Castles of England/Castle Estates

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In this chapter we'll explore the wider setting of the castle, including the lands set aside for food production and recreation. Even the smallest castle housed a sizable staff and local food production was essential particularly in times of war.

Food Production[edit]

Farms and Orchards[edit]

Fish Ponds[edit]

A medieval fish pond, Pirton Pool. Photograph by Philip Halling

During the winter, supplying fresh food for the castle garrison was a constant struggle. Although meat would be available from deer parks, this couldn't supply the needs of the whole household. A fish pond provided an elegant solution. As long as there was a natural flow of water into the pond, fish required no feeding and were available all year round. There would usually be a series of ponds, with fish being moved between them as they grew.

Deer Parks[edit]

Hunting was a popular activity for castle owners and their household, and a deer park provided a recreational facility as well as food for the table. The park was constructed by digging a ditch and raising a rampart around the edge, topping the rampart with a fence. The design was the opposite of a castle's defences, with the ditch on the inside, as the intention was to keep the deer in. The parks were protected by Forest Law, which also banned the hunting of boar, hare and wolf. The castle owner required a license from the king to construct a deer park, which, along with the more general ban on deer hunting, made venison an exclusive meat. Thus the castle owner with a deer park was able to greatly impress visitors by serving venison.

Mills[edit]

Mills were required for the production of flour. They were large and expensive, and a significant source of revenue, so the castle estate would usually have a watermill, windmills being comparatively rare during the age of the castle.

Barracks[edit]

Before the 14th century, the fighting strength of a castle - its knights and peasant soldiers - would have lived outside the castle. The knights supplied their own horses and equipment as part of their feudal commitment. Later the feudal system began to be replaced with standing armies of professional soldiers. The castle owner had to provide this army with board and lodgings. Typically these barracks were constructed inside the outer bailey.

Gardens[edit]

The Tiltyard[edit]

Horse Guards Parade in London, a former tiltyard.

If anything seems inextricably linked with the castle, it's the tiltyard. This was place where knights practised their skills, and tournaments and jousting competitions were held. They were only commonplace in later medieval castles.

A tournament was a general mêlée where groups of knights fought each other in a trial of skill. Jousting where two knights ride at each other, occurred during tournaments but was more a feature of the tournament than the main event. Jousting as an event in its own right became increasingly popular from about the 12th century as it allowed individual knights to demonstrate their skill and courage. Large sums of money were on offer for the winners, but losing could mean the loss of a fortune or even life.