I spent yesterday at Bodiam castle, one of the most picturesque and magical medieval castles in England. Although ruinous on the inside, the outer Walls and towers stand intact, sitting within a fairytale wide expanse of water in the moat. The inner courtyard lacks the original roofs, and many of the walls are gone, but you can still discern the outline of many of the rooms.
In fact, you can tell a lot from the stones. On one side of the square Keep, there are virtually no windows in the outer walls, whilst on the other, they are both more plentiful and, in several cases, boast window seats and the traces of where stained glass would have been placed.
On the lighter side, the fireplaces are bigger and more numerous, whist on the darker side, they are smaller and less frequent. One side, in other words, for the Lord of the Manor and one side for the servants.
You can easily spot the kitchen, next to the well, with two giant fire places in the walls and a bread oven set into the stonework. The chapel is similarly easy to place, as it has one large ‘church’ arched window piercing the sombre curtain wall of the Keep.
The stories are there for us to read, written in the very architecture of the building. You can see the ridges where the portcullis was raised and lowered, the traces of where the original wooden bridge crossed the moat and even the ‘murder holes’, where boiling tar and oil would have been poured down onto intruders.
But it’s not just the formal purpose and structure of the building that can be read in the stones. You can also see the masons marks, where the original builders left traces of the construction process. The ‘rough masons’ would shape the stones from the quarry and carve their particular symbol onto the roughly shaped stone, so that the Master Mason knew how many they had done and could pay them accordingly. The Free Mason then finished them off and placed them into the walls. Specialised tasks, each of which left a mark on the building.
Then there is the graffiti: centuries of visitors carving their names into the fabric of the building itself. The earliest i found was from the 18th century, although i could only discern the ’17xx’. There was plenty from the 1800’s, the clearest being from 1813, where the particular vandal had carved his name in copperplate script.
Buildings are monumental, castles particularly so, and their history is written both in the stones and the landscape around them. Interpreting this history so that visitors today can learn from it is challenging, and the National Trust uses storytellers in this role quite frequently, hence why we were treated to a history lesson told by the ‘baker’ from the castle. By telling a lengthy story about how he had made a loaf of bread for the Lord of the Manor, he covered off a sizeable chunk of social history in the process.
Storytelling is a theme that i come back to repeatedly in talking about learning, because it’s such a natural way of sharing information and communicating. The stones tell their own stories, and this writing, in itself, is my way of sharing the story with you.
Understanding how these stories work and play into each other, how we tell and listen to them, can help us to become better communicators and, in our own way, to carve our initials into the story as it goes forward.