Friday, 12 February 2016

Inside a Tower House Illustration

Over the last while I have been working on finishing the interior of my tower house image. This is going to be quite a long post so Im going to have to do this in parts, look to each image to see explainations about the internal features of a tower house in detail.
For those of ye who dont know much about tower houses, they are a type of castle found in Ireland, more than a thousand examples of tower houses survive in Ireland to this day, some estimate that up to 7,000 were originally here, if this is true, this would have made Ireland the most heavily castellated parts of Europe.  There is evidence in some areas that you could see the next tower house from each tower house, almost a stone throw from each other, I have seen this myself in parts of east and north Cork. This is said to have been a form of power reinforcement, as there was a constant reminder of the tower houses everywhere. It is for this reason I added some tower houses off in the distance in the illustrations. 

Most of the interior is based off Kilcrea castle in Cork, there are some changes, for instance the addition of a fireplace in the 2nd floor, also the machicolation parapet and box machicolation (ill explain these later) at battlement level are additions. The reason I added these is that these features were typical of tower houses as a whole, so made this image more representative. But besides these the structure is nearly exactly the same as Kilcrea tower house. Ill deal with each floor and feature separately, there is alot to go through, so bear with me.

Ground floor- here is a cellar, as Stanihurst "house and castle" account of Mallow castle, 1584 "lower rooms whereof ar sellors vaulted over". Here various food and drink would have been kept, perhaps not just for the castle itself but for the wider community, acting as a safe house for everyones goods in case of raids.  The floor surface here is very basic and is just beaten earth.

1st floor- I have made into a sleeping quarters,. There is mention in the historical recorded accounts of tower houses that they were used for sleeping and that there were beds without curtains, and you could sometimes fit three people into them. So here i have shown some rudimentary beds, not just for guests, but also for the guards and servants.  The 2nd & 1st floors are also covered with reeds, this would have often been what medieval floors were covered with according to medieval accounts, which then on occasion  would have been swept out and replaced. This room also doubles up as a guardsroom, as this floor was probably the last line of defence before the attackers get into the rest of the castle, so id imagine weapons would have been kept here for ease of access

Murder hole room & Lobby- you will notice small rooms off both ground and 1st floors. In the ground floor this was the lobby, where for defense purposes, once you were passed the main front door, you were greeted by two other strongdoors, one to the rest of the tower house, another to the ground floor. Above this was the murder hole room, essentially a room with a hole in it, the reason for the dramatic name is that while u were trapped in the lobby between the two strong doors, you would be fired apon from above by muskets (apparently unlike what movies would have us believe, hot oil was rarely used). But in the day to day, these were probably used as a kind of door eye hole, since there was no such thing in the main door, so before you got access to the rest of the house, someone would inspect you from above, before you were allowed in. In Kilcrea there was also a second one of these murder holes above the stairs just after the lobby, probably another line of defence if you were to break down the lobby doors.

Stairs- in a tower house usually started as a mural stairs to the left of the lobby entrance, these were then carried on by spiral staircases from the first floor up to the 4th floor, which then had another set of straight stairs leading to a small spiral stairs to the wallwalk area. This was probably defensive in nature, so it was harder for the attackers to take the spiral stairs and wall walk. This last set of stairs was usually hidden within one of the window embrasures at the top floor, this was a common feature in southern Ireland. In Kilcrea opposite this door was the door to the top garderobe chamber, more on this in another image.

2nd Floor- shows a kitchen with some sleeping quarters off in the mural chambers around the main room, these were L shaped rooms and could be accessed via the window embrasures of the main room, you can see one person leaning out of one such a door, having a word, while another person is sleeping inside another L shaped room. Kilcrea's main room  was probably more sleeping quaters, but in some other tower houses which had fireplaces at this level I have visited there was a guesses in some reports in that these were the kitchen, most kitchens would  probably have been external though

3rd Floor- Here I created as the lords room, caught between two floors with fireplaces, this would have been quite a warm room. It shows a typical late medieval bed, chests used for storage and a Savonarola chair, or X chair, in front of the bed, these were quite common throughout europe at the time, made in Italy. The third floor has its floor boards shown rather than covered, with the ocassional fur. Also note the paintings on the wall, there is mention in some written sources that the Irish decorated their walls with branches, and I found a piece of metalwork from late medieval Ireland with this very design (those many reference books come in handy sometimes!), the Clogán Óir Bronze Bell shrine of St. Senan, which was early medieval with later alterations in the late middle ages, one side of this had a pair of dragons with floreated tails and above, branch and leaf ornament along the top, so I used that here, while the knotwork is based off of other metalwork at the time.

4th floor- This was the dinning room, in the earlier periods there was always a large external hall to the tower house, made of non stone material, so doesnt survive (I actually didnt know this before I made the originaly illustration, hence why no hall, only so much one can do, too late now!) and there probably still was in the later period, but as time moved on, as in Britain and some parts of Europe at the same time, more and more the hall activities were taking place within the tower house. Probably smaller guest parties or lordly activities and personal meals were being taken within the tower house. Some tower houses always had an internal hall though like Bunratty and Barryscourt but these were the exception. Then the larger entertainments, with big crowds would have taken place in the external hall.  This dinning room floor in Kilcrea had lovely large windows, not all of them surviving, some with double lights with ogee heads, as shown, and some were missing, so I added a transomed triple ogee headed light as shown in the window on the left. These windows must have created quite a bright room. Rooms of this stature were probably decorated with ornate wood pannelling like shown, no such pannelling survives in Ireland, so these are inspired by ones in Britain. Generally tables at the time were long with benches and only really the lord would have had a seperate chair. People ate with their hands, there was no forks yet and everyone had a personal knife in which to cut their food with. The food shown is a pig roasted in its skin,, as described by Luke Gernon- "pig cooked in its skin like bacon, roasted by the joints on a skyn and served on the table". Also mentioned was herring, bread, leeks and salt/other food, a variety of meat, no sauce, a communal drinking mug, as well as tobacco on the table. The floor is of flagstones, showing the importance of this room, this floor is based off a ballynahow castle's floor in Tipperary. Note also the harper standing by as well, as Luke Gernons account says- "a harper plays in the middle of the super playing a tune and singeth Irish rymes of auncient making. if he a good rymer, he will make one song to the present occasion". The seating arrangement is based of Lughaidh Ó Cléirigh's biography of Red Hugh O'Donnell with the "Banquet hall arranged according to their dignity, O Domhnaill face to face with O Néill, the men in their due order also". Also Ludolf von Munchenhausen account, in 1591 "at mealtime the nobleman and his wife sat at the top end of the table or high end, with servants arranged around them according to rank." He also notes that  "At the end of the meal, water was distributed for washing feet" (Sounds biblical!)

Roof- the 4th floor in Kilcrea had very thin walls, in comares to the rest of the tower house, most likely to give it more space and air. The roof itself wasnt gabled but hipped, resting on cornices as shown above the wood pannelling. The roof itself is based off the only surviving tower house roof in Ireland, Dunsoghly Castle outside Dublin, sadly just a building in someones farm at the moment. The roof was often covered with tiles but many were probably thatched too. On the wall walk level, in the front, you can see there was holes at the bottom of the parapets (the stepped thingys), in Kilcrea some of the wall walk flagstones had chutes carved into them to leave off the rain. On the other side (the shadow side) shows wall walk machicolation, which were extended floors with holes in the ground, these are based of Blarney castles' with its pointed corbels. Shown here one of the guards looking down the gap in the floor at the scene below, which was probably its use most of the time, to see what was going on below, obviously it could also be used to fire down below when needed . Chimneys were also on the wallwalk level and were to become display features in their own right, rising to great heights to carry smoke away but also show everyone around how well the castle was heated - (in later periods castellated houses had lots of chimneys as an extra form of bling)

Usually tower houses had 2 garderobes, as did Kilcrea, one for public and another for private, in the case of Kilcrea both were probably public, but the upper one accessed from the dinning hall had 3 holes in it, so probably had wooden seats with three holes for 3 peope to use at the same time. This also gives further evidence that the 4th floor was a dinning hall of some sort, meant for the use of several people. This upper Garderobe chamber also had a window with a slop stone, which were small drainage basins underneath windows, which were essentially urinals. Often found on stairs, as there is mention in some English Historical accounts of laws forbidding people there from peeing on the stairs, which was obviously oft the case in the middle ages, so its probably no acident that the slop stone in Kilcrea was found on a stairs.

The garderobe on the 2nd floor, is one of the 3 L shaped chambers off the main room, which I made into a kitchen. Even though the account I used as reference on Tower houses in Cork, made no mention of it as a garderobe, after visiting the site the third time, I spotted it, and I almost sure that this is another garderobe, just a single use one, as there was a hole in the ground and I believe this had a tunnel leading off into the main garderobe chute. Each of these garderobes had wall recesses, these were probably for the toilet paper, though at the time they didnt use toilet paper. It used to believed they used moss, grass or leaves, but now people believe that moss would not have been in adequate numbers to provide daily use pf the toilet and leaves werent in season all year. So its probable that they had some kind of cloth that they re-used, mostly likely each person had their own and would wash it out. Maybe in a castle like this though, they had single use ones made from old clothes, which people would wash and bring back for further use. Nice eh?

Garderobes were normally at the ends of passages in both Anglo-Norman castles and tower houses, the reason for this is to give more distance between the rest of the house and the stench of the toilets. When not in use they would have been covered with clothes, as I did in the bottom garderobe here (tho I had to keep it fairly see thro in order for ye to see the toilet hole), this would have been used to keep the flies out. In Norman castles the chute from the garderobe was external and sometimes quite high up, you can imagine that on the castle wall, which would have been painted with white shiny harling, that you would have these long horrid streaks of excretion, which could be seen from miles, not pleasant! In the late middle ages though these chutes were in the thickness of the walls, which carried the excretion from above into a exit below, alot more discrete and modest! Garderobes were normally quite high up, this is because the long chutes would have meant less draughty toilets but also with the force of gravity, the excretion would pushed down to the bottom.

Note also here in this image the cutaway of the box machicolation at wall walk level. The box machicolation was usually just above the dor, allowing the defenders to shoot down at the attackers at the door, but also, like the internal murder box, in normal use, this would have allowed guards to check who was knocking, before letting them in. As you can see it was just a box with a chute in the middle to allow things to be dropped or to shoot from. Also note the sheela-na-gig on the shadow side of the wall, near the chute, this is based off the castle in Ballynacarriga, these were vulgar statues of a woman holding open her genitalia, they may have been some kind of reference to birthing. There is many many theories about these, too much for me to go into here, but worth a search online if you are interested

The scene shown here is the Luke Gernon account of what when you arrive at a tower house- "the lady of the house meets you with her trayne" when you arrive "you shall be presented with all the drinkes in the house, first the ordinary beere, then aquavite (thats whiskey by the way!), then sacke, then olde-ale". Some of the clothing of the arrivals, specially the one still on the horse is based off some scottish Gaelic clothing, also note the types of sadles are based off illustrations of Irish sadles at the time, which lacked stirrups. The horses would have been kept in probably a stable or billeted with the locals as mentioned in Luke Gernons account. You were presented with these same drinks as you leave, they knew how to party!

The front door shows the main strong door, which would have been surruounded by nice limestone dressing. Sometimes these were done series of dots and also also hammer and chisel dressing on the walls arround it, as shown here. This front door often had a yett infront, which was a reinforced iron external door, which acted as a defensive messure against attackers. Also note how white the castle is, this is because the castles at the time were painted with crushed pebbels and limestone, which when hit by the sun, would have gleemed white, as mentioned from contemporary castles at the time. You can imagine it would have made an impressive mark from afar!

Note also the many kinds of windows, some were cross shaped which were used for crossbows, others had a loop at the bottom, these were used for muskets, while the long narrow ones were used by archers, some had all three, as shown by the bottom cross window in the shadow side of the castle. As you can see the top floor had the largiest and most ornate of the windows, this was to allow the maximimum amount of light in. One of the windows has a transom, which was later than just double lights. Also there is hood moulding along the tops of these windows to run off rainwater. In Kilcrea the large window embrasure at top floor in the shadow side of the image, was re-purposed as a fireplace, and a chimney placed above, obviously originally the top floor was heated by a central fire but changed with the fashions to a fireplace instead. They kept the original ornate window though, so as to keep that impressive exterbak look

If you want to read more about the environs of the tower house and its bawn, I originally made this image months ago and here is the accompanying writeup:


Len White said...

I love this! I'm exploring "cut-aways" and found your image.
Absolutely love your detailed reference and explanations too.
Good work!

JG O'Donoghue said...

That's cool len! Nice of u to say so, are u illustrating cutaways?

Len White said...

I'm just starting to poke around the idea for fun. Not a professional illustrator but I think they can be incredibly captivating to look at and am exploring the best ways to approach them.
You are painting digitally? I paint in Photoshop.

JG O'Donoghue said...

ah thats cool man! Let me know if you need any pointers, not that Im an expert in it, but I have done a few over the years.

Yep painting digitally, the above illustration was done in Corel Painter, I used that for the last few years, but made the switch to photoshop recently