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English Gothic Architecture - Decorated Gothic

A description with pictures of the main types of English gothic architecture in the 14th century, in the decorated gothic style.

English Gothic Castles

Castles were now constructed upon the model of the manor houses of the day in the fourteenth century. Kenilworth Castle, which came to John of Gaunt by marriage in A.D. 1362, is an example of a castle which was much altered during this period. The Norman Keep was retained as a relic of the past and as a means of defence, but was not incorporated in the new buildings which were constructed round the Inner Court. These had a fine entrance porch, and there was a magnificent banqueting hall with screens and dais, family apartments, kitchen and offices. The castle was further altered two centuries later by the Earl of Leicester.

Kenilworth Castle
Plan of Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire.

Pele Towers

The fortified houses known in the border counties of Wales and Scotland as Pele Towers were in many cases merely the original Keep round which the later buildings were grouped. The ground floor of the Pele Towers was usually vaulted, the upper stories having wooden floors and roofs with the staircase in the thickness of the wall.

Manor Houses

A characteristic Manor house of the period was built round either three or four sides of a quadrangle, and the entire space thus occupied by the court and buildings was surrounded by a moat.

The gatehouse on the entrance side was protected by a portcullis and drawbridge, and the whole presented a castellated appearance. On the side opposite the entrance was the porch leading to the hall, with the kitchens and Offices arranged on one side, and the family apartments and chapel on the other (diagram 3).

A porch led into the screens (diagram 3c), a passageway or vestibule which was separated by two doors from the hall itself, and by three doors on the other side from the kitchens and Offices. Over this passage was the minstrels' gallery.

In the vestibule there was usually a lavatory basin with water-drain, for washing the hands before and after meals.


The hall, which had already taken the place of the older Keep, and had become the central feature of these buildings, attained Its highest development, and perfection in this century. The Royal Palace or Hall of Westminster, with its lofty walls, large traceried windows and elaborate timber roof, is as fine as any ecclesiastical edifice of the period.

Penshurst Place
Plan of Penshurst Place, Kent.

The Lord of the Manor still held his Court in the hall (diagram 3), and his vassals and serfs met at one large table for meals in this feudal period when the English peasantry were slaves, the absolute property of their lord, "to be bought and sold as the livestock of an estate". the hall, as in the previous century, frequently formed the sleeping-place for the retainers, who were, however, sometimes lodged in dormitories or in the stables.

It was also still the general custom for the family, the guests and retainers to take their meals in the Common Hall, where the family were seated at the high table on the raised dais (diagram 3 A) at the opposite end to the screens ; but as time went on there was a desire for greater privacy, and so the family dined in one of the smaller rooms.

Family Apartments

The family apartments were also gradually increased in number in order to afford more privacy.

The old solar, also known as the Lord's Chamber or parlour, was increased in size and became known as the withdrawing room (hence drawing room), and was frequently situated behind the dais on the upper floor, with an opening which enabled the master to have surveillance of the proceedings in the hall below. There was sometimes a cellar or a second parlour under this apartment on the ground-floor level.

A Lady's chamber (or bower) was now often provided in the larger houses in proximity to the withdrawing room, and no doubt frequently also answered the purpose of the best bedroom.


Besides the withdrawing room and lady's bower which usually contained beds, there were a number of bedrooms in these larger houses, many of which were no doubt provided with several beds according to their size.


This room appears to have come into existence in a very primitive way, and was provided merely with a large tub and a lead-lined stone laver.


The wardrobe served as a store for clothes instead of the chests, and this room was also used for the making of the various garments.


The chapel had occasionally two stories in its western portion, the upper being used for the family and guests, the lower for the retainers and domestics. A small chamber was frequently attached for the use of the priest, chaplain, or friar, as at Broughton Castle.


Of the three doorways in the screens leading to the service department, the central one often opened into the kitchen, or to a passage leading to the same (diagram 3 N). The kitchen in the Bishop's Palace at Chichester and the famous monastic kitchen at Durham (dating from A.D. 1368) are well-known examples. Kitchens were, however, frequently detached, probably as a security against fire, as in the Abbot's kitchen at Glastonbury, and also at Raby Castle, where the kitchen is still in use. One of the other two doors opened into the buttery. The word buttery is derived from the French "bouteille" a, bottle, hence the word butlery or buttery as applied to the room where the wine bottles and other vessels were kept, and the word butler (i.e. bottler) as applied to the man in charge. The term is still employed in colleges. The remaining door opened into the pantry (from the French "pain" = bread), which was the room in which the bread, butter, cheese, also platters and saltcellars, etc., were kept (diagram 3 D).

An important room, not usually reached from the screens, was the larder (lardarium), in which the meats were larded or preserved, and which also formed the storeroom for the cook, the preserved meat being brought into the kitchen in such quantities as were required. Sometimes salting was preferred, in which case the apartment was known as the Salsarium.


Wall fireplaces with corbelled chimney hoods became more usual in this century, but although these were found in the withdrawing room and smaller apartments, the hall frequently had only the central fire placed on a hearth.

Charcoal, wood and turf were the most usual fuels, but coal appears to have been used to a certain extent, although it was from time to time prohibited as a nuisance.


Glazed windows were still rare except in the most important houses owing to the costliness of glass and the fact that it was not then manufactured in England.

Walls and Floor Coverings

Rushes and straw, some-times mixed with sweet herbs, formed the usual carpeting, but the dais in the hall frequently had a wooden floor: the walls were now hung with tapestries and trophies of the chase.


Penshurst Place, Kent (diagram 3), of the period of Edward II, is a typical example of a fine Hall with raised dais and bay window at one end and the screens at the other, while the open timbered roof has still the louvre or opening for the escape of smoke from the central fire.

Ightham Mote (Kent), Raglan, Langley and Haworth Castles, Sutton Courtenay Manor house (Berkshire), Prior Crawden's House, Ely, parts of Broughton Castle (Oxfordshire), and Ludlow Castle (Shropshire) are smaller examples of the Manor house type.

Town Houses Architecture

The smaller town houses of the period had most commonly the lower vaulted story of stone and the upper part of wood-framing as may be seen at Winchelsea, where, however, the original timber upper part has disappeared.

Next: Perpendicular Gothic Architecture.

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