West Lilburn tower 50m north east of Lilburn Cottage


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014923

Date first listed: 23-Aug-1935

Date of most recent amendment: 27-Aug-1996


Ordnance survey map of West Lilburn tower 50m north east of Lilburn Cottage
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Lilburn

National Grid Reference: NU 02178 24151

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.

The tower at Lilburn is reasonably well preserved and despite being a ruined structure, significant archaeological remains survive above and below ground level. A large proportion of the collapsed masonry lies on the surface and buried within and around the tower.


The monument includes the remains of West Lilburn tower, a late medieval tower situated on a spur of land above the valley of the Lilburn Burn. Although the ruins were conserved in 1933 and the upper storeys have largely collapsed, it includes the remains of an original solitary tower house thought to be of 15th century date. The tower, built of ashlar blocks with a rubble core, is rectangular in plan and measures 13.4m east-west by 9m north-south with walls 2.1m wide. Only the north wall now stands to any great height; it stands three storeys high to a height of c.11m for a length of c.6m and has an external chamfered plinth. From the north west corner the west wall stands for 2.5m to a height of 1.5m and has the remains of a splayed internal jamb of an opening. On the south side is a fragment of wall core standing up to 1.2m high; this may be a fallen fragment of masonry but it rests on in situ foundations. In the south east corner there is evidence of a mural chamber which may indicate the position of an entrance. A fragment of the east wall stands up to 1.2m high and elsewhere the foundations are visible up to a height of 0.2m except at the north east corner. Here, the remainder of the north wall has fallen outwards down to the foundations and lies in several large fragments over a distance of 12m. Although the basement of the tower has become partly infilled with rubble and masonry from the collapsed upper storeys, the springing of a barrel vault is visible on the internal face of the north wall. At first floor level there are two doorways on the internal face of the wall, one giving access to a mural stair, and part of a fireplace. Evidence of a cross wall suggests the tower was divided into a hall and smaller service room. The base of the stair is lit by a square window with sockets for a central iron bar; at second floor level the stair is lit by a similar window. The second floor room appears to have been undivided. Two garderobe chutes are visible in the north west corner, one at second floor level combining with that at first floor level and exiting at the foot of the wall. The tower is surrounded by a mound, up to 1.5m high, which is probably composed of fallen masonry rather than a feature on which the tower was originally built; the mound extends up to 5m beyond the walls of the tower. Documentary evidence records that a tower was built by the Lilburn family c.1400. By the early 16th century two towers are recorded and in 1541 the western tower is described in ruins whilst the eastern had been recently burnt. It is uncertain which tower the present remains represent. The tower was probably abandoned in the early 18th century when the forerunner of the present house called Lilburn Tower was built. The tower is a Listed Building Grade II.

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.

Legacy System number: 24661

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Dodds, M H, A History of Northumberland, (1935), 433-434
Ryder, P F, 'Berwick District' in Towers and Bastles in Northumberland, , Vol. 2, (1995), 22-23
Department of the Environment, List of Buildings of Special Architectural and Historic Interest, Borough of Berwick upon Tweed, Lilburn parish, (1985)

End of official listing