Tower house and World War II air raid shelter, 360m east of Biddlestone Home Farm


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Tower house and World War II air raid shelter, 360m east of Biddlestone Home Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
NT 95532 08311

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.

During World War II many millions of individual structures designed to serve British civil defence needs against aerial assault were erected. The Anderson shelter was one of three major types of domestic surface shelter provided by Britain's National Shelter policy to certain individuals and households on strict criteria. Although about two and a half million Anderson shelters were manufactured, many more prosperous households, excluded from the terms of the act, commissioned private work and the numbers and locations of these shelters is unknown. The Anderson shelter was intended for outdoor use and was constructed from a kit of prefabricated galvanised corrugated steel sheets. Steel channel members were supplied to form a base so that the shelter could be erected directly onto the ground. Originally of one size only, later Anderson shelters were larger and some were provided with extension kits. Those shelters built by more prosperous households need not have conformed to these sizes and would reflect local conditions. Despite the fact that its upper storeys have been modified several times during the post-medieval period, the medieval tower house east of Biddlestone Home Farm is reasonably well-preserved; the structure remains substantially intact and retains significant fabric and original features from its period of construction. The tower house is of unusual form, in being elongated in shape and having the principal entrance through one of the gable walls; these features are more characteristic of later bastle construction and are important features of the tower. The fact that the tower is well-documented and associated with a prominent local family enhances the importance of the monument, which will add to our knowledge and understanding of life during the years of Border warfare. The air raid shelter within the basement of Biddlestone tower survives in a near complete state of preservation and is one of the best surviving structures of its type in England. It is one of few examples erected within a building and not removed after World War II. The fact that it is in situ adds considerably to its importance, as the context of its construction and use are preserved. Its position within a strong barrel vaulted medieval tower house is unusual but would have offered additional protection in the event of roof collapse. This air raid shelter is a rare and evocative monument to civil defence during World War II.


The monument includes the above and below ground remains of the basement of a tower house of medieval date, the north and west walls of its upper storeys and a World War II air raid shelter, situated near the edge of a steeply incised valley. The tower house, including those parts excluded from the scheduling, is a Listed Building Grade II*. The tower house is the only remaining above ground remains of the formerly more extensive medieval fortified manor house of the Selby Family. The tower was first mentioned in a survey of 1415 when it is referred to as the `turris de Biddlestone'. In 1509, still held by the Selbys, it reportedly had a garrison of 20 men, and in the Border Survey of 1541 it is described as being in good repair and consisting of `a toure & a barmeyken' (a defending enclosure). The tower was modified during the 17th century and incorporated into a larger manor house, which was in turn partially incorporated into a Georgian country house around 1800 after an extensive fire. During the 19th century, the upper levels of the tower house were remodelled to form a Roman Catholic chapel. During World War II, in common with many large houses in Northumberland, the house is reported to have been turned to military use; it is said locally to have served as a military convalescence home although it does not appear in the lists of local military hospitals. Afterwards the Hall was abandoned and all standing remains, with the exception of the tower house and converted chapel, were demolished in about 1960. The basement of the tower house is visible as a rectangular structure 9.7m north to south by 13m east to west within walls on average 2m wide. The top of the basement is marked by a prominent external chamfer course, visible on all sides except the west, and is situated about 4m from ground level. The medieval fabric is of roughly coursed and irregularly shaped sandstone blocks with large quoins at the corners. Above basement level, the upper storeys of the tower house have been modified but the north and west elevations contain significant medieval masonry to the level of the eaves, and are included in the scheduling. Externally, the west side of the basement contains a doorway which, although not considered to be a medieval feature, dates from before the 18th century. The west gable contains the remains of two blocked first floor windows which date from the incorporation of the tower house into the later manor house during the 17th century. The more northerly of the two windows is a single light and is thought to have lit a mural chamber within the thickness of the north wall. The second and more centrally placed window is of two lights and mullioned. The jamb of a modified second floor window is also thought to survive in this gable. The remains of two blocked doorways, now partly rendered, are also visible in the west gable. The east wall of the basement contains a square headed doorway thought to be of post-medieval date. This doorway clearly replaced an earlier doorway in the same position, as immediately to its north there are the remains of a slightly projecting medieval door jamb. The doorway opens into a small chamber, contained within the thickness of the wall, covered by a medieval stone barrel vault. On the south side of this chamber are the remains of a medieval doorway which gave access to a staircase in the thickness of the wall, leading to the original upper storey of the tower house. Through the west wall of the chamber there is an arched medieval doorway which retains its original chamfer surrounds and gives access to the basement of the tower house; the latter is covered by an original stone barrel vault. The present floor level of the basement was raised in the 17th or 18th century and has a covering of slabs containing a series of small channels leading into a sump against its north wall. Some of these slabs were removed during the later 1980s and earlier features were visible including a cistern with a stone shelf on its south side and associated channels of uncertain function. The vault is divided into two compartments by a cross wall running north to south and considered to be of 18th century date as it sits upon the raised floor level. The truncated fragments of a stone wall project eastwards from the east gable of the tower house; this is interpreted as a fragment of the enclosing barmeykin referred to in documentary sources. During World War II, part of the basement of the tower house was converted into an air raid shelter; the eastern third of the basement has been isolated and strengthened by the addition of an Anderson-type shelter. The shelter occupies the space between the medieval doorway in the east wall and a central doorway through the 18th century cross wall. The shelter, oval in section and constructed of corrugated and galvanised steel sheet, measures 1.52m wide by 2.2m long and stands to a maximum height of 2.15m. Each of the long sides comprise three overlapping metal sheets inserted into a metal base. The length of the shelter does not comply with any of the three standard sizes of Anderson shelters issued during the early years of World War II. It therefore cannot be classified as an Anderson shelter proper, and more likely represents an ad hoc arrangement constructed to fit the precise space available between the cross wall and the inner side of the basement east wall. Externally, there are three brick pillars on each of the long sides of the shelter which form buttresses. These are considered to be necessary as the metal sheets have been squeezed to fit the relatively narrow space and without additional support may have sprung apart. The western end of the shelter is enclosed by three pieces of corrugated steel which have been bolted on to the shelter with two iron angle bolts. A rectangular timber doorframe pierces this end; the door which would have hung in it has been removed. There is also evidence of material having been nailed in place across the doorframe and this is interpreted as a black out. The eastern end of the shelter remains open and access or egress was gained through the medieval doorway via four purpose built concrete steps. The south and east walls of the tower house above the level of the offset chamfer course, the 19th century Roman Catholic chapel, the brick chimney stack attached to the north wall, the covered stair case against the west gable, the lightening conductor, all drainpipes and the stone wall attached to the east gable of the basement are excluded from the scheduling, although the structure of the tower house to which they are attached is included.

MAP EXTRACT 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.


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

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Ryder, P F, Biddlestone Chapel, Northumberland, (1999)
Ryder, P F, Biddlestone Chapel, Northumberland, (1999)
Rowett, Phil, (2000)
Stafford Linsley, (2000)
William Foot, DoB, (2000)


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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