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Building a Castle: Domestic Comforts

According to The Medieval Castle Haynes Manual by Charles Phillips:

Aside from providing a roof over the head and protection from both the elements and enemies without, the best and more comfortable noble accommodation was fitted with a latrine – and sometimes with running water. Some rooms were also equipped with their own mural fireplaces for heating, and candlestick holders set in the walls, bringing both warmth and light into what could otherwise be a dark, chilly place.

Wells and Cisterns


Most castles had a well and some had cisterns – an area for collecting rainwater. Running water was provided by either an extension of the well head to an upper floor so that water could be drawn and emptied into a tank, or by a cistern on a tower roof.


Garderobe, Peveril Castle, Derbyshire

Toilets or latrines were also called garderobes, from a French word meaning a cupboard or small space. They were usually built into an external wall, with a shaft through the wall which emptied into the moat, a ditch, the sea, a river, or over a cliff. You can imagine the smell, especially where the garderobes emptied into the moat, which turned it into a cesspit. The best ones were those that emptied into a river or the sea, which would carry the waste away.
King Henry III famously complained:

‘The privy in the chamber of our wardrobe at London is situated in an undue and improper place, wherefore it smells badly. ‘He demanded that another be built, ‘even though it should cost a hundred pounds.’


Woman bathing in a Castle (left)

Baths were taken in a wooden tub with a curtain, sitting on a stool. The water had to be drawn from the well and heated in the kitchens and carried to the lord’s quarters in wooden buckets. A bath was a rare event, even for nobles.

Lighting and Heating


Originally fires were set in the centre of the Great Hall, with the smoke escaping, eventually, through a hole in the roof. Later, fireplaces were built into the walls with a flue leading to a chimney on the roof. Further developments saw ceramic tiles used to line the back of the fireplace to absorb and reflect the heat.

When the sun disappeared, candles made from tallow (from rendered animal fat) or wax would be set on spiked candlesticks in the walls, or torches or rushlights would be used. Rushlights were made by twisting strands of rush together and coating them with grease or tallow.
[adapted from The Medieval Castle Haynes Manual by Charles Phillips]
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at