Recreating the town of Scarborough, Yorkshire: Post 5: Surviving Medieval Structures

This post deals with attempts to recreate the two major surviving Scarborough structures as they might have appeared in 1264. The goal was twofold: to create convincing external shapes; and, where possible, create interiors that we can bring characters and cameras into. An unintended consequence of this approach was the capacity to 'walk' around the buildings - a chilling experience.


In 1382, Sir John St. Quintin, a distant ancestor, became both the keeper of Scarborough Castle and a member of Parliament. He wasted no time in complaining to a Royal Commission that the castle defenses had not been adequately maintained (echoing similar complaints made through the centuries). Sir John would have been shocked by the present ruinous state of the castle and associated structures. Today, only a partial shell remains of the fortifications. 

In 1264, Castle Hill boasted the Keep, an inner Bailey, curtain walls, King John's Hall and Residence

So little of the structure survives that we can deduce neither the keep's height nor the form of its upper battlements (let alone guess at how the fortifications or their antecedents appeared in early or high medieval times). Virtual reconstruction becomes as challenging as Sir John's responsibility to replace decaying woodwork and ballista.  Indeed, frequent updates may have changed the external and internal shapes of these buildings according to the availability of material and building skills.

Certainly, there are some very useful floor plans of the surviving castle and some interesting technical descriptions - but until recently, defense regulations kept it off-limit to those who would take a tape measure to the ruins. 

Virtual rebuilding commenced by extruding the basic shape of each level against floor plans, and estimating the absolute height of each level from incomplete surveys and photographic evidence. The prominent 'hole' is space left for the spiral staircase.


1st floor - the Great Hall

2nd floor - Residential Area and roof void



Detail was then 'added' by creating forms and using them to 'subtract' spaces in the level structures - to create doors, fireplaces, chimneys, drains, internal rooms, defensive elements and windows.

Small double-window Form

Large-window Form and trial spiral stair case objects

External cladding and internal floors, walls, roofs, the spiral staircase and the grand arch were then added. In later times, the internal stone work was covered with plaster - here I have left it as stone, and will cover with tapestry or simple cloth.

Keepers Quarters and exit to Chapel Roof


Grand Arch

During building, we spent time on set, using a mannequin to walk the building - it was then that the actual complexity and magnitude of the building became apparent. 

At the end of the build process, we added fire, candlelight, and assets to commence cinematic takes.

St Marys

By the early 19th century, St Marys was in very poor shape. Damaged in the civil war, the three church towers had collapsed at different stages, and a contemporary postcard shows a tree growing out of one of them. Partly restored in the mid-19th century, the original (slightly flawed) shape of the early/high medieval church is obscured by its many additions. Fortunately, there is a comprehensive timeline to alterations, a drawing in the Henry VIII plat of the church in the distance, and a useful pre-restoration sketch of the west entrance. Sadly, all the fine stained glass adorning the present church were added long after the period we are interested in. It is unclear whether the church had glass windows in its initial stage - certainly they may have been planned for, perhaps the window openings were originally shuttered by wood (I recently came across a rural church in the outback town of Dripstone - conceived in optimism that a hundred years on has not yet proceeded past wooden shutters).

On set, the church has been located in grounds that reflect the sharp fall away to the port.

Like the Keep, the 'set' church has been exuded as rectangular primitives and detail added or subtracted using Boolean, PinCut or PolyEd tools within UE5. The possibility exists of building the structure stone block at a time, using basic 'timber-like' elements to define spaces - a bit like the process used by the original builders. Such a process might benefit by using the basic form created above, but then crafting individual stone pieces having regard to each individual stone found in the structure.

In the first image below, stone courses have been laid, one stone at a time (note the single white stone below the wall between the 5th and 6th window), against the church structure described above. Window formers have been crafted to assist the building process.

This is a horrible, time consuming process. I found that, despite care, stones quickly came out of alignment, and the total number of items quickly mounted - in this small sample there are several hundred individual items. As a thought experiment it achieved its purpose - it is possible to build this way. But there would need to be a jolly good reason to invest time in pursuing it to lock-up.  I can think of two reasons. The first would be actually modeling  the building on the basis of the remaining early/high medieval materials. This might help confirm building methods, confirm known flaws in the original building design and create educational material.  The second would be to use this method were foundation stones found of the missing monasteries or churches or even the remaining ruins of the hall and residence built on Castle Hill by King John.

If it is desired to capture the image of the actual stones still found in the structure, it would possible to create an exceptionally detailed model of the shape and then project an accurate image of those stones onto the model.  During this process, I watched in awe as this approach was developed to record the shape of Scandinavian buildings.

Index of posts in the series "Recreating the town of Scarborough, Yorkshire, 1264"

1: Geography

2. Shaping the town

3. Crucks, Siles and Forks of Yorkshire

4. Timber Framed Buildings

5. Surviving Medieval Structures

6. Port and Cogs

7. Lost Medieval Structures


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