Ayton Castle: medieval manorial centre, fortified house including tower and fishponds


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015410

Date first listed: 25-Mar-1930

Date of most recent amendment: 14-Feb-1997


Ordnance survey map of Ayton Castle: medieval manorial centre, fortified house including tower and fishponds
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: North Yorkshire

District: Scarborough (District Authority)

Parish: West Ayton


National Grid Reference: SE 98823 85110


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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 recorded.

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.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


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 north.

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 then.

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.

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: 28295

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Ryder, J, Medieval Buildings of Yorkshire, (1982), 111
Dennison, E BHWB, (1996)

End of official listing