Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Building a Castle: The Great Hall

We looked last week at the construction of the roof of the Great Hall, so it's a good point at which to consider the building itself. This was the centre of castle life. In early medieval times the entire household ate and slept together here, and even when other rooms were added to separate the ranks it was still used for business, greeting visitors, and eating.
Great Hall Tamworth Castle
The size and architectural features made a bold statement of the lord's power and status, including the size and number of windows and the decorative embellishments. The windows may be large and with decorative carving, a fire burned in the centre of the room, and the walls may be plastered and decorated with painted designs.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Research: Population

According to A Brief History of the Future
It was in 2134 that the birth and death rates equalised and the world’s population started to decline from its 13.4 billion peak. The great fear of the previous one hundred and fifty years had been increasing population; from this point forward the fear was of population decline.
So as I have been doing, I researched population growth. The Our World in Data website article Future Population Growth by Max Roser is a preliminary collection of relevant data with some great charts.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Building a Castle: Timber and Tiled Roofs

The Great Hall, containing the main accommodation as well as the hall, was a real statement about the level of comfort the castle provided for the lord and his guests.In Gu├ędelon the Great Hall is directly across from the gatehouse, making an impact on new arrivals.
Gu├ędelon Castle Great Hall
Because wood rots over time, there is little evidence of how the roofs were constructed, apart from the slope on the gable ends of castle ruins. So the carpenters had a huge challenge to work out how to build the roof using only techniques and tools available in medieval times.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Research: Nuclear Fusion

The nuclear power plants which supply most of our electricity work by nuclear fission, splitting atoms and releasing energy. But they also release radioactivity and create dangerous waste materials. 

The sun works by nuclear fusion, forcing atoms together to create new atoms and energy. The fuel needed is much more easily obtained and the process is clean and non polluting.

There’s a detailed article on Wikipedia about nuclear fusion that explains it very well.

An article on the ITER website lists the advantages: Abundant energy, sustainability, no CO2, no long-lived radioactive waste, limited risk of proliferation, no risk of meltdown, and cost.
ITER is the world's largest fusion experiment, set up in southern France, but the UK government has just announced a £200 million investment to fund a British experiment at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy near Oxford.
Nuclear Fusion Plant artist's impression
The drawback is that scientists have not yet been able to make nuclear fission which produces more energy than the process takes to run. But they are working on it and hopeful of eventual success.

The book A Brief History of the Future predicts that we achieve nuclear fission by 2155 and it leads to the end of alternative energy, like wind and wave turbines and solar power. The British experiment hope to have a working plant by 2040.

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

Friday, 11 October 2019

Building a Castle: Domestic Comforts

According to The Medieval Castle Haynes Manual by Charles Phillips:
Aside from providing a roof over the head and protection from both the elements and enemies without, the best and more comfortable noble accommodation was fitted with a latrine – and sometimes with running water. Some rooms were also equipped with their own mural fireplaces for heating, and candlestick holders set in the walls, bringing both warmth and light into what could otherwise be a dark, chilly place.
Wells and Cisterns

Most castles had a well and some had cisterns – an area for collecting rainwater. Running water was provided by either an extension of the well head to an upper floor so that water could be drawn and emptied into a tank, or by a cistern on a tower roof.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Research: Alternatives To Plastic

The horror of what indestructible plastic is doing to our world is everywhere today. I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon, but the book I am using to fuel my research, A Brief History of the Future, mentions chitin as being found to be a practical alternative to plastic. I thought I would check it out.

What Is Chitin?

Chitin is similar to keratin, which is what our hair and fingernails are made of. It is found in the shells of shellfish, in insects and fungi. It turns out that chitin is the second most abundant biopolymer on Earth. The most abundant biopolymer is cellulose, which is found in trees and plants.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Building a Castle: Private Rooms and Guest Accommodation

Even in a stone castle many of the buildings were wooden. But the Lord and his family and honoured guests would have private rooms built into the towers, gatehouse or above the great hall. Everyone else slept in the great hall, on benches if they were lucky or on the floor.

Providing well-appointed accommodation for noble and royal visitors was a statement of power and status. Whereas the rest of the castle was purely functional, the private rooms had fine dressed stone around the ornate windows (those that looked onto the courtyard which were not vulnerable from outside), doors and ceilings.