Thirlwall Castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
NY 65942 66150


Thirlwall Castle, 100m north west of Holmhead.

Reasons for Designation

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 important.

The shell of the Thirlwall Castle north west of Holmhead is preserved. The structure of the monument and the ground beneath it will contain archaeological deposits relating to its construction, use and abandonment, which will provide insight into the character of fortification and settlement in the borderlands during the medieval period.


See Details.


This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 16 May 2016. This record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.

This monument includes the remains of a hall and tower of medieval date, situated on gently sloping ground adjacent to Tipalt Burn. The tower measures 14.2m by 5.8m internally and is aligned north east to south west. It was constructed mainly from reused masonry from Hadrian’s Wall, the route of which lies approximately 200m to the west. The walls are 2.5-3.0m thick and have a dressed stone facing with a rubble core and with larger well-shaped blocks used for the quoins and dressings. The tower had at least three storeys, a basement and slightly projecting square angle turrets. There is no sign of any vaulting and the floor timbers were carried by internal set backs on the wall faces. Substantial parts of the north, west and east walls are standing.

Thirlwall Castle is more accurately described as a stronghold or fortified tower. It was the seat of the Thirlwall family with the first reference to the Thirlwall seat as a castrum being 1369. In 1429 the tower was the residence of Rowland Blenkinsop, however, it later returned to the Thirlwall family. The tower was commandeered by Scottish troops aiding the parliamentarians during the Civil War. It was sold in 1738 to the Earl of Carlisle.

Thirlwall Castle is a listed building Grade I.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
ND 79
Legacy System:


PastScape Monument No:- 1391007


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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