Castle residents
While the lord was in residence, he inspected his
lands, met his castle officials to make sure
everything was running smoothly, passed judgement
on prisoners, and entertained guests with
hunting,feasting and perhaps a joust. A lord with
several castles spent only a few months a year at
each. The rest of the time he might be at the kings
court or fighting overseas.Because of the danger of
fire, the kitchen had its own separate building in the
courtyard. It was usually connected to the great hall
by a covered passageway called a pentice. Because
of the distance it had to be carried, food was often
stone cold by the time it reached the table.
Conwy castle had its own prison at the bottom of
the prison tower. In most castles,prisoners were
usually locked up in cellars. Prisons were sometimes
oubliettes, from the French oublier meaning
to forget. Many castles had their own well tended
gardens for growing herbs and vegetables. The
garden at Conwy castle was in the east barbican.
1-Watergate.  2-east barbican. 3-chapel tower.  4-kings
5-kings chamber. 6-storeroom. 7-well. 8-pentice.
9-kitchen tower. 10-kitchen. 11-great hall. 12-prison
13-garderobe. 14-northwest tower. 15-southwest
16-west barbican. 17-gatehouse. 18-town wall.
In times of peace, only a few soldiers were needed to patrol the castle walls and the hourds were taken
down from the battlements. The castle was quiet for much of the year, but when the lord arrived for one
of his visits or the king came to stay, the castle was filled with the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
While the lord was
away, the constable
was put in charge of
the castle. He was a
knight and often one
of the lord's
relatives. The
constable appointed
other castle officials,
such as the steward
who looked after the
castles finances and
The lord brought a huge household with him, perhaps swelling the number of residents from 20 to 200.
His household would include a priest, soldiers and a host of servants. Fellow lords would also come to
stay. Then there were the entertainers-jugglers, jesters, minstrels and travelling actors called mummers.
Food and drink
Most castles kept only a small amount of food in storage all year round. But when the king or lord
visited, the courtyard would ring with commands and curses and the clatter of rolling barrels. Servants
filled the cellars and storerooms with sides of salty bacon and heavy sacks of grain and flour. The
steward would check old supplies to make sure that the grain for making bread had not gone mouldy,
or the wine had not turned sour.
Mushrooms and onions(1)
were often threaded on
long strings and hung up
to dry
Meat was salted in a
salting box
(2). Then it
was hung on hooks
or stored in barrels
Most large castles had a pantler (5), who looked after the food supplies
stored in the pantry(from the French word
painetterie, meaning bread store).
Preserving food
Although castles stone cellars were cool, it was impossible to keep food for long. Most meat was
therefore smoked or heavily salted so that it would last through winter. Vegetables were dried or
pickled. Sometimes layers of fruit and meat were stored together in barrels. The fruit juices soaked into
the meat and helped to preserve it. This is where the word "mincemeat" (the sweet fruit mixture put
into pies at Christmas) comes from.
White meats
Milk from sheep, goats and cows, and the cream butter and cheese made from it, were called "white
meats". The creamiest part of the milk was made into butter or soft cheese for the lord and his family.
Servants had to make do with a thick, hard cheese made from the rest of the milk. Sometimes this
cheese was so tough it had to be smashed into pieces with a hammer before it could be eaten.
Well water
Every castle needed its
own supply of
water-especially if it was to
survive a siege. Deep stone
lined shafts were dug to
underground springs and
the water was raised I
buckets using a rope and
windlass. Sometimes water
was channelled straight to
the kitchen.
Special jobs
Some jobs carried great
honour and importance.
The butler looked after
the castles supplies of
wine, and the ewerer
made sure that the lord's
tablecloths and napkins
were always clean. Both
these jobs were done by
noblemen who were
chosen by the lord.
Some castles kept
honey bees. Honey
was used to sweeten
food and drink. It
was also the main
ingredient in mead- a
strong alcoholic
drink popular during
the Middle Ages.
Larger castles had their own
fishponds, orchards and
vine-yards, as well as gardens
which supplied vegetables and
herbs. Cattle, sheep and pigs were
kept on surrounding farmlands.
The lords hunting parties also
brought back deer, wild boar and
pheasants from the forests for
special feasts.
The kitchen
When the lord was away, the castle kitchen became quiet. The constable
might eat alone in his private room, and a small garrison needed only basic
meals. However during the lord's visit, the kitchen buzzed with activity. The
cook bellowed orders and the undercooks chopped vegetables, plucked
poultry and pounded meat until it was tender. The worst jobs in the
kitchens, such as cleaning the cauldron or fetching the water from the well,
were done by young boys called scullions.
Cauldron cooking
All kitchens had at
least one big
cauldron which
was slung on a
hook over an open
fire. Cauldrons
were used for
stews soups and
sauces. Sometimes
they were packed
with several
dishes, all to be
cooked at once.
(3)-fish, in sealed
pottery jars,
puddings in cloth
(4), and a slab
of bacon
The warmest part of the kitchen was in front of the blazing hearth. Here, a scullion called a turnspit
had the hot job of turning a long pole on which meat was skewered for roasting. A dome shaped oven
for baking bread was usually built into the hearth. I t was heated with blazing brushwood and stayed
hot for hours. Food was not only spicy,. It was coloured with vegetable dyes and sometimes gilded with
gold. Parsley was used for green, saffron for yellow and sandalwood for red.
On special occasions magnificent banquets were held
in the great hall. The lord, his family and the most
important guests sat at the high table, which was
raised above the other diners and covered with a
tablecloth of fine linen. A gold or silver boat shaped
ornament called a nef was placed in the middle of the
table and was used to hold the lords napkin.
After a fanfare of trumpets sounded, a procession of servants brought in the dishes. Guests might be
ordered soups and jellies, ells and lampreys, roast goose or swan, huge pies and fruit tarts. The food was
served up in dishes called messes which were shared between several people. Honoured guests had their
own messes and ate off gold or silver plates. Everyone else used a trencher-a big slice of stale bread which
soaked up the grease from the food. Leftovers were saved for the poor people waiting at the castle gates.
An aquamanile held water for
washing hands before each
meal. The water was poured
through a hole in the top.
At meals, there were rules about how to behave when eating. Just like today, it was
thought rude to talk with your mouth full or to munch noisily as you ate.
Guests with good manners would share cups of wine and offer food from their
own plate to a neighbour. Gusts ate with knives or spoons. Forks were not used
until the end of the middle ages.