Dalden Tower: a medieval fortified manor house and related earthworks


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.

County Durham (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NZ 42012 48730

Reasons for Designation

Fortified houses were residences belonging to some of the richest and most powerful members of society. Their design reflects a combination of domestic and military elements. In some instances, the fortifications may be cosmetic additions to an otherwise conventional high status dwelling, giving a military aspect while remaining practically indefensible. They are associated with individuals or families of high status and their ostentatious architecture often reflects a high level of expenditure. The nature of the fortification varies, but can include moats, curtain walls, a gatehouse and other towers, gunports and crenellated parapets. Their buildings normally included a hall used as communal space for domestic and administrative purposes, kitchens, service and storage areas. In later houses the owners had separate private living apartments, these often receiving particular architectural emphasis. In common with castles, some fortified houses had outer courts beyond the main defences in which stables, brew houses, granaries and barns were located. Fortified houses were constructed in the medieval period, primarily between the 15th and 16th centuries, although evidence from earlier periods, such as the increase in the number of licences to crenellate in the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, indicates that the origins of the class can be traced further back. They are found primarily in several areas of lowland England: in upland areas they are outnumbered by structures such as bastles and tower houses which fulfilled many of the same functions. As a rare monument type, with fewer than 200 identified examples, all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are considered of national importance.

Dalden Tower is a good example of a fortified medieval manor house which still preserves important architectural details. Although the structure is in a ruinous state, with only parts of the tower surviving above ground, the existence of structural remains below ground has been established by excavations carried out in 1965-66 and 1985-89. These excavations concentrated on the tower and the earthworks immediately to the east, revealing the remains of the hall range, since left exposed. It can be expected that foundation walls and other archaeological deposits connected with the manorial economy and settlement of this site will remain below ground in the immediate proximity of the tower and hall range. In particular, the presence of the doorway in the east wall of the tower alligned to the south east, would strongly suggest that a building or buildings once occupied this part of the site, evidence for which can be expected to survive below ground. In addition the monument is associated with a number of known historical families, notably the Bowes family, this will provide more evidence on the evolution of the complex.


The monument includes the remains of a medieval fortified house known as Dalden Tower and related earthworks, located in a shallow steep sided valley beside the Dalton-le-Dale to Seaham Harbour road (B1287), 200m south west of The Dene. The monument incorporates the remains of a medieval manorial complex partially enclosed by a ditch and bank, the remains of a 16th century tower attached to the southern end of a medieval hall range, and the remains of a Jacobean hall attached to the eastern side of the tower. The most prominent feature on the site is the ruined rectangular tower, which stands in the middle of the site. The tower measures 14m by 8m, has walls of around 1.5m thick and is constructed of random rubble stonework. Excavations conducted between 1985 and 1989 have established that the southern and western walls rest on a chamfered plinth. The north gable, parts of the west wall and the south east angle survive to a height of 6m, whilst the remaining walls stand to a height of up to 1m. Located in the eastern wall at ground floor level is a doorway with moulded jambs. At first floor level is an elaborate niche surmounted by two shields and an ogee arch, the spandrel of which is filled with recticulated tracery, of Decorated style. Grooves in the sides of the niche to support a shelf show it to have been a buffet for the display of plate. This feature is of 14th century date. To the north at the same level is an irregular recess thought to have been a large fireplace. Immediately to the south of the buffet is a doorway. This doorway is angled so as to allow access to a building to the south east of the tower, which no longer survives above ground. On the short length of wall adjoining the niche at first floor level, some rough corbelling indicates the position of a first floor. At ground floor level there are the remains of a recess for a window. The north wall repeats the corbelling found in the south wall and has an irregular doorway punched through at ground floor level at its western end. The remaining portion of the western wall, 2m wide at its base and 5m high, has had most of its width reduced in thickness to 0.8m by a chimney shaft recess. A recess to the north of this, similar to that found in the southern wall, indicates the position of a window. Attached to the south western corner of the tower are the foundations of a small circular turret with a narrow passageway giving access to the turret from the tower. Excavations conducted in 1965-66 and 1985-89 have established that the tower is of 16th century date, but that elements of the eastern and northern walls were pre-existing and utilised in its construction. It is thought that the 14th century buffet has been reset in the 16th century tower fabric. The hall range to the north of the tower, measuring 20m long and 5.5m wide, was largely covered until revealed by excavations conducted in 1965-66 and 1985-89. The west wall of this range stands to a height of 1m from the internal floor surface. The external face of the wall is obscured by a sloping bank, which meets the top of the wall. The sill and embrasure of a narrow window is located 3m from the intersection between the west wall and tower. An interior cross wall joins the west wall to the north of this embrasure. To the north of this cross wall is a garderobe shute, which projects beyond the external face of the west wall. Beyond the garderobe shute is a wide window embrasure, and 1.5m north of this, a small square cupboard built into the thickness of the wall. Immediately to the north of the cupboard a cross wall joins the west wall. Both sides of this wall retain some of the springing for a barrel vault. To the north of the cross wall are the remains of an embrasure for a narrow window and 0.3m beyond this, a fireplace built into the thickness of the wall. For roughly 1m north of this fireplace the wall continues as a solid block of masonry then it terminates. Butted on to the northern stub of the west wall is a narrower wall, about half its thickness, but following its external face. This forms a corner with a wall of similar thickness running east. Within this corner is a spiral stair which descends seven treads below ground surface with the sill of a narrow window in the north end wall. This little annexe is thought to have been added on to provide a stairwell to an upper storey, now destroyed. The stone of the eastern wall of the hall range has largely been robbed away, except at the far southern end where a 1m length of walling survives along with one edge of a window embrasure. An excavation trench, dug in 1987, established that the north eastern corner of the tower was butt-jointed on to the end of this wall. The north face of the tower retains the springing for a barrel vault, thought to have been inserted into an existing wall. There is currently little evidence visible for the Jacobean house that once adjoined the eastern side of the tower. The stub of a wall, 1m wide and 0.5m long, is visible at the southern end of the east-facing wall of the tower and above this is a roof scar. A small reduction in thickness, 3m above the present ground level, reveals the position of a first floor level. The present, thinner wall, running from the south east corner of the tower and running east to west before turning north, is thought to be of 17th to early 18th century date. Located to the west of the tower are the remains of a bank and ditch. This is shown on the first edition Ordnance Survey map as extending down towards the present road, partially enclosing the site, and is identified as a moat. The manor of Dalden was probably in existence in the 12th century in possession of the Escolland family. The first documentary evidence dates from c.1320 when Sir Jordan de Dalden sought permission to build a private chapel. Shortly after this the manor passed by marriage to the Bowes family. It was the Bowes family who were responsible for the building of the tower. In 1615 it was passed again by marriage to the Collingwoods and subsequently was purchased by the Milbank family. According to the Durham historian William Hutchinson, writing at the end of the 18th century, it had long been derelict. A great deal of the stone from the tower and hall range was used for the building of Dalden Hall, located immediately to the north east, at which point the earlier site became a farm. Dalden Hall is thought to have dated from the late 16th to early 17th century and was demolished in 1967. Following the purchase of the site in 1984 by Easington District Council undergrowth was cleared, a new roadside wall built, remaining farm buildings demolished, except for the foundations of the wheel-house, picnic areas and new paths with dolomite surface laid out and trees planted. The standing ruins are a Listed Building Grade II*. All fencing and the modern wall are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them 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
Nicholson, T, 'Antiquities of Sunderland' in Report Of Excavations At Dalden Tower 1965-66, , Vol. XXIV, (1969), 56-62
Coggins, D, Excavation archive of excavations conducted 1985-89,


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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