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Castles & knights

Castle gatehouse

A castle gatehouseA castle gatehouse The castle's massive gatehouse was its only entrance—and it was more heavily fortified than any other part. The drawbridge over the moat, a water-filed ditch that ran all round the castle, could be quickly raised up to block the entrance. Behind it were heavy gates and two portcullises. Two towers stood close by on either side of the entrance, allowing guards to rain arrows down on intruders.

Cutaway illustration of a gatehouseCutaway illustration of a gatehousePouring hot sand through a murder holePouring hot sand through a murder hole


Portcullises were heavy wooden grilles that slid down grooves in the stone walls to either side. They were raised or lowered using winding gear linked to ropes or chains on the floor above. Trapping the enemy between the two portcullises gave the defending guards opportunities to shoot arrows and drop boulders or hot sand down through the “murder holes” in the gatehouse ceiling on top of them. Hot sand found its way through chinks in armour and scorched the skin.

Strong gatehouses, with drawbridges and portcullises, were used by the Romans in forts dating back to the 3rd century BC.

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