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Tynemouth Iron Age and Romano-British settlements, monasteries, site of lighthouse, cross, motte, enclosure and artillery castles and later coastal defences

A Scheduled Monument in Tynemouth, North Tyneside

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Latitude: 55.0176 / 55°1'3"N

Longitude: -1.4182 / 1°25'5"W

OS Eastings: 437296.383361

OS Northings: 569384.436723

OS Grid: NZ372693

Mapcode National: GBR LBJF.R3

Mapcode Global: WHD4S.54XR

Entry Name: Tynemouth Iron Age and Romano-British settlements, monasteries, site of lighthouse, cross, motte, enclosure and artillery castles and later coastal defences

Scheduled Date: 24 November 1932

Last Amended: 16 May 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015519

English Heritage Legacy ID: 25165

County: North Tyneside

Electoral Ward/Division: Tynemouth

Built-Up Area: Tynemouth

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Tyne and Wear

Church of England Parish: Tynemouth Priory Holy Saviour

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument includes the remains of an Iron Age and Romano-British
settlement, a pre-conquest and a post-conquest monastery, a ninth century
wayside cross, a possible Norman motte, an enclosure castle, an artillery
castle and 19th and 20th century coastal defences. They occupy a prominent
headland with steep cliffs on three sides. This is an important strategic
position at the mouth of the River Tyne where, from the earliest times, it
could command the mouth of the river, and indeed the site is known to have
been occupied from the Iron Age onwards. The whole of the monument is in the
care of the Secretary of State.

The earliest evidence for occupation on the headland was uncovered by
excavation in 1963. There survived the part remains of a large pre-Roman
round house measuring 11.5m in diameter within a wall of upright posts set
within a narrowly dug foundation trench. There was a doorway through the south
wall. An outer concentric line of post holes which held the eave posts was
situated 0.6m beyond the inner wall giving an overall diameter of 14m. Roman
pottery found above the foundation trench indicated that the house had gone
out of use by the late second century AD. It is thought that the house may
belong to a much more extensive Iron Age settlement, possibly a promontory
fort where the neck of land which joins the headland to the mainland would be
defended by a palisade or a series of ditched defences.

The 1963 excavations at Tynemouth also uncovered the remains of a second
circular house, 4.5m in diameter and of different form to the first. This
house was not considered to be contemporary with the first, instead it was
dated to the later Romano-British period. There was a concentration of
Romano-British pottery in this area as well as a scatter across the rest of
the excavated area and one of the pieces of pottery was dated to the late
second century AD. Part of a Roman altar and a statue base were discovered
built into the later monastic foundations at Tynemouth in 1783. Both are
thought to have been brought to Tynemouth from the Roman fort at Wallsend and
were removed to the Society of Antiquaries, London.

A monastery is thought to have been established at Tynemouth by the mid-
seventh century AD when it is believed that the body of St Oswin was interred
here. It was certainly in existence by the eighth century as it is mentioned
in Bede and during the ninth century it was sacked by the Danes. Fragments of
Anglo-Saxon crosses have been discovered in or just outside the priory which
further support early activity on the site. It is thought that this church was
still standing when it was replaced by a post-conquest monastery at the end of
the 11th century. Excavations in 1963 and 1980 revealed traces of five
rectangular timber buildings which were interpreted as pre-conquest buildings
associated with the early monastery. However, there were no datable finds and
therefore no certain traces of the early monastery has been uncovered.

The monastery at Tynemouth was refounded by the Earl of Northumberland, Robert
de Mobray in 1085. It was founded under the Benedictine order and was a
daughter house of St Alban's Abbey in Hertfordshire. Throughout the subsequent
history of the monastery, documentary evidence records continual quarrels with
the monks at Durham who had held the earlier church at Tynemouth. The
upstanding remains of the priory comprise three main phases; first, the ruins
of this Norman foundation, secondly, modifications and additions of early 13th
century date and thirdly, modifications and additions during the 15th century.
The earlier remains include the ruins of the church and parts of the claustral
ranges including a chapter house. Some foundations of this first phase have
also been exposed by excavation, making it possible to reconstruct other parts
of the original layout of the site. The original Norman church did not
resemble its mother church but was similar to a type introduced into England
at Battle Abbey. It measured 55m in length and included an aisled nave of
seven bays, a chancel and transepts. There was also an apsidal presbytery, the
area at the eastern end of the church in which the principal altar was
located. Much of this early nave is visible today along with an opening into
the north transept in addition to two semicircular window arches and several
piers, one of which displays a decorated capital. At the end of the 12th and
the beginning of the 13th century the church was largely rebuilt and the nave
extended by the addition of two bays at its western end and a new presbytery
was built which was intended to house the Shrine of St Oswin, although this
was subsequently removed in order to separate pilgrimages from normal monastic
services. In addition, a Lady Chapel was constructed on the north side of the

The church as it is visible today is 94m long which includes an aisled nave of
nine bays, transepts and an aisled choir in addition to the new presbytery
which replaced its Norman predecessor. During the 15th century a small vaulted
chapel with an elaborately carved ceiling, known as the Percy Chantry, was
attached to the eastern end of the church; the tracery in the rose window
through the west wall is of 19th century date. The elaborately carved western
doorway also dates from the 15th century. Tynemouth had one of the earliest
recorded monastic lighthouses. Documentary evidence indicates that it
comprised a coal fire in an open brazier and that it was situated at the east
end of the church upon one of two turrets which flanked the east end of the

The claustral range are situated to the south of the church, the cloister
being entered through two doorways at the eastern end of the south aisle. As
in the church there is evidence of Norman fabric but, although built on the
same arrangement of the 12th century ranges, most of the upstanding remains
date from later centuries. The cloister, which is small for a priory of this
size, measures 25m by 24m. Nothing remains of the covered alleys around each
side. The east range contains the chapter house whose wall arcade survives.
The chapter houses survives to a height of two to three courses while the
remainder of the claustral range, containing the standard range of buildings
including the communal hall and the warming house with surviving floor tiles,
stand only one or two courses high. To the south of the cloister stand the
prior's lodgings including a hall and a chapel standing to virtually full

The monks' cemetery is situated to the south and east of the priory church. It
was reused and extended over the ruins of the church in the post-medieval
period. It contains some 700 grave stones, mainly of the years between 1715 to
1856. The development of a local form of grave stone can be seen in the use of
table tombs supported on four legs.

To the north of the priory church lies the outer court containing two large
yards and the buried remains of buildings such as large store houses, barns
and stables. Excavation in 1963 uncovered part ground plans of some of these
buildings and others to the north of the church. It is thought that a 14th
century room for the safe keeping of sacred vessels and vestments known as a
sacristy was uncovered as well as a medieval lime kiln, a series of pathways
and fragments of stone drains. A building situated to the west of the sacristy
has been interpreted as a priest's house connected to the church. Large
quantities of medieval pottery was discovered during the 1963 excavations in
particular large pieces of cooking pots, cups and jugs. Other finds included
glass from both windows and vessels, coins of Charles I and Charles II and a
coin of Ethelred II of Northumbria (841-844), part of a jet finger ring and
several bone implements and clay pipes. Further excavation in 1980 uncovered
the remains of a large aisled barn, known from historical evidence to be the
monastic wheat barn. The priory was dissolved in 1539.
An incomplete cross shaft, which stood originally along the road to the priory
near Monkhouse Farm north west of Tynemouth, was moved to its present location
east of the claustral ranges earlier this century. It is 1.93m high, 0.46m
wide and between 0.30m and 0.23m deep. Although the decoration is now
difficult to make out, a detailed study of the cross has revealed more detail.
The west side consists of two panels depicting a hunting scene and three
animals. The south side, also of two panels, depicts two animals on an
interlaced background and three pairs of beasts. The eastern contains a tree
scroll and the north side, again of two panels depicts a foliated design. The
cross is thought to be a boundary or wayside cross of ninth century date.
Early documents attest to the existence of a castle at Tynemouth in 1095 when
it was besieged for two months during the rebellion of Robert Mobray against
William Rufus. It has been suggested that remains of this early castle may
survive in the large mound of earth known as The Mount situated at the south
west corner of the promontory, and which later became incorporated into the
defences of the 16th century artillery castle. This was superseded by an
enclosure castle built by the priors of Tynemouth around the headland to
enclose the monastery and defend it from attack. Licence to crenellate, formal
consent from the crown, was granted in 1296 and enclosure walls and towers
were built around a circuit of 974m. This was one of the largest
fortifications in England at this time. The visible remains today are of 13th
and 14th century date and include a gatehouse with a barbican and the curtain
walls with two visible towers. Fragments of this first phase of the castle
survive on the north side of the promontory where they have become
incorporated into later lines of defence. In addition a length of walling
stands to full height on the south west side for 27m, surmounted by a well
preserved gallery and also containing a 13th century semicircular tower.
During the early 14th century an additional tower, known as the Whitley Tower,
was added to the defences at the north west corner of the castle. This is
visible as a square tower and was originally of three storeys. In 1349
Tynemouth was described as one of the strongest fortresses in the Anglo-
Scottish borders. In the late 14th century a replacement gatehouse was built:
it survives well today and consists of a three storied rectangular tower, with
a three storey block attached to its south eastern corner with a barbican to
the front separated by an open court. On the ground floor of the main tower
were housed a series of passages and guardrooms, on the first floor is the
great hall and the upper floor contained the great chamber. The relative
grandeur of its accommodation is thought to suggest that one of the main
purposes of the new gatehouse was to provide a guest suite for royal and other
important visitors. The attached block contains the kitchen. The castle
remained in military use after the dissolution of the priory in AD 1539 and
has been modified down the centuries reflecting the military needs at various
times down to the 1960s.
After the dissolution in the 16th century, Tynemouth became part of Henry
VIII's scheme of national defence and was modified to serve as an artillery
castle. The eminent military engineer Sir Richard Lee designed the bastioned
town defences at Berwick upon Tweed was sent to Tynemouth in 1545 to assess
the potential of the site as a fortress. He was accompanied by two Italian
fortification experts. The conclusion was reached that Tynemouth required
modern artillery defence and its strategic importance as the obvious main
defence of the Tyne was recognized. A plan to provide Tynemouth with bastioned
defences was, however, not carried out. Instead, the medieval walls of the
castle were reinforced and the main front of the castle was replaced by stone-
revetted earthworks in order to provide artillery platforms. Gun ports were
inserted in the south wall, several of which are visible. A wide ditch in
front of the barbican was dug which isolated the headland from the mainland.
The ditch visible today was remodelled at a later period. The fortifications
were provided with cannon and held a garrison of 50 men.
These 16th century alterations were part of a larger defensive scheme which
involved an extension of the earthwork outwork defences designed to command
the harbour and river entrance. This involved extending the outworks behind
the small bay to the south called Prior's Haven to enclose the smaller
promontory to the south known as Spanish Battery. However, the full defensive
and offensive potential of the site at Tynemouth was not realized and for the
remainder of the 16th century it was under manned and neglected. During the
English Civil War of the 17th century, the castle constantly changed hands
between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. After the Restoration of
Charles II, Colonel Sir Edward Villiers became the governor of the castle. In
1663 it is known that the fortifications at Tynemouth were repaired and a
governor's house was constructed. This was situated immediately north east of
the east end of the church and part of its buried remains were uncovered by
excavation in 1980. The monastic lighthouse which had collapsed in 1659, was
also replaced at this time and was situated in the north east corner of the
promontory. It was subsequently rebuilt during the later 18th century when the
coal brazier was replaced by an oil lamp. It was demolished in 1859. The
foundations of the lighthouse are thought to survive beneath the ground level.
During the 18th and early 19th century the walls of Tynemouth castle which
encircled the cliffs were adapted for coastal gun batteries in response to
threats such as French invasion attempts and the Napoleonic invasion
preparations. By the late 19th century coastal defence batteries were rearmed
to mount breech loading and high angle guns to counter attack from fast
torpedo boats. Tynemouth was the principal defence of Tyneside, at this time
the north of England's main outlet for iron and coal and the centre of
shipbuilding and the manufacture of armaments. The earliest surviving above
ground feature of this phase at Tynemouth, is one of two original emplacements
for a six inch breech loading gun constructed in 1893. It is the most
northerly of an arc of emplacements of different ages. Its gun pit is now
filled by a World War II concrete store building. Adjacent to this is an
emplacement for a 9.2 inch breech loading gun constructed in 1904. intended
for counter bombardment against large warships and two six inch gun
emplacements for close defence constructed in 1902. Situated on the southern
cliff overlooking the river there are positions for two 12 pounder quick fire
guns also constructed in 1902. Adjacent to the latter batteries there are the
restored underground magazines which stored ammunition and supplied the guns.
The Tynemouth batteries were updated and operational during the First World
War and additional buildings were constructed including a fire observation
post and the Admiralty signal station. These were demolished in advance of the
construction of the new coastguard station in 1980. At the beginning of the
Second World War the batteries were once again operational and one four inch
navel gun emplacement was built which is visible in the extreme south east
corner of the castle. The army remained in residence at the castle until 1960
at which time much of the modern military evidence was removed.
The area of the coastguard lookout station is totally excluded from the
All English Heritage fixtures and fittings and all modern field walls,
fencings, the surfaces of carparks and roadways, the building known as the
Warrant Officers' Buildings, the Heliograph, the monument to Corporal
Alexander Rollo and the concrete sea defences attached to the eastern side of
the headland are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all
of these features is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Promontory forts are a type of hillfort in which conspicuous naturally
defended sites are adapted as enclosures by the construction of one or more
earth or stone ramparts placed across the neck of a spur in order to divide it
from the surrounding land. Coastal situations, using headlands defined by
steep natural cliffs, are common while inland similar topographic settings
defined by natural cliffs are also used. The ramparts and accompanying ditches
formed the main artificial defence, but timber palisades may have been erected
along the cliff edges. Access to the interior was generally provided by an
entrance through the ramparts. The interior of the fort was used intensively
for settlement and related activities, and evidence for timber- and stone-
walled round houses can be expected, together with the remains of buildings
used for storage and enclosures for animals. Promontory forts are generally
Iron Age in date, most having been constructed and used between the sixth
century BC and the mid-first century AD. They are broadly contemporary with
other types of hillfort. They are regarded as settlements of high status,
probably occupied on a permanent basis, and recent interpretations suggest
that their construction and choice of location had as much to do with display
as defence. Promontory forts are rare nationally with less than 100 recorded
examples. In view of their rarity and their importance in the understanding of
the nature of social organisation in the later prehistoric period, all
examples with surviving archaeological remains are considered nationally

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in
the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities including monasteries
were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes
lay-brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of
systematic discipline. Documentary sources indicate the existence of at least
65 early monasteries. As a rare monument type and one which made a major
contribution to the development of Anglo-Saxon England, all pre-Conquest
monasteries exhibiting survival of archaeological remains are worthy of

After the Norman Conquest monasteries continued to be established. New
foundations ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members
to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide
variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a
result they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout,
although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation and
work buildings. They were established in all parts of England, some in towns
and some in the remotest of areas. Benedictine monasticism has its roots in
the rule written about AD 530 by St Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at
Monte Cassino. The Benedictine monks who wore dark robes came to be known as
`Black Monks'. These black robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who
became known as `White Monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over
150 Benedictine monasteries were established in England.

Motte castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the
Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth and rubble, the motte,
surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. Motte castles acted as
garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in
many cases, as aristocratic residences and as centres of local or royal
administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte castles
generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality
and, as a result, are the most visually impressive monuments of the early
post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape.

An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly
of stone, in which the principle or sole defence comprises the walls
and towers bounding the site. Some form of keep may have stood
within the enclosure but this was not significant in defensive terms
and served mainly to provide accommodation. Outside the walls, a ditch
either water-filled or dry, crossed by bridges may be found. The first
enclosure castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest,
however they developed considerably in form during the 12th century
when defensive experience gained during the Crusades was applied to
their design. The majority of examples were constructed during the 13th
century although a few were built as late as the 14th century. Some
represent reconstructions of earlier medieval earthwork castles of motte
and bailey type, although others were new creations. They are rare
nationally with only 126 recorded examples. All examples retaining
significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally

Artillery castles were constructed as strong stone defensive structures
specifically to house heavy guns. Most date from the period of Henry
VIII's maritime defence programme between 1539 and 1545. They were
usually sited to protect a harbour entrance, anchorage or similar
feature. These monuments represent some of the earliest structures
built exclusively for the new use of artillery in warfare and can be
attributed to a relatively short time span in English history. Their
architecture is specific in terms of date and function and represents an
important aspect of the development of defensive structures generally.

Coastal batteries were fixed defences mounted on high cliffs with a pronounced
glacis rampart to defect shot over the parapet or on disappearing mountings.
They were developed in response to rapid technological change in armaments
during the last quarter of the 19th century. Coastal batteries were armed with
breech loading and high angle guns with an increased emphasis on quick firers
to counter torpedo boats. By the start of World War I coastal defences had
been rationalized according to gun types, calibres and mountings. Batteries
were armed with guns appropriate to the predicted weight of attack.

The domestic, religious and military remains at Tynemouth are very well
preserved and retain significant archaeological deposits. Taken as a
whole they represent a site which has been continuously occupied for
more than two thousand years and will contribute greatly to our
understanding of the history of the east coast and the city and port of
Newcastle upon Tyne.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Colvin, H M, The History of the King's Works IV 1485-1660, (1992), 682-688
Cramp, R, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture in England: Volume I, (1984), 226
Hadcock, RN, Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1952)
Saunders, A, Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1993), 39
Saunders, A, Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1993), 30-31
Saunders, A, Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1993)
Clarke, D, Rudd, A, 'Fortress' in Tyneside in the Breech Loading Era, (198), 33-42
Fairclough, G, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 5 vol XI' in Tynemouth Priory and Castle: excavation in the outer court, (1982)
Fairclough, G, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 5 vol XI' in Tynemouth Priory and Castle: Excavation in the Outer Court, (1983), 126
Fairclough, G, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 5 vol XI' in Tynemouth Priory and Castle: Excavation in the Outer Court, (1983), 101-133
Jobey, G, 'Archaeologia Aeliana 4 XLV' in Excavation at Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1967), 33-104
Jobey, G, 'Archaeologia Aeliana 4 XLV' in Excavation at Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1967), 33-104
Jobey, G, 'Archaeologia Aeliana 4 XLV' in Excavation at Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1967), 33-104
Harbottle B, Record No. 132, (1988)
NZ 36 NE 42,
NZ 36 NE 44,

Source: Historic England

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