Sleeping Through the Ages: Corfe to Brownsea

One of the occasional posts written for the NT SW site.

How did you sleep last night? Did you have a nice quiet room to yourself? A comfy mattress?

Such luxurious solitude we take for granted but if we look back through National Trust properties we glimpse an older, more communal lifestyle.

Lodge DCOC429 Corfe Castle

Lodge Farm: Sleeping on the first floor for security. The 15th-century double and single windows, on the left, light the communal hall. The double window on the right is the solar or private chamber of the house where the head forester and park keeper of Kingston Lacy slept.

DCOC462 Corfe Castle

The open medieval hall of Lodge Farm

In medieval times you needed to be rich to have some sort of privacy. In places like Lodge Farm on the Kingston Lacy Estate, the Treasurer’s House at Martock or even the Gloriette within the great royal castle of Corfe ..almost everyone slept in the great hall.


Treasurer’s House, Martock, Somerset: The late 13th-century great hall is on the left. The kitchen is on the far right and food was brought to the hall through the left doorway into the hall. In the middle is the ornate window on the first floor which was the solar or private chamber of the lord, the Treasurer of Wells Cathedral.

At the end of the meal, the trestle tables were cleared away and the household hit the hay…which covered the floor.. concealing all sorts of debris.

Beyond a timber screen at the end of the hall was a room called the solar. Nothing to do with the sun. This was a place for some solitude and was reserved for the lord and his family and probably a personal servant.

Everyone else was in the hall picking out the best spots close to the hearth, the cleaner hay or perhaps a stuffed straw sack with a log for a pillow. Wrap your cloak around you it’s going to be a long night.

My thoughts turn to crowded hostel dormitories. People turning up late, or going to the loo in the middle of the night, banging doors, the earthquake snorers and long whispered conversations.

Doug Talk IMGP7410

Corfe Castle: Standing at the centre is the tower of the 12th century keep. The great hall was on the first floor, The king’s chamber and chapel were in the floor above. To the right is  open gothic window part of the ruin of King John’s first floor hall house known as the ‘Gloriette’

Now we take our central heating for granted.. but for most of us, before the 1970s, either you had a pile of blankets and an eiderdown or you found some bodies to snuggle up to.

Corfe Castle 49121 Aug. 1993

An early 19th-century reconstruction drawing of the ‘Gloriette’ of Corfe Castle. Once the trestle tables were stacked away, plenty of room to sleep.

On Brownsea Island, there was once a large brickworks with a purpose-built labourers’ settlement called Maryland. The density of accommodation seems extraordinary. Maryland was built in 1853 and consisted of 20 dwellings each with two bedrooms. The 1881 census records 117 people living there. At 4 Maryland, Mr Whittingham his wife and four children also provided accommodation for four pottery labourers….rather cramped!…. all in a two up, two down tenement….apparently quite normal for Victorian times.


Maryland village on Brownsea Island: An arc of five buildings each containing four homes but with lots of occupants.

So, count your blessings and enjoy your sleep tonight

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