Reconstruction of the motte and bailey at Clough (Co. Down). (© Duncan Berryman 2021)

Castles and their agricultural buildings

I was recently asked to write a blog post for the Castle Studies Trust about agricultural buildings within castles. You can read the post here. Our understanding of castles so often focuses on the military and defensibility that we often forget they served a wide range of functions. My research for this piece focused on the king and the great lords, mainly because the sources I had to hand were The History of the King’s Works and Anthony Emery’s catalogue of the greater medieval houses of England and Wales (volume 2). These castles showed a distinct lack of agricultural buildings. The only relevant buildings were stables, dovecotes, barns, and granaries. Stables were for housing the lord’s horses, rather than for keeping plough horses, and the other buildings were for the storage of foodstuff for the castle staff and the household. There was some evidence for a larger complex of agricultural buildings at Castle Hedingham (Essex), where a map of 1610 indicates a barnyard (Emery 2000, 113). I also came across a documentary reference to a pigsty within the enclosure of Clare Castle (Suffolk) (Ward 2014, 64). this may have been associated with the malt house, as pigs can be fed on the waste of the malting process and a similar arrangement was suggested for Castle Acre Priory (Wilcox 2002, 19).

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Timber buildings, micro-histories and buildings in society: a review of two recent publications

Vernacular Buildings and Urban Social Practice: Wood and people in early modern Swedish society, by Andrine Nilsen (ISBN 978-1-78969-677-6)

‘For My Descendants and Myself, a Nice and Pleasant Abode’, Agency, Micro-History and Built Environment, Buildings in Society International BISI III, Stockholm 2017, edited by Göran Tagesson, Per Cornell, Mark Gardiner, Liz Thomas and Katherine Weikert (ISBN 978-1-78969-581-6)

This blog post is a review of two books recently published by ArchaeoPress with many interconnected themes. They are both, to some extent, slightly outside the normal scope of this blog, with a predominant focus on urban and early modern buildings. However, there is a lot in these volumes for the study of the medieval period. There is an emphasis on micro-history and agency within the built environment, both approaches are as applicable to medieval structures as they are to the early modern ones.

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Tower Houses of Lecale – a Tour

Tower houses are small, fortified residences of the later Middle Ages. They were the centres of manorial holdings, lordly residences with associated agricultural complexes. However, today they generally stand isolated in fields, having lost their surrounding buildings. They are a common sight in the Irish countryside and examples are also found in Scotland and the north of England. They have many defensive features, but defensibility was not their primary design consideration. Instead, they were designed to provide accommodation to lords and to have an imposing presence on the landscape.

County Down’s tower houses, and particularly those in Lecale, form an interesting collection of monuments. They are almost entirely found close to the coast, with very few inland. There is an especially dense group in the Lecale region of County Down. This area also has a unique group of gatehouse style tower houses, these tower houses had two turrets on their front joined by a large arch machicolation at roof level. Their location by the coast suggests that the tower houses of County Down were involved in trading produce from the countryside with ships arriving in Ulster.

You can find out more about these tower houses on this tour on Google Earth. I’d recommend using Google Chrome to view the tour to get the best experience. You can read more about my thoughts on tower houses in a previous blog post and some of my research is published in this paper.

The Stone Mason: A History of Building Britain, by Andrew Ziminski (a review)

ISBN: 978-1-473-66393-0

Published by John Murray

This is by no means an academic book, but it is often refreshing and informative to take a different view of the subjects we study. Ziminski essentially takes us on a tour of Southern England (mostly by water) and recounts the country’s history through the monuments and buildings he has encountered. As a mason specialising in the conservation of historic buildings, he has had the opportunity to work on many spectacular and interesting buildings. The book covers history from the neolithic (Stonehenge) to modern (SouthGate Shopping centre, Bath). But a large proportion of the narrative discusses buildings of the middle ages, primarily churches.

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Planning in the Early Medieval Landscape, by John Blair, Stephen Rippon and Christopher Smart (a review)

ISBN: 978-1-78962-116-7

Published by Liverpool University Press, £80

This book claims to be a controversial one, and I agree that many people will think that it is. The authors note that presentations of the project to colleagues produced mixed reactions, from agreement to disbelief. The idea that there could have been accurate planning and surveying up until the early modern period does not agree with everyone. I have studied examples of village morphology in Cumbria (similar to the work of Brian K. Roberts) and measured perches that were assumed to be late medieval or early modern, but I would not have considered such planning to exist or be necessary in the early medieval period. Therefore, I started this book with an open, if slightly sceptical mind.

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Leeds International Medieval Congress 2021 Call for Papers: Protecting food supplies from the climate

Call for Papers for a session at IMC Leeds, 5-8 July 2021

Organiser: Duncan Berryman, Queen’s University Belfast

Protecting food supplies from the climate

Agriculture was the largest employer in Medieval Europe and was essential to the lives and wealth of the whole population. However, the crops and livestock were vulnerable to poor climate and harsh weather. Agricultural buildings provided a vital protection from the wind and the rain. The great barns of monasteries are usually all that remain in the landscape, but these were only a small proportion of the range of crop storage buildings and animal houses that made up the medieval farm complex. However, these buildings have been generally neglected, both physically and academically, being eclipsed by the surviving barns and manor houses.

This session (or sessions) seeks to explore the importance of agricultural buildings to medieval society and their physical appearance. It is primarily interested in the structure and functions of the buildings, but it is also interested in understanding interactions between people and buildings, and agricultural buildings in their wider social and landscape contexts. Other topics for discussion include (but not limited to):

  • Agricultural buildings in literature
  • Economics of buildings
  • Agricultural practices
  • Agricultural Landscapes
  • Settlement studies
  • Zooarchaeology of rural settlements

If you are interested, please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short biography to Duncan Berryman. General enquires and expressions of interest about the session can be sent as well.

Deadline for abstracts is 20th September 2020.

Healthcare and medieval buildings

This blog post has been write for the themes has chosen for this week’s UK Festival of Archaeology.

Health and medicine are not topics that I often consider in my research. Healthcare in the middle ages has often been thought of as primitive and relying on “cunning-folk” or herbalists. It is undeniable that these people (usually women) were the primary form of care in villages and rural communities. Still, they were not the only form of attention in the medieval world. Many towns and cities also had hospitals, although not quite the same as our modern buildings.

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Medieval Buildings, Race and Ethnicity

Recent news about the race protests and riots in America and elsewhere have made many of us reflect on our views and interactions with scholarship. This has also extended to the removal of statues of English slave traders, as many of these slaves were brought from Africa and kept in horrific conditions. Academics are trying to ensure that they include works by people of colour in their reading lists and bibliographies. We can only hope that the world we create is more inclusive and welcoming for those who have felt marginalised and haven’t had a voice. Also, as medievalists, we have to contend with the far right’s use of medieval imagery and their adoption of the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’.

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The Long Lives of Medieval Art and Architecture, edited by Jennifer M. Feltman and Sarah Thompson (a review)

ISBN 978-0-8153-9673-4

Published by Routledge, £120 (e-book £40.49)

The first section of this book is about essence and continuity; of this, only the first chapter is about the built environment. The authors consider the recreation or reconstruction of buildings and artworks, mainly how there can be continuity of meaning and function. Particularly with the rebuilding of churches, such as St. Peter’s (Rome), here Nicola Camerlenghi proposes the idea of the old and new buildings represent a time-space worm – two things existing in different places at the same and different times with the same functions and meanings. The other key concept is that of Theseus’ ship – every part was replaced, one-by-one throughout the journey. Did the same ship return as the one that set off on the voyage? This is often true of medieval buildings, particularly timber-framed structure; these buildings were maintained and repaired over centuries; eventually, most of the timbers were replaced. Therefore, is there a point when such a building stops being medieval or is it always medieval?