Tynemouth Iron Age and Romano-British settlements, monasteries, site of lighthouse, cross, motte, enclosure and artillery castles and later coastal defences


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Tyneside (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NZ 37293 69379

Reasons for Designation

Promontory forts are a type of hillfort in which conspicuous naturally defended sites are adapted as enclosures by the construction of one or more earth or stone ramparts placed across the neck of a spur in order to divide it from the surrounding land. Coastal situations, using headlands defined by steep natural cliffs, are common while inland similar topographic settings defined by natural cliffs are also used. The ramparts and accompanying ditches formed the main artificial defence, but timber palisades may have been erected along the cliff edges. Access to the interior was generally provided by an entrance through the ramparts. The interior of the fort was used intensively for settlement and related activities, and evidence for timber- and stone- walled round houses can be expected, together with the remains of buildings used for storage and enclosures for animals. Promontory forts are generally Iron Age in date, most having been constructed and used between the sixth century BC and the mid-first century AD. They are broadly contemporary with other types of hillfort. They are regarded as settlements of high status, probably occupied on a permanent basis, and recent interpretations suggest that their construction and choice of location had as much to do with display as defence. Promontory forts are rare nationally with less than 100 recorded examples. In view of their rarity and their importance in the understanding of the nature of social organisation in the later prehistoric period, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are considered nationally important.

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities including monasteries were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. Documentary sources indicate the existence of at least 65 early monasteries. As a rare monument type and one which made a major contribution to the development of Anglo-Saxon England, all pre-Conquest monasteries exhibiting survival of archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

After the Norman Conquest monasteries continued to be established. New foundations ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a result they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout, although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation and work buildings. They were established in all parts of England, some in towns and some in the remotest of areas. Benedictine monasticism has its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. The Benedictine monks who wore dark robes came to be known as `Black Monks'. These black robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who became known as `White Monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over 150 Benedictine monasteries were established in England.

Motte castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth and rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. Motte castles acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and as centres of local or royal administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte castles generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality and, as a result, are the most visually impressive monuments of the early post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape.

An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of stone, in which the principle or sole defence comprises the walls and towers bounding the site. Some form of keep may have stood within the enclosure but this was not significant in defensive terms and served mainly to provide accommodation. Outside the walls, a ditch either water-filled or dry, crossed by bridges may be found. The first enclosure castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest, however they developed considerably in form during the 12th century when defensive experience gained during the Crusades was applied to their design. The majority of examples were constructed during the 13th century although a few were built as late as the 14th century. Some represent reconstructions of earlier medieval earthwork castles of motte and bailey type, although others were new creations. They are rare nationally with only 126 recorded examples. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally important.

Artillery castles were constructed as strong stone defensive structures specifically to house heavy guns. Most date from the period of Henry VIII's maritime defence programme between 1539 and 1545. They were usually sited to protect a harbour entrance, anchorage or similar feature. These monuments represent some of the earliest structures built exclusively for the new use of artillery in warfare and can be attributed to a relatively short time span in English history. Their architecture is specific in terms of date and function and represents an important aspect of the development of defensive structures generally.

Coastal batteries were fixed defences mounted on high cliffs with a pronounced glacis rampart to defect shot over the parapet or on disappearing mountings. They were developed in response to rapid technological change in armaments during the last quarter of the 19th century. Coastal batteries were armed with breech loading and high angle guns with an increased emphasis on quick firers to counter torpedo boats. By the start of World War I coastal defences had been rationalized according to gun types, calibres and mountings. Batteries were armed with guns appropriate to the predicted weight of attack.

The domestic, religious and military remains at Tynemouth are very well preserved and retain significant archaeological deposits. Taken as a whole they represent a site which has been continuously occupied for more than two thousand years and will contribute greatly to our understanding of the history of the east coast and the city and port of Newcastle upon Tyne.


The monument includes the remains of an Iron Age and Romano-British settlement, a pre-conquest and a post-conquest monastery, a ninth century wayside cross, a possible Norman motte, an enclosure castle, an artillery castle and 19th and 20th century coastal defences. They occupy a prominent headland with steep cliffs on three sides. This is an important strategic position at the mouth of the River Tyne where, from the earliest times, it could command the mouth of the river, and indeed the site is known to have been occupied from the Iron Age onwards. The whole of the monument is in the care of the Secretary of State.

The earliest evidence for occupation on the headland was uncovered by excavation in 1963. There survived the part remains of a large pre-Roman round house measuring 11.5m in diameter within a wall of upright posts set within a narrowly dug foundation trench. There was a doorway through the south wall. An outer concentric line of post holes which held the eave posts was situated 0.6m beyond the inner wall giving an overall diameter of 14m. Roman pottery found above the foundation trench indicated that the house had gone out of use by the late second century AD. It is thought that the house may belong to a much more extensive Iron Age settlement, possibly a promontory fort where the neck of land which joins the headland to the mainland would be defended by a palisade or a series of ditched defences.

The 1963 excavations at Tynemouth also uncovered the remains of a second circular house, 4.5m in diameter and of different form to the first. This house was not considered to be contemporary with the first, instead it was dated to the later Romano-British period. There was a concentration of Romano-British pottery in this area as well as a scatter across the rest of the excavated area and one of the pieces of pottery was dated to the late second century AD. Part of a Roman altar and a statue base were discovered built into the later monastic foundations at Tynemouth in 1783. Both are thought to have been brought to Tynemouth from the Roman fort at Wallsend and were removed to the Society of Antiquaries, London.

A monastery is thought to have been established at Tynemouth by the mid- seventh century AD when it is believed that the body of St Oswin was interred here. It was certainly in existence by the eighth century as it is mentioned in Bede and during the ninth century it was sacked by the Danes. Fragments of Anglo-Saxon crosses have been discovered in or just outside the priory which further support early activity on the site. It is thought that this church was still standing when it was replaced by a post-conquest monastery at the end of the 11th century. Excavations in 1963 and 1980 revealed traces of five rectangular timber buildings which were interpreted as pre-conquest buildings associated with the early monastery. However, there were no datable finds and therefore no certain traces of the early monastery has been uncovered.

The monastery at Tynemouth was refounded by the Earl of Northumberland, Robert de Mobray in 1085. It was founded under the Benedictine order and was a daughter house of St Alban's Abbey in Hertfordshire. Throughout the subsequent history of the monastery, documentary evidence records continual quarrels with the monks at Durham who had held the earlier church at Tynemouth. The upstanding remains of the priory comprise three main phases; first, the ruins of this Norman foundation, secondly, modifications and additions of early 13th century date and thirdly, modifications and additions during the 15th century. The earlier remains include the ruins of the church and parts of the claustral ranges including a chapter house. Some foundations of this first phase have also been exposed by excavation, making it possible to reconstruct other parts of the original layout of the site. The original Norman church did not resemble its mother church but was similar to a type introduced into England at Battle Abbey. It measured 55m in length and included an aisled nave of seven bays, a chancel and transepts. There was also an apsidal presbytery, the area at the eastern end of the church in which the principal altar was located. Much of this early nave is visible today along with an opening into the north transept in addition to two semicircular window arches and several piers, one of which displays a decorated capital. At the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century the church was largely rebuilt and the nave extended by the addition of two bays at its western end and a new presbytery was built which was intended to house the Shrine of St Oswin, although this was subsequently removed in order to separate pilgrimages from normal monastic services. In addition, a Lady Chapel was constructed on the north side of the presbytery.

The church as it is visible today is 94m long which includes an aisled nave of nine bays, transepts and an aisled choir in addition to the new presbytery which replaced its Norman predecessor. During the 15th century a small vaulted chapel with an elaborately carved ceiling, known as the Percy Chantry, was attached to the eastern end of the church; the tracery in the rose window through the west wall is of 19th century date. The elaborately carved western doorway also dates from the 15th century. Tynemouth had one of the earliest recorded monastic lighthouses. Documentary evidence indicates that it comprised a coal fire in an open brazier and that it was situated at the east end of the church upon one of two turrets which flanked the east end of the presbytery.

The claustral range are situated to the south of the church, the cloister being entered through two doorways at the eastern end of the south aisle. As in the church there is evidence of Norman fabric but, although built on the same arrangement of the 12th century ranges, most of the upstanding remains date from later centuries. The cloister, which is small for a priory of this size, measures 25m by 24m. Nothing remains of the covered alleys around each side. The east range contains the chapter house whose wall arcade survives. The chapter houses survives to a height of two to three courses while the remainder of the claustral range, containing the standard range of buildings including the communal hall and the warming house with surviving floor tiles, stand only one or two courses high. To the south of the cloister stand the prior's lodgings including a hall and a chapel standing to virtually full height.

The monks' cemetery is situated to the south and east of the priory church. It was reused and extended over the ruins of the church in the post-medieval period. It contains some 700 grave stones, mainly of the years between 1715 to 1856. The development of a local form of grave stone can be seen in the use of table tombs supported on four legs.

To the north of the priory church lies the outer court containing two large yards and the buried remains of buildings such as large store houses, barns and stables. Excavation in 1963 uncovered part ground plans of some of these buildings and others to the north of the church. It is thought that a 14th century room for the safe keeping of sacred vessels and vestments known as a sacristy was uncovered as well as a medieval lime kiln, a series of pathways and fragments of stone drains. A building situated to the west of the sacristy has been interpreted as a priest's house connected to the church. Large quantities of medieval pottery was discovered during the 1963 excavations in particular large pieces of cooking pots, cups and jugs. Other finds included glass from both windows and vessels, coins of Charles I and Charles II and a coin of Ethelred II of Northumbria (841-844), part of a jet finger ring and several bone implements and clay pipes. Further excavation in 1980 uncovered the remains of a large aisled barn, known from historical evidence to be the monastic wheat barn. The priory was dissolved in 1539. An incomplete cross shaft, which stood originally along the road to the priory near Monkhouse Farm north west of Tynemouth, was moved to its present location east of the claustral ranges earlier this century. It is 1.93m high, 0.46m wide and between 0.30m and 0.23m deep. Although the decoration is now difficult to make out, a detailed study of the cross has revealed more detail. The west side consists of two panels depicting a hunting scene and three animals. The south side, also of two panels, depicts two animals on an interlaced background and three pairs of beasts. The eastern contains a tree scroll and the north side, again of two panels depicts a foliated design. The cross is thought to be a boundary or wayside cross of ninth century date. Early documents attest to the existence of a castle at Tynemouth in 1095 when it was besieged for two months during the rebellion of Robert Mobray against William Rufus. It has been suggested that remains of this early castle may survive in the large mound of earth known as The Mount situated at the south west corner of the promontory, and which later became incorporated into the defences of the 16th century artillery castle. This was superseded by an enclosure castle built by the priors of Tynemouth around the headland to enclose the monastery and defend it from attack. Licence to crenellate, formal consent from the crown, was granted in 1296 and enclosure walls and towers were built around a circuit of 974m. This was one of the largest fortifications in England at this time. The visible remains today are of 13th and 14th century date and include a gatehouse with a barbican and the curtain walls with two visible towers. Fragments of this first phase of the castle survive on the north side of the promontory where they have become incorporated into later lines of defence. In addition a length of walling stands to full height on the south west side for 27m, surmounted by a well preserved gallery and also containing a 13th century semicircular tower. During the early 14th century an additional tower, known as the Whitley Tower, was added to the defences at the north west corner of the castle. This is visible as a square tower and was originally of three storeys. In 1349 Tynemouth was described as one of the strongest fortresses in the Anglo- Scottish borders. In the late 14th century a replacement gatehouse was built: it survives well today and consists of a three storied rectangular tower, with a three storey block attached to its south eastern corner with a barbican to the front separated by an open court. On the ground floor of the main tower were housed a series of passages and guardrooms, on the first floor is the great hall and the upper floor contained the great chamber. The relative grandeur of its accommodation is thought to suggest that one of the main purposes of the new gatehouse was to provide a guest suite for royal and other important visitors. The attached block contains the kitchen. The castle remained in military use after the dissolution of the priory in AD 1539 and has been modified down the centuries reflecting the military needs at various times down to the 1960s. After the dissolution in the 16th century, Tynemouth became part of Henry VIII's scheme of national defence and was modified to serve as an artillery castle. The eminent military engineer Sir Richard Lee designed the bastioned town defences at Berwick upon Tweed was sent to Tynemouth in 1545 to assess the potential of the site as a fortress. He was accompanied by two Italian fortification experts. The conclusion was reached that Tynemouth required modern artillery defence and its strategic importance as the obvious main defence of the Tyne was recognized. A plan to provide Tynemouth with bastioned defences was, however, not carried out. Instead, the medieval walls of the castle were reinforced and the main front of the castle was replaced by stone- revetted earthworks in order to provide artillery platforms. Gun ports were inserted in the south wall, several of which are visible. A wide ditch in front of the barbican was dug which isolated the headland from the mainland. The ditch visible today was remodelled at a later period. The fortifications were provided with cannon and held a garrison of 50 men. These 16th century alterations were part of a larger defensive scheme which involved an extension of the earthwork outwork defences designed to command the harbour and river entrance. This involved extending the outworks behind the small bay to the south called Prior's Haven to enclose the smaller promontory to the south known as Spanish Battery. However, the full defensive and offensive potential of the site at Tynemouth was not realized and for the remainder of the 16th century it was under manned and neglected. During the English Civil War of the 17th century, the castle constantly changed hands between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. After the Restoration of Charles II, Colonel Sir Edward Villiers became the governor of the castle. In 1663 it is known that the fortifications at Tynemouth were repaired and a governor's house was constructed. This was situated immediately north east of the east end of the church and part of its buried remains were uncovered by excavation in 1980. The monastic lighthouse which had collapsed in 1659, was also replaced at this time and was situated in the north east corner of the promontory. It was subsequently rebuilt during the later 18th century when the coal brazier was replaced by an oil lamp. It was demolished in 1859. The foundations of the lighthouse are thought to survive beneath the ground level. During the 18th and early 19th century the walls of Tynemouth castle which encircled the cliffs were adapted for coastal gun batteries in response to threats such as French invasion attempts and the Napoleonic invasion preparations. By the late 19th century coastal defence batteries were rearmed to mount breech loading and high angle guns to counter attack from fast torpedo boats. Tynemouth was the principal defence of Tyneside, at this time the north of England's main outlet for iron and coal and the centre of shipbuilding and the manufacture of armaments. The earliest surviving above ground feature of this phase at Tynemouth, is one of two original emplacements for a six inch breech loading gun constructed in 1893. It is the most northerly of an arc of emplacements of different ages. Its gun pit is now filled by a World War II concrete store building. Adjacent to this is an emplacement for a 9.2 inch breech loading gun constructed in 1904. intended for counter bombardment against large warships and two six inch gun emplacements for close defence constructed in 1902. Situated on the southern cliff overlooking the river there are positions for two 12 pounder quick fire guns also constructed in 1902. Adjacent to the latter batteries there are the restored underground magazines which stored ammunition and supplied the guns. The Tynemouth batteries were updated and operational during the First World War and additional buildings were constructed including a fire observation post and the Admiralty signal station. These were demolished in advance of the construction of the new coastguard station in 1980. At the beginning of the Second World War the batteries were once again operational and one four inch navel gun emplacement was built which is visible in the extreme south east corner of the castle. The army remained in residence at the castle until 1960 at which time much of the modern military evidence was removed. The area of the coastguard lookout station is totally excluded from the scheduling. All English Heritage fixtures and fittings and all modern field walls, fencings, the surfaces of carparks and roadways, the building known as the Warrant Officers' Buildings, the Heliograph, the monument to Corporal Alexander Rollo and the concrete sea defences attached to the eastern side of the headland are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all of these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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Books and journals
Colvin, H M, The History of the King's Works IV 1485-1660, (1992), 682-688
Cramp, R, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture in England: Volume I, (1984), 226
Hadcock, RN, Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1952)
Saunders, A, Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1993), 39
Saunders, A, Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1993), 30-31
Saunders, A, Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1993)
Clarke, D, Rudd, A, 'Fortress' in Tyneside in the Breech Loading Era, (198), 33-42
Fairclough, G, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 5 vol XI' in Tynemouth Priory and Castle: excavation in the outer court, (1982)
Fairclough, G, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 5 vol XI' in Tynemouth Priory and Castle: Excavation in the Outer Court, (1983), 126
Fairclough, G, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 5 vol XI' in Tynemouth Priory and Castle: Excavation in the Outer Court, (1983), 101-133
Jobey, G, 'Archaeologia Aeliana 4 XLV' in Excavation at Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1967), 33-104
Jobey, G, 'Archaeologia Aeliana 4 XLV' in Excavation at Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1967), 33-104
Jobey, G, 'Archaeologia Aeliana 4 XLV' in Excavation at Tynemouth Priory and Castle, (1967), 33-104
Harbottle B, Record No. 132, (1988)
NZ 36 NE 42,
NZ 36 NE 44,


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.

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