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Norman Castles, Manor Houses & Homes

History and description of Norman castles in the UK as well as Norman period manor houses, peasants homes, and monastic buildings.


During the latter part of the eleventh and the beginning of the twelfth centuries in the U.K. numerous castles were constructed, and over one thousand were built during the reign of Stephen alone.

The Square Keep, or stronghold, was usually four stories in height, and was surrounded by an inner and occasionally also by an outer "Bailey" (i.e. ward or court) and by a lofty wall with ramparts and a deep moat.

The Royal Castle known as the Tower of London, constructed by Bishop Gundulf, in A.D. 1078, for William I, is an important example to which many additions were made by later monarchs. It has an Outer Ward protected by a surrounding wall with eight towers and an Inner Ward protected by another wall with thirteen towers.

Tower of London
Plan of Keep of the Tower of London.

The Shell Keep is another type supposed by some to be derived from an Anglo Saxon precedent, in which the buildings were arranged round a polygonal or circular court.

Windsor, Rochester, Alnwick, Warkworth, Berkeley, Warwick, Newcastle, Arundel, Norham, Barnborough, Dover, Richmond (Yorkshire), Cardiff, Farnham (Surrey), Durham, Chipchase, Scarborough, Oakham (Rutland), Oxford, and Castle Rising (Norfolk), are all examples of the period, which have been either much altered to bring them into line with modern requirements or have been allowed to fall into a ruinous condition.

Norman Monastic Buildings

Monastic buildings were considerably in advance of the primitive castles. Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk, has apartments, such as the refectory, dormitory, library, scriptorium (writing-room), arranged around a cloister garth, on the north side of which was the church.

Manor Houses

Manor houses, farm houses and granges were frequently walled and moated in Norman times, and appear to have been built on one uniform plan, comprising a hall with chambers adjacent.

The hall was frequently the only large apartment in such buildings to accommodate the owner, his retinue and servants.

In Saxon and Norman times the manor house was known as the hall (from the Anglo-Saxon "heall", which appears to be the origin of the modern term Hall as applied to so many country residences. This apartment, and not infrequently the whole building, was in mediaeval Latin termed the "aula".

Thus the hall with its central log fire, the solar or chamber, frequently on an upper story, the kitchen, the servery or general service-room, the larder for preserving (larding) meat, and the cellar (frequently situated under the solar), made up a typical manor house of the period. In the succeeding centuries this arrangement was adhered to, other rooms being added to correspond with the new ideas of comfort and convenience.

Boothby Pagnell, or Pagnall (Lines) Manor house and the old house at Christchurch (Hampshire) are examples of this period.

Peasants Homes

The smaller houses of the peasants or serfs, which were gradually grouped around the castles, were of a very simple character, and frequently had only one living room.

Town Houses

The town dwellings often consisted of a ground floor shop, behind which was the living room and a yard. An external door sometimes led to a staircase which gave access to an upper floor.

The Jews House, Lincoln, (now a restaurant), and Moyses' Hall at Bury St. Edmunds are fine specimens of this period.

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