Welcome to Episode 8 of the Medieval England History Series! We’ve been through quite a few occupations and types of people now and it’s time to begin to explore further afield to the useful carpenter. This is a series you can listen to on Spotify here, and you can find the other posts here. Be sure to follow my site for more episodes and post any thoughts you have in the comments on something you enjoyed about the episode or series so far.
Before we delve into the medieval carpenter, we should first cover the career of a carpenter through history in general, and indeed a career it is. Carpentry is one of the world’s oldest professions (the oldest is tool maker, who used chunks of rock to pound, and flakes made from quartz and flint to make stone tools.) The son of God, Jesus Christ was himself described as a carpenter. Today carpenters are still a priced trade skill in the construction industry and are quite well paid compared with other roles.
But with medieval carpenters things go something like this… Medieval carpenters were highly skilled professionals who would cut timber (wood) to make a variety of planks, beams, doors, windows and furniture. They were producing items for homes, castles, workshops, shops, ports and more.
As with other professions such as the Baker, carpenters were also a part of a Guild specific to the profession. They would join as an apprentice and be taught the skills of the craft; including the use of tools, woodworking techniques and the mathematics required. After the training they could expect to go on to hone their skills further themselves as a journeyman, gaining enough experience to eventually become a master carpenter. The path of learning is similar to other professions, and the path structure is still used today for a variety of crafts. A very skilled carpenter could potentially be employed by the Kings or nobles, being retained in employment as specialists (in a castle, and during travel). A guild of carpenters became a reality when in the 900s the towns began to stabilise their economies and expand, allowing more work. Most towns in England were built near castles (as mentioned sometimes within the walls). Most guild formed officially around the 12th century.
A carpenter guild was designed to allow fair competition and agreement of the basic rules governing their trade. Guilds had the power to fine carpenters who violated their rules, but also took care of carpenters should they become unwell and arrange for burials and take care of carpenter families if needed. They contributed to supporting their town by building churches for example.
A master carpenter or highly skilled professional in woodworking could expect a decent amount of work and pay. They used a variety of tools of course. See the picture above for some examples (saw, adze, awl). Others included the: hatchet, twybill and broad axe, gimlet, compass, square and ruler, twyvette, saws, plane, chisel and gauge, marking gauge, crowbar and hammer. A carpenter would use a whetstone to sharpen the tools if needed.
Some tools were said to be found in the Mastermyr chest – a Viking age tool chest in the Mastermyr mire west of Hemse on the island of Gotland, Sweden. The largest tool finds in Europe (793-1066). Proving to some extent that the carpenter tools of that age were still very much prized. Of course the Vikings are known for large wooden ships, so it made sense to employ a selection of carpenters for the job of building them. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%A4stermyr_chest
Above is an example of a 16 century wooden chair no doubt made by a carpenter.
A slightly more modern Tudor chest above. See the detail of the carpenter.
The house above was built in 1509. A carpenter would have done a significant part of the work as you can see from the wood structure.
Thanks for reading Episode 8 of the Medieval England History series. I hope to see you next time. In the meantime, support this series by liking and commenting and follow to stay up to date with the newest releases.https://cdnjs.buymeacoffee.com/1.0.0/button.prod.min.js