Castle Learning Center Provisions
Castles of Britain


© 1995-2016 by Lise Hull
One of the most important things for a castle during war was its provisions. Without being properly provisioned the garrison would soon fall prey to the attackers. Just as the water supply was the life blood of the castle, so to was the food. There were no resources for canning and refrigeration during medieval times, so food turned into a more difficult item to store and keep fresh. During long sieges, some castle garrisons survived on horse meat and water, or wine, and many more surrendered due to starvation.

Records do survive to tell us about provisioning a castle in preparation for warfare. Corn brought in by bulk could be ground by hand mills within the castle walls, but some castles also had mills powered by animals or water. Meat was usually pork or bacon, and more than likely, live animals were bought. Along with the livestock, large amounts of salt was procured to preserve the meats after butcher. One example of this is Lancaster Castle. In 1215, 80 cows and 130 sheep were brought into the bailey.

Cheese, beans, oats, malt and barley for beer, wine, bread, eels, venison, herrings, rice, figs, and rasins were other food items the garrison received. Other non-food supplies would include horses and harnesses, hauberks, suits of mail, crossbows, cables, cords, coal, arrows, bolts, iron, and lead.

So, how did the supplies get to the castle? Some castles were built near the water and had a postern, or water gate. A few castles even had docking facilities for ships. For other castles not near the water, supplies were moved by horse drawn carts or by man power.

The principle storage place in the castles were the basements of the keeps, which provided secure places for provisions and arms, especially supplies susceptible to pilfering. Sometimes, it could only be entered through a locked door and the keys would be held by a watchman. Some castle storage areas would be below the hall. In Pembroke Castle a cave, beneath the hall called the "Wogan", was used as storage, as well as providing access to the water for re-provisioning.

The bailey of the castle provided a place of protection for the livestock as well as a general storage area for supplies. The provisions would be put in the buildings located there.

Here is an example of food provisions provided for a castle and its garrison in 1320:
112 1/2 quarters of corn
10 1/2 quarters wheat malt
112 1/2 quarters beans
7 bushels of mixed beans and barley
2 tons of pilcorn
9 1/2 quarters of oatmeal
78 carcases of salted meat
81 oxhides
40 mutton carcases
72 hams
1,856 stockfish
wine, honey and vinegar