3/10 things you didn’t know about Bodiam Castle: Ornamentation

Unlike at Ightham Mote ornamentation on the architecture at Bodiam is virtually none existent. Despite the scale of the building and its presence in the landscape there is just one piece of decorated stonework remaining: a leafy boss.

Leafy Bpss

Again unlike at Ightham it is not on display in an obvious entrance or public room, it is concealed in the on the right side of the gatehouse on the second floor. It is not in a room, but more of a passageway which only remarkable feature (other than the boss) is one of the new style gun loops. It is so concealed that few visitors notice it (and even so called experts *myself* spent a good morning wandering around looking at ceilings before I found it!).

Size of Room

It is curious that it is found in this location. As I have already stated at Ightham the majority of the ornamentation is on the public areas of the building. This area of Bodiam is so concealed it is not a display of ostentation as it is in other buildings. It is so concealed and so small we have to question why it is there. The room is tiny it could even be considered a corridor, its only feature is that the gun loop lighting it overlooks the gatehouse: which have been suggested as some kind of porters lodge use. The room itself is very dark even during the day, there is no space to sit in the room, or anything to do there except look out the gun loop. It required such a trained eye to find it it seems wasted here in this part of the building.

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Ightham and ornamentation

Much of this blog so far has concerned itself with Bodiam Castle and the work I am doing there. I have just completed a week of fieldwork in Kent and on the first day I spent a morning at Ightham Mote. My intention was to photograph various areas around the hall and see how the roofs are put together.

Ightham Mote, Kent

While looking around I began to think about the experience of entering the great hall. Unlike at Bodiam Ightham has much for ornamentation on the structure of the building. There are decorative panels around the doorways and most importantly a series of engraved faces at the bases of the roof arches. These face in a range of directions and feature different characters. The first of these would have been encountered at the entrance to the hall these feature two (now somewhat eroded) faces. On another entrance in the courtyard the two faces are both gurning one looking sad and the other happy. The two faces on the entrance to the hall could have depicted similar features.

Smiling face to right of door

Sad face to left of other door

Closeup of one of the faces

Entrance to Great Hall faces can be seen on the archway

Other entrance from courtyard

Once through the door you now enter a new entrance room whereas just after the initial construction you would have entered directly into the hall. Another of these faces now greats you from directly opposite the entrance. This one is positioned as if he is holding up the hall. He looks under great strain. This could have links to the idea of lordship in feudal society. It could give suggestions of social status. It is also interestingly positioned at the lower end of the hall.

Figure opposite entrance

As one turns into the hall from this position there are two more sets of faces at the bases of the main beams in the hall. One set at the centre of the room look intently up towards the head of the room. This could be another architectural social cue. The building could be giving instructions through the architecture to those entering it. These figures show how those sitting below are meant to act towards their lord.

Figure at centre of hall

At the very head of the room are two final figures each with large shoulders again holding up the roof. These are looking back down the room at those seating below it. These ones are harder to read. They to some extent look like they are wearing masks.

Figures at head of hall

At Ecclesiastical sites architecture provides visual cues to convey social expectations particularly about what behaviour is expected or what they are expected to be thinking about. In an age where most people were not literate an image or visual cue would convey and have much more meaning than the written word (Woolgar, 2006: 179-180)(D. L. C. Clark, 2007). These figures might be being used to convey similar information about what is expected of the illiterate in this context.

Reference

Clark, D.L.C., 2007. Viewing the liturgy: a space syntax study of changing visibility and accessibility in the development of the Byzantine church in Jordan. World Archaeology, 39(1), pp.84-104. Available at: http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?genre=article&doi=10.1080/00438240601148798&magic=crossref||D404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3 [Accessed October 29, 2010].

Woolgar, C.M., 2006. The Senses in Late Medieval England, London: Yale University Press.