Reasons for Designation
Fortified houses were residences belonging to some of the richest and most
powerful members of society. Their design reflects a combination of domestic
and military elements. In some instances, the fortifications may be cosmetic
additions to an otherwise conventional high status dwelling, giving a military
aspect while remaining practically indefensible. They are associated with
individuals or families of high status and their ostentatious architecture
often reflects a high level of expenditure. The nature of the fortification
varies, but can include moats, curtain walls, a gatehouse and other towers,
gunports and crenellated parapets.
Their buildings normally included a hall used as communal space for domestic
and administrative purposes, kitchens, service and storage areas. In later
houses the owners had separate private living apartments, these often
receiving particular architectural emphasis. In common with castles, some
fortified houses had outer courts beyond the main defences in which stables,
brew houses, granaries and barns were located.
Fortified houses were constructed in the medieval period, primarily between
the 15th and 16th centuries, although evidence from earlier periods, such as
the increase in the number of licences to crenellate in the reigns of Edward I
and Edward II, indicates that the origins of the class can be traced further
back. They are found primarily in several areas of lowland England: in upland
areas they are outnumbered by structures such as bastles and tower houses
which fulfilled many of the same functions. As a rare monument type, with
fewer than 200 identified examples, all examples exhibiting significant
surviving archaeological remains are considered of national importance.
Manorial centres were important foci of medieval rural life. They served as
prestigious aristocratic or seignorial residences, the importance of their
inhabitants being reflected in the quality and elaboration of their buildings.
Local agricultural and village life was normally closely regulated by the lord
of the manor, and hence the inhabitants of these sites had a controlling
interest in many aspects of medieval life. The manorial centre itself
comprised a series of buildings which, in general, included a great hall,
private chambers, kitchens, service rooms, lodgings and a chapel all arranged
around courtyards and enclosed within a curtain wall. In some areas,
particularly in the south of England, the buildings were located within a
moat. The manorial centre would need to support a large retinue of staff and
workers who would be housed within the wider complex. In addition to the
domestic buildings there would be a wide range of ancillary structures
associated with agricultural and economic functions. These included stables,
barns, brewhouses, workshops and dovecotes. Often the main manorial structures
were superseded by later buildings and in some cases, such as at Ayton Castle,
developed into more robust fortified houses.
High status medieval centres worked as agricultural units and one common
element of this was the fishpond. These are artificially created pools of slow
moving freshwater constructed to cultivate, breed and store fish as a constant
and sustainable supply of food. Fishponds were maintained by a water
management system which included inlet and outlet channels carrying water from
a river or stream, a series of sluices and an overflow leat to prevent
flooding. Buildings associated with fish management and processing are also
The surviving ruins and earthworks at Ayton Castle are well preserved. A wide
range of archaeological remains of the medieval complex survive and offer
important scope for the study of medieval domestic life. The fortified house
retains important evidence of architectural detail. It is built in a style
more characteristic of that further north and thus demonstrates the
development and influence of different architectural styles throughout the
region. The monument offers important information about the development of a
high status domestic complex over four hundred years.
The monument includes the remains of the medieval manorial centre and later
fortified house complex at Ayton Castle and is situated on south facing,
rising ground to the north of the River Derwent. Included in the scheduling
are the standing ruins of a fortified house and the earthwork remains of
buildings which all lie within a courtyard, a series of wide terraces on the
slope above the tower and, in a field to the south, the earthwork remains of a
set of fishponds. Further slight earthworks and buried archaeological remains
extend into the field to the west of the ruins.
The ruins of the fortified house are the only standing remains of the complex
and are Listed Grade I. It is a rectangular three storey, stone built tower
only standing to its full height at the south east corner. The vaulted
basement is intact but no other floors or ceilings survive. Many architectural
details such as windows, doorways, stairs and roof and floor supports survive,
which provide evidence of the original internal arrangements. It was built in
the style of a tower house, a type of defensible house characteristic of the
borderlands of Scotland and England.
The tower and remains of associated and earlier buildings stand in an almost
square enclosure or courtyard, measuring 120m east to west by 110m north to
south which is defined by the earthwork remains of a curtain wall. Surrounding
the tower are the earthwork remains of the medieval manorial complex. These
include at least six rectangular buildings, four of which were attached to
the inside of the enclosure wall. These structures have been identified as a
hall, service annexe, kitchen range, dovecote and two possible gatehouses.
Further earthworks associated with the manor and the fortified house also lie
within the enclosure; their precise function is not yet fully understood.
On the hillside above the enclosure there are three terraces cut into the
natural slope. These represent garden or agricultural terraces. At the north
east of the terraces a trackway is cut into the steep wooded hillside to the
The earthworks of the fishpond complex form a set of linear ponds aligned
parallel to the river. The main pond measures 70m long and is between 5m and
15m wide. A subsidiary pond lies to the west of the main pond. The whole
complex is fed by water channelled through a leat which extends for over 100m
to the north. At the north edge of the field containing the fishponds a stone
revetted bank 1.5m high, extends from the river to the hillside. This bank
formed a dam to prevent water flooding the fishponds. There are further
earthwork remains of channels, banks and building platforms associated with
the fishponds in the west part of the field.
Excavations in the 1960s and recent survey work has shown that the remains at
Ayton Castle demonstrate several phases of development. The main phase was a
13th century manorial complex including a hall, ranges of service buildings
and a dovecote surrounded by a stone curtain wall with a gatehouse. Some of
these buildings were demolished by the late 14th century when the stone tower
was constructed; it was built in part over a demolished earlier building. Some
of the other earlier structures may have continued in use into the 15th
century as ancillary buildings for the tower house. The tower was built by Sir
Ralph Eure, based on the tower house style of his native Northumberland. It
has been suggested that it was built as a defence against the Scottish
incursions of the late 14th century, although there is no evidence that it was
ever attacked. Indeed, the architectural arrangements indicate that defence
was not the primary concern. The last recorded occupier of the tower died
there in 1679 and it is likely that piecemeal demolition has taken place since
All modern walls, fences, gates, signs, the surface of the drive and the water
pumping building and equipment are excluded from the scheduling although the
ground beneath them is included.
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.