Cresswell tower house
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1014509
Date first listed: 04-Jun-1952
Date of most recent amendment: 08-May-1996
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: NZ 29364 93356
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. 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.
Cresswell tower house is an unusually complete example of a tower house which is in good condition.
The monument includes a medieval tower house situated within the grounds of
Cresswell Towers Caravan Park on the Northumberland coast. It was formerly the
seat of the Cresswell family. A large 18th century house was once built on to
the north end of the tower and was demolished in the mid 19th century. This
house was replaced by Cresswell Hall built in 1821-5, lying some distance
further west. This was in turn demolished in 1937. The tower, which is Listed
Grade II*, is now an isolated structure set within woodland. The only trace of
the former mansion is its roof groove on the north wall of the tower.
The medieval tower is 15th century in date, with an 18th century parapet and
turret, and is a rectangular structure measuring 12.5m by 8.5m externally, its
long axis runing north east to south west. The structure is built of coursed
and squared stone and the parapet and battlements are of high quality close
jointed stone work.
The north elevation of the tower, formerly adjoined by the 18th century house,
is the most complex elevation. Set east of the centre at basement level is a
doorway with a segmental pointed arch, with a double chamfered surround. The
arched doorway is of medieval character, but its relationship with the
surrounding stonework suggests that it may be a later insertion. At first
floor level is a similar, but wider doorway that looks to be an original
feature; west of it are the remains of a window. At the west end of the wall,
and set a little lower, is another blocked doorway which had a quadrant-shaped
head and a chamfered surround. Above the principal blocked first-floor doorway
are a series of sockets marking the position of the attic floor of the 18th
century house, and then a series of infilled vertical slots indicating the
positions of former corbels carrying a machicolated projection protecting the
doorways below. East of these is a single light square headed window with a
chamfered surround and a second similar window just above the roof line of the
removed house, further west. At the north east corner of the parapet is a
taller turret, carried on shallow corbels, with a groove marking the roof line
of the former house cut across its north face.
The east end of the tower has a central chamfered loop, and, further to the
north, a vesica shaped opening cut through a single slab, lighting the newel
stair. There are larger chamfered square headed windows at first and second
floor levels and another corbelled out turret at the south east corner,
although this one does not rise above the general height of the embattled
The south wall has no openings at basement level. At first floor level is
a sizeable square headed window with a chamfered surround, formerly with
a mullion and transom, a projecting stone spout and a tiny loop. At second
floor level there are smaller chamfered windows towards each end of the wall,
as on the north. A corbelled out projection at parapet level appears to be the
base of a chimney.
The only opening on the west side is a chamfered loop to the basement, set
centrally. At parapet level are two corbelled out projections, the northern
probably a chimney.
The interior is currently inaccessible, however previous sources have depicted
the basement with a pointed tunnel vault, with a square projection at the
north east corner housing the newel stair, and a wall cupboard at the west
end. At first floor level there is a fireplace with segmental pointed arches
in both south and west walls, an L-plan mural garderobe at the west end of the
south wall and a wall cupboard in the west wall. At second floor level there
are fewer features. In the west wall is a cupboard or aumbry with an arched
Sources from earlier this century claim that an inscription on the internal
lintel and jambs of a window in the north east turret read `William Cresswell,
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 24608
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Ryder, P, Defensible Towers Survey, (1995)
Tomlinson, W W, Comprehensive Guide to Northumberland, (1985), 294
Dept of Environment, List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, Borough of Castle Morpeth:Cresswell, (1985)
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