– by Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope.
This castle looks like it would be entirely at home in Europe, but it’s actually situated in the Barony-Marche of the Debatable Lands, aka Pittsburgh, PA.
Many gentles from the western portions of Æthelmearc are familiar with the castle of Sir Byron of Haverford and Sir Ariella of Thornbury through their generosity in offering it as a site for occasional events in the Debatable Lands. For those who have never seen the castle, we offer you a photographic tour and encourage you to attend an event or practice there. The next one will be the Regional Archery Muster on Sunday, April 12, which is the day after the Coronation of TRH Timothy and Gabrielle.
For many years, Byron and Ariella dreamed of a home that reflected their interest in late 14th century England. They began planning for their castle in 1998. In 2002, they took their architect with them to England, where they visited the castle they had chosen as their model, Bodiam Castle in East Sussex, to look at how it was designed and constructed.
Byron and Ariella explained, “One of the major goals in constructing this castle was maintaining historical accuracy. We used Bodiam castle as a model in part because the entire castle was built at one time. Most castles were built over centuries, with elements ranging from the Norman invasion to the Tudor period. These different styles make it difficult to maintain a consistent style of construction in reproductions.”
Originally, there was only a manor house at Bodiam. Then, due to the impending invasion of French forces in 1385, King Richard III granted Sir Edward Dalyngrigge a license to “strengthen and crenellate” the manor house at Bodiam, and “to construct and make thereof a castle in defense of the adjacent countryside and for resistance against our enemies.” However, instead of fortifying the manor, Edward decided to build a new castle near the River Rother, where any attack would most likely have occurred. Bodiam Castle was completed between 1385-1389. Sir Byron and Sir Ariella requested and received a similar license to crenellate their castle from King Malcolm and Queen Tessa of Æthelmearc.
After returning home to the Debatable Lands from their trip to England, they had architectural plans developed to match those period elements as much as possible, while also providing a comfortable home for a family with growing children as well as complying with local building codes. They also engaged Master Johan von Traubenberg to provide a historically accurate design for the post and beam columns that support and frame the Great Hall.
“The castle is divided into “period sections” and “modern sections”, so that we can suspend our disbelief when we want to, but still live comfortably.” Their Excellencies said. “The appearance of the construction and all of the furnishings within the period sections of the house have been researched and are documentable within 50 years of 1385AD in Great Britain.”
Another decision Their Excellencies had to make was how authentic they could afford to be in the construction of their castle. They explained, “There are two basic philosophies of castle reconstruction: authenticity of style, and authenticity of materials. Ideally, one would have authenticity of both style and materials, but that is prohibitively expensive. We have chosen authenticity of style as our primary goal.”
Construction began in the fall of 2004 with the clearing of the land, followed by pouring of the foundation the following spring.
By the fall of 2005, work could begin on the interior. The exterior of the castle was completed in the spring of 2006.
Their Excellencies were also very exacting in their requirements for the interior of the castle. They chose lighting to look like sconces, and special-ordered the interior and exterior wood doors from England. The main entrance features a portcullis (non-lowerable, alas, for safety reasons) and “murder holes” accessible from the 2nd floor laundry room. Their Excellencies’ three children have been known to drop ping pong balls through the murder holes on entering visitors, which most guests take in good sport.
While the windows at the front of the castle are small to simulate arrow loops, the windows at the back of the castle along the Great Hall are large to let in lots of light.
The Great Hall, which can seat about 65 people for a feast, also features period-style chandeliers, a large fireplace, patterned tile floor, and murals that Master Brendan Brisbone spent a year of weekends painting with assistance from Mistress Kris Gilibari. Each mural represents various aspects of the family’s life, including a portrayal of a battle with combatants bearing the Kingdom and Barony badges, feasts, hawking and hunting, and the entire family dressed for their favorite pastimes. There are four large murals, each in a different style and covering multiple time periods, as well as a set of roundels reflecting the seasons of the year surrounding the entrances to the kitchen and the upper musicians’ gallery.
The fireplace wall has a diapered floral pattern and a motto in Latin that translates as “I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me.”
Though the upper floor of the castle is reserved for the family’s private living quarters, it is used as changing rooms or classrooms at events. The musicians’ gallery opposite the fireplace is frequently employed for performances by the Debatable Choir and Consort. Another gallery along the adjacent wall makes a good vantage point for watching people in the Great Hall below.
Around the time the castle was being completed, Byron and Ariella also gained new responsibilities when they were elected Baron and Baroness of the Debatable Lands. They served in that position from May of A.S. XLII to August of A.S. XLVI. While ruling the Barony, they hosted numerous smaller events at their castle, which they have continued to do since stepping down as Baron and Baroness in 2011.
Gentles especially enjoy using the castle for archery, both from the western side of the castle at ground level at traditional Royal Round and Gwyntarian Winter Challenge targets…
…and from the parapets, engaging in either combat archery at fighters below or target archery at novelty targets in the wooded hillside in front of the castle, which are often provided by the ever-inventive THLord Deryk the Archer.
While archers typically shoot from the lower level of the roof, stairs lead to the top of the northeastern tower, from which archers can test their skill at distance shooting. It’s very, very high up; well over three stories above the ground. During these shoots, marshals gather spent arrows and place them into a basket that is lowered from the main parapet so archers don’t have to go up and down the stairs each round.
You can learn more about the castle by visiting Their Excellencies’ website at http://www.pitt.edu/~caram/castleindex.htm
REGIONAL ARCHERY MUSTER
The castle is Their Excellencies’ private home, so please do not show up unannounced. However, Their Excellencies welcome guests at regularly planned events and practices. If you would like to visit the castle, we encourage you to attend the Regional Archery Muster on Sunday, April 12th, A.S. XLIX, which is being organized by Master Urho Waltterinen.
When: Sunday, April 12, 10am – 5pm
Where: 755 Stonegate Drive, Wexford, PA 15090 (Byron & Ariella’s Castle) (parking on the street)
By the kind generosity of their Excellencies, Sir Byron and Sir Ariella, we will once again have a regional archery practice open to all at the Castle on Sunday, April 12th. This is the day following Æthelmearc Coronation. We will begin at 10:00 in the morning and continue until 5:00 that afternoon.
We will be joined by Thrown Weapons, Youth Combat, and Arts & Sciences.
One of the goals of this practice is to allow people to shoot their last rounds for the Gwyntarian Winter Challenge which closes a few days later. We would like to conduct this as our morning project and leave the afternoon for everything else, although the range will be open all day.
We will have novelty targets and anything that we can think of that is safe to shoot at. Space permitting and marshal availability, there may be some individual training. Of course, we will have archery from the Castle parapets. His Lordship Deryk Archer has been challenged again.
The Barony-Marche loaner gear will be available.
Food will be pot luck. You are encouraged to bring hot and cold meals, side dishes, desserts, and snacks as you wish. Try out something new – we’re all hardy souls. Plates, cups, utensils and soft drinks will be provided.
Their Excellencies ask that everyone wear garb for the day.
This is not an event; it is an “enhanced practice.”
Please contact Master Urho Waltterinen with any questions and requests.
– All photos courtesy of Sir Byron and Sir Ariella.