, he says, these decorations had eroded away. I’m not entirely convinced by that suggestion but it is difficult to get close enough to the remaining stacks to make a judgement.

He also suggested that the chimney stacks may have been added later, perhaps feeling that they were too advanced in style for 1385. They do have a Tudor feel about them, though rendered in stone rather than brick.

The later date seems unlikely. A close up of the east range stacks against the tower (below) shows how the moulding at the top of the chimney echoes the form of the moulding on the tower itself. It also shows similarities to the remaining moulding in the SW corner of the courtyard.

A close up of the East range stacks

A close up of the East range stacks

They do feel ‘of a piece’ with the design of the castle.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment or get in touch.

[1] Galloway, J., Keene, D. and Murphy, M. (1996), “Fuelling the City: Production and Distribution of Firewood and Fuel in London’s Region, 1290-1400” in The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Aug., 1996), pp. 447-472

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.

Previously on Bodiam Castle Bits…

  1. SW corner of the courtyard
  2. “The Lady’s Bower”
  3. A chapel window

Bodiam Castle Bits #3 – a chapel window

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 window in the Chapel.

The north window

A view of the chapel from the courtyard looking east

Pic. 1: A view of the chapel from the courtyard looking east

The context

The chapel is dominated by the restored east window (F). The chancel would have been at a higher level than the current platform. The piscina to the left of the Sacristy (priest’s room) doorway (D) indicates this. The floor level was approximately where the middle rail of the new fence is. Patterned tiles were found when this area was excavated in the 1920s. George Curzon describes them as “small glazed tiles, with bevelled edges, of blue, yellow, green and brown colours” in his 1926 report. Fragments of stained glass were also found.

The Lord’s and lady’s apartments are immediately south (to the right) of the chapel. The window to the Lord’s room (A) can be seen high up on the right. This is where the Lord and Lady and their important guests would be during the mass. There is also access to the upper floor at B. I am not sure whether this would have opened onto a wooden gallery. There is a door to the “Lady’s Bower” from the knave (C). There may have been a door between the chapel and the courtyard but no evidence of this has been found.

It is the small north window indicated by the arrow (above) that is this post’s ‘bit’ for today.

The north window viewed from the chancel

Pic. 2: The north window viewed from the chancel

The window

It’s a narrow window set much lower than the east window. Early writers on the castle suggested that it was a dole window or lepers’ squint. A dole window is where the poor might come to receive charity. A squint is an opening through which those not in the knave of the church might see the host being raised by the priest. Lepers would not have been allowed inside a church. The window would traditionally have been barred and/or shuttered.

When you view the window from outside the castle both suggestions seem, on the face of it, unlikely:

Pic. 3: The chapel from outside

Pic. 3: The chapel from outside

Pic. 3 shows how the chapel breaks the symmetrical rectangle of the castle. Its projection creates the narrow, north facing chancel wall. The north window is clearly visible. You can see that it is set much lower than the east window but it is still high above the water. Even with a boat there would be no chance of receiving doles or seeing anything. The projecting NE drum tower blocks any view of the window from the distant north bank of the moat.

Here’s a closer view of the window (right):

Pic. 4: a closer view

Pic. 4: a closer view. East window to the left, our window lower right

In pic. 2 you can see a window in the NE tower’s lower residential room through the window in question. Could our window be a squint for someone in that room? A quick trip to the room (now a display case room) and a sneaky look from the windowsill discounts that as a possibility. You can see into the chapel if you crane your neck, but the angle means that you look into the knave rather than the chancel.

The purpose

So what is it? Curzon (1926), while dismissing the above options which had been suggested by his predecessors, says

“I … prefer to think that the window may have been designed for the natural purpose of most windows, namely to give additional light.”

which, on the face of it sounds reasonable and defensible. He also, in the same section, makes the case for a now lost west door and window.

However, the size of the window, its low setting relative to the interior and its north-facing aspect in what is effectively an alcove suggests that the amount of light it would contribute would be negligible. A west window, which Curzon argues for, would be much more effective and could be much larger. Why go to the cost of engineering a small window on the dull side? It could just be a poor choice – the castle, though impressive, is not perfectly designed and engineered.

Could it be, however, that it is an architectural quote – a symbol? People seeing it would have associated it with acts of charity. The castle is full of all sorts of symbolism, both military and domestic. Many of the military elements are famously ineffective except as symbols. Perhaps this window is there to show people attending mass what a beneficent man the builder of Bodiam Castle is. It doesn’t matter that the window is impractical – it tells a story, as so much of the castle is designed to do.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment or get in touch.

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 #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.