Friday, August 31, 2012

Bolton Castle Part I--Living/Working Areas

Bolton Castle sits in the middle of the Wensleydale countryside. The castle's history begins in the 1300s, when Sir Richard, the first Lord Scrope and a loyal knight, obtained permission from the king in 1379 to "crenellate" his manor house. This meant that he could build battlements (called "crenellations") and thus have a substantial private fortification. The castle was completed in 1399. The building was quite extravagant, featuring two kitchens, eight halls, numerous bed chambers for family and visitors, and rooms for all the support functions (stables, guard rooms, brew house, etc.) to maintain the house through any hardships. Many garderobes or loos were built throughout the castle and the plumbing was so ingenious that it was not surpassed till the Victorian era. It was modernized in the 16th century after a fire. In the 17th century it was besieged by Parliamentary forces during the Civil War. Eventually they surrendered and Cromwell's forces "slighted" the castle, leaving only the Southwest Tower undamaged. In 1761, about a hundred years later, the Northeast Tower collapsed. The other walls and towers are still standing almost to their original height.

Bolton Castle

Today it's an impressive site and is well-maintained inside. They have the standard tea room and gift shop. Most of the rooms are furnished with period or period-like accoutrements that give a real sense of the castle as it was in the distant past. We enjoyed wandering through the castle.

Tea room, offering modern refreshments

What was the Malting House and Granary is now set up as a kitchen. We had fun exploring the various stoves, fireplaces, and other equipment. The kitchen workers would roast or smoke various meats brought into the castle. This room had a crafts table for kids. The castle has crafts spread throughout, a nice feature for those visiting with little ones.

Working on a craft in the kitchen

Kitchen workers

Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen sink

Large fireplace

Down a long hallway was a surprise--the loo! The castle has extensive plumbing and plenty of facilities for those in need. Of course, they are not in use now, but it is amazing to see how much thought was put into making the castle a living and workable place.


We took the stairs down to see the ground floor of the castle. The spiral stairs are an odd feature in the castle. Most spiral stairsin  the medieval period run up in a clock-wise direction. This gives defenders the advantage of height and freedom to use their right arms to fight attackers. Bolton Castle's staircase run mostly anti-clockwise. There is no record of why they were built that way.

Winding stairs, like Jacob loves

The ground floor is where a lot of the work was done to support the castle. The Threshing Floor and Mill is where the local grains (mostly rye and oats) were ground into flour for bread.

Threshing Floor with grinding wheel

The flour was taken to the Bake House, where bread was made throughout the day. Bread was a staple in the castle's diet.

Bake house

Additional ovens!

Another staple in the castle's diet was beer, ale, wine, etc. Medieval water being somewhat terrible and extremely unhealthy, it would be boiled and fermented. A large vat would do the job of brewing and barrels would be stored nearby in the Brew House.

Brew House

The Armourer's Workshop had all the equipment needed for any metalwork in the castle. Besides weapons and armor, the armourer would have worked on the lead roofs, the leading for the windows (including any stained glass windows like in the chapel), and on the portculises.

Armour in the Armoury

Next to the workshop were several stables where horses would have been kept. Other livestock would also be brought in, especially in case of siege. One of the stables has been converted into an Archers' Room, showing how the bowmen would have lived.

Stables as stables

Stables as Archers' Bed Chamber

The wide variety of arrowheads used to cause maximum damage on impact

Off on the east wall the wine cellars and several storage spots can be found. The castle's well is found nearby. The well shaft is quite older than the castle and probably served the manor house that was here previously.

Well, where Lucy asked for a coin. If only it was a wishing well!

Around the corner from the well was a little hole in the ground called the Dungeon. The dungeon is a little oubliette (from the French oublier, to forget) that was used as the dungeon. It was hewn out of rock and is very small inside. Anyone put in there was lowered by ropes. Rations may have also been lowered, though possibly the "oubliette" name comes from the neglect such prisoners received. A human arm bone was found in this dungeon. It was still chained up to the wall.

Stocks on the way to the dungeon hole

Looks like a drain, right?

It drains your will to live!

Up above was where the Great Hall was located. The floors and ceilings have collapsed. I was interested to hear in the audio guide's description of the Great Hall that the Lord's dinner would typically have meats and breads and fruits, but vegetables were considered "common" would have been minimal. The room was quite enormous, two stories high and about 45 feet in length.

Where the Great Hall used to be

The Northwest Tower, though an empty shell now, had extensive guest apartments for visiting dignitaries or family members.

Guest accomodations

More of the ruins of the Northwest Tower

Going up to the second floor, many of the living rooms for the family are found. Also, the chapel is here. The chapel was dedicated to St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary. Completed around 1395, the dedication may have been in honor of Richard II's wife Anne of Bohemia, who had died recently. It was fairly opulent and included side rooms for three priests. Priests offered more than just prayers. Being educated, they would teach the sons of the Lords. Also, they were trained in medicine at the monasteries and probably tended the herb gardens to have what they needed when they were tended the sick.

The chapel remains

Holy water font

Monk's room

Seeing how long this post is getting, I will save the family accommodations and their stories for the next post.

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