Castle Corner: Five interesting jobs of medieval times

The work of a winemaker is celebrated in one of our splendid early 16th-century glass roundels depic

The work of a winemaker is celebrated in one of our splendid early 16th-century glass roundels depicting the Labours of the Months. Picture: Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery. - Credit: Archant

From those who shipped exotic goods into Norfolk to others who oversaw the lords’ courts, people living in the Middle Ages carried out a myriad of colourful jobs.

Oyster shells with traces of pigment, probably used as a painter’s palette. Picture: Norwich Castle

Oyster shells with traces of pigment, probably used as a painter’s palette. Picture: Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery. - Credit: Archant

When Norwich Castle keep reopens after its ongoing transformation project, its new British Museum medieval gallery will feature a ‘Those who Work’ section.

Objects will be displayed so visitors can study them in detail and a series of activities for children and adults alike will bring the world of medieval work to life.

Picture: Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery

Picture: Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery - Credit: Archant

Dr Agata Gomolka, Project Assistant Curator, Norwich Castle: Royal Palace Reborn, offers her top five most interesting jobs of medieval times:

1. Dapifer


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A dapifer was a trusted official employed in the households and military personnel of the powerful during the 11th and 12th centuries. They performed a range of different duties, overseeing the business of the lord’s court, supervising his military protection, and managing the supply of food and wine. We even know the names of two men who served as dapifers to two early 12th-century bishops of Norwich. A man called Guy served Herbert Losinga, the bishop responsible for the construction of the Norwich Cathedral, and he was succeeded in office by his son John. The interiors of the Norwich Castle keep would have witnessed many a dapifer roaming (and rushing!) around.

2. Winemaker

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Wine was a very popular drink in the middle ages and played an extremely important role in society. It not only provided nourishment, but it also played a key role in Christian religious services. Often it was the monasteries who cultivated vineyards and produced wine. We have evidence of wine production in East Anglia in the 11th century. The work of a winemaker is celebrated in one of our splendid early 16th-century glass roundels depicting the Labours of the Months.

3. Painter

Painters were required to apply their skills in very different media. Some were experts in manuscript illumination; some specialised in painting sculpture and furnishings; others were employed to paint buildings. The status of painters, especially gifted ones, could be very prestigious: we have evidence that sometimes the painters of wooden statues were even more famous than the sculptors responsible for the statues. Late medieval East Anglia had a very prominent school of painters and their work can still be admired on the wood panels and rood screens preserved in Norwich and across Norfolk. Some of these wood panels and rood screens will be displayed in our medieval gallery. We also have some amazing examples of the tools of the trade – these are the oyster shells with traces of pigment, probably used as a painter’s palette!

4. Sculptor

Specialised sculptors gradually emerged from trades such as stonemasons, goldsmiths and carpenters. The sculptors who carved the great entrance to the Norwich Castle keep and other intricate decoration of the keep interior probably still belonged to the wider team of stonemasons who would cut and shape the stone. If you look very closely at the surface of the flat stones, and at the details of the sculptures, you can still very clearly see the marks the sculptors’ chisels left 900 years ago almost to the day!

5. Merchant

The job of a merchant could be one characterised by its diversity and range. Medieval merchants travelled far and wide, often becoming not only the carriers of goods but also the channels of exchange of information, fashions, and cultural trends. Medieval Norwich was a place where foreign merchants traded and lived. Our medieval gallery has an entire section dedicated to Norwich merchants and foreign merchants, showcasing objects testifying to their trade and their international connections.

Castle Corner: related articles in our 6-part series:

Who was the greatest Knight?

Top 5 famous medieval fighters

How were medieval structures built?

Following the recent government announcement, Norwich Castle and our other museum sites have closed and will remain closed until further notice. However, construction work on the Royal Palace Reborn project can continue during lockdown, in line with government guidance. Keep in touch with the project via our social media feeds and explore fascinating stories on Norwich Castle’s YouTube channel.

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