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Allerston medieval manorial centre, dovecotes and 17th century gunpowder works

A Scheduled Monument in Allerston, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.2351 / 54°14'6"N

Longitude: -0.6537 / 0°39'13"W

OS Eastings: 487845.907992

OS Northings: 482992.876804

OS Grid: SE878829

Mapcode National: GBR RMWG.8L

Mapcode Global: WHGC2.XTW5

Entry Name: Allerston medieval manorial centre, dovecotes and 17th century gunpowder works

Scheduled Date: 29 January 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017564

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29532

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Allerston

Built-Up Area: Allerston

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Allerston St John

Church of England Diocese: York


The monument includes the remains of a medieval manorial centre and 17th
century gunpowder works and is situated at the northern end of the village of
Allerston on south facing, rising ground in the Vale of Pickering, affording a
commanding and prestigious position overlooking the village. The scheduling
includes most of the original extent of the manorial complex, and includes
earthwork remains of a medieval hall, two dovecotes, an area of medieval field
system and boundaries and further buried remains of the complex. Also included
are earthwork and buried remains of a gunpowder mill and associated structures
which were built into ruined portions of earlier medieval buildings. The area
to the west and south of the house now known as Allerston Manor also lay
within the manorial complex and is included in the scheduling as further
archaeological remains will survive below ground. The current Manor House is a
medieval structure with 18th and 19th century additions. Within the house are
sections of exposed medieval fabric parts of which have been dated to the 14th
century. It is Listed Grade II and is not included in the scheduling, although
the ground beneath it is included.
The manorial centre included a complex of domestic and agricultural structures
lying within a large enclosure which was defined by a wall. Within
the larger enclosure was a smaller inner enclosure which contained the
manorial hall and the immediate domestic buildings. In the outer enclosure a
range of structures associated with the wider agricultural and economic
functions of the manorial centre would be located. The outer enclosure
was defined by Back Lane, Church Lane and Main Street which mark the east,
south and west sides. The north side is marked by the A170, a post-medieval
turnpike road. The footings of the enclosure wall survive as a shallow
earthwork following the north, east and south edge of the field. The inner
enclosure boundary survives as a shallow bank and large ditch bisecting the
field from north to south. Within the inner enclosure are substantial
earthworks standing up to 0.4m high with stone work exposed in places. Some of
these structures were partly excavated in the 1960s and this research revealed
the remains of a two roomed building with a fireplace in the larger of the
rooms. This building is identified as a 13th century hall. To the south of the
area, the excavations revealed the remains of a substantial stone building
which is thought to be the gatehouse to the medieval complex. The gatehouse
was demolished in the medieval period, probably in the 15th century when the
property was tenanted out. A circular dovecote was later built over the
remains of the gatehouse. A second dovecote survives as a circular earthwork
at the northern end of the site.
To the east of the inner enclosure boundary the north part of the field
contains two large blocks of ridge and furrow, the characteristic form of
medieval agriculture. In the south of the field are further earthworks which
are the remains of enclosures and buildings associated with the wider economic
functions of the manorial complex.
The gunpowder mill lies in the area of the inner enclosure and was identified
during the partial excavations undertaken in the 1960s. The mill is a
substantial stone structure built on a terrace cut into the south part of the
medieval hall. It was built at a lower level in order that sufficient drop was
available for the flow of water to power the mill. Within the mill a water
channel, sluices and a wheel pit were found. The line of a water conduit can
be traced extending from the north of the monument down to the mill. The mill
was identified from the structural remains and the evidence of large
quantities of roll sulphur and charcoal found during excavation. These were
necessary for powder production and were being stored at the site.
Occupation at Allerston originated before the Norman Conquest. The manor site
dates to the 13th century when the manor came into the possession of the
Hastings family and the original manorial hall was built. The Hastings moved
from the site in the 14th century and it was intermittently occupied by
members of the family and finally the property was tenanted out. During the
following years the medieval buildings fell into decline and some agricultural
buildings such as the dovecote were built. In 1549 the Hastings sold Allerston
to Stephen Holford who in turn passed it to his son-in-law, Sir Ralph Egerton,
who held the manor during the Civil War.
In the mid-16th century the gunpowder mill was built into the ruins of the
medieval hall. The mill was built for the production of gunpowder during the
Civil War. Prior to this gunpowder production was strictly licensed by the
Crown but during the war this could not be enforced and with demand high and
access to powder limited, small mills were set up by each side. The mill was
located at Allerston for a combination of reasons; suitable water supply, a
supply of guano (essential for making saltpetre) from at least 2 dovecotes and
the political sympathies of the owner. When the war was over, such emergency
mills would be quickly dismantled and the making of powder reverted to
licensed mills only.
Manor House and the adjacent buildings, all modern walls, fences, gates, the
surfaces of yards, drives and hard standings are excluded from the scheduling,
although the ground beneath these features is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Manorial centres were important foci of medieval rural life. They served as
prestigious aristocratic or seignorial residences, the importance of their
inhabitants being reflected in the quality and elaboration of the buildings
and their location within the landscape. Local agricultural and village life
was normally closely regulated by the lord of the manor, and hence the
inhabitants of these sites had a controlling interest in many aspects of
medieval life. The manorial centre itself comprised a series of buildings
which, in general, included a great hall, private chambers, kitchens, service
rooms and lodgings all arranged around courtyards and enclosed within a
curtain wall. In some areas, particularly in the south of England, the
buildings were located within a moat. The manor would need to support a
retinue of staff and workers who may be housed within the wider complex. In
addition to the domestic buildings there would be range of ancillary
structures associated with economic and agricultural functions such as
stables, workshops and barns.
In common with other medieval complexes, the manorial centre would also have a
range of formal and ornate gardens which were both decorative and functional.
There would be a kitchen garden for producing food and a herb garden which had
a medicinal as well as a culinary use.
One element of the agricultural functions of a manorial centre was the
dovecote. Dovecotes are buildings constructed for the breeding and keeping of
doves or pigeons. They are associated with the medieval and post-medieval
landowning aristocracy, both lay and secular, in order to provide a constant
and sustainable supply of meat, eggs and manure. They are normally circular in
plan and are characterised by the presence of nesting boxes on the inside
walls. Originally restricted to royalty and nobility, by the 14th century
ownership extended throughout the social hierarchy. By the early 17th century
large numbers were erected by non-manorial landowners, by which time the
ownership of a dovecote had also assumed a social significance.
The surviving earthworks of the manorial centre at Allerston are well
preserved. A wide range of archaeological remains survive which offer
important scope for the study of medieval domestic life. The site can also be
studied in its context within the village and its position adjacent to the
church. This provides important information about the development of the
village during the medieval period and beyond.
Gunpowder, or more specifically black powder, was the only explosive available
for military use and for blasting in mines and quarries until the mid-19th
century. Originating in China it appeared in Europe in the 13th century
although little is known of the form or location of medieval powder works in
Black powder consists of a mixture of saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal.
Initially the English industry relied on imports of saltpetre but a domestic
source was found by the use of waste collected from sheep pens, dove houses
and stables being laid together in beds with decaying vegetable matter and
rubble. Saltpetre beds and refineries were often located at powder works. From
the 17th century most saltpetre was imported from India and later Chile.
Sulphur could be produced domestically by the burning of sulphur rich ores and
collecting the resultant condensed vapour however this proved increasingly
inadequate and sulphur was then imported in a raw state from Italy. By the
18th century sulphur refineries were a major component of large gunpowder
works. Charcoal was initially acquired locally but problems with quality and
consistency led to charcoal being manufactured in cylinder houses at gunpowder
At first materials were mixed using simple hand-operated pestles and mortars
and were replaced during the 16th century by water-powered stamp mills.
Stamp mills were banned in 1772 (for safety reasons) and mixing and
incorporation was then undertaken in edge runner mills which had been
introduced earlier in the 18th century.
Through the later 18th and 19th century the industry expanded, with increasing
standardisation and mechanisation of the production processes. New
technologies were developed including pressing, corning, dusting and glazing
each of which was located in a separate building. These new techniques
improved the quality and consistency of the finished product and this in turn
resulted in a variety of types of powder; ranging from large coarse grained
blasting powders (for use in mines and quarries) to fine varieties ( used, for
example, in sporting guns).
In addition to those structures which housed strictly mechanical processes
there were also a range of other buildings, especially on the later and larger
sites. These included a cooperage, powder houses and magazines, stores,
stables and offices. Because of the constant threat of explosion the buildings
were normally spaced a considerable distance apart. The most dangerous
buildings often had roofs and walls built of flimsy material and could be
surrounded by blast banks.
Where possible water power was used. Waterwheels were introduced in the 16th
century and steam engines and water turbines from the 19th century.
Gunpowder manufacturing sites are a comparatively rare class of monument with
around 60 examples known nationally. Most are located in Cumbria, the south
west and the London area and are sited in riverside and coastal locations for
power and access to trade routes for importing raw materials and serving the
market. All sites of gunpowder production which retain significant
archaeological remains and survive well will normally be identified as
nationally important.
The gunpowder site at Allerston is a unique example of a small scale 17th
century powder mill. Significant information about the form and technology of
an early mechanised mill and associated structures will be preserved. Further
remains of the industry will survive as buried remains adjacent to the mill
which may include saltpetre beds (an important feature of early powder works
which are not known to survive in England). The mill only operated for a short
time during the Civil War and important information about the use of emergency
mills and their role in the conduct of the war will be preserved.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Hansell, P, J, , Dovecotes, (1988)
Rimington, F C, 'Transactions of Scarborough and District Archaeology Society' in Excavations At The Allerston Manor Site, 1962-64, (1966), 19-29
Rimington, F C, 'Transactions of the Scarborough and District Archaeology Society' in The Allerston Story, , Vol. VOL II/9, (1966), 1-19
Rimington, F C, 'Transactions of Scarborough and District Archaeology Society' in Excavations At The Allerston Manor Site, 1962-64, (1966), 19-29
Rimington, F C, 'Transactions of the Scarborough and District Archaeological Soc' in Excavations At The Allerston Manor Site Second Stage, (1969), 1-4
Rimington, F C, 'Transactions of the Scarborough and District Archaeological Soc' in Excavations At The Allerston Manor Site Second Stage, (1969), 1-4
Pritchard D, MPP field observation, (1997)

Source: Historic England

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