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Tower house and World War II air raid shelter, 360m east of Biddlestone Home Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Biddlestone, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.3688 / 55°22'7"N

Longitude: -2.072 / 2°4'19"W

OS Eastings: 395531.650327

OS Northings: 608311.315841

OS Grid: NT955083

Mapcode National: GBR F6ZC.68

Mapcode Global: WHB0G.4BL2

Entry Name: Tower house and World War II air raid shelter, 360m east of Biddlestone Home Farm

Scheduled Date: 20 July 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020127

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32765

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Biddlestone

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Upper Coquetdale

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument includes the above and below ground remains of the basement of a
tower house of medieval date, the north and west walls of its upper storeys
and a World War II air raid shelter, situated near the edge of a steeply
incised valley. The tower house, including those parts excluded from the
scheduling, is a Listed Building Grade II*.
The tower house is the only remaining above ground remains of the formerly
more extensive medieval fortified manor house of the Selby Family. The tower
was first mentioned in a survey of 1415 when it is referred to as the `turris
de Biddlestone'. In 1509, still held by the Selbys, it reportedly had a
garrison of 20 men, and in the Border Survey of 1541 it is described as being
in good repair and consisting of `a toure & a barmeyken' (a defending
enclosure). The tower was modified during the 17th century and incorporated
into a larger manor house, which was in turn partially incorporated into a
Georgian country house around 1800 after an extensive fire. During the 19th
century, the upper levels of the tower house were remodelled to form a Roman
Catholic chapel. During World War II, in common with many large houses in
Northumberland, the house is reported to have been turned to military use; it
is said locally to have served as a military convalescence home although it
does not appear in the lists of local military hospitals. Afterwards the Hall
was abandoned and all standing remains, with the exception of the tower house
and converted chapel, were demolished in about 1960.
The basement of the tower house is visible as a rectangular structure 9.7m
north to south by 13m east to west within walls on average 2m wide. The top of
the basement is marked by a prominent external chamfer course, visible on all
sides except the west, and is situated about 4m from ground level. The
medieval fabric is of roughly coursed and irregularly shaped sandstone blocks
with large quoins at the corners. Above basement level, the upper storeys of
the tower house have been modified but the north and west elevations contain
significant medieval masonry to the level of the eaves, and are included
in the scheduling.
Externally, the west side of the basement contains a doorway which, although
not considered to be a medieval feature, dates from before the 18th century.
The west gable contains the remains of two blocked first floor windows which
date from the incorporation of the tower house into the later manor house
during the 17th century. The more northerly of the two windows is a single
light and is thought to have lit a mural chamber within the thickness of the
north wall. The second and more centrally placed window is of two lights and
mullioned. The jamb of a modified second floor window is also thought to
survive in this gable. The remains of two blocked doorways, now partly
rendered, are also visible in the west gable.
The east wall of the basement contains a square headed doorway thought to be
of post-medieval date. This doorway clearly replaced an earlier doorway in the
same position, as immediately to its north there are the remains of a slightly
projecting medieval door jamb. The doorway opens into a small chamber,
contained within the thickness of the wall, covered by a medieval stone barrel
vault. On the south side of this chamber are the remains of a medieval
doorway which gave access to a staircase in the thickness of the wall, leading
to the original upper storey of the tower house. Through the west wall of the
chamber there is an arched medieval doorway which retains its original chamfer
surrounds and gives access to the basement of the tower house; the latter is
covered by an original stone barrel vault. The present floor level of the
basement was raised in the 17th or 18th century and has a covering of slabs
containing a series of small channels leading into a sump against its north
wall. Some of these slabs were removed during the later 1980s and earlier
features were visible including a cistern with a stone shelf on its south side
and associated channels of uncertain function. The vault is divided into two
compartments by a cross wall running north to south and considered to be of
18th century date as it sits upon the raised floor level. The truncated
fragments of a stone wall project eastwards from the east gable of the tower
house; this is interpreted as a fragment of the enclosing barmeykin referred
to in documentary sources.
During World War II, part of the basement of the tower house was converted
into an air raid shelter; the eastern third of the basement has been isolated
and strengthened by the addition of an Anderson-type shelter. The shelter
occupies the space between the medieval doorway in the east wall and a central
doorway through the 18th century cross wall. The shelter, oval in section and
constructed of corrugated and galvanised steel sheet, measures 1.52m wide by
2.2m long and stands to a maximum height of 2.15m. Each of the long sides
comprise three overlapping metal sheets inserted into a metal base. The
length of the shelter does not comply with any of the three standard sizes of
Anderson shelters issued during the early years of World War II. It therefore
cannot be classified as an Anderson shelter proper, and more likely represents
an ad hoc arrangement constructed to fit the precise space available between
the cross wall and the inner side of the basement east wall. Externally, there
are three brick pillars on each of the long sides of the shelter which form
buttresses. These are considered to be necessary as the metal sheets have been
squeezed to fit the relatively narrow space and without additional support may
have sprung apart. The western end of the shelter is enclosed by three pieces
of corrugated steel which have been bolted on to the shelter with two iron
angle bolts. A rectangular timber doorframe pierces this end; the door which
would have hung in it has been removed. There is also evidence of material
having been nailed in place across the doorframe and this is interpreted as a
black out. The eastern end of the shelter remains open and access or egress
was gained through the medieval doorway via four purpose built concrete steps.
The south and east walls of the tower house above the level of the offset
chamfer course, the 19th century Roman Catholic chapel, the brick chimney
stack attached to the north wall, the covered stair case against the west
gable, the lightening conductor, all drainpipes and the stone wall attached to
the east gable of the basement are excluded from the scheduling, although the
structure of the tower house to which they are attached 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. At many sites the tower comprised only one element of a
larger house, with at least one wing being attached to it. These wings
provided further domestic accommodation, frequently including a large hall.
If it was incorporated within a larger domestic residence, the tower itself
could retain its defensible qualities and could be shut off from the rest of
the house in times of trouble. 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 or
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 over half were elements of larger houses. All surviving
tower houses retaining significant medieval remains will normally be
identified as nationally important.

During World War II many millions of individual structures designed to serve
British civil defence needs against aerial assault were erected. The Anderson
shelter was one of three major types of domestic surface shelter provided by
Britain's National Shelter policy to certain individuals and households on
strict criteria. Although about two and a half million Anderson shelters were
manufactured, many more prosperous households, excluded from the terms of the
act, commissioned private work and the numbers and locations of these shelters
is unknown. The Anderson shelter was intended for outdoor use and was
constructed from a kit of prefabricated galvanised corrugated steel sheets.
Steel channel members were supplied to form a base so that the shelter could
be erected directly onto the ground. Originally of one size only, later
Anderson shelters were larger and some were provided with extension kits.
Those shelters built by more prosperous households need not have conformed to
these sizes and would reflect local conditions.
Despite the fact that its upper storeys have been modified several times
during the post-medieval period, the medieval tower house east of Biddlestone
Home Farm is reasonably well-preserved; the structure remains substantially
intact and retains significant fabric and original features from its period of
construction. The tower house is of unusual form, in being elongated in shape
and having the principal entrance through one of the gable walls; these
features are more characteristic of later bastle construction and are
important features of the tower. The fact that the tower is well-documented
and associated with a prominent local family enhances the importance of the
monument, which will add to our knowledge and understanding of life during the
years of Border warfare.
The air raid shelter within the basement of Biddlestone tower survives in a
near complete state of preservation and is one of the best surviving
structures of its type in England. It is one of few examples erected within a
building and not removed after World War II. The fact that it is in situ adds
considerably to its importance, as the context of its construction and use are
preserved. Its position within a strong barrel vaulted medieval tower house
is unusual but would have offered additional protection in the event of roof
collapse. This air raid shelter is a rare and evocative monument to civil
defence during World War II.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Ryder, P F, Biddlestone Chapel, Northumberland, (1999)
Ryder, P F, Biddlestone Chapel, Northumberland, (1999)
Rowett, Phil, (2000)
Stafford Linsley, (2000)
William Foot, DoB, (2000)

Source: Historic England

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