• Imagining History

Viking Longhouses - Learning Guide for Kids

Vikings lived in single storey buildings called Longhouses – so called because they were long and rectangular. But how were they built and what was it like to live in them?


Viking Longhouse with Wattle & Daub walls on the left

Construction:


Viking longhouses were around 5 to 7 metres wide and anywhere from 15 to (a huge!) 75 metres long (that’s the same length as two and a half blue whales glued together from nose to tail). The larger Longhouses were often farm houses owned by rich families. The shorter ones were often built in small towns where there was less space.


Walls:

Construction started with a basic wooden frame creating the shape of the walls and roof. The gaps between the wooden frames were filled using a technique called Wattle & Daub. This involved placing a lattice of thin wooden strips (Wattle) between the wooden frames then coating it in something sticky (Daub) such as mud, clay, sand, or even animal dung! The Daub

would dry to form a sturdy wall. The soil beneath the house was simply pounded flat to create a hard floor inside.

Using turf and thatched straw for the Longhouse roof

Roof:

The roof of the Longhouse would be constructed from wooden planks, thatched with straw or layered with turf (a layer of earth with grass on top). There were no windows in the Longhouse so small gaps in the roof materials let a little light in and allowed smoke from the fire to escape.




Longhouse re-creation showing a row of wooden posts

Interior:


On the inside, the Longhouse was just one long room. But Viking families found a way of dividing up the space for better use using rows of wooden posts.


Creating "Rooms":

These wooden posts were primarily used to support the roof because the walls were too weak to hold any weight. The posts were placed in two rows running down the length of the Longhouse, dividing the space into three long aisles. These posts were also used to partition off sections of the house. These sections weren’t quite “rooms” as we know them now, but each of them was used for a different purpose.


Viking re-enactors gather around the Longhouse fire

Living:


The Longhouse had to be shared by the extended family and their farm animals (Just imagine the noise if you shared your home with a cow!) The Longhouse was used for everything; cooking, eating, sleeping, working, playing and storing belongings. It was often crowded and busy with little privacy. Luckily, the Vikings went to the toilet in a hole dug outside of the Longhouse – otherwise that could get pretty embarrassing – and pretty stinky too!


Living Quarters:

The family’s living quarters were often based in the middle of the Longhouse. There was an open fire placed in a hearth in the central aisle, used to provide warmth. With no windows you can imagine how dark and gloomy it must have been inside a longhouse, so a big fire would

A re-creation of an upright loom used by the Vikings

have also given much needed light. All of the meals were cooked over the open fire and Viking families would gather around the hearth to tell stories.


Animals & Work Spaces:

At either end of the Longhouse, surrounding the family’s living quarters, was a barn area for the animals and a workspace for crafts or weaving on the loom.


Furniture:

Built-in benches ran along the sides of the Longhouse to support the walls and provide a space to sit, eat, work and sleep. There was very little space for other items of furniture (although wealthy families with larger Longhouses may have had purpose-built beds or dinner tables). Any furniture that wasn’t used very often would likely be stored overhead on the crossbeams supporting the roof to save space.


Further Reading:

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