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Building a Castle: Hearths and Tiles

It may seem a strange combination to write about hearths and tiles in the same post, but once hearths moved away from the centre of the Great Hall to fireplaces against the walls, they needed to be lined with tiles. It was far easier to replace damaged tiles than to rebuild a wall damaged by the heat of the fire.

Fireplace Tattershall Castle showing tiles in the back

Central hearths remained popular for many years, even though they must have filled the hall with smoke. Some master masons incorporated flues into the top of the windows in an attempt to draw out the smoke. It was the way they had always done it, to gather around the central fire.

Even in halls with a central hearth there was sometimes a mural fireplace in the wall behind the dais, to provide extra warmth to the lord and his guests. It was only a small step to building several fireplaces around the walls and do away with the central hearth altogether. It also did away with the smoke because mural fireplaces had a hood and a chimney.

Fireplace Cardiff Castle

Tiles were needed to line the fireplaces as well as for roofing and flooring. They were made from clay and fired at very high temperatures. The clay was worked to remove stones and air bubbles and kneaded until smooth. Then pressed into wooden moulds, smoothed and placed on drying racks for several weeks.

The dried tiles were stacked in a kiln and a layer of fired tiles placed on top as insulation. About three thousand tiles could be fired at one time. The kiln was heated to one thousand degrees celsius for fifteen hours. The tiler wore a leather apron and gloves to protect him from the heat, which I don’t think was very effective. Then the kiln took several days to cool down before the tiles could be removed and inspected.

[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