This page began as a way to show off the pictures we (Deborah Peters and Stephen Bloch) had taken of various reconstructed medieval pavilions we've lived in and/or built. But I anticipate it becoming also an impetus to discussion of various designs for medieval tents, how to build them, how to live in them, etc. Accordingly I've put in a Taxonomy of Tent Designs discussing different structures and construction methods, a collection of medieval pictures of tents useful as iconographic evidence, a custom tent measurement calculator, and links to as many other relevant Web sites as I could find. If you find bugs in the calculator, if you know of other sites I should link to, or if you can contribute good pictures or descriptions of reconstructed tents, please e-mail me.
Note: we are not in the business of building and selling pavilions. We do not have a catalogue, we do not have a price list, we do not have a mail-order policy, etc. I'll be happy to provide suggestions and moral support from my experience and that of other tentmakers I know, should you be inspired to build your own, but I will not build your tent.
Many of the pictures on these pages are shown in "thumbnail" format, linked to larger versions of the same picture. So if a particular picture piques your curiosity and you want to see more details, try clicking on it.
Many of the photographs on this site, and much of the testing experience of the tents discussed here, are from the Pennsic War. This largest event of the SCA year is held in western Pennsylvania in early to mid-August, and attracts approximately 10,000 participants (from both the SCA and other medievalist groups), some of whom stay for as long as two weeks. At this event, and at numerous smaller and briefer events, most participants sleep in tents or pavilions of some sort, varying from blue plastic tarps to high-tech backpacking tents to careful reconstructions of actual medieval tents.
We held a panel discussion of tentmaking techniques at Pennsic 1997, with a one-hour field trip to examine the participants' own efforts. Interest was high, and the level of expertise of the participants varied from Myfanwy, who'd built one pavilion, to us, with two, to Mistress Barbary, at several hundred, to the people from Medieval Miscellanea and Tentmasters, who had built and sold thousands. I was somewhat surprised that so few people showed up wanting to show off their own efforts on the field trip.
A similar class has been held at Pennsic each year since. Each year the number of participants, and the number of pavilions to visit, has grown, and the field trip has stretched to three hours (for the die-hards who last that long).
Note to participants in past classes: I saw a number of you taking photographs, both full-view and detail, of the tents we visited. If anyone would like to contribute photographs to this Web site, I'd be very grateful; please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deborah and I have for a number of years been part of the Enchanted Ground camp at Pennsic. Enchanted Ground, founded by Duke Cariadoc of the Bow, is based on the conceit that, due to some sort of enchantment, this patch of ground is no longer a part of the twentieth century but rather of the Middle Ages. Inside it there is no discussion of things that didn't exist in the Middle Ages, and we avoid obviously modern camp gear: cooking equipment, bedding, clothing, and (most relevantly to this page) housing such as tents.
We didn't build this one, we borrowed it from the (now-defunct) Gwyntarian Musicians' Guild. Although its shape resembles those of various medieval tents, its internal structure has no resemblance to any that I know of: it had a single center pole, with about a dozen ropes going up the pole, through pulleys or loops at the top, and down at an angle to the circular welded steel hoop that held the shape of the shoulder. This hoop was stabilized by a number of cross-braces (also welded steel, with lots of wing-nuts), the assembly and disassembly of which took hours of frustrating work and caused injuries ranging from mild burns (from steel sitting in direct August sun for hours) to bruises to badly pinched fingers. The main advantage of this structure is that no guy-lines extend beyond the footprint of the tent.
At some point Deborah decided to build her own pavilion based on the many
pictures of pavilions in King
Rene d'Anjou's Book of Love, aka Le Cueur d'Amours Espris. We
completed this pavilion as a joint project in 1994, aided by the
Scrolls special issue on pavilions. (The
Scrolls is the arts-and-sciences newsletter of the
Kingdom of Calontir,
which has something of a reputation for pavilioning.)
More pictures (both of our pavilion and of those in King Rene's book) and
construction details are on another page.
When Deborah started building the first tent, she was single. By the time it was finished, she and I had met and were considering marriage. We quickly found the tent too small for both of us, a week's food, clothing, music, and musical instruments. So we built a larger tent in 1996, based on the pictures of oval pavilions in King Rene's book. More pictures, and discussion of construction details, are on another page.
Oh, by the way, none of these tents, to my knowledge, has ever collapsed or flown away in a Pennsic storm.
These links include not only tents and pavilions, but yurts, sheds,
Disclaimer: I haven't assessed the quality of research going into all these pages; I expect the reader to do that for him/herself.
Tanya Guptill (ska Mira Silverlock), another SCA member who builds pavilions, has developed a page on Medieval Pavilion Resources, including lots of on-line sources relevant to pavilion making, including a significant amount on Mongolian yurts/gers.
She also hosts the Sacred Spaces Archive (Sacred Spaces is the newsletter of the Known World Architectural Guild, and this site includes a number of articles on tents, houses, and furniture).
Mark S. Harris's collection of Rialto articles on dwellings, with subcategories for tents, yurts, castles, cities, thatched huts, carpentry, etc.
Stephen Wyley's Tents of History, which includes a Database of Tent References. Presented in table form, this massive collection describes features and decorations of hundreds (at least!) of tents appearing in pictures and textual references from the 1st to the 17th century C.E. (Much of this information is also on a site in Australia.)
Pavilion Information from House Greydragon. This is apparently an SCA household that has built several pavilions on Daffyd's hub-and-spoke design (with some modifications which they say help the spokes stay in place). They also have a number of photos of a surviving 16th-century (???) pavilion in a museum in Basel, Switzerland.
Max and Mickel's Easy No-Bake Pavilion, a different approach to building a circular tent. They point out that the design is equally usable with external guy lines, vertical side poles, or the hub-and-spoke construction. The page includes a lot of detail on the practicalities of construction and set-up, e.g. what kinds of seams, shopping list with prices, etc.
Panther Pavilions, a commercial maker of medievalish pavilions.
Tentsmiths, another commercial maker.
Past Tents, another commercial maker (in the U.K.). Best known for their hub-and-spoke tents.
Four Seasons Tentmasters, another commercial maker.
Dragonwing Pavilions, another commercial maker; this site includes a number of interesting articles about tent construction (and one about London Bridge!).
Building a Conjecturally Period Pavilion, an old (1988) article from Cariadoc's Miscellany. (The result is the black-and-white tent that appears next to Marvin above, and next to our first tent in this picture.)
Charles McCathieNevile's version of the aforementioned Anglo-Saxon Geteld
Alexander the Lost's Griffin's Den tavern, set up on site at Pennsic.
Devin O Raudh's wooden shed.
Nils Hammer's A-frame tent
Ted Reichardt's account of building a 14th-century English pavilion, including some more primary-source pictures, discussion of materials and vendors, design, etc. (Ted used to go by the name of Svein Sveinssen in the SCA; now he's Thomas somethingorother.)
Will McLean's blog posts about medieval tent construction, including lots of medieval illustrations, quotations and translations from tailors' manuals and account books about tents, and photos of his own reconstructed round tent (c1400 AD).
Mistress Ellisif Flakkari's article on yurts and gers
I intend this section to eventually become a decent bibliography for tent reconstruction. But for now, I'll just put in a few entries; recommendations for others will be cheerfully accepted!
These are the pages I know of that contain links to this one; if you're interested in this page, you may well be interested in other stuff on these pages. If I'm missing any, please E-mail me.
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