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The impact of castles

The building of castles would significantly alter the landscape around them for hundreds of years to come. Castles required a huge amount of resources from the countryside that could not be easily replaced or re-grown. Timber castles used large amounts of wood in their construction, for floors, doors and scaffolding. Even for the smaller castles large amounts of timber would be required. To supply this timber castle builders would have to cut down large areas of wood and forest. This in turn would provide the castle with a better defensive view of the area around it.

Timber dealers could often be found in towns. They were men who had the right to cut down trees from the surrounding woods and forests. If you did not own the trees that you required for timber you could negotiate for their purchase, but you would need to hire labour to cut and prepare them.

Timber was also required as fuel in the castle. There would be fires in the Great Hall and in the lord's solar (private room) as well as in the constable's quarters in the gatehouse. Fuel would also be needed for the fire in the kitchen, which would have probably been lit all day. The blacksmith's forge burnt charcoal, which was produced by burning wood in special outdoor hearths.

The stone required for constructing castles was more difficult to obtain. If possible a quarry or quarries would be opened up and worked as close as possible to the castle site (Caernarvon Castle in Wales had four quarries). These quarries were often supplemented by purchasing stone from elsewhere, and the selection was left to the master mason. Purchasing stone sourced some distance from the site caused its own problems. Stone was difficult and expensive to transport and men with carts would have to be hired to collect and deliver the stone. Sometimes they were paid by the day and sometimes they were paid by the trip, with probably only a maximum of two return trips in one day.

If limestone could be found near to the castle then lime for the castle walls would have been prepared on site; if not it would have had to be bought in ready to use.

It has been estimated by Glyn Coppack of English Heritage that Wigmore Castle could have housed a garrison of 200 men at times of war, 100 men when the lord was visiting and 30 in times of peace. Each person in the castle would have required roughly three hectares of land on which to produce enough food to live on. This means that Wigmore Castle would have needed to control and farm the equivalent of 90 hectares to feed the 30 people that lived there all year round. At times of war, or when the lord was visiting and the number of inhabitants increased, the food would have needed to stretch further and supplies would have been brought in from elsewhere. In the case of Wigmore Castle these supplies may have been procured from the various tiers of tenants and subjects in the surrounding area that the lord of the castle ruled.

Peasants were required to pay tithes to the village priest, which consisted of one-tenth of their produce. As well as having to plough, sow and harvest the lord's crops, peasants also had to get their own corn milled at one of the lord's mills. The lord kept part of their harvest as payment. This gave the lord another element of control over those living on his land and reinforced the idea that they were subservient to him.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2002]