Bodiam Castle's graffiti uncovered

A banker's (or craftsman's) mark in the stonework at Bodiam Castle in East Sussex

A stone by stone survey of the castle walls has revealed over 800 inscriptions including extensive ritual protection marks to ward off evil forces.

Stone by stone

In January 2016 we commissioned Matt Champion, medieval graffiti expert, to carry out a detailed survey of all the inscriptions on the castle walls at Bodiam.  The extensive survey revealed a number of notable and significant discoveries.

Built by craftsmen

Although we were aware of the existence of masons' marks, left by the people who built Bodiam in the late fourteenth century, this in depth research uncovered the true extent of these.  It has provided us with new information about the actual construction and design process for the castle which can't be found elsewhere.  We can now say with some certainty that the majority of the castle was constructed by a team of 6 identifiable bankers masons and 3 fine masons within a decade.

Bankers marks or quarry marks are the most common marks found.  These would have been applied by the lower standard masons who were simply roughing out the stone for use in the external walls of the castle and would have been working on a piece-work basis.  Fine masons marks, far less common, can only be found on high status areas of the castle.  These would have been made by expert masons performing detailed carving and acted more like a quality control.

Stonemason's mark, Bodiam Castle
A banker's or craftsman's mark at Bodiam Castle in East Sussex
Stonemason's mark, Bodiam Castle

Witches beware

There are numerous ritual protection or 'witch' marks which have been revealed around almost every entrance and window of the castle.  Designed to ward off evil influences, these suggest that the medieval castle occupants felt they needed something stronger than battlements, portcullises and loops to protect them against evil spirits. The location of these marks around entrances and windows is because these would have been considered more vulnerable to witchcraft and ill fortune and thus in need of directed and targeted protection.

" The collection of ritual protection marks at Bodiam were mostly created during the construction process, but others were created subsequently showing the importance religion continued to play throughout the Middle Ages."
- Matt Champion, medieval graffiti surveyor

Tourist graffiti

The vast majority of the remaining graffiti is more recognisable to the modern eye.  It was created up to 1850 approximately by early tourists visiting Bodiam as a romantic ruin.  Its significance is less but it is still very much a part of Bodiam's story.

Interestingly, the high quality nature of this graffiti shows that at the time graffiti wasn't seen as anti-social and an act of vandalism as it is today.

" The new information revealed by the recent graffiti survey has provided a fascinating and greater insight into many areas of the castle's history, and will help inform future decisions concerning its care and preservation."
- Nathalie Cohen, National Trust archaeologist

If  you are interested in the mason marks and graffiti at Bodiam Castle, when you visit why not try our graffiti quiz.  You can download the trail here Bodiam Castle Graffiti Quiz (PDF / 3.244140625MB) download

There are an amazing number of marks, once you start looking you'll see more and more.

We want to protect these marks for future generations to see and enjoy so please take a close look at them but we'd ask you please not to touch.