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Building a Castle: The Kitchen

Early in the medieval period castle kitchens and store rooms were free-standing buildings inside the bailey to guard against fire. As fire safety improved kitchens were built into the lower storey of the great hall, with a passage leading into the hall.


Medieval kitchen Gainsborough Old Hall (

The kitchen featured a large stone fireplace, big enough to roast sizeable animals or pieces of meat to feed the whole castle. The fireplace had a bread oven built into the back, and hooks for hanging pots to boil stew or vegetables. The problem with a large fireplace is getting the fire to draw when it was first lit. Some fireplaces had an aperture in the back which could be opened to create more draught, and they all had large chimneys.


Medieval bread

The bread oven had its own fire to create the correct temperature for baking, but the smoke rose up the same chimney and the embers could be raked into the main fireplace. Then the loaves were placed on the oven floor using a long-handled wooden shovel.


In a small kitchen the cook would have only a few staff but in grand noble or royal households there would be specialists for each task: roasting, boiling, making sauces, making bread and pies, grinding spices with a pestle and mortar, churning butter and so on. The lowliest of all were the scullions, who cleaned and drew water from the well.

The butler was in charge of the buttery, where wine and ale were kept in large butts or barrels, the 
pantler was in charge of the pantry where bread was kept – the name came from the French for bread: pain (pronounced pan).


A lot of water was needed in the kitchen, both for washing food, cooking and cleaning. They would also sluice away waste, and many kitchen had tiled floors and a drain out to the moat to assist with this. The well was often adjacent to the kitchen, but in Chester Castle the well in the outer bailey was connected to the kitchen by lead pipes.

[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