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Gardens at the Time of the Norman Conquest

The Anglo-Saxon ways of living were greatly altered by the advent of the Normans in the latter half of the eleventh century. In architecture, as well as horticulture, the Normans excelled the Anglo-Saxons at the time of the Conquest. But, until the Normans had subdued the entire country, home life was an impossibility, and there was no occasion for domestic architecture or decoration. Thus, while the early monasteries were substantial stone buildings, commonly situated in the broadest and most fertile valleys, castles were ruder structures, generally erected on windy hilltops, where their inmates devoted both time and space to projects for offence and defense. These bare strongholds were impractical for such a peaceful pursuit as gardening. After a few years, the danger of insurrection having lessened, the Normans replaced their first wooden structures by permanent castles built of stone.

Of the early Anglo-Norman style of architecture, Berkeley Castle is perhaps the most complete example now existing. The keep is said to date from the time of William the Conqueror. Around the massive building runs a terrace intended both for a walk and to prevent the walls from being mined by besiegers. One of these terraces, covered with grass and flanked by an ancient yew hedge clipped in the shape of rude battlements, forms a quaint bowling green. Terraces, like the one adjoining these battlements, were, in those tumultuous times, the only safe place for the ladies to enjoy an airing.

A portion was often reserved for their special use, and, as at Castle Carlisle, called the Ladies Walk. There, at a much later period, Mary, Queen of Scots, when captive, was allowed to take her exercise. At Bridgenorth, a pleasant terrace walk, much admired by Charles I, encircles the ancient castle walls and is more than half a mile in compass. On the borders of such a terrace, beside the hedge, a few herbs were usually cultivated by the chatelaine to be used in sickness, or to make a poignant sauce for whetting the satiated appetite.


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