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Bricks and Construction Materials during the Reign of Edward II (1307 - 1327)

This article delves into the use of bricks and other building materials in construction and architecture during the reign of Edward II. The period marks a pivotal point in England’s medieval history, with noteworthy developments in the design and construction of dwellings and public buildings.

Population and Living Conditions

During Edward II's reign, England's population was estimated at around 4 million. A majority of the population lived in rural communities and their livelihood was primarily dependent on agriculture. Life was labor-intensive, with working hours dictated by the seasons.

Common Dwelling Types and Construction Materials

The dwellings during this time were mostly rudimentary huts for the common people, built from readily available materials. The prevalent method was wattle and daub, a composite building technique using woven lattice of wooden strips covered with a mixture of mud, straw, and animal dung. Stone and bricks were still a rarity, largely reserved for castles and religious buildings.

The homes of the common people during the reign of Edward II were mostly humble and built using local materials. The principal method of construction was wattle and daub, which involved weaving a lattice of wooden strips (wattle) and then daubing it with a sticky material usually made of a combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung, and straw. The resulting structure was often topped with a thatched roof, providing basic shelter against the elements.

In terms of layout, these houses were typically simple one-room structures that served multiple purposes. They functioned as a kitchen, dining room, living room, and bedroom all in one, with a central hearth used for cooking and heating. Considering the size of families during this period, it was not uncommon for a dwelling to house between five and ten inhabitants.

The day-to-day life for people in these dwellings was primarily dictated by the agricultural seasons. Mornings would start early, with family members carrying out their assigned tasks such as tending to the crops, caring for animals, gathering firewood, cooking, and cleaning. The end of the day would see families gathered around the hearth, sharing a meal before bedding down for the night.

For the nobility, dwellings were more elaborate. They were often made of stone and consisted of several rooms, including private chambers, a great hall, kitchen areas, and quarters for servants. Life in these dwellings was significantly different, with less emphasis on physical labor and more on managing lands, participating in courtly duties, and enjoying leisure activities.

Notable Buildings from the Era

A significant architectural endeavor of Edward II’s reign was the completion of the Decorated Gothic York Minster in 1315. Although mostly built from limestone, it reflects the period's masonry skills.

Castles Built during the Era

Edward II’s reign saw the construction of a few castles as the country was in a relatively peaceful period domestically. However, most castles built during this period were largely stone fortifications, as the use of bricks was not yet widespread in castle construction.

Societal Impact from a Housing Perspective

The basic construction techniques used for housing during Edward II’s reign reflect the social order of the time. The simplicity of most dwellings emphasizes the gap between the nobility and the common people, as bricks and stones were used almost exclusively in the construction of royal and ecclesiastical buildings.