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BarbaraKE
09-12-2008, 08:48 PM
Ok, the building is not really a castle but a large, several-hundred-year-old, stone building. (At least the original part of the building is that old, it has been added onto over the years.) It's three stories tall (if that makes a difference.)

I want my characters to end up in the basement/cellar as they attempt to escape from the bad guys.

What would it look like? Specifically, the room above them (currently) has a stone floor. But I was thinking that that is probably not right. How would the stone be supported if there was empty space underneath? Is it possible? (I'd prefer a stone floor but can change it if necessary.)

The cellar is about 6' high with dirt floors. (It's on a bit of a rise so water is not a problem.) Is it fair to assume that there have to be big wooden beams overhead (supporting the floor above). Would there be pillars supporting the beams? Would they be stone or wood? Would my characters have to clamber over/around said beams/pillars or would there be room to walk?

The original part of the house was built to be very strong, like a defensive stronghold. There is a wall around the property, now partially ruined. How thick/high would this wall have been originally? (I'm using 12 feet high but can adjust this.) But I have no idea on the thickness.

One last question. In Rothenberg, Germany, I saw a small gate that had been built into the original town walls. The main gates were closed at night. If someone wanted to come into town after that, they had to crawl through this small gate. (It was only about 3 feet high.) This was a way of protecting the town - invaders couldn't rush the big gates and force their way into town. Does anyone know what this small gate would have been called?

Thanks to anyone that can help. Rep points will be given. :)

RJK
09-12-2008, 09:04 PM
I'm not an expert but I did sleep in a...

A stone, multi-story structure would use post and beam construction to span the interior spaces and the roof. The floors would be planks of wood spanning beams anywhere from four to eight feet apart. The basement would need to go down far enough to be below the frost line (at least four feet). usually they would go deeper so that they would have serviceable rooms.
The basement rooms would be used for cold storage, wine storage, and who knows what else (dungeons?).
There would be large posts every eight feet or so, unless they used very large beams to span greater distances. For asthetic reasons, these beams would more likely be used in the upper floors, rather than the basement.

DeleyanLee
09-12-2008, 09:13 PM
My first thought was--would a building that old even have a basement beneath the structure? Would they have bothered to dig out and support the building above like that? Aren't most cellars outside the main building for that reason? Was the cellar original to the structure or added afterward--and would it be the length of the building?

My second thought was--is this a Historical/Contemporary or a Fantasy story?

My third thought was--does it really matter? Why not just design what you need/want for the story and run with it?

Maryn
09-12-2008, 09:15 PM
That small gate might count as a Judas door.

ideagirl
09-12-2008, 09:18 PM
Ok, speaking as someone who used to live in Europe and is sorta an architecture buff...

If the building has both a stone floor on the ground level and a basement, the basement has to have stone pillars in it to support the stone floor above it, and the basement also has to have a stone floor itself (or else the pillars will sink into the ground under the weight of the stone floor above). And finally, because arches are much stronger than flat ceilings, there would probably need to be arches between the pillars. (I cannot imagine how big wood beams would support a stone floor; even if they could, how could they do it for centuries--the wood would likely weaken and the whole thing would collapse.) Google around to look for pictures of crypts in medieval cathedrals--here's a picture of Canterbury Cathedral to give you an idea: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bd/Canterbury_Cathedral_Crypt.jpg

Kinda beautiful and spooky, no? I just googled "crypt cathedral" (without the quotes) and searched images, and that came right up.


The cellar is about 6' high with dirt floors.

It can be 6' high (picture very short pillars--I have been in some pretty short crypts, though, the shortest was maybe 5.5 feet at the top of the pillars, then about 2-3 feet more to accommodate the arches, so the center of each group of pillars was about 8-9 feet). But it can't have dirt floors, for the reason noted above. As for 6' high--if you mean 6' at the top of the arches, I'm not sure that makes sense: it would mean most of the basement was too low for a person to stand up in, which makes me wonder why anyone would bother building such a basement. But, at least it wouldn't be physically impossible.


The original part of the house was built to be very strong, like a defensive stronghold. There is a wall around the property, now partially ruined. How thick/high would this wall have been originally? (I'm using 12 feet high but can adjust this.) But I have no idea on the thickness.

12 feet is fine. I'd say anywhere from 3-6 feet thick.


Does anyone know what this small gate would have been called?

No, but you might be able to find out by researching Rothenburg (esp. look for old maps or diagrams of the city). If you only find the German name for the gate, at least you could look that up in a dictionary.

ideagirl
09-12-2008, 09:28 PM
My first thought was--would a building that old even have a basement beneath the structure?

That was my first thought too. There's no reason to have a basement in such a building, and building basements hundreds of years ago was an outrageously difficult and labor-intensive task. But if the OP wants a basement in a stone-floored building, then it can be done--it just needs to be built like a medieval crypt.


My third thought was--does it really matter? Why not just design what you need/want for the story and run with it?

Because physically impossible or highly improbable details take the reader out of the story--you're reading along, all engrossed, and then you're like, "Wait a second, how the heck is that possible? Wouldn't it collapse?" Etc. It has to be physically possible according to the laws of the universe you're describing. Philip Pullman's Golden Compass series is a tour de force in its ability to describe things that defy our current understanding of physics, yet work because they make sense in the universe he's describing... but all his departures from normal laws of physics are (1) interesting in and of themselves and (2) essential to the story. Here, in contrast, having a dirt-floored, flat-ceilinged basement beneath a stone floor is pointless--why bother? How does it advance the story to have the basement be that way, instead of being a basement that could exist? It doesn't--so your best bet is to describe a basement that could exist.

oneblindmouse
09-12-2008, 09:46 PM
A cellar doesn't have to extend the length of the entire house. I grew up in a very old house (first mentioned in the Domesday Book, though I'm inclined to think that was probably a previous house on the same site) that had been added on to over the centuries. The central part was definitely from the 16th century. It had a cellar, but a very small one, and I've no idea when it was built. It used to scare the s*** out of me as a kid because it was full of a gazillion spiders and dust-coated cobwebs! And it was cold!

qwerty
09-12-2008, 09:53 PM
I'm talking of centuries old buildings in France. The cave (cellar) would have vaulted ceilings - that's curved, self-supporting tops. So, no supporting pillars. The areas between the curves are filled with earth, resulting in a flat surface on which flagstones (rough slabs of natural stone) are laid. Which would be your stone ground floor.

My house, which is over 300 years old, has heavy oak ceiling beams suporting the upper floor. The gaps between the beams is filled with earth and ancient teracotta tiles form the floor of the upper storey.

hope that helps.

DeleyanLee
09-12-2008, 10:04 PM
Because physically impossible or highly improbable details take the reader out of the story--you're reading along, all engrossed, and then you're like, "Wait a second, how the heck is that possible? Wouldn't it collapse?" Etc.

Honestly, if the story hasn't engrossed me to the point where I bother to think about such details, then it has other, bigger, problems besides a made-up cellar. ;)

dirtsider
09-12-2008, 10:05 PM
Watch the Cities of the Underground series. A lot of old cities had either 'basements' using vaulted ceilings or just converted old cave systems. As for the rooms with the vaulted ceilings, they were either old sections of the buildings or alleys/streets that just got buried over time (i.e. St. Mary's Close in Edinborough, Scotland) or they deliberately dug trenches, built the vaults, then covered them over again.

ideagirl
09-12-2008, 10:06 PM
I'm talking of centuries old buildings in France. The cave (cellar) would have vaulted ceilings - that's curved, self-supporting tops. So, no supporting pillars. The areas between the curves are filled with earth, resulting in a flat surface on which flagstones (rough slabs of natural stone) are laid. Which would be your stone ground floor.

My house, which is over 300 years old, has heavy oak ceiling beams suporting the upper floor. The gaps between the beams is filled with earth and ancient teracotta tiles form the floor of the upper storey.
hope that helps.


I'm having serious trouble picturing this. "The areas between the curves are filled with earth, resulting in a flat surface on which flagstones are laid. Which would be your stone ground floor."--that sounds like you're saying the ground-level stone floor rests on dirt, but somehow beneath this dirt there are vaulted ceilings... say what now? I have the same problem with "heavy oak ceiling beams suporting the upper floor. The gaps between the beams is filled with earth and ancient teracotta tiles form the floor of the upper storey." Sooo... that sounds like there are ceiling beams that somehow have earth filling the gaps between them... What?!

Sorry, if you could post a photo or describe it more clearly, it would help.

MelancholyMan
09-12-2008, 10:14 PM
Be careful injecting too much detail into the writing. Increases word count without really adding anything.

I'm thinking two things you might want to put down there. A dungeon. Or more likely, a cistern. Many castles had cisterns, especially if they weren't built over a natural water source.

-MM

Jayswords
09-12-2008, 10:21 PM
I have been in a few castles. Most of them do have cells in the basement.

waylander
09-12-2008, 11:25 PM
Cellars might well be barrel-vaulted with stone pillars. They're going to keep their beer and wine down there because of the stable cool temperature, if they're really fancy they may even have an ice house
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Undercroft

The little doorway is called a postern

Mr Flibble
09-12-2008, 11:59 PM
Ack Waylander beat me to it for the postern door

And yes castles (http://www.castles-of-britain.com/castlesg.htm) and fortified houses did have cellars (http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://hamletgreenstage08.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/kronborg-castle-dungeon.jpg&imgrefurl=http://hamletgreenstage08.wordpress.com/2008/06/04/images-of-kronborg-castle/&h=960&w=1280&sz=85&tbnid=fYqxNkbLRl4J::&tbnh=113&tbnw=150&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dcastle%2Bdungeons&usg=__iZn0h604IOU-XjvyIcZwZI93_IE=&sa=X&oi=image_result&resnum=1&ct=image&cd=1). Of course sometimes what they kept there was people locked up, so maybe dungeon would be more appropriate. :) Also handy for hiding in, in the case of siege weapons or invasion.

If there was no one handy to torture, they might have kept wine in there. And spiders, lots and lots of spiders.

Sarpedon
09-13-2008, 12:17 AM
There's an excellent book by David Macauley called 'Castle' which is available in most public libraries. There's also an 'amazing cross sections' book on castles. Both of these have highly informative drawings.

The main reason buildings have basements is because they need foundations. A heavy stone building like a castle will either be built directly on rock (no basement) or have substantial foundations, with the accompanying potential for large basements.

Postern gates were often built ABOVE ground level, for extra security. You could access them with a ladder. This helped keep them safe from being battered down, because its hard to operate a batttering ram while standing on a ladder. Also, they most certainly would be in a place where they could be fired upon by someone in the castle.

BarbaraKE
09-13-2008, 05:23 AM
Boy, you guys are good.

This building is not a fancy cathedral or castle. In the time and area where it was built, they would have gone for 'strong' and 'practical' so I'm going to use wooden floors and beams. (Since it's surrounded by forests, having big beams is not a problem.)


Be careful injecting too much detail into the writing. Increases word count without really adding anything.

I don't plan on going overboard but I do plan on mentioning spiders. (Thanks to the people that mentioned them.) One of the three characters involved is a 'city boy' and stumbling through spiderwebs would definitely creep him out.

And thanks to the people that mentioned 'postern gate'. I always thought that was simply a 'rear' (or secondary) gate, not necessarily one that was very small. But I googled it and some of the examples definitely showed an undersized gate.

Thanks to everyone!!

Tsu Dho Nimh
09-14-2008, 06:23 PM
I'm talking of centuries old buildings in France. The cave (cellar) would have vaulted ceilings - that's curved, self-supporting tops. So, no supporting pillars. The areas between the curves are filled with earth, resulting in a flat surface on which flagstones (rough slabs of natural stone) are laid. Which would be your stone ground floor.


So that'show they did it!

GLAZE_by_KyrstinMc
09-14-2008, 06:24 PM
Dungeons. Torture chambers.

Smiling Ted
09-16-2008, 10:34 AM
I don't plan on going overboard but I do plan on mentioning spiders. (Thanks to the people that mentioned them.) One of the three characters involved is a 'city boy' and stumbling through spiderwebs would definitely creep him out.
!

Umm...
Speakin' as one o' them there city boys, ma'am...
We sho' DO have spiders in our fancy condos and whatnot.
And that's speakin' of one o' them fancy modern cities, let alone a medieval one.

Jes' FYI.

Kerr
09-16-2008, 03:50 PM
Here in Michigan where there are still a lot of older buildings we have what is called the Michigan basement, small dug out areas that that are only about six foot deep. These basements never extend under the entire house. They are there just for cold storage, and later, heating that was added. They have dirt floors, and the earth that was cut back and removed is often sealed over with round field stone that's cemented together, or later, cement block. These walls will come up about four feet then level out leaving a two foot gap that goes out to the exterior wall where pipe was fed through to the upper floors, etc. Often the top of this wall is still dirt, but some have been cemented over. A good many of these old cellars have steep wooden staircases that are a nightmare to climb, and very little in the way of lighting, perhaps only a single bulb that is twisted to turn on, or a pull string. Very creepy all of them.