Life in the Medieval Castle

We recently organised an event at Chester Castle as part of the Discover Medieval Chester project.  It was the first time the castle had been open to the public for several years and probably the only living history event that has ever taken place there.  There were a good many Cestrians who didn't know there was a medieval part to the castle, and worryingly a few who didn't know there was a castle at all.  But hopefully the event has done something to address this.  We had excellent coverage in the local press and radio in advance and ended up with over 1000 visitors in the space of the five hour event.

As we opened the gates there were already twenty or so people waiting keenly to get in and it didn't let up through the day with people flocking in to find out more about this bit of Chester's history.  We're hoping to be able to do it all again, but in the meantime I though we would share some of the happenings here.

Chester's castle is one of the oldest in Britain, being founded in 1069/70 with the Norman motte still standing today.  The sturdy Agricola tower is the main surviving medieval element of the castle, and that's where we were based though visitors were also able to wander the wall walk past the medieval Flag Tower and Half Moon Tower.
With Chester being an important border city the castle has continued in use through the centuries and so changes have taken place, with some of the medieval defences being removed and replaced in the 18th and 19th century, especially with the Thomas Harrison's neoclassical redesign of the castle at the end of the 18th century.

But happily enough of the medieval structure remains, hidden behind the later sprawl of the castle, and along with a merry band we set up displays outside in the courtyard to reflect life in the castle in the 14th and 15th century.

Sue was exploring the food that might have been prepared in the castle kitchen, now sadly lost but which had been just feet from where she set up a table packed with spices, medieval gingerbread, a tart on ember day, hipocras, cherry pudding, different cheeses and girdle cakes and almond milk.

There was also a chance to find out about the work involved behind the scenes in a medieval castle including cleaning, keeping away pests and doing the laundry.
The monk Lucian, writing at the end of the 12th century in his work De Laude Cestriae, (In Praise of Chester) said that "the Castle was a nuisance, but the church was a consolation".  In keeping with his feelings the Reverend Mother was present to give the pious a chance to learn more about religion and relics.
Upstairs in the Agricola Tower, there is the chapel of St Mary de Castro with its remains of wall paintings from 1220.  Gerry Tighe, from Chester Guild of Guides, worked tirelessly throughout the day to reveal their story to the hundreds of visitors who ventured up the spiral stone steps to the chapel.
In the 14th century, the Chamberlain of Chester Castle was responsible for equipping the famed Cheshire Archers with their striking green-and-white livery and their arrows.  An archer was on hand to reveal the story of these soldiers and their role as royal bodyguard.

Fortunately no arrow injuries were sustained, but the surgeon was present just in case...
Many important visitors, including several monarchs, were entertained at Chester Castle in medieval times and so we felt that entertaining our visitors should be just as important.

I was charged with storytelling for the day, with tales of the castle, along with some Cheshire myths and legends and as usual I squeezed in some piper's tales.
But the real treat of the day were the performances by Piva.  From the blast of rauschfeifen which echoed off the castle walls and across the city through the beautifully played tunes in the atmosphere of the Agricola Tower chamber to their rousing finish of pipes and drum they were as inspiring as always.

All too soon it was time to wrap up for the day, but we'd had a great time introducing so many Cestrians and visitors to the city to a little known but still important part of our heritage.  I do hope we can bring the medieval castle to life again.