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Etal Castle tower house

A Scheduled Monument in Ford, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.6474 / 55°38'50"N

Longitude: -2.1203 / 2°7'12"W

OS Eastings: 392528.269159

OS Northings: 639319.18886

OS Grid: NT925393

Mapcode National: GBR F3M4.RD

Mapcode Global: WH9Z2.DBL0

Entry Name: Etal Castle tower house

Scheduled Date: 26 November 1932

Last Amended: 19 October 1993

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011644

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23225

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Ford

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Ford And Etal

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument known as Etal Castle is a tower house comprising a number of
elements which include the tower and its outer enclosure or barmkin, a
gatehouse, a corner tower, and the sites of various ancillary buildings which
existed within the barmkin, built against the enclosing curtain wall. The
earliest element is the tower, built either in the late 13th or early 14th
century. This is a rectangular building of four storeys which originally had a
projecting forebuilding on the east side. Externally it measures 15m x 10m and
has walls over 2m thick. The ground floor consists of a rib-vaulted undercroft
or basement which would have been used for storage and the occasional shelter
of livestock. It has a single window and was reached via a short passage
through the forebuilding which also housed a spiral stair that gave access to
the upper floors. The first floor served as the hall or day-room and was
comfortably appointed with a large fireplace in the north wall, two recessed
windows with window seats, and small vaulted mural chambers constructed in the
thickness of the north and south walls. One of these, at the north-east corner
of the chamber, housed a garderobe or latrine, and a third window in the south
wall has been found to incorporate a 'murder hole': a narrow slanting shaft
through which projectiles could be aimed at intruders below. This indicates
that there was originally a doorway in the south wall at ground floor level
and also that this wall must have been rebuilt at some point as there is now
no sign of a door. The second floor was equally comfortable and served as the
solar or private chamber. In addition to a fireplace in the south wall, there
are three large windows with window seats and three mural chambers, one of
which, set above that on the first floor, also contained a garderobe. The
third floor is plainer, with no fireplace, but with four windows of which
three had seats, and a mural chamber with a projecting garderobe. This floor
may have served as a guardroom with access to the fighting platform on the
roof of the tower. The roof itself does not survive but it is likely that, in
common with other Border towers, it was steeply pitched with stone gables and
crenellated parapets. The fragmentary remains of a look-out turret survive
above the head of the spiral stair. The tower stands at the west corner of a
roughly square platform measuring c.50m along each side. The north-west and
south-west sides of the platform are bounded by a scarp which is the result of
material being deposited prior to the tower's construction in order to raise
the level of the original land surface and so provide a flat area to build on.
This area, the barmkin, would originally have been enclosed by a timber
palisade. In c.1341, however, Edward III granted the lord of Etal licence to
crenellate, that is, fortify his house against the likelihood of invasion from
across the border with Scotland. Almost certainly the tower itself was already
crenellated at this time, but the grant meant that its owner now had
permission to extend the fortification to include the gatehouse, corner tower
and curtain wall whose remains now extend round the edges of the barmkin.
Documents indicate that the construction of these features took a minimum of
15 years, because a survey of 1355 describes the site as a 'fortalice', a term
used for buildings of lesser strength than a castle.
The curtain wall appears never to have been particularly strong, being only a
little over 1m thick in its one remaining standing section, but the gatehouse
is a formidable building comprising a two storey structure with a central rib-
vaulted gate passage, flanked to the fore by twin towers which projected above
the battlements of the main building and also forward to cover the approach to
the gate. The entrance was defended by a portcullis whose housing still
survives, and a pair of gates whose hinge pins also remain. Apertures flanking
the window above the gate passage suggest that the eastern approach was also
defended by a moat and drawbridge because similar apertures, known from other
sites, are where the cables attaching the drawbridge to its mechanism passed
through the gatehouse walls. Masonry fragments on the gatehouse towers suggest
also that there was a barbican over the moat, but neither moat nor barbican
remain visible. Above the gate passage were the quarters of the guard
commander while on either side, at ground floor level, were rib-vaulted
guardrooms, one equipped with a fireplace and the other with a garderobe. A
sentry chamber was housed in the south tower while the north tower contained
the spiral stair that gave access to the fighting platform. Although the roof
and crenellations of the gatehouse no longer survive, the remains of an angle
turret can still be seen at the rear of the gatehouse together with the
surviving south curtain. Earthworks indicate the positions of the walls around
the rest of the barmkin, as do fragments of projecting masonry where the walls
joined the tower house, gatehouse and corner tower. Only the ground floor of
the corner tower remains standing, surviving as a high, rib-vaulted chamber
measuring 7m x 6m and incorporating a wooden loft supported by corbels set
into the walls. Originally it had a single window, but this was replaced in
modern times by a door giving access to the adjoining cottage which lies
outside the area of the scheduling. The walls of the chamber also include two
lockers and an embrasure or small recess. Access to the upper storey would
have been via an external stair or from the wall walk of the adjoining
curtain. In addition to the tower house and defensive buildings, there would
have been various ancillary or service buildings within the barmkin,
including, for example, stables, kitchens, quarters for servants and
guardsmen, offices, a brewhouse, a bakehouse and numerous others. None survive
as standing ruins, but their remains exist as buried features and also in
traces seen on the inner face of the south curtain wall where their demolition
has left scars in the masonry. In addition, partial excavations carried out in
the barmkin have located a number of ovens at the north corner, an open drain
running north to south across the front of the tower house, another demolished
oven, and a flag or cobbled surface which shows evidence of having been
repaired or relaid on several occasions.
During the medieval period, the manor of Etal was part of the barony of
Muschamp and, in 1250, was held by Robert Manners, a tenant of Robert
Muschamp. In 1291, the Manners were sufficiently well-respected for the
Archbishop of York to have been their house guest, and it would have been
shortly after this that work was begun on the tower house by another Robert
Manners, the same one who, in 1341, applied to Edward III for licence to
crenellate. The fortifications he began were completed by his son John, to the
extent that, in a survey of 1368, the site was described as a castle.
Throughout the next hundred years, however, Scottish raids and an ongoing and
financially ruinous feud between the Manners and another leading local family,
the Herons of Ford, conspired to decrease severely the value of the manor so
that, by 1438, it was worth only a tenth of what it had been in 1250 and the
buildings of the castle were in decay. However, the Robert Manners who became
lord of Etal in 1438 was an active Border skirmisher and, by the time of his
death in 1461, he had been granted a knighthood and had restored the family
fortunes. In 1495, his grandson George Manners inherited the barony of Roos
through his mother Eleanor and, from that time, Etal Castle ceased to be the
principal residence of the Manners family but was occupied throughout most of
the 16th century by their tenants, the Collingwoods, who became constables of
the castle. During this time it played a significant role in the Border wars,
including being captured in 1513 by the forces of James IV of Scotland and,
later that year, being used to store Scottish artillery captured at the Battle
of Flodden. In 1525, Thomas Manners became Earl of Rutland and, in 1547,
gave the manor of Etal to the Crown in exchange for lands elsewhere. In this
way, Etal became a royal castle and its connections with the Manners family
ceased. Although it continued to house a garrison, surveys carried out in
1541, 1564 and 1584 show that repairs were not being carried out and that the
buildings were considerably decayed. Nevertheless, its importance as a Border
stronghold is shown by the fact that the royal commissioners who surveyed it
in 1584 urged its repair and recommended that 200 pounds be spent to restore
it to its former strength. However, the union of the Scottish and English
Crowns in 1603 effectively ended the need for Border castles and the repairs
were not carried out. Throughout the succeeding centuries, the Etal estate
passed through numerous hands and the castle ceased to be a residence in the
18th century when it was superseded by a house at the other end of the
village. In 1908, the Etal and Ford estates were purchased by the first Lord
Joicey and remain with the Joicey family. The monument has been in State care
since 1975 and the standing remains are a Grade I Listed Building.
Excluded from the scheduling are all English Heritage fittings and fixtures,
all modern gates and fencing, the surface of the modern track through the
site, and the pair of 19th century cannon at the gate, but the ground beneath
these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Tower houses are a type of defensible house particularly characteristic of the
borderlands of England and Scotland. Virtually every parish had at least one
of these buildings. Solitary tower houses comprise a single square or
rectangular `keep' several storeys high, with strong barrel-vaults tying
together massive outer walls. Many towers had stone slab roofs, often with a
parapet walk. Access could be gained through a ground floor entrance or at
first floor level where a doorway would lead directly to a first floor hall.
Solitary towers were normally accompanied by a small outer enclosure defined
by a timber or stone wall and called a barmkin. Tower houses were being
constructed and used from at least the 13th century to the end of the 16th
century. They provided prestigious defended houses permanently occupied by
the wealthier and aristocratic members of society. As such, they were
important centres of medieval life. The need for such secure buildings
relates to the unsettled and frequently war-like conditions which prevailed in
the Borders throughout much of the medieval period. Around 200 examples of
tower houses have been identified of which less than half are of the free-
standing or solitary tower type. All surviving solitary towers retaining
significant medieval remains will normally be identified as nationally

Etal Castle is a well-documented example of a tower house, the importance of
which lies not only in the good state of preservation of its standing remains
but also in the wide range of ancillary buildings which survive as buried
features within its barmkin.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Burns, J R, A Short Description of Work since the First Edition, (1988), 21
Nelson, I S, Etal Castle, (1975)
Harbottle, B, 'Medieval Archaeology' in , , Vol. 23, (1979), 262

Source: Historic England

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