Safety and the Gatekeeper
During the hours of daylight, Agecroft Hall would be accessible to family, servants and visitors – personal and business. Seasonal and itinerant workers would have access to fields and work sites. As soon as the sun went down, work in the fields finished for the day, most servants went home to their families, and Agecroft’s large oak gate what shut and bolted.
The gatekeeper was one servant whose presence was required at Agecroft throughout the night. He was the night watchman for Agecroft’s only entrance. Closing this gate cut off any outside access to the manor courtyard and any of its rooms.
The gatekeeper was tasked with making sure there was no threat to Agecroft during the night. At this time is history, there was no police force or standing army in England. Master Dauntesey was responsible for the safety and welfare of his manor and family, his servants and the people of his parish. If the need arose, he kept armor at the manor that could be used in its defense.
After closing the main gate for the night, the gatekeeper kept a light burning and a club or mace beside him. Anyone needing or wanting entrance to the manor during the night needed to alert the gatekeeper to his presence by knocking an iron ring on the door. The gatekeeper asked the visitor to identify himself and state his business while he watched him from a small hole in the gate – like today’s peep hole in a front door.
If the visitor was granted entry, the gatekeeper could open the small arched wicket gate cut into the main gate. If threatened, he could push or knock the intruder back over the high threshold of the wicket gate and bolt the door once again.
The Elizabethans were what we call today superstitious. They believed in the supernatural, in curses, and bad luck. They needed to protect themselves from these spirits, especially during the dark hours of the night. For this was when spirits, sprites, and boogeymen roamed.
One way to protect a home was with a witch’s mark. These were geometric marks carved into the wood or stone next to a doorway, window or fireplace and were used as ritual protection symbols. These architectural openings were believed to be easy entrances for spirits and could be “closed” and protected by the marks. Called apotropaic marks from the Greek word for averting evil, evidence of these protective symbols has been found in churches, homes and barns (where grain was stored) of the Elizabethan era.
The most common design of the witch’s mark was the daisy wheel-a hexafoil design carved within a circle and easily recognizable. We are fortunate to have a daisy wheel at Agecroft carved into the paneling on the left side of the great parlor fireplace. Desiccated cats were often buried within the walls when homes were built for the same purpose of warding off evil.
How do you get your house ready for the night? Do you lock the doors and windows? Turn off the lights?
Help close your house for the night one day this week. Check the locks, turn off the lights and close any open windows. While we don't believe in the supernatural like the Elizabethan's did, it is always a good idea to lock up when we go to bed!