A GHANAIAN MAN’S HOME AND HIS CASTLE – The Architecture of Fear and Self-Preservation

home(A Public Lecture In commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Ghana Institute of Architects) by Prof. Ralph Mills-Tettey Fellow, Ghana Institute of Architects (FGIA) Fellow, Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (FGA) & Immediate Past Registrar, Architects Registration Council of Ghana



Over the course of civilization, man in creating a habitat for his secured living, has sought to protect himself not just from the elements but real dangers of attacking creatures, hostile persons, aggressive tribes and general invaders. The consequences, as was in history and even to the present day, have ranged from a psychological sense of insecurity and fear to the physical loss or destruction of property and even life. A man’s habitat or place of abode while being his refuge also comes with socio-cultural and economic considerations. Homes worldwide have reflected the way of living of the inhabitants, their status, economic or social, their beliefs, perceptions and aspirations among others.

From early cave dwellings when man rolled a huge boulder to protect the entrance of his cave at night from dangerous marauding animals, to modern day homes with high-tech security features, man seem to have reached a stage whereby he could sit back and relax with a feeling of having built and achieved the ultimate ‘secured’ home. His social and economic status has most times also influenced the house he builds or chooses to live in and the level of protection he reckons would be needed from unwanted guests, intruders and even those with more sinister agenda. In this regard the simple dwelling of the countryside has evolved to be a most fortified urban home. These fortifications have ranged from hedges, fences, high walls with barbed wire – sometimes electrified, to full burglar proofing on all external doors and window openings. Conversely, the ‘secured house’ is gradually turning into a prison for its inhabitants whereby they stand the possibility of being trapped inside during fires and other emergencies.

The paper explores the literal concept and meanings of the saying of ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’. It traces the origins of protection of simple dwellings in history through fortifications of settlements and buildings in times of peace and war to modern day architectural designs and construction practices of high fence walls and barbwires that create a unique architecture of fear and self-preservation. The paper further outlines and gives a focus on what has specifically happened in Ghana in the past and current practices of home designs and self preservation. The Ghanaian man’s home that he sees as his castle and pride is also in fact turning into a fortress and prison in many respects.

The paper makes observations and recommendations on the challenging role of the architect in creatingfunctional, aesthetically pleasant and secured homes. These could be achieved through careful and sensitive planning, designing and detailing of buildings and homes rather than a reliance and use of hardware and sophisticated gadgetry in the finished products.

A MAN’S HOME IS HIS CASTLE – “This saying is as old as the basic concepts of English common law.,” From the “Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins” by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).

“You are the boss in your own house and nobody can tell you what to do there. No one can enter your home without your permission. The proverb has been traced back ‘Stage of Popish Toys’ . In 1644, English jurist Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634) was quoted as saying: ‘For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique tutissimum refugium’ (‘One’s home is the safest refuge for all’). First attested in the United States in ‘Will and Doom’. In England, the word ‘Englishman’ often replaces man.” From “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings” by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).


The English dictum that a man’s home is his refuge.


The maxim that ‘An Englishman’s home (or occasionally, house) is his castle’ is most often cited these days in articles in the British right-wing press that bemoan the apparent undermining of the perceived principle that a man can do as he pleases in his own house, which they hold up as an ancient right. The grumbles centre about the feminist ‘what about Englishwomen?’ response and the public disquiet about the smacking of children, attacking of intruders etc. The proverb was used in almost allof the articles about the court case of Tony Martin in 2000. Martin was convicted by jury trial of murder, after shooting and killing a 16-year old who had broken into his house in Norfolk, UK.

Did Englishmen actually ever have a unique right to act as they please within the walls of their own home? Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it has been a legal precept in England, since at least the 17th century, that no one may enter a home, which would typically then have been in male ownership, unless by invitation. This was established as common law by the lawyer and politician Sir Edward Coke (pronounced Cook), in The Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628:

An Englishman’s home is his castle. (British old-fashioned) Something that you say which means that British people believe they should be able to control what happens in their own homes, and that no one else should tell them what to do there An Englishman’s home is his castle. The government has no right to interfere in our private lives!