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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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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Medieval Buildings of Oxfordshire

I recently had the opportunity to visit a number of medieval buildings in Oxfordshire.  The occasion? My wedding. The buildings? The church of St James the Great in Fulbrook and The Shaven Crown Inn (a medieval hostelry now converted into a pub and hotel) in Shipton under Wychwood.

Both these villages are near the forest of Wychwood and on the Cotswold Hills in the west of Oxfordshire. The landscape is a mixture of woodlands, grasslands for sheep grazing, and arable fields. The vast majority of buildings are constructed from the warm, honeycomb yellow Cotswold limestone. Wychwood Forest was once a vast wooded landscape, unfortunately much diminished in the 1850s; it was a royal forest and much of the surrounding areas were under medieval forest law. Shipton was the centre of an Anglo-Saxon royal estate with a minster parochia.

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Brunt Buildings, Part 2: an unwanted sequel

Unfortunately, this seems to be a time for the burning of buildings of national and international importance.  Last year Belfast saw the destruction of Bank Buildings, and Belfast is still recovering and coming to terms with the loss. Thankfully Primark has committed to restoring the building. However, on Monday 15th April 2019 we received the terrible news that two more historic buildings went up in flames. The fire at Notre-Dame de Paris was the most publicised in the media, but Monday also saw a fire in the building known as King Solomon’s Stables in the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem.

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Women in buildings

This is the first in a series of posts here where I reflect on the role/experience of minority groups in and around medieval buildings. I’ve always been interested in the experiences of ‘ordinary’ people around buildings, but a recent workshop on medieval buildings at TCD reminded me that ‘minority’ groups (particularly women) are seriously neglected in the public representations of buildings. Therefore, I’d like to use this space to begin to explore these ideas a bit further and to increase the public coverage and awareness of these issues. I shall start here by discussing women in buildings.

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Burnt buildings and Gothic cathedrals: some thoughts on buildings and the memory of place

The loss of historic buildings is occurring with increasing frequency, whether through deliberate demolition or accidental destruction. The recent fire in Belfast’s Bank Buildings was a significant loss to the city, as this was an iconic building within the city centre. The large red-brick building is currently owned by Primark clothes shop and renovations were almost complete in the modern extension to the rear of the building.  The building has had a number of functions of the decades, one of which was the bank that gave the building its name, and, like most buildings, has undergone renovations and restorations. What has been evident in the discussions of this in the media is that it is not necessarily the physical material of the building that is important, but people’s perceptions of it. I’ll discuss our perceptions of materiality in another blog post, but here I want to focus on memory and experiences. Jake O’Kane has discussed this in a lot more engaging narrative than I could in his column in the Irish News. This made me think about how we experience buildings. One of the reasons that this building was so important to generations of Belfast residents was their individual and collective memories of interacting with the building. Many people will have entered the building to do their shopping, met with friends or had friends and relatives who worked in the building. These engagements and memories give the building a special place in our social memory. The fact that it is interactions that are important, rather than architecture, suggests why a building can change slowly over time with little complaints but a sudden alteration or its destruction can cause a massive public outcry.
Surely this can not be a modern phenomenon? Medieval people must have had a similar relationship with their buildings. Taverns were where you met with other townsfolk or villagers, and probably never saw lords and aristocrats. While churches were where all levels of society were visible, even if they didn’t interact, and were the setting for many important life milestones for the people of the community, such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Manorial farmyards were places where many villagers would have come together to work for the lord, so there was probably some comradery between the workers and memorable incidents and friendships. Thus buildings within Medieval settlements and towns will have been imbued with similar connotation as we place on modern buildings. And Medieval people were probably as likely to be shocked by massive changes in the appearance of buildings, such as the initial adoption of Gothic architecture. I recently visited the cathedral of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The shock of the visual effect of the huge amounts of decoration and the scale must be similar to that experienced by Medieval people when their Romanesque cathedral was extended or rebuilt in Gothic. We often think of lords wishing to make an impression of their wealth, authority, and international connections, or masons developing advanced techniques to ensure the buildings stood. What we rarely think about is how the villagers or townspeople felt when they saw their church being rebuilt in a modern style. It is likely that the people of the Middle Ages had similar thoughts to us when important buildings within the built environment change. New architecture and the removal of memories probably provoked similar reactions in the Middle Ages as they do today. Buildings archaeologists need to remember that modern thought is really not that modern and that how we experience buildings has many parallels with how Medieval people experienced their buildings.

Leeds International Medieval Congress 2018

It’s been a while since I last posted here, mainly because I was preparing for and attending the Leeds IMC, the worlds largest gathering of medievalists! This year almost 5,000 medievalists from across the world converged on the university of Leeds for a week long conference covering every imaginable subject area related to medieval studies. This was my third time attending the IMC and it is definitely one of the highlights of the year. Most of the Wednesday for me was given over to the three sessions that I co-organised for the Medieval Settlement Research Group, but the rest of the week was a packed schedule of sessions covering a wonderful range of topics, from burials and swords to castles and pain.

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