Building a Castle
After the castle site was picked, and the designs laid out, the actual construction began. Workers congregated at the site, built themselves temporary homes, and got to work. Carpenters, masons, scribes, blacksmiths, and all manner of laborers started to build.
The first thing to do was digging the foundations. Although most walls needed to be sunk into the ground for stability (and to prevent sapping), this was not the case when the walls were built on stone. With a rock-solid foundation, no sapper would be able to tunnel through, and the walls had the strongest foundation possible.
Building the walls was a tedious job. The inner and out faces of the wall were built stone by stone, each one with its own shape and size. Every so often the wall would be evened out and leveled with a row of smaller stones, created a firm foundation for the next few rows of stones.
In between these two faces there was a cavity that was filled with rubble. During building, large amounts of scrap material was thrown out, and all this went into the walls, to be mixed with mortar and extra stone. The unusual mixture would constitute the bulk of the wall's volume, and make the wall larger at a small cost.
As the walls increased in height, it would quickly become impossible to keep building from the ground. To bring the workers and stone up the height of the wall, scaffolding was assembled. The wooden scaffolding was built right next to the wall, and the structure was supported with logs that fit into “putlog” holes. These were holes left in the wall for just this purpose. Using the scaffolding, workers would build ramps to transport men and material up to the height of the wall.
Building a tower was similar to building a wall. Inner and outer faces were stone, with rubble filling the remainder. At the bottom of the tower was a basement, used as a storage location and giving the tower a strong foundation.
Above the basement were several more stories of office or living space. Each level had a wooden floor, supported on heavy beams, which were in turn supported on corbels. Corbels were stone projections from the wall, which had to be built in as the structure rose. Fireplaces and chimneys were also built into the wall, so the builder had to constantly keep these things in mind as he worked.
After the stone structure was complete, the roof of wooden beams and lead or slate tiles was put into place and a layer of sweet herbs and reeds was spread over each floor.
The gates of the castle were very important. Gates were always the weakest part, so on top of being built just like walls and towers, they included some interesting designs to keep put unwanted visitors.
A drawbridge, balanced carefully, could be pulled up quickly when the castle was under attack. Just past the drawbridge was the the door, a thick wooden structure with iron studs. Also in the entry way was a portcullis, a gate that dropped from above to further impede enemy progress. As a last measure, if the enemy got past the first gates, there would often be a corridor leading to a second set of gates. In the ceiling of the corridor would be holes, called “murder holes,” from which the defenders would drop stones and fire arrows at the attackers.
Last, and, in this case, least, were the castle buildings. Relatively quickly constructed, they had a wooden beam frame, with a woven mat of reeds filling in the gaps, covered with mud or clay. This type of construction was called “half timber” construction, and the reed mat system was called “wattle and daub.” Floors of the buildings were covered in reeds, and the windows contained oiled sheep or goat skin instead of glass.
After all was said and done, a castle could take many years to complete. Despite this, there are enough castle ruins around Europe to remind us that it must have been worth it! As a symbol of power and authority, a castle was critical to a town and its ruler.