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  Saxon or Welsh Dwelling mainly murder

dark ages dwellingMade of Wattle and Daub over a wooden frame, these simple dwellings were common across Britain in the period known as the Dark Ages. They often doubled as a barn for livestock and living quarters for people. This example has a small byre (animal shelter) with a storage loft to one end, separated from the main living space by a simple wattle and daub screen. The living space is a single room, with bedding and storage to one end, cooking facilities at the other end and a small shrine near the main door. The floor is compacted mud or clay, sometimes with straw mixed in, sometimes covered in woven or animal hide rugs. Around he hearth, large stones were layed to prevent the fire spreading. The windows were small and few in number. They were not glazed but would have been shuttered to keep the wind out, and perhaps curtained with heavy cloth or skins in winter.

inside a dark ages houseThere is no chimney, just a simple smoke hole in the roof located over the fire pit. There is minimal storage space, so many items are hung from the support posts and roof beams. The small shrine near the door may have been dedicated to local pagan deities, to the spirits of the earth or, in later years, to the christian God. These small dwellings would sometimes house up to six or even eight people in very cramped conditions. The sleeping arrangements would depend on numbers, but generally the best places were taken by the adults. During the winter months, the choice sleeping spot was next to the fire, though this often meant tending the fire too. In summer, people were happy to sleep outdoors, sometimes even on the roof!

The threat of war and plunder (especially from the Nordic tribes who pirated the British coasts) sometimes forced the building of defensive ramparts, ditches and pallisades. Although no real defense against large, determined rampaging hordes, the defenders at least had time to arm themselves properly! The addition of a raised walkway allowed defenders to use height advantage over attacking forces to attempt to keep them at distance with thrown spears, slung stones or, if supplies allowed, barrages of arrows.

a fortified dark ages house


These fortified dwellings often contained outhouses used for storage, as livestock shelters or for more specific purposes such as butter making or meat curing. Another common addition was a small oven furnace used to fire clay pots or to bake bread. The addition of storage space for firewood, foodstocks and animal feed plus the provision of a drinking water supply meant that defenders could hold out for several weeks if necessary.

 

(these illustration were commisioned for Valkyrie Magazine, issue 24. They are NOT authentic designs)

 

 

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