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Medieval Homes & Castles in England

Description of medieval homes and houses in medieval times in England including castles, manor homes, and farmers houses.

The Medieval Feudal System

The feudal system for centuries largely determined the character of the domestic architecture of England. Every baronial seat and manor house, owing to the ample jurisdiction granted by the Crown to its great tenants, was in reality a miniature legal establishment where the Lords of the Manor, aided by assessors, held their courts-baron and administered justice; and also received the suit and service of their dependents. The feudal hall, however, besides being a law-court, was also utilized for hospitality and continued to be the chief feature or great house-place of every mansion until the decay of that social system in which it had its origin.

Medieval Castles

The castles which formed the homes of the nobility and principal landowners were themselves developed from the square Norman Keep or Tower. The space round this keep gradually came to be enlarged and enclosed by a wall provided with towers and bastions, outside which was the defensive moat

Against the inner side of this wall wooden sheds were erected to accommodate the serfs and domestics, an arrangement which appears to have lasted until the middle of the thirteenth century, when the various chambers were collected together into one building, situated in some portion of the ground within the fortification. In course of time the hall took the place of the inconvenient four-storied Keep, and in its turn became the chief apartment around which others were grouped.

With few modifications, such as the gradual diminution of the defensive character of the building and of the wall of "enceinte" (an encircling fortification around a fort, castle, or town), the same arrangement existed till the time of Elizabethan houses.

In Ireland, however, from the twelfth to the seventeenth century, almost every house was in the form of a Tower, and was fortified with bartisans (projections for defending the walls) and machicolations. These continued to be the homes until the time of Cromwell, and it was only because it was then proved that such Towers were of little avail against gunpowder, that they were discarded in favour of a more convenient type of plan.

Farmers or Yeoman's Houses

The yeoman's house in each period frequently consisted merely of the hall in the centre with the solar, lord's chamber or parlour at one end and the kitchen and offices at the other.

Housing Materials

As transport was both difficult and expensive, the local materials were utilized for building, and this fact alone gave the houses distinctive characteristics according to their different districts. Thus the stone houses of Somersetshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, the brick houses of the Eastern Counties, especially of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, and the flint houses in the chalk districts of Norfolk, Essex and Kent, form the special types peculiar to these districts, while timber houses were constructed in the neighbourhood of forests, as in Lancashire and Cheshire.

We find too that timber, notwithstanding its inflammable nature, was frequently employed, even when other materials were available. It was the use of this particular material which made it possible to construct the picturesque overhanging upper stories formed of timber uprights with a filling of brick and plaster.

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