Allerston medieval manorial centre, dovecotes and 17th century gunpowder works


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Allerston medieval manorial centre, dovecotes and 17th century gunpowder works
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Ryedale (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SE 87829 83000

Reasons for Designation

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 the buildings and their location within the landscape. 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 and lodgings 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 manor would need to support a retinue of staff and workers who may be housed within the wider complex. In addition to the domestic buildings there would be range of ancillary structures associated with economic and agricultural functions such as stables, workshops and barns. In common with other medieval complexes, the manorial centre would also have a range of formal and ornate gardens which were both decorative and functional. There would be a kitchen garden for producing food and a herb garden which had a medicinal as well as a culinary use. One element of the agricultural functions of a manorial centre was the dovecote. Dovecotes are buildings constructed for the breeding and keeping of doves or pigeons. They are associated with the medieval and post-medieval landowning aristocracy, both lay and secular, in order to provide a constant and sustainable supply of meat, eggs and manure. They are normally circular in plan and are characterised by the presence of nesting boxes on the inside walls. Originally restricted to royalty and nobility, by the 14th century ownership extended throughout the social hierarchy. By the early 17th century large numbers were erected by non-manorial landowners, by which time the ownership of a dovecote had also assumed a social significance. The surviving earthworks of the manorial centre at Allerston are well preserved. A wide range of archaeological remains survive which offer important scope for the study of medieval domestic life. The site can also be studied in its context within the village and its position adjacent to the church. This provides important information about the development of the village during the medieval period and beyond. Gunpowder, or more specifically black powder, was the only explosive available for military use and for blasting in mines and quarries until the mid-19th century. Originating in China it appeared in Europe in the 13th century although little is known of the form or location of medieval powder works in Britain. Black powder consists of a mixture of saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal. Initially the English industry relied on imports of saltpetre but a domestic source was found by the use of waste collected from sheep pens, dove houses and stables being laid together in beds with decaying vegetable matter and rubble. Saltpetre beds and refineries were often located at powder works. From the 17th century most saltpetre was imported from India and later Chile. Sulphur could be produced domestically by the burning of sulphur rich ores and collecting the resultant condensed vapour however this proved increasingly inadequate and sulphur was then imported in a raw state from Italy. By the 18th century sulphur refineries were a major component of large gunpowder works. Charcoal was initially acquired locally but problems with quality and consistency led to charcoal being manufactured in cylinder houses at gunpowder works. At first materials were mixed using simple hand-operated pestles and mortars and were replaced during the 16th century by water-powered stamp mills. Stamp mills were banned in 1772 (for safety reasons) and mixing and incorporation was then undertaken in edge runner mills which had been introduced earlier in the 18th century. Through the later 18th and 19th century the industry expanded, with increasing standardisation and mechanisation of the production processes. New technologies were developed including pressing, corning, dusting and glazing each of which was located in a separate building. These new techniques improved the quality and consistency of the finished product and this in turn resulted in a variety of types of powder; ranging from large coarse grained blasting powders (for use in mines and quarries) to fine varieties ( used, for example, in sporting guns). In addition to those structures which housed strictly mechanical processes there were also a range of other buildings, especially on the later and larger sites. These included a cooperage, powder houses and magazines, stores, stables and offices. Because of the constant threat of explosion the buildings were normally spaced a considerable distance apart. The most dangerous buildings often had roofs and walls built of flimsy material and could be surrounded by blast banks. Where possible water power was used. Waterwheels were introduced in the 16th century and steam engines and water turbines from the 19th century. Gunpowder manufacturing sites are a comparatively rare class of monument with around 60 examples known nationally. Most are located in Cumbria, the south west and the London area and are sited in riverside and coastal locations for power and access to trade routes for importing raw materials and serving the market. All sites of gunpowder production which retain significant archaeological remains and survive well will normally be identified as nationally important. The gunpowder site at Allerston is a unique example of a small scale 17th century powder mill. Significant information about the form and technology of an early mechanised mill and associated structures will be preserved. Further remains of the industry will survive as buried remains adjacent to the mill which may include saltpetre beds (an important feature of early powder works which are not known to survive in England). The mill only operated for a short time during the Civil War and important information about the use of emergency mills and their role in the conduct of the war will be preserved.


The monument includes the remains of a medieval manorial centre and 17th century gunpowder works and is situated at the northern end of the village of Allerston on south facing, rising ground in the Vale of Pickering, affording a commanding and prestigious position overlooking the village. The scheduling includes most of the original extent of the manorial complex, and includes earthwork remains of a medieval hall, two dovecotes, an area of medieval field system and boundaries and further buried remains of the complex. Also included are earthwork and buried remains of a gunpowder mill and associated structures which were built into ruined portions of earlier medieval buildings. The area to the west and south of the house now known as Allerston Manor also lay within the manorial complex and is included in the scheduling as further archaeological remains will survive below ground. The current Manor House is a medieval structure with 18th and 19th century additions. Within the house are sections of exposed medieval fabric parts of which have been dated to the 14th century. It is Listed Grade II and is not included in the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included. The manorial centre included a complex of domestic and agricultural structures lying within a large enclosure which was defined by a wall. Within the larger enclosure was a smaller inner enclosure which contained the manorial hall and the immediate domestic buildings. In the outer enclosure a range of structures associated with the wider agricultural and economic functions of the manorial centre would be located. The outer enclosure was defined by Back Lane, Church Lane and Main Street which mark the east, south and west sides. The north side is marked by the A170, a post-medieval turnpike road. The footings of the enclosure wall survive as a shallow earthwork following the north, east and south edge of the field. The inner enclosure boundary survives as a shallow bank and large ditch bisecting the field from north to south. Within the inner enclosure are substantial earthworks standing up to 0.4m high with stone work exposed in places. Some of these structures were partly excavated in the 1960s and this research revealed the remains of a two roomed building with a fireplace in the larger of the rooms. This building is identified as a 13th century hall. To the south of the area, the excavations revealed the remains of a substantial stone building which is thought to be the gatehouse to the medieval complex. The gatehouse was demolished in the medieval period, probably in the 15th century when the property was tenanted out. A circular dovecote was later built over the remains of the gatehouse. A second dovecote survives as a circular earthwork at the northern end of the site. To the east of the inner enclosure boundary the north part of the field contains two large blocks of ridge and furrow, the characteristic form of medieval agriculture. In the south of the field are further earthworks which are the remains of enclosures and buildings associated with the wider economic functions of the manorial complex. The gunpowder mill lies in the area of the inner enclosure and was identified during the partial excavations undertaken in the 1960s. The mill is a substantial stone structure built on a terrace cut into the south part of the medieval hall. It was built at a lower level in order that sufficient drop was available for the flow of water to power the mill. Within the mill a water channel, sluices and a wheel pit were found. The line of a water conduit can be traced extending from the north of the monument down to the mill. The mill was identified from the structural remains and the evidence of large quantities of roll sulphur and charcoal found during excavation. These were necessary for powder production and were being stored at the site. Occupation at Allerston originated before the Norman Conquest. The manor site dates to the 13th century when the manor came into the possession of the Hastings family and the original manorial hall was built. The Hastings moved from the site in the 14th century and it was intermittently occupied by members of the family and finally the property was tenanted out. During the following years the medieval buildings fell into decline and some agricultural buildings such as the dovecote were built. In 1549 the Hastings sold Allerston to Stephen Holford who in turn passed it to his son-in-law, Sir Ralph Egerton, who held the manor during the Civil War. In the mid-16th century the gunpowder mill was built into the ruins of the medieval hall. The mill was built for the production of gunpowder during the Civil War. Prior to this gunpowder production was strictly licensed by the Crown but during the war this could not be enforced and with demand high and access to powder limited, small mills were set up by each side. The mill was located at Allerston for a combination of reasons; suitable water supply, a supply of guano (essential for making saltpetre) from at least 2 dovecotes and the political sympathies of the owner. When the war was over, such emergency mills would be quickly dismantled and the making of powder reverted to licensed mills only. Manor House and the adjacent buildings, all modern walls, fences, gates, the surfaces of yards, drives and hard standings are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

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


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Hansell, P, J, , Dovecotes, (1988)
Rimington, F C, 'Transactions of Scarborough and District Archaeology Society' in Excavations At The Allerston Manor Site, 1962-64, (1966), 19-29
Rimington, F C, 'Transactions of the Scarborough and District Archaeology Society' in The Allerston Story, , Vol. VOL II/9, (1966), 1-19
Rimington, F C, 'Transactions of Scarborough and District Archaeology Society' in Excavations At The Allerston Manor Site, 1962-64, (1966), 19-29
Rimington, F C, 'Transactions of the Scarborough and District Archaeological Soc' in Excavations At The Allerston Manor Site Second Stage, (1969), 1-4
Rimington, F C, 'Transactions of the Scarborough and District Archaeological Soc' in Excavations At The Allerston Manor Site Second Stage, (1969), 1-4
Pritchard D, MPP field observation, (1997)


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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