Howtel tower house


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


Ordnance survey map of Howtel tower house
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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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:
NT 89790 34123

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. 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.

Howtel tower house is well preserved and retains significant archaeological information. It will contribute to studies of medieval architecture and settlement patterns at this time.


The monument includes the ruins of a 15th century medieval tower house. It is now part of a farm complex and is surrounded on three sides by farm buildings, with the west side looking onto the farm courtyard. The tower is rectangular in shape and measures 10.4m by 9.6m externally with walls which at basement level vary between 2.05m and 2.2m thick. The tower had at least three floors, the first marked by an internal set-back and the second by an external chamfered set-back on the south east wall. All four walls are relatively intact up to a level slightly above the former first floor. Above this, only the south east wall survives to a total height of 11m. The north west, north east and south west walls are constructed of a dark igneous rock which is occasionally roughly coursed. The south or front wall is faced with roughly coursed and squared blocks of sandstone. At basement level was a doorway at the west end of the south wall. There is also a single window loop in the centre of the west wall. Access to the upper floors would have been by timber stair or ladder as there is no evidence of a mural stair. The first floor may have had a barrel vault which was subsequently replaced by a timber floor. Evidence of the former survives in the form of the south walls which bulge inwards suggesting they once supported a vault, and of the latter in the form of socket remains in the south wall for transverse beams. At first floor level, one window survives intact, a little west of centre in the south wall. Another blocked opening can be seen east of this window which may have been a doorway or a window. Traces of another blocked opening can be seen internally in the east wall, adjacent to the south east corner. Evidence of a splayed window loop exists at the west end of the north wall. The second floor was carried on eight transverse timber beams, the sockets of which survive in the internal face of the surviving south wall. There is a single window set centrally in this wall. The tower is recorded in 1541 as partially standing after destruction by James IV of Scotland in 1496. It was repaired in the 16th century, but probably finally fell out of use in the 17th century.

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.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Ryder, P F, Howtel Tower, Kilham, Northumberland, (1990)
Ryder, P F, Towers and Bastles in Northumberland: A Survey, (1995), 18-21


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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