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Bricks and Construction Materials during the Reign of Edward I (1272 - 1307)

This article explores the use of bricks and other construction materials during the reign of Edward I, a period that witnessed significant developments in English architecture, engineering, and building practices.

Population and Living Conditions

During Edward I's reign, the population of England was estimated to be around 3 million. Most people lived in rural communities, with London being the largest city. Life during this period was agrarian, with most families farming for subsistence.

During the reign of Edward I, the majority of the English population resided in simple, humble dwellings, largely constructed using the wattle and daub method. This technique involved weaving a lattice of wooden strips (wattle), and then coating it with a mixture of clay, sand, straw, and animal dung (daub). A thatched roof, made from reeds or straw, typically covered these dwellings, providing some degree of protection from the elements.

The layout of these houses was generally uncomplicated. They were typically one-room structures, serving as multifunctional spaces that acted as a kitchen, dining room, and bedroom. Given the nature of families during this time, it was common for a single dwelling to house between five to eight people. The hearth, a crucial feature of these homes, was used for both cooking and heating.

Life within these dwellings revolved around farming cycles. Days began early with chores such as tending to crops, caring for livestock, collecting firewood, and performing domestic duties. Evenings were for resting, often with families congregating around the hearth for a meal before retiring to bed.

For the wealthy and the nobility, dwellings were more substantial and often made from stone. These structures included multiple rooms like private chambers, a great hall for gatherings, a chapel, kitchen areas, and servant quarters. The daily life of the inhabitants of these homes was significantly different, marked less by manual labor and more by administrative duties, leisure activities, and social engagements.

Common Dwelling Types and Construction Materials

Most dwellings were rudimentary structures built with local materials, with timber-framed wattle and daub houses being common. Bricks, although known, were not extensively used, being found primarily in the eastern parts of England. Stone was often used in the construction of castles, manor houses, and churches.

Notable Buildings from the Era

One of the significant architectural feats from this era is King's College Chapel in Cambridge, a fine example of Gothic architecture. While the chapel was not constructed with bricks, its intricate stone masonry work stands testament to the skills of craftsmen of the time.

Castles Built during the Era

Edward I, often known as the "Castle King," was renowned for his castle-building campaigns, particularly in Wales. Notable examples include Harlech, Beaumaris, Caernarfon, and Conwy castles, all of which were primarily stone structures. These fortresses are a testament to the innovative architectural and engineering techniques of the period.

Societal Impact from a Housing Perspective

The vast contrast between the simple wattle and daub houses of the common people and the grand stone castles and manor houses of the nobility reflected the significant social divide of the period. The use of more durable materials like stone and brick in the dwellings of the elite signifies their higher status and wealth.