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English Manor Houses, Homes & Castles

Early English country manor houses and homes description and design as well as information on thirteenth century castles.


The thirteenth century was largely devoted to the enlargement and improvement of existing castles.

The inconvenient four-storied Keeps, although still retained in some cases for use in times of war, were frequently abandoned in favour of a hall and chambers constructed in the Inner Ward.

The hall, which was usually the third story of the Keep and had over it the chamber or withdrawing room, was reached by spiral stairs and was found to be in a very inconvenient position, more especially having regard to the increased hospitality of the period. Many castles therefore still retained the Keep and surrounding walls and defences, and were brought up to date by the addition of a new building on the lines of the manor houses which were then being built. Such houses were constructed in the space within the Inner Bailey, and consisted of a capacious hall, one wall of which formed part of the circumvallation. At one end of this Hall were placed the kitchen and domestic offices, and at the other the Solar and other family apartments.

The new castles built principally in Wales by Edward I were designed on the new concentric model, in which the Citadel was not the Keep of the Norman period but the Inner Court or Bailey, which contained the residential building ranged around its walls, and formed a private court surrounded by a massive line of towers, and further defended by other lines of circumvallation, which contained the stables and other out-buildings.

Caerphilly (Glamorganshire), Beaumaris (Anglesey), Conway (Carnarvonshire), Prudhoe (Northumberland), Pembroke, Leeds (Kent), and Stokesay (Shropshire) are examples of this period.

Manor Houses

There was now a considerable improvement in the arrangement and an increase in the number of the apartments in the fortified manor houses belonging to the clergy and to the crown, and during the reign of Henry III licences to "crenellate" or fortify manor houses were largely issued. Yanwath Hall (Westmorland), Charney Bassett (Berkshire), and Little Wenham Hall (Suffolk) are of this period. Such country manor houses were preferred as permanent family residences to the inconvenient Keeps of the earlier period. Much information concerning those which belonged to the Crown is to be obtained from the Liberate rolls of Henry III, and we first hear of the buttery, pantry, larder, and wardrobe, but these were more commonly found in the fourteenth century.

Manor Halls

The hall was still the principal living room and also formed the general dormitory, in conjunction with the lofts and stables which were still utilized by the retainers.

Family Rooms

The apartments adjacent to the hall were sometimes so arranged as to form three sides of a quadrangle, as at Charney Bassett (Berkshire), where a chapel or oratory adjoins the solar or upper chamber.

The apartments were all approached through one another, and thus formed thoroughfare rooms. The fireplaces were few ; the hall still preserving its central hearth; other rooms being probably heated by portable braziers.


Windows of domestic buildings appear to have been first glazed in this century, but glass was a luxury and was still used in conjunction with wooden shutters, such as may be seen in the poorer districts of old continental towns. The absence of glass in domestic buildings was due to the fact that none was manufactured in this country until the fifteenth century, and it is not till A.D. 1439, in connection with the Beauchamp chapel (Warwick), that any mention of English glass occurs. Up to this period it had been obtained from Normandy, the Low Countries and Venice in exchange for wool, the English staple production, but owing to its fragile character there had not been any extensive importation of it.

English Manor House Interiors

The walls were generally bare, without either tapestry or wainscoting. The furniture was of the crudest type, and was limited to tables resting on trestles and benches and forms made by carpenters on the spot. The bed was occasionally of the tester type, i.e. provided with a canopy for the protection of the head.

Floor Coverings

The hall floor was still usually of clay. Carpets were introduced from Spain by Eleanor of Castile, but were extremely rare, and could only have been used in the better type of houses, for the poorer classes had only the barest necessities.

Next: English Gothic Architecture.

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