Nafferton castle and tower house, 750m east of Nafferton Farm


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NZ 07274 65716

Reasons for Designation

An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of stone, in which the principal 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. Larger sites might have more than one line of walling and there are normally mural towers and gatehouses. Outside the walls a ditch, either waterfilled 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 in the 13th century although a few were built as late as the 14th century. Some represent reconstructions of earlier medieval earthwork castles of the motte and bailey type, although others were new creations. They provided strongly defended residences for the king or leading families and occur in both urban and rural situations. Enclosure castles are widely dispersed throughout England, with a slight concentration in Kent and Sussex supporting a vulnerable coast, and a strong concentration along the Welsh border where some of the best examples were built under Edward I. They are rare nationally with only 126 recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and defence and with respect to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally important.

Tower houses are a type of defensible house particularly characteristic of the borderlands of England and Scotland. At many sites the tower comprised only one element of a larger house, with at least one wing being attached to it. These wings provided further domestic accommodation, frequently including a large hall. If it was incorporated within a larger domestic residence, the tower itself could retain its defensible qualities and could be shut off from the rest of the house in times of trouble. 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 or 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 over half were elements of larger houses. All surviving tower houses retaining significant medieval remains will normally be identified as nationally important. Nafferton castle is well preserved and retains significant archaeological deposits. The castle is securely dated to the early 13th century and the fact that it has not been remodelled in subsequent centuries adds to its importance. The later tower house and associated buildings within the castle ramparts enhance the importance of the monument.


The monument includes the remains of an enclosure castle and a later tower house, situated on the western edge of the steeply incised Whittle Burn. The castle is visible as a substantial rectangular enclosure, which measures a maximum of 45m east to west by 72m north to south within a rampart 6m wide and a ditch 10m wide on the northern and western sides; the eastern side of the enclosure is afforded natural defence by the steep slopes above the Whittle Burn and the south side is defended by a natural ravine, now partially infilled, with a substantial rampart to its south. There is a well preserved entrance through the centre of the northern and western ramparts. Documents record the existence of a castle at the site by 1218, when its owner Philip of Ulecotes was ordered to demolish a new wooden tower which was being constructed without licence. In 1221 the tower, which despite the earlier order was still standing, was ordered by the King to be dismantled and its timbers were removed to build a new gaol at Newcastle upon Tyne. The defensive earthwork enclosure remained. Minor excavation at the castle in the late 1950s revealed that the western rampart of the enclosure was surmounted by both a stone wall and a palisade which were thought to be contemporary with it. Immediately within the south western corner of the enclosure there are the remains of a stone built tower thought to be of 15th or 16th century date. The tower which is roughly 8.2m square is constructed of good quality squared sandstone. Its walls vary in thickness between 0.9m to 1.5m and its north eastern corner stands to a height of 6.5m. The east wall of the tower survives several courses high and contains the remains of two openings; the most northerly is a window which retains part of an internal splay and the most southerly is a door which retains drawbar tunnels. The lower courses of two additional stone walled buildings extend east from the tower, 12m and 10m respectively, and the low stony platform of a third structure is visible in the north western part of the enclosure. The late 1950s excavations at the monument suggested that the tower house was a later feature inserted against and partially cutting into the rear face of the earlier rampart. There is a tradition of the legend of Lang Lonkin associated with the tower, which is also known as `Lonkin's Tower'. The tale of Lang Lonkin, a notorious pirate who murdered the lady and her child of nearby Welton Hall, is told in a well known border ballad.

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
Hope Dodds, M, The Victoria History of the County of Northumberland: Volume XII, (1926), 254-261
Ryder, P F, Towers and Bastles in Northumberland Part IV Volume 2, (1995), 100-102
Harbottle, B, Salway, P, 'Archaeologia Aeliana 4th ser' in Nafferton Castle, Northumberland: Interim Report, (1960), 129-44
Harbottle, B, Salway, P, 'Archaeologia Aeliana 4th ser' in Nafferton Castle, Northumberland: Interim Report, (1960), 129-144


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.

End of official listing

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