Medieval James Himself

Medieval James Himself
Guide at Ozark Medieval Fortress

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Medieval Needles

“Did they have sewing needles in the Middle AgJan29 (17)bwes?”  Absolutely!  The first sewing needles were made from thorns or animal quills.  Later needles were made from bone.  The oldest known bone needle is estimated to be about 25,000 years old and was found in France.  Copper and bronze were used to make needles in ancient Egypt and one dating back to the 3rd Century B.C. was found in Germany.  With the advent of the Iron Age, the Romans made needles of iron.  All these materials were available to people of Northern Europe in 1226, the date of the Ozark Medieval Fortress.  Like today, however, the quality of the tools a person has depends upon how rich he is.  In the Middle Ages, the wealthy had metal needles and the peasants had thorn or bone needles.  Native Americans used porcupine quills and bone needles.  By the time of colonial America, needles were metal and highly valued.

Jan29 (12) Bone needles are hard to make.  I wanted to have some authentic needles and, in the Ozarks, the locust tree is a great supply of thorns.  My grandson, Christian, helped me harvest thorns, drill eyes, and hone any rough spots on the needles.  This proved to be a practical way to make needles.  Of course, as is the case with the bone needles, they are fragile and most fabric needs to be pre-pierced with holes using an awl before stitching. 

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, our Good Wife has bone needles made for her by a good friend and extremely valued by her.  Nevertheless, she enthusiastically passes them around to guests on the tour for personal examination.  Look for them at the Wool Cottage, a recommended stop for any visitor to the castle.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kids At the Ozark Medieval Fortress

“What is there for kids to do at the Ozark Medieval Fortress?”  I’ve been asked this at the gift shop before the tour as well as off property.  The first thing that comes to mind is to say “Everything”, because, basically, the only rule we have is to not go up on the castle walls.  I usually explain, however, that besides the chance to go inside a castle courtyard, speak with the masons that work on the walls and see the tread wheel crane in action, there are artisans and other special things to see and do.  Most are obvious from the public brochures or ads, but I like to make a special mention of two.  Those are the Good Wife and stone carvers. 

Sept25 (18)Kids especially love visiting the wool  cottage at the farm.  They learn about Medieval family life, livestock and commerce without realizing that they are doing anything except having fun.  There are sheep to feed, wool to spin on a drop spindle and the Good Wife to visit with at her cauldron or loom.  There is also a special opportunity to make a bracelet of wool gathered from our resident sheep.  I am always pleased to see the young people get so involved and have so much fun while learning about these important aspects of Medieval history.

Kids also not only enjoy watching the stone July14 (33)carvers at work, but have the opportunity to take home a stone that they get to carve.  Stone carving classes are held throughout the day for kids or adults who want to try their hand at this essential castle building skill.  These classes are taught by one of our stone carvers who are usually busy carving stones for the castle itself.  While learning to carve a design of their choice, guests are free to ask questions about the history and tools of stone carvers of the Middle Ages.

For some strange reason, though, no matter how good the people and activities going on at the Ozark Medieval Fortress, the horse always seems to be the most popular with children.  But that would the same, I think, whether we were in France in 1226 or Arkansas in the 21st century.  Some things never change.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Medieval Cauldrons

Sept16 (40)On tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress farm/wool cottage, people often ask about the cauldron being associated with witches and whether this is because of the Dark Ages.  This was particularly the case because our map labeled this area as the “Good Witch”.  That is the traditional French translation, but it would more accurately for us be “Good Wife”.  It is absolutely true that cauldrons have been used in non-Christian ritual and the Dark Ages (first half of the Medieval period) was a time of change in Northern Europe from pagan to Christian.  A cauldron, by the way, is defined as “a large pot used for boiling”.  It was difficult to make and, therefore, very valuable, especially because it was not just a status symbol, but rather a very useful tool.  Ancient “cauldrons” were made by potters, but by the Medieval they were made of metal whether cast or hammered (forged).  The oldest one in Europe was silver found in Denmark.  They have been copper, brass and iron.  In the Middle Ages, as today, the most common are cast iron.  A cauldron is large as well as heavy, and therefore usually has a heavy handle, which means it can be suspended over an open flame.  It is not hard to see why it was so valuable to women in the Medieval time.  In fact, it was valued in America in our colonies and the pioneer West where it was used for cooking, dying and soap making as well as laundry.

Jan24 (5)bwAt the Ozark Medieval Fortress the Good Wife does not use the cauldron for cooking.  It is used as a necessary part of the preparation and use of dyes on textiles.  Raw spun wool, tunics and hats were all dyed using natural dyes.  Even today large cauldrons are hard to find and expensive.  In 2010, the cauldron at Ozark Medieval Fortress was on loan from me.  Because it was such a big part of Medieval life, so practical, and involved metalworking, I wanted to see how hard it would be to make them.  I made two and have to say I see now why they are hard to find!

We have to remember that although they may make us think of witches, cauldrons were and are much more a practical part of daily life and history.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Medieval Canteen


Aug31 (77)

“What did people in the Middle Ages use for a water bottle?”  You can tell that this is a summer question and almost everyone on tour had a plastic bottle of water with them.  In the Middle Ages the most common water “bottle” was made by the potter, but there were some made of leather or wood.  The same applied to cups or tankards at table.  In some places, thick leather was more popular than pottery and in the North, cups were sometimes made from animal horns. 

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, the most popular water carrier is pottery that is even self-cooling!  Amazing but true.  This is done by not glazing the jug so that some of the moisture evaporates through the porous vessel and this evaporation makes it self-cooling. 

Pictured with a “Medieval Canteen” is Rasmus, who volunteered at the Ozark Medieval Fortress for the summer 2010 season and came all the way from Denmark.  The canteen shown was made and decorated by him at the potter’s hut.  Speaking of Denmark, that country has the oldest national flag in the world, dating back to 1218 (eight years before our castle’s Medieval date of 1226).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

International Blacksmith Shop

“How did the Ozark Medieval Fortress outfit a Medieval blacksmith shop in modern day Arkansas?”  It wasn’t easy!  The French investors had the benefit of their past experience at the Guedelon castle in France and their extensive collection of Medieval smithy tools, supplies and wheeled-carts.  The aAug26 (46)nvil, brought from France, is a particular treasure.  The bellows were also brought from France and the forge was built with stone from the quarry on site in an authentic manner.  The sharpening stone was carved at the stone carving hut, again from rock on site.  The post vise, which came from my collection, was from an old Amish blacksmith who told me his family brought it from Germany.  At the start of the season, the hand tools were all from France, but in the nature of a blacksmith shop, more tools were made here. 


Aug17 (36)Be sure to visit the blacksmith shop while at the Ozark Medieval Fortress.  Guests get to watch the smith in action and direct specific questions to him.  As in Medieval times, our smithy is near the castle and an important part of castle life.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Do We Speak English?

“Is the tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress done with ‘thee’s’ and ‘thou’s’ and Old English like at the Renaissance fairs?”  Nope!  All the signs and the tour are done in modern American English.  We do get a lot of guests that visit in costume and some come Medieval and some come dressed in Renaissance era.  That makes it more fun, but a lot of people would have trouble understanding us if we used Old English, especially our foreign guests.  It is important to remember that those are different times and English changed from the beginning of the Middle Ages even to the end of the Renaissance.  For example, Medieval English is like this: Sept21 (4)

    “And I hym folwed, and hyt forth wente
      Doun by a floury grene wente.”

This is an excerpt from Medieval Chaucer and a “grene wente” is a green path.  Not many guests care to read or speak English from the Middle Ages.  If you have a time machine and are going back to 1226 in Europe, you are better off knowing Latin than modern English, German, or French.  We have an excellent collection of informative signs along the trail to maximize the educational benefit of a visit to the Ozark Medieval Fortress and to my great relief, the tour is in American English.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It’s The Pits

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“What’s the big wooden frame next to the carpenter’s shop for?”  Or another question often asked at the Ozark Medieval Fortress is “Did they have heavy metal saws in the Middle Ages?”  You bet they had saws and, again, we have to say “Good job” to the Roman empire.  The Romans gave us the sophisticated steel that they used not only for their legendary swords and spears, but they also made good steel saws.  Also, they developed the hand brace (drill) and auger popular through the World War II era.  The heavy saws were used to “rip” (cut lengthwise) logs into boards.  The heavy wooden frame so visible at the Ozark Medieval Fortress is an authentic recreation of the elevated frames often built for the use of the heavy saws.  Because they were often used over a dug out pit to make room for the man below, they are most commonly called “pit saws”. 

Pit saws were used extensively in the Americas.  They were state of the art until the introduction of the circular saw blade by the British in the 1800’s.  During the Middle Ages in the 1200’s, Europe also saw the introduction of the windmill.  In most places they were only used for grinding grain.  In Northern Europe, particularly Holland, they were also used to power pit saws.  The Dutch are smart and ended up with a surplus of boards, which they used to build ships.  Clever.  As a result, at the end of the Middle Ages, with the coming of the Age of Discovery, they had a big fleet and ended up with a world empire, largely because of the power of the windmill combined with the power of the pit saw!

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, the pit saw frame was built by our carpenters and the boards they cut will be used in the castle projects. Pictured we see Juan and Si in action with the pit saw.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Shocking Rocks with a Chase-masse

Jan5 (3)   “If the Roman cementorium cement needs the top and bottom of each stone flat, how do you find the stones?”  The answer at the Ozark Medieval Fortress is that all the stones come from the quarry on site.  This was also typical for the Medieval.  The answer also, however, is that the stones are not found “flat”.  Most of the rocks are split at the quarry to be flat top and bottom to serve as face stones, meaning those that show to the outside or inside of the castle walls.  Even guests that are experienced American masons are surprised at the way the rocks are split.  People expect that the rocks will be hit with a sledge hammer or that wedges will be forced into the rocks to split them flat.  Not so. 

During the Middle Ages the French came up with an amazing tool called the chase-masse, which looks like a hammer but is not.  One side is placed against the rock and the other side is then struck with a hammer.  This causes a series of shockwaves to go through the rock and split it.  The procedure is far faster and less work than wedges or carving.  Again, we have to marvel at the intelligence and ingenuity of the people of Europe in the Medieval.

 Jan5 (2) At the Ozark Medieval Fortress in 2010 the quarrymen used a chase-masse from France that was actually found in a Medieval castle.  The problem we had was that we only had one.  They are not readily available or easily made.  If you search the Internet for “rock cutting tools”, which I did, you will only find companies selling chisels, saws, wedges and the like. No chase-masses, except for two companies in France and those have a modern, machined look rather than the look of the Medieval chase-masse.  I don’t know how well the modern ones work because I have not ordered one. Instead, I fired up my forge and made one in the Medieval style.  The difficulty in making a chase-masse is that the rock contact side has to be hard and the hammer contact side has to be soft.  Steel is a funny thing that way.  It can be flexible and soft or it can be brittle and hard depending on how fast it is cooled. 

Jan8 (7)My chase-masse was awesome!  My wife and I, although not professional masons, split rocks in our Ozark creek bed with ease.  My grandson, Christian, took this video.  You can see why the French were leaders in Medieval castle and cathedral construction.



Saturday, January 8, 2011

On the Level

“So, what exactly is a plumb bob level any way?”  I get asked this question most often in the gift shop where samples are on display and for sale.  The masons get asked the question when they use it on the wall.  Once seen in use, a guest knows what it is and how it is used.  Explaining it is a little more involved.  Plumb means vertical.  The bob is a weight suspended on a line so it can point to the center of the earth by gravity.  A level, of course, is a tool to determine if something is sitting flat or is perpendicular to gravity.  If you say a stone wall is plumb, you mean vertical and if you say it is level you mean the top is horizontal. Oct14 (44)b

In the Middle Ages using the plumb bob level was a well established skill.  No bubble levels or lasers there!  At the Ozark Medieval Fortress the plumb bob levels, as well as wooden rectangular frames for vertical plumb bobs are made in the carpenter shop.  The 13-knot rope was used to lay out the triangle for the frame. The bobs are made by the blacksmith.  The masons obtain the line from the rope maker.  As is usual in the Middle Ages and at the Ozark Medieval Fortress it is definitely a community effort.

Friday, January 7, 2011

13 Knots

“How did they measure on the job in the 13th century?”  Great question and close to the heart of Michel Guyot, who started Ozark Medieval Fortress.  Remember the Middle Ages predates use of the metric system. That was introduced after the French Revolution, which is after the American Revolution and a long time in the future.  They used the Standard System, which now people in the U.S. think means American.  It doesn’t. It means Human system. The inch was the width of the thumb or two fingers. The palm was four fingers. The heart of the system was the extended tip of thumb to extended tip of little finger.  In French that’s the “empan”, a term heard often at the Ozark Medieval Fortress.  In English, it is the “span” and in German it is “die Spanne”.  Women thought in terms of the span because their lives were so tied to making textiles. The benefit of the span is you can “walk” your hand in making measurements.  Many elderly ladies on tour have said they remember their grandmothers measuring with the span.  Incidentally, later in the 1800’s, with steam power and plentiful material, ladies measured material by the “yard”, from their nose to extended hand.  Men thought differently. No surprise there.  Usually on bigger projects they measured by the two-span, or “foot”.  U.S. men still do, except for some teenagers who play football and see things by the yard.

13 Knot RopePic 3A rope was made with a loop knot at the beginning and 12 more knots spaced with an empan between each knot.  That made 12 spaces.  On a job site, it is important that the workers understand instructions and the workers could typically only count as high as twelve.  There were no schools, but they learned twelve because of the Christian Church with the 12 apostles.  On a carpentry job, the empan of the Master Carpenter was the measure for the ropes. On a masonry project, such as the castle, it was the empan of the Master Mason.  At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, the empan is that of Michel Guyot.  At the rope maker hut they have a board with pegs set at his empan so all the 13-knot ropes they make for the laborers are the same.

The 13-knot rope is more than a tape measure.  It is a compass and protractor as well.  The builders knew the value of arches from the Romans and many were used in the Middle Ages.  The curve of an arc was easily made by using the end loop of the 13-knot rope as a center and selecting the appropriate knot for the radius.  As a protractor, two workers would use the 13-knot rope to create triangles.  An equilateral triangle appears with three sides of 4 empan each.  This makes an excellent steep angle for roofs that won’t leak whether covered with tile in France, slate in Germany or thatch in England. Modifying the triangle to 10 empan with 4 on the base and 3 on each side gives the famous Egyptian pyramid triangle.  This was used a lot for roofs, bridge bracing, and even the plumb bob level of tapril29 (85)bhe Middle Ages.  A right angle, which is so valuable as a poor man’s square, can be made with three, four and five empan.  With the right angle triangle, they created square doors, tables, shutters and windows and shipbuilders could have true perpendicular thwarts and masts. 

The laborers of the Middle Ages were primitive, but skilled, industrious and clever. We often underestimate them. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Get Your Goat

After looking at the huge Roman tread wheel crane, some people on tour have asked about the little crane on the West Tower.  It is what the French in the Middle Ages called a “goat” and I have no idea when that started.  In fact, after looking into it, it appears that no one knows when or who started the combination of rope, pulley, single boom crane and primitive windless that you see at the Ozark Medieval Fortress.  It is definitely an old idea from old Northern France and Germany that is so practical.  The boom is adjustable to reach out over the wall and, unlike the tread wheel crane, can traverse to the side.  It is definitely a lot easier to build and move!  Aug7 (10)

If you look closely, you see that it is a four legged beast like a goat and the windless winch is built into the framework, all from natural material.  A handle on either side of the cross-log makes the simple windless.  A rope goes directly from a rock or log to be lifted to the crane’s pulley and either pulled by human hand or turned on the windless for extra lift or control.  People in the Medieval times were not as primitive and backward as we sometimes think. Like our American colonists, they were practical.  You can see this practicality in the goat.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lifting Weights Like the Romans

“Other than the castle itself, what is the most impressive thing to see at the Ozark Medieval Fortress?”  I think most people would answer this as the Medieval tread wheel crane of Roman design.  The ancients, like the Egyptians, used water wheels as power and the reverse, meaning harnessing animal power to turn a wheel to lift water.  The  Sept20 (18)Greeks used cranes made of long logs shaped like a capital “A”.  Pulleys came to the Middle Ages from the ancient mariners, but it was the Romans, amazing engineers that they were, who added the tread wheel, or “squirrel cage”.  Not only did the Romans make extensive use of tread wheel cranes, they used multiple pulleys for added lifting power.  Because of the replacement of the winch with a tread wheel, the maximum load became surprising.  For the Egyptian pyramids a 2 ½ ton stone required 50 men to move it up a ramp.  The Roman and Medieval tread wheel crane was 60 times more capable because one man walking in the wheel gave the same lift!

In the Middle Ages such cranes were used at harbors and in the construction of cathedrals as well as castles.  In fact, even today many cathedrals in Europe still have the Medieval tread wheel crane above the ceiling and below the roof.  So if you visit a cathedral in Europe, look up and above that 100 foot high ceiling may be one of these huge Medieval cranes. Aug7 (40)

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress at present the crane is used for demonstrations.  As the wall of the castle gets higher, it will be put to work.  At the end of the 2010 season the beams for scaffolding were installed on the East Tower, which puts it at the height to need the crane in 2011. It is expected that the crane will also be necessary to assist in the placement of the “drawbridge” or fixed bridge which will be used to enter the castle.