At the famous Warwick Castle in Warwickshire, England, visitors will soon have the opportunity to see a gigantic medieval war weapon in action. This elaborate wooden contraption is a catapult-style siege engine known as a trebuchet, and the version that has just been erected at Warwick Castle is approximately 60 feet (18 meters) tall and weighs an astonishing 24 tons (22 metric tonnes).
The trebuchet was built by a team of master builders from Carpenter Oak , a Devon-based company that specializes in the design, construction and installation of large timber framed structures of all types. The trebuchet they constructed features a frame and wheels made from sturdy oak, and a throwing arm made from ash that is capable of hurling a 40-pound (18-kilogram) projectile 650 feet (200 meters) through the air.
The Carpenter Oak builders relied on designs originally created 800 years ago to guide their engineering efforts. Even though it is being referred to as a replica, the device they built is a dangerous weapon that would be as just as effective at smashing castle walls or towers as anything constructed by the most skilled and industrious medieval craftsmen.
Carpenter Oak Trebuchet Brings History to Life at Warwick Castle
This is actually the second trebuchet that has been installed on Warwick Castle grounds. This first replica was built by Carpenter Oak in 2005, and it was in operation for 15 years before finally being shut down over safety concerns in 2020.
Rather than trying to fix this decaying relic, Warwick Castle administrators decided to commission Carpenter Oak to construct a new version of the ancient weapon. What they came up with is a new-and-improved monster weapon that will soon be launching extremely heavy objects into low orbit for the amusement of gawking spectators gathered on castle grounds to watch the spectacle.
“We are thrilled to have worked with Warwick Castle to bring back the much-loved and iconic replica trebuchet to the castle grounds,” Luke Copley-Wilkins, managing director at Carpenter Oak, told the news service Devon Live . “Bringing a piece of medieval history back to life on such a huge scale has been a labor of love for the whole Carpenter Oak team – it’s not every day we get to work on such a unique project that uses 13th and 14th century designs.”
Ever wondered what it takes to make a medieval siege machine?
Hear from the team behind the build! @Carpenteroak
We’re so excited to unleash this brand new show from 1st April https://t.co/nxzNR52mfr pic.twitter.com/Xh9Wpz108N
— Warwick Castle (@WarwickCastle) March 28, 2023
This is actually just one of many such projects completed by the experts at Carpenter Oak. The company has built other replicas of ancient weapons for historical sites and for various film and television projects, including a Roman ballista (a rugged bolt-launching weapon) and a crossbow modeled after one that was once owned by Leonardo Da Vinci .
The Carpenter Oak workshop is located in southern England, far away from Warwick Castle. It was therefore necessary to transport the parts of the partially assembled trebuchet to Warwick Castle via truck. The trip covered a distance of approximately 155 miles (250 kilometers), all driven slowly to make sure the medieval weapon arrived in good condition. The assembly team from Carpenter Oak finished installing the trebuchet at the castle earlier this month, and the massive siege weapon is now just days away from being put into action on a daily basis.
Depiction of a 13th-century medieval trebuchet during a siege. ( Public domain )
Reliving the Terrors of Medieval Warfare at Warwick Castle
Ancient Warwick Castle stands as a tribute to and reminder of England’s long and storied military history. The castle was built in 1086 on the orders of William the Conqueror himself, who wanted a strong fortification in the Warwickshire region of central England to help secure the successes of the Norman Conquest of 1066.
The castle saw a lot of action over the first 500 years of its existence, the forces stationed there having been involved in fighting associated with the Hundred Years’ War and the War of the Roses in the 14th and 15th centuries.
It was finally retired as a fortress and transformed into a country estate in the early 17th century, at which point its grounds were converted into beautiful gardens. Warwick Castle remained in private hands for centuries after that, until 1978 when it was purchased by the Tussauds Group and opened to the public as a tourist attraction.
It isn’t known if Warwick Castle was ever attacked by invaders carrying a trebuchet. Given what a powerful siege weapon it was, it is certainly reasonable to think one may have been used to breach castle walls at some point in the medieval period, when some fierce battles were fought in and around the area.
The trebuchet was rebuilt when the previous one, seen here, gave out at Warwick Castle. ( dudlajzov / Adobe Stock)
Rebuilding the Warwick Castle Trebuchet
But regardless of what may have happened in the past, when the first trebuchet replica was commissioned in 2005 it proved to be a smart addition to the castle’s tourist-centered inventory. “The old trebuchet was an immensely popular attraction and so we were keen to replace this jaw-dropping machine,” stated Liam Bartlett, the operations director at Warwick Castle.
“When it needed rebuilding we knew that Carpenter Oak had the skills and craftsmanship to construct Britain’s largest trebuchet.” For the master designers at Carpenter Oak, the request to build a new and better trebuchet weapon represented a unique opportunity they were eager to embrace.
“After the original replica trebuchet came to the end of its working life, the challenge was to rebuild it and make it better functionally,” explained Muna Sono, the firm’s carpentry team leader. “It’s all the little things with a trebuchet that you don’t see, lots of little cogs in a bigger picture. It’s relatively few pieces of timber compared to most buildings we work on, but they are all enormous.”
Despite the difficulties, all signs indicate that the Warwick Castle trebuchet is now ready to go. The giant replica is currently undergoing testing, and the plan right now is to put it into live action for the first time at the start of April, just in time for the busy Easter weekend. Visitors to the Legend of the Trebuchet demonstration will be able to imagine what it would feel like to be targeted by such an awesome and powerful weapon, as so many people and places were during England’s bloody and tumultuous Middle Ages.
Top image: The trebuchet at Warwick Castle. Source: Muna/ Carpenter Oak
By Nathan Falde
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