The early castles were usually a type called motte-and-bailey. Castle builders made a huge, steep, earth mound surrounded by a very deep ditch. Around the top of the mound they erected a timber wall. Within the wall was a stronghold called a keep which was usually a tall, wooden, rectangular tower. Below the motte there was a large area enclosed by its own ditch and wall. This was the bailey. Usually the castle’s commander and his family lived in the keep, and his soldiers, with their horses and supplies, were housed in buildings in the bailey.
While the outside walls of a castle were often whitewashed, so that they gleamed in the sunlight. The walls inside were also whitewashed. In the great hall and the nobles’ chambers, the walls were often paneled with wood, painted white or in colours such as green and gold, and even embellished with murals. Hangings of painted cloth provided more decoration and helped cut down on drafts.
In the fourteenth century tapestries became popular wall coverings. Floors during this period, however, were generally bare wood or stone, strewn with sweet-smelling rushes and herbs. To take advantage of the natural light in order to read, do needlework or simply to view the garden, a cushioned window seat was usually placed beneath the large windows. Other lighting was provided by candles made from animal fat or sometimes (if it could be afforded) beeswax and oil lamps. Fireplaces provided both light and heat.
High, curtained beds, with feather filled mattresses piled with quilts and fur blankets kept the lords and ladies warm at night. The bed was so large that usually there was little other furniture in the chamber – just a few stools and carved wooden chests for storage. Close to the chamber would be a garderobe, a kind of indoor outhouse with a seat located over a chute that generally led to the moat. This may have been convenient but there was no toilet paper; hay was used instead.
The castle’s residents ate their meals together in the great hall, so a kitchen building was usually close by. Food was stored in or near the hall. A well and several cisterns, which caught rainwater, supplied water to the castle.