Simonburn Castle tower house


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Simonburn Castle tower house
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NY 86273 73739

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.

Despite the fact that the tower house at Simonburn is now a ruined structure, significant archaeological remains survive above and below ground level. The structure and layout of the 13th century tower house and any earlier phases of building survive beneath the subsequent collapse of the upper parts of the tower.


Simonburn Castle stands on a steep promontory formed by the confluence of two deeply incised streams. Although it was repaired in the 18th century and the upper storeys have now collapsed, it includes the remains of an original solitary tower house of 13th century date. The tower, built of small squared ashlar blocks is roughly square in shape measuring 10.5m. Only the ground floor basement of the tower stands today, covered by a plain semicircular barrel vault. Although the basement has become infilled with rubble and masonry from the collapsed upper storey a small window in the south east side is visible. There is a door in the north west wall giving access to a mural chamber which is thought to have housed the foot of a flight of stairs giving access to the upper storey. Also, on the north west side, are the remains of a square projecting turret. The remains of a stone wall rib indicate that the ground floor of the turret was covered by a plain vaulted roof. A door with a pointed arch opens from the turret giving rise to the suggestion that the turret served as an entrance porch to the main tower. The original 13th century tower fell into decay during the 16th century and was almost certainly in ruins by the end of that century. In the second half of the 18th century it was repaired by the Allgood family and the upper end of the north east wall was rebuilt. As late as 1940 this wall at least was still standing to a height of 1.8m. Simonburn Castle is a Grade II Listed Building.

MAP EXTRACT 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.


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

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Books and journals
Hope-Dodds, M, The Victoria History of the County of Northumberland: Volume XV, (1940), 386
Hunter Blair, C H, 'Archaeologia Aeliana 4 ser 22' in Archaeologia Aeliana 4 ser 22, (1944), 166-8
NY 87 SE 20,


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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