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Longthorpe Tower: part of a medieval fortified house 90m west of St Botolph's Church

A Scheduled Monument in West, Peterborough

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Latitude: 52.5709 / 52°34'15"N

Longitude: -0.2868 / 0°17'12"W

OS Eastings: 516202.964833

OS Northings: 298381.185007

OS Grid: TL162983

Mapcode National: GBR GYB.SCS

Mapcode Global: WHHNJ.KMMZ

Entry Name: Longthorpe Tower: part of a medieval fortified house 90m west of St Botolph's Church

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 10 October 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013284

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27108

County: Peterborough

Electoral Ward/Division: West

Built-Up Area: Peterborough

Traditional County: Northamptonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Longthorpe St Botolph

Church of England Diocese: Peterborough


The tower house is located within the village of Longthorpe on the outskirts
of Peterborough, in a loop formed by the meandering course of the River Nene,
within sight of the cathedral which lies about 3km to the east. The monument
includes a medieval tower (a Grade I Listed Building) built around AD 1300,
containing one of the most complete and elaborate schemes of domestic medieval
wall paintings in England. The tower is attached to the north west corner of
an earlier medieval hall (also a Grade I Listed Building). A west wing was
attached to the hall in the 17th century, and an eastern wing was added
earlier this century, abutting the south wall of the tower. The hall and its
wings are not included in the scheduling.

The three storey tower is constructed in rubble with limestone dressings. It
measures approximately 8.5m square with walls c.1.8m thick, supported by
diagonal buttresses at either end of the north wall. The ground floor room
(which is thought to have served as a store) has a vaulted ceiling and small
tapering alcoves with slit windows on the east and west sides. There is no
direct access between this and the first floor; the basement room is only
accessible through a passage in the south wall, now entered through the
eastern extension to the hall. The first storey room was originally entered
via a passage in the south west corner of the tower, perhaps on a level with a
gallery in the hall. This room, termed `The Great Chamber' is also vaulted and
contains the mural decorations which indicate its use as the lord's private
apartment. The west window (a tall single light with a trefoil head) is housed
in a narrow, partly splayed recess within a wide arched bay. This is the only
original window remaining at this level. A similar arched bay is indicated by
joints in the north wall. This is thought to have been infilled to counteract
the effects of subsidence shortly after the building was completed. The infill
surrounds a square embrasure containing a rectangular, 17th century
replacement for the original window. A similar square embrasure formerly
housed the east window. This window was later blocked, and more recently
reopened and converted to a doorway approached by two flights of wooden
steps. Both the east and west embrasures have arched niches or seats in the
northern sides. A small, square aumbry (or cupboard) is cut into the southern
wall of the eastern bay. The west wall of the Great Chamber contains the only
fireplace in the tower. This was narrowed in the 18th century, but has since
been opened to its original width. The flue leads upwards through the
thickness of the wall emerging in an octagonal stone stack on the roof. The
plaster on the walls and ceiling is original and covers several cracks which
developed as a result of the subsidence mentioned above. The paintings were
applied to a dry limewash finish covering both the walls and the compartments
of the vault. They include moral, religious, secular and didactic subjects,
originally executed in a broad spectrum of colours, of which the ochres (reds
and yellows) now predominate. The nativity is depicted directly above the
north window embrasure. Above this is a crescent illustrating the Wheel of
Life or the Seven Ages of Man, beginning at the west with an infant in its
cradle and ending with an aged figure supported on crutches. Each figure is
labelled beneath in Lombardic script. Below the ends of the crescent are
paired figures, part of a series of apostles which extends between the east
and west embrasures. Only Mark (the evangelist) is absent, and in his place is
shown a veiled woman, thought to represent the church. The lower portion of
the wall is covered by a dado of scroll work and birds; the latter
representing both local species and creatures drawn from contemporary
bestiaries. The underside of the north window embrasure has two heraldic
shields, one of which has been identified as the arms of Bassingbourne, a
tenant of the Peterborough Abbey. St Paul is shown on the southern side of the
western embrasure, and on the northern side (beneath the two apostles and in
the arched niche) are two didactic or teaching subjects, one depicting a
seated, tonsured figure holding a scroll inscribed in French and instructing a
child. The eastern embrasure has a further didactic scene (again in the niche
beneath the apostles), where an old man is shown addressing three youths. The
south and part of the east sides of this embrasure illustrate the allegorical
tale of the Three Living and the Three Dead, a moral story pointing out the
futility of earthly rank and wealth. Above the fireplace in the east wall is a
unique representation of the Wheel of the Five Senses. Reason is shown as a
king holding a wheel, the five spokes of which are accompanied by a monkey, a
vulture, a spider's web, a bear and a cock symbolising respectively taste,
smell, touch, hearing and sight. A young man in fashionable clothes of the
period stands above the wheel together with a dog and part of another figure
thought to represent an angel in secular dress. Unfortunately, the inscription
beneath is illegible. The subjects shown on the south wall appear to be
entirely secular, consisting of a tapestry border above a pattern of lozenges
alternately bearing the Thorpe arms. Seated above are two figures with shields
bearing leopards, thought to be Edward I or II, and Edward of Woodstock, son
of Edward I. The space over the two doors in this wall is filled by a scene
from a bestiary, showing a fabulous animal called a bonnacon pursued by an
archer. The eastern window bay is surmounted by a semicircular arrangement of
figures representing the Labours of the Months. January is depicted at the
southern end by a man warming himself by a fire, and at the northern end
December is symbolised by a figure slaughtering a pig for Christmas. Of the
intervening months, only February, March and April, remain. The underside of
the arch carries a shield and a number of banners of arms thought to represent
some of the co-tenants of the abbey. The west wall within the arch (to the
south of the window) is covered by a didactic tabeau with two figures seated
opposite (one wearing a doctor's hat) separated by two unfurled scrolls. Above
this scene (which is surrounded by a rectangular border of owls and magpies in
a scrollwork of leaves and flowers) is an illustration believed to be from the
life of St Anthony, depicting his instruction by an angel in the virtues of
work and prayer. The vault was originally completely painted with the figures
of two musicians in each compartment separated by symbols of the four
evangelists, each contained by a barbed quatrefoil. The north compartment has
the enthroned figures of Kings David and Saul with harp and psaltery
(dulcimer), to either side of a surviving part of the eagle of St John. The
south compartment has part of the winged ox symbolising St Luke and two
musicians with viols. Two further musicians with pipes survive in the east and
west compartments, and a small fragment of a third where the instrument is not

A doorway in the south wall gives access to the upper storey via a narrow
staircase within the south and east walls, lit by two splayed slit windows.
A narrow passageway runs beneath this staircase from an entrance in the
eastern embrasure, to a small chamber or garderobe. The stairs lead to a
doorway in the east wall of the upper room. This room retains all four
original windows and alcoves. Those to the north, east and west are splayed
whilst the southern alcove is more square in plan with opposed doorways in the
sides. All four windows are narrow single lights with Carnaervon arches dated
to c.1300, with seats below, and slots to either side indicating the original
use of shutters in addition to, or instead of, glass. The eastern doorway in
the southern embrasure leads into a small L-shaped compartment which formerly
contained a limestone garderobe seat, presently located in the west alcove.
The western door opens into a narrow spiral staircase which emerges in a small
box-like structure on the roof, bonded to the southern parapet wall. The wall
is about 1.2m high with limestone coping, and pierced by short tapered slits.
The corner sections are raised to about 1.9m, giving an impression of
battlements, each containing taller loops, one on each face. The roof itself
is pyramidal, and clad like the stair head entrance with slates of
Colley-Weston stone. Much of the timber structure beneath (visible from the
floor below) has been replaced; although the earlier principal trusses have
been retained. The narrow parapet walk has recently been reclad in lead.

The earlier rectangular hall to the south of the tower is thought to have been
built in the late 1260's by Sir William de Thorpe, the grandson of Thurstan de
Thorpe, a former villein of nearby Waterville Manor who was manumitted by Sir
Robert de Waterville between 1199 and 1212. William's father was confirmed in
possesion of property at Thorpe (later Longthorpe) in 1226. In 1263 Sir
William obtained permission from the Abbot of Peterborough to relocate the
parochial Chapel of St Botoloph from its former location on the outskirts of
Peterborough, so that it would be of greater benefit to the villagers at
Thorpe. The new chapel (later the parish church) lies some 90m to the east of
the hall, and has similarities with the hall which indicate contemporary
construction. William's son Robert was appointed Steward of the Abbey in 1310,
and is thought to have added the tower, partly for his security, but largely
as an expression of his new status. It is uncertain whether Robert
commissioned the paintings, or if they were created for his son of the same
name, who succeeded to the position of Steward in 1330. The latter is
considered more likely, both on stylistic grounds, and from the time which is
thought to have elapsed between the initial subsidence of the building, and
the application of the wall plaster. The Thorpe estates later passed to the
Wyttilburys of Milton and, in the late 15th or early 16th century, were
acquired by the Fitzwilliam family. Over the intervening years, as tastes
changed, the paintings were covered over by coats of distemper and limewash.
Fragments of colour were revealed during World War II when the local Home
Guard were stationed in the tower; and larger sections of the paintings
were discovered by the then tenant, Mr Horrell, immediately after the war
whilst preparing the walls for redecoration. Their significance was quickly
realised and a programme of cleaning and preservation by E Clive Rouse took
place between 1946 and 1948. Such was the importance of the discovery that in
1947 the owner, Earl Fitzwilliam, presented the tower to the nation, and it
was taken into the guardianship of the Secretary of State.

The wooden steps attached to the west wall are excluded from the scheduling
together with modern fittings within the tower, such as light switches and
lamp brackets.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Fortified houses were residences belonging to some of the richest and most
powerful members of society. Their design reflects a combination of domestic
and military elements. In some instances, the fortifications may be cosmetic
additions to an otherwise conventional high status dwelling, giving a military
aspect while remaining practically indefensible. They are associated with
individuals or families of high status and their ostentatious architecture
often reflects a high level of expenditure. The nature of the fortification
varies, but can include moats, curtain walls, a gatehouse and other towers,
gunports and crenellated parapets.
Their buildings normally included a hall used as communal space for domestic
and administrative purposes, kitchens, service and storage areas. In later
houses the owners had separate private living apartments, these often
receiving particular architectural emphasis. In common with castles, some
fortified houses had outer courts beyond the main defences in which stables,
brew houses, granaries and barns were located.
Fortified houses were constructed in the medieval period, primarily between
the 15th and 16th centuries, although evidence from earlier periods, such as
the increase in the number of licences to crenellate in the reigns of Edward I
and Edward II, indicates that the origins of the class can be traced further
back. They are found primarily in several areas of lowland England: in upland
areas they are outnumbered by structures such as bastles and tower houses
which fulfilled many of the same functions. As a rare monument type, with
fewer than 200 identified examples, all examples exhibiting significant
surviving archaeological remains are considered of national importance.

Longthorpe Tower is a very well preserved example of a solar tower, containing
the private apartments of the owner of the fortified house. The tower, which
retains most of its original internal and external appearance, is a valuable
example retaining a contemporary hall to the south and, most importantly, it
retains an elaborate scheme of rare medieval wall paintings. No comparable
domestic scheme of such completeness exists in England, and similar paintings
of this period and type are extremely rare on the continent. The paintings
give a unique insight into the forms of decoration which adorned the houses of
prestigious individuals in the 14th century. They contain a wealth of
references to the illuminated manuscripts of the period, including bestiaries,
moralities, calendars and Lives of Saints; and illustrate cultural references
which would have been instantly recognisable to an educated individual at this

The association between the tower house and Peterborough Abbey is of
particular interest, as are its connections with the parish church and the
development of the medieval settlement at Longthorpe. The value of the
monument is increased by the survival of good documentary evidence which
records the original and subsequent owners. The monument is accessible to the

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Rouse, E C, Longthorpe Tower, (1989)
Serjeantson, R, Ryland, R, Adkins, D, The Victoria History of the County of Northamptonshire, (1914), 456-59
Rouse, E, Baker, A, 'Archaeologia' in The Wall-Paintings at Longthorpe Tower near Peterborough, , Vol. XCVI, (1955), 1-57
Ancient Monument record sheet, DoE, A.M.7, (1965)
RCHM(E), Peterborough New Town: An Inventory of Historic Monuments, (1969)

Source: Historic England

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