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. Solitary tower houses comprise a single square or
rectangular `keep' several storeys high, with strong barrel-vaults tying
together massive outer walls. Many towers had stone slab roofs, often with a
parapet walk. Access could be gained through a ground floor entrance or at
first floor level where a doorway would lead directly to a first floor hall.
Solitary towers were normally accompanied by a small outer enclosure defined
by a timber or stone wall and called a barmkin. 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 and 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 less than half are of the free-
standing or solitary tower type. All surviving solitary towers retaining
significant medieval remains will normally be identified as nationally
Despite having been incorporated within a later building in the 19th century,
the medieval tower house, or Vicar's Pele, at Ponteland survives well. It will
contribute to any study of defensible buildings at this time.
The monument includes a tower house of medieval date situated in the centre of
Ponteland. The tower, built of random rubble and patched with brick, is
roofless and survives as a standing building three storeys high. Some
restoration work was carried out in 1971. It is rectangular in plan and
measures a maximum 7m north-south by 6.2m east-west. The south elevation
contains three large openings, one on each floor, with concrete lintels and
sills and metal grilles incorporated during the work in 1971; the ground floor
opening is a doorway and clearly a later insertion. The west elevation has
several blocked openings, including two window loops and two doorways, as well
as the chamfered jamb of a doorway, a series of socket holes outlining the
roof line of a former attached building and a round window, possibly of 18th
century date. The north elevation also contains two blocked doorways, the
lower one probably a later insertion and the first floor one possibly
contemporary with a mural stair of which there are indications in the wall
fabric. The first floor doorway incorporates part of a medieval incised grave
cover in its western jamb. Other openings include two window loops at first
and second floor level, where there is also another old roof line. The east
elevation contains a blocked window loop at first floor level with a larger
bricked-up opening to the south; at second floor level there is another
circular window similar to that on the west elevation. Internally, there are
traces of a former north-south vault, which has now been cut away, and various
blocked openings. In the north east corner, at first floor level, a small room
is interpreted as a garderobe.
The tower, which is a Grade II Listed Building, is commonly called the Vicar's
Pele and was part of the former vicarage which was demolished at the end of
the 19th century, leaving the tower standing alone. The earliest documentary
reference to the tower is in a list of 1415. It has been suggested that the
tower was created in the 15th century by the conversion of a 13th century hall
house. There are slight earthworks on the north and west sides but no clear
indications of the extent of this former building.
The metal window grilles, first floor fireplace and external wall plaque are
excluded from the scheduling, although the structure to which these features
are attached 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.