Low Chibburn medieval preceptory, 16th century house and World War II pillbox


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Low Chibburn medieval preceptory, 16th century house and World War II pillbox
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
Widdrington Village
National Grid Reference:
NZ 26596 96535

Reasons for Designation

A preceptory is a monastery of the military orders of Knights Templars and Knights Hospitallers (also known as the Knights of St John of Jerusalem). At least one preceptory of the Knights of St Lazarus is also known to have existed in England. Preceptories were founded to raise revenues to fund the 12th and 13th century crusades to Jerusalem. In the 15th century the Hospitallers directed their revenue toward defending Rhodes from the Turks. In addition, the preceptories of the Templars functioned as recruiting and training barracks for the knights whilst those of the Hospitallers provided hospices which offered hospitality to pilgrims and travellers and distributed alms to the poor. Lazarine preceptories had leper hospitals attached. Like other monastic sites, the buildings of preceptories included provision for worship and communal living. Their most unusual feature was the round nave of their major churches which was copied from that of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Indeed their use of such circular churches was unique in medieval England. Other buildings might include hospital buildings, workshops or agricultural buildings. These were normally arranged around a central open space, and were often enclosed within a moat or bank and ditch. From available documentary sources it can be estimated that the Templars held 57 preceptories in England. At least 14 of these were later taken over by the Hospitallers, who held 76 sites. As a relatively rare monument class, all sites exhibiting good survival of archaeological remains will be identified as nationally important.

This monument represents a largely intact preceptory, house and pillbox. The survival of the preceptory courtyard is particularly rare. The 16th century house is in excellent condition. The site is well documented from the 14th century onwards and drawings of the site from the last century provide valuable information on its former appearance. The pillbox is one of a line established to monitor and defend the coastline during World War II.


The monument includes the remains of a preceptory of the Knights Hospitallers which was reused in the 16th century as a house. Part of the chapel was converted into a pillbox during World War II. The ruins are situated in a low lying area of pasture land reinstated in 1973-4 after large scale opencast coal mining. Prior to these operations the buildings stood beside a small stream known as the Dunbar Burn. This stream once fed the moat which encircled the site during its life as a preceptory. The preceptory was first recorded in 1313 and the later house was almost certainly a dower house built by the Widdrington family. An account of 1338 states that the mansion house associated with the preceptory was in a dilapidated condition and that the lands, including 190 acres and pastures and meadows were `destroyed and greatly devastated' by the Scottish wars. At that time there were three brethren of the order at Chibburn, one of them a chaplain, and a pensioner, a chamberlain and a steward, a cleric for collecting voluntary contributions, a stableman and a page. The preceptory was abolished in 1540 and all its lands were taken into crown ownership. Although it was briefly revived by Queen Mary I, Elizabeth I confiscated the lands again. Sir John Widdrington came into possession of the manor in 1553 and at this stage the west range was converted into a house. The buildings were burnt during a French raid in 1692. The ruins today consist of two main buildings, the chapel and the house, which formed two sides of a courtyard. The remaining two sides of the courtyard survive as foundations and tumbled walls. The south side of the courtyard was formed by the chapel; it is aligned east-west and measures 16m x 6m externally. It consists of a south wall, the east wall, the eastern section of the north walls and the lower remains of the central part of the north wall. It is built of sandstone ashlar and contains a piscina and an aumbry in the south east corner. Built into the top of the south wall, directly above the easternmost window, is the head tracery of a 14th century window which is now invisible from ground level. Externally, there is a chamfered plinth at the foot of the south and east walls and a moulded string course at mid height. Towards the west end of the south wall is a blocked doorway with a two-centred arch. The hoodmould above it, formed by the string course, also forms the hood mould of three large square headed windows, all blocked. A block of stone immediately above the doorway is carved with two shields in relief. Lower in the wall there are two small single light ogee headed windows, one west of the doorway and one between the central and western of the large windows. In addition to these original openings there are several later insertions. Close to the west end of the wall and above the string course are the remains of a narrow window with hollow chamfered jambs. The lintel now lies at the foot of the wall. Internally the rear arch of the window has been reduced in size. At the same level, but on the east side of the doorway are the remains of a three light mullioned window and below it a small square headed light, now blocked, inserted into the blocking of the westernmost of the original larger windows. A two light mullioned window has been inserted into the blocking of the easternmost of these larger windows, utilising the sill and parts of the moulded jambs of its predecessor. Remains of mortar on the wall face indicate the outline of the pitched roof of an attached building to the east of the doorway. The north east angle of the chapel has been rebuilt, possibly in the late 16th or early 17th century. The rebuilding, which included much of the northern wall, is in thinly coursed rubble with larger roughly squared angle quoins. The lower part of the south wall of the former north range survives and to the west of a former gateway which was the main entrance into the courtyard, there is a part of the west wall of the range. A piece of wall further south attached to the east side of the west range is part of an 18th or 19th century outbuilding. The lower part of the west wall complete with the jambs of two openings survives from the east range. The west range consisting of the 16th century house survives relatively intact. This range is built of coursed roughly squared stone with cut dressings and elongated squared quoins in the typical 16th and 17th century style. The principal elevation faces west and divides into four irregular bays, the northern being divided off by a cross wall and stack. Immediately north of this stack is a cross passage. Its doorway has chamfered jambs and an unchamfered arched head of flattened triangular form. West of this door is a plain square headed window, formerly of two lights, but with its chamfers cut back and its sill lowered in the later 19th century. Above are the remains of a window opening, with two heavy corbels projecting from the wall beneath its sill. To either side of a blocked doorway are windows originally mullioned with three lights. The openings have hollow chamfered heads and jambs. All three ground floor openings have relieving arches set four or five courses above their lintels. The east wall of the west range has a shallow projection housing a garderobe at first floor level. The garderobe was lit by a small chamfered loop, the sill and one jamb of which remain. North of the doorway into the garderobe is a doorway opening into the chapel from the range. Immediately above is a first floor doorway. To the north of this is a plain doorway with a timber lintel opening into the courtyard. Above is another window with three corbels beneath its sill. Further north again is the east doorway of the cross passage with a single light window above. The south gable end of the west range has a central projecting stack. East of the projection is a single light window at ground level, and at first floor level an area of rubble and brick patching marks the position of another window. The north end of this range has a chamfered plinth set back four courses above the present ground level. At first floor level the stack projection has been extended to the east in irregular rubble masonry. Inside the house nine transverse beams survive, of which two have fallen. All the principal openings have heavy rear lintels of oak and the remains of plaster still obscure much of the stonework. Remains of the stairs can be seen alongside the entry from the cross passage. The lower steps were of stone, of which three remain. The room north of the cross passage has a large and original fireplace in the centre of the north wall with a massive lintel, now broken, carrying a narrow chamfer and a relieving arch above. The first floor fireplace above at the east end of the wall is a later insertion and has fallen. Another large fireplace is situated in the northern of the two rooms south of the entry passage. Above is a slightly smaller first floor fireplace set forward with its hearth supported by the ground floor ceiling beam. Some fragments of the original floor boards survive trapped between the beam and the stonework. Below the beam are remnants of a plaster cornice still clinging to the wall. There are similar fireplaces in the south end wall. The Ordnance Survey maps pre dating the opencast mining depict a moat encircling the site. This was destroyed during the mining operations between the 1950s and the 1970s. In the north wall of the chapel, immediately east of the junction with the surviving west wall of the east range, is a horizontal embrasure surviving from a World War II pillbox. It has a timber lintel surrounded by brick and is beneath a decayed timber lintel of an older opening which has some older brick in its west jamb. The site is surrounded by a wooden fence. The fence posts are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath is included.

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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
RCHME, , Low Chibburn Preceptory, (1991)
Ryder, P, Low Chibburn Archaeological Record and Structural Interpretation, (1991)
Radar North, Northumberland, (1958)
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 Map NZ 2696 Source Date: 1959 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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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