Buckets and spades at the ready, it’s nearly the summer holidays! And, while you focus on creating the best sandcastle, let us share some English castle heritage.

Earth & Timber Fortifications

Did you know that the earliest fortifications were formed from soil and timber? Known as Ringworks and Hill Forts, these were typically formed as circular banks and ditches. At the centre was a raised mound. An outer barrier was created from timber uprights, called a palisade. In some forts, a timber tower was constructed on the mound for knights, noblemen, soldiers and horses to reside in.

The reason that earth and timber were used is they were locally available materials. This allowed forts to be constructed in convenient locations, often close to river crossings and trade paths. Around 1,200 of these ancient sites have been identified in England.

Castles Through the Ages

Do you remember 1066 and the Battle of Hastings from history lessons? This date also marks the start of an intense period of castle building in England. William the Conqueror kicked it all off by ordering a ‘Motte & Bailey’ earth and timber castle to be built in Hastings. Following this, approximately 1,000 other Norman castles were built across England. However, by the mid 1200’s the risk of attack by fire shifted the building materials and design. From this time, we see towering stone keeps replacing low-level timber buildings.

What’s more, the design changed to tall towers with incredibly thick walls. Over time, outer defences and gatehouses were added when castles were built. These all provided better protections for those who stayed within the fortresses.

By the late Middle Ages, a growing number of castles were being used as homes by influential families. As a result, more decorative features including windows, courtyards and stone carvings started to appear. Additionally, spaces within the castle were divided into timber-beamed rooms, including kitchens, bedrooms and halls. The walls in grander rooms were covered with timber panels and thick tapestries to help retain any heat.

Then, Henry VIII returned the role of castles to defence. With the threat of invasion from France and Spain, he focused on creating a system of national ‘gun forts’ located along coastal regions. When the threat passed, many were abandoned. However, some were recommissioned as sea defences and command centres during WWII.

Managing & Restoring Castles

Across the UK, you can discover around 4,000 fortifications. Some are ruins of a once important site, others are beautifully restored castles that attract millions of visitors. The majority are now managed by charitable trusts, including English Heritage. Their role in maintaining these historic buildings is a costly and demanding challenge. It involves balancing the architectural integrity of the site, whilst adhering to the safety and accessibility requirements that allow castles to remain open to visitors.

In some cases, considerable restoration works are required to prevent the decline of these historically significant structures. When renovating castles, the priority is to be as authentic as possible. Therefore, considerable research is undertaken to understand the building materials and methods used in the original construction. This process can uncover hidden secrets and unveil undiscovered areas, which add to the understanding of the castle’s role and use.

With decisions based on the research, architects and other conservation stakeholders will identify suitable materials for renovation works. These will most accurately replicate what is being replaced and retain the appearance of the building.

Charred Timber Supplies for Castle Renovation Projects

Did you know that Exterior Solutions Ltd has supplied Shou Sugi Ban® charred timber for several major castle renovations? Our handcrafted timbers offer a timeless quality that blends in with traditional stone and timber elements. With controlled charring, we provide bespoke finished timber for replicating internal features.

Shou Sugi Ban® timbers are also specified when architects add new buildings to existing castle features, for example, to provide education rooms and ticket offices. We’ve also supplied charred timber for Castle exhibitions. Find out how we helped to bring history to life in Colchester Castle.

If you would like to find out more about the suitability of our charred timber range for your heritage renovation project, please call us on 01494 711800.

Building Materials in Castles

This summer holidays, your family might decide to visit one of England’s many castles. Some sites are steeped in myth and legend, such as Tintagel and its links with King Arthur or Nottingham Castle which is associated with Robin Hood. Others have gained popularity since featuring in films, such as Alnwick where scenes for Harry Potter were set. A few, like Windsor Castle, are used by the Royal Family as a palace.

If you do go exploring, see what building materials are used. Can you see stone walls, timber beams and doors formed from solid wood? Can you tell which are the original building materials apart from those used in the Castle’s renovation?

Related reading: