Higham House


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
49 Higham Hall Road, Higham, Burnley, BB12 9EY


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Statutory Address:
49 Higham Hall Road, Higham, Burnley, BB12 9EY

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

Pendle (District Authority)
Higham-with-West Close Booth
National Grid Reference:


A small gable-entry yeoman house of the C17 with later alterations.

Reasons for Designation

Higham House, a C17 house with later alterations, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a house of pre-1700 date which retains a significant proportion of its original fabric;

* for the evidence it retains of the original plan-form and early alterations to it;

* for its surviving historic features, in particular the C17 decorative plasterwork, window-and-door surrounds and probable stone smokehood cap, and the later south door surround.

Group value:

* with the other C17 houses nearby, in particular Lower House farmhouse (NHLE 1076637) and Higham Hall (NHLE 1272881).


Dendrochronological sampling, commissioned by Historic England in April 2019, has unfortunately proved inconclusive in dating this building, as the principal roof timbers have all suffered from sustained growth suppression and cannot be reliably matched to known dating sequences. However, the two principal rafters and two purlins are of the same date, and this might also apply to the other principal timbers.

Higham House might have been associated with Higham Hall (National Heritage List for England – NHLE – entry 1272881), which served as the court of the Forest of Pendle, but there is no direct evidence for this. The house was bought by Edmund Towneley in 1786, to supplement the income of the Rector of Burnley. In 1926 it was sold out of the rectory estates into the family which now (2019) owns it.

Map evidence and the fabric of the building suggest that the current western and eastern walls are original, although the width of 30 feet is among the very smallest of similar examples. An arched doorway is reportedly visible internally within the present adjacent terrace, in a position corresponding to the north-eastern corner of Higham House. The presence of a small window on the north wall suggests an entry passage here, against the heck (a screen to one side) of a smoke bay. The smoke bay was lit by the corresponding window in the south wall, and perhaps by another window in the east wall where there is now a niche. The rear wall of the adjacent house to the west shows a clear vertical joint from the ground up to the eaves of Higham House which indicates that its upper eastern wall is built above Higham House’s western wall. The overlap suggests a thickness of over half a metre for this wall, and there is some suggestion of quoining, both of which point to this wall historically forming the western end of Higham House.

The 1845 ordnance survey (OS) 1:10,560 map shows an outshut to the north of Higham House occupying the eastern half of the north wall. This was reportedly removed during a grant-aided refurbishment of the house around 1980, when it housed a kitchen. The house to the east appears to have been built partly over this outshut’s eastern wall, which was retained when the outshut was demolished and is now rendered and painted. A former doorway into the outshut has been partially blocked to form a window in the north wall of the house. A now-blocked window visible within the current front outshut (built between OS surveys of 1891 and 1923) suggests that its eastern wall (adjoining the north porch) is the retained western wall of the earlier north-east outshut. This is supported by the quoins in the front wall of the current outshut, which run the wrong way and have a vertical joint with the walling to their west. The earlier outshut was probably an addition (or the window lighting the entrance would have received very little light), but perhaps early in the house’s history. The current north entrance to the house appears to be historic, and might have been the original access from the housebody into the outshut, before a more central doorway was inserted. What appears to be a blocked doorway visible above the porch roof might have given access off the stairs into the upper area of the outshut.

At ground floor the cross-wall stops short of the north wall of the house, and it also contains two niches which might indicate the site of earlier doorways. In similar houses it was rare for there to be fewer than three downstairs rooms (the housebody, a parlour and a dairy being the usual minimum). The presence of two former windows in the north wall of what is now the kitchen suggests that this north-western corner had at least two rooms; perhaps a dairy and a stair lobby. A stone corbel on the inner face of the north wall (visible in the pantry cupboard in the current kitchen), and a small mid-height blocked window in the north wall also suggest that there might once have been a stair in this area. To the south, at the front of the house, was the parlour, perhaps entered by a doorway where there is now a niche opposite the chimney breast. Both chimney breasts are too small for cooking, and so the rear (north) extension was probably to provide a cooking area when the new chimney replaced the smoke bay.

It is thought that the plaster friezes indicate the original ceiling levels. This is supported by the line of stave holes in the tie-beam of the truss, which indicate a wattle-and-daub ceiling at that level. This might have been the ceiling of an open hall when there was a smokehood, although many houses with smokehoods did have chambers over the housebody (usually used for storage). Equally, it might have been inserted, perhaps when the stone chimney was added, which was often when the chamber above the housebody replaced the parlour as the room housing the best bed. In the upper western room, the low sill-height, the shoulder of the chimney breast and the low fireplace height also suggest a once-lower ceiling and floor. The visibility in the current kitchen of the corbel and bottom of the chimney breast for the room above’s fireplace also suggest that the ceiling here was once lower.

The OS 1:2,500 map of 1893 (surveyed 1890 to 1891) does not mark a long southern outshut which was on the 1845 map, but detached outbuildings are shown to the south. The easternmost of these probably survives as the current garage, which now has a modern roof structure. The terrace of houses to the east, along Dame Fold, is also first shown on the 1893 map. The property directly to the east of Higham House is currently rendered, but there are no external indications of a vertical joint with its southerly neighbour, suggesting that the terrace replaced rather than incorporated a small structure attached to the east of Higham House on the 1845 survey.

During the grant–aided refurbishment, the plaster was stripped from the first floor, the floor boards replaced and a new stair installed, rising to the east rather than to the west like the one it replaced, and with a slightly lower landing which intrudes into the ceiling of the living room. The bathroom and centre first-floor bedroom were created using stud partitions, and this might be when the ceilings were raised. The fireplace and surround in the living room and the Rayburn in the kitchen also date from this work. The front and rear porches were probably added at this time, and the first-floor south-west window was enlarged with a new stone surround, as internal photographs show it was lower, probably originally with a stone mullion. A new stone surround was also added to the window below this, and to the two other upper rear windows. The western chimney stack was removed, the eastern chimney breast truncated in the attic (but the stack retained), and the roof repaired, with most of the common rafters replaced.

Decorative plaster friezes with similar motifs to those in the house are known in Pennine houses from late in the C16, some with extremely good levels of craftsmanship. Creatures repeatedly figure, including mermen and mermaids, lion masks, goats, sphinxes and winged serpentine creatures variously described as dragons, cockatrices or basilisks. These are often accompanied by plants including fleurs-de-lys, flower vases, foliage scrolls of vines or oak leaves, and fruit including pomegranates, figs or pears. Many appear with coats of arms, often the royal arms, and the origin appears to be a portrayal of the Crown as the source of fruitfulness. The Starkie family of Huntroyde Hall in nearby Simonstone had links with East Riddlesden Hall, Keighley (NHLE 1283478) through marriage, and the upper part of the ground-floor frieze at Higham is similar to a 1640s frieze on one of the beams in the dining room there. However, there are closer parallels much nearer at hand. The same frieze at Higham House is identical to the frieze in the south-west upper chamber at Greenhead Manor in Reedley (Grade II*, NHLE 1272792), less than two miles away. Greenhead is thought to be early-mid C17. Parallels have also been drawn between Greenhead’s plasterwork and elements of that at Gawthorpe Hall, (Grade I, NHLE 1237626), almost exactly equidistant to Greenhead from Higham. Gawthorpe’s plasterwork was executed by the Yorkshire craftsmen, Thomas and Francis Gunby from 1603 to 1605 (Thomas was the joiner and Francis the plasterer), and they or their moulds might have been used at Greenhead.

A plaster panel thought to date from the early-C17, at Spenser House (Grade II*, NHLE 1280543) in Hurstwood (about nine miles from Higham) includes a vine-scroll which is also similar to the work at Higham House. The panels between the paired goats of the first-floor frieze at Higham House have what appear to be flowers with radiating centres and pimpled edges, as at Spenser House. The Spenser House panel also has a central lion mask which is similar to that found downstairs at Higham. Nor was decorative plasterwork confined to larger houses; Lower House farmhouse (NHLE 1073367), which stands more or less opposite Higham House and is only slightly larger, reportedly had vine plasterwork in the unheated room of the rear outshut.

The location and small size of the friezes, and the crude detailing of how they are placed, suggests that they are mannerist versions of original works elsewhere. The size of Higham House makes it unlikely that the Gunbys were actually employed here, although examples are known of both yeoman and gentry houses which are not much larger. However, the precise match of the ground floor frieze with Greenhead suggests either use of the same moulds, the reuse of a small leftover or discarded section, or a cast taken from there. The work at Greenhead imitates that of higher-status houses like Gawthorpe and East Riddlesden. Higham House probably represents a further imitation by a yet-lower rung of the social ladder.


House, probably mid-C17 with early and later alterations.

MATERIALS: gritstone with stone-flag roofs.

PLAN: a two-cell end-entry house, with a demolished north outshut, and later north outshut and north and south porches.

EXTERIOR: standing to the west of Higham Hall and abutted to the east and west by later buildings.

The current front faces north. It is two-storey and of squared rubble with dressed sills and lintels, and a gable stack at the left (rendered), probably standing on the stone cap of a smokehood. At the right is a single-storey outshut, with a small lean-to porch in the angle. The outshut has a four-light casement window. To the left of the window is a straight vertical joint, with quoins to the left of it. The porch is set back and has a C20 glazed door. To the left of the porch are a window with blocking below, and a small lobby window. Over the porch are a window and a blocked opening with a slender lintel, and over the outshut are a blocked small window and small casement window. The small casement retains a recessed lintel with a stool for a mullion.

The south wall has a small central lean-to porch with a C20 door. There are three first-floor windows, all with C20 squared surrounds. To the left of the porch is a four-light casement also with squared surround. To the right is a four-light mullioned window with chamfered sill, lintel and central mullion, the outer mullions being lost. To its right is a fire window with a dressed and chamfered surround.

The end walls are obscured by adjacent buildings. The east wall is reported to retain a pointed-arch doorway which is visible within the adjacent house.

INTERIOR: the cross-wall stands to the west of the current entrance. In the housebody is a chimney breast with C20 fireplace, and a square niche to the right. The C20 staircase rises to the east along the north wall, to a landing which intrudes below the housebody ceiling. The larger south window has a chamfered surround. The splayed north lobby-window surround is unplastered, the south fire window plastered. The cross-wall has a north-of-centre doorway with a small square niche to its right, leading to the current kitchen.

The lintel of this doorway is exposed in the kitchen, and there is another niche in the dividing wall to the right (south) of the door. C20 kitchen fittings line the south wall below the window. At the south end of the west wall is a plastered chimneybreast with Rayburn in the blocked fireplace. This chimneybreast has a decorative plaster frieze. The upper panel has a central lion mask. Either side of this are symmetrical pairs of basilisks facing away from each other, their tails entwined with foliage. The design is identical to the frieze in the upper south-west chamber at Greenhead Manor, Reedley (NHLE 1272792). Below this is a vine scroll, which is very slightly shorter than the upper frieze. A simple border surrounds and divides the two elements, but the upper border has been lost. To the right the chimneybreast widens over stone corbels. In the north wall is a splayed doorway leading into the outshut.

This opening has stonework exposed in the outshut, revealing the lintel and jambs of a former mullioned window, with its sill reused as the lower east jamb of the doorway. In the east wall of the outshut is a blocked former window with chamfered surround. A similar window, facing north, is in the south-east corner of the room, with a central iron bar.

The external doorway which is visible in the south porch has a squared surround with tooled margin and central band of diagonal grooves.

Upstairs, to the east of the staircase, is a roof truss made of split logs, with curved struts and a line of stave holes on the west face of the tie-beam, which at its south end rests on a corbel. The truss carries two side purlins and a ridge purlin; the lower side purlins are C20. There are some hewn common rafters visible in the roofspace. The western chamber has a chimneybreast with plaster frieze depicting ibexes, two-handled urns disgorging foliage with jelly-mould and star flowers and fruit, and crude fleurs-de-lys. The frieze has a moulded border (partly missing at the top) and has been defaced of a central motif. Above the frieze the chimneybreast is shouldered and angled towards the ridge. There is a very low fireplace with chamfered stone surround, altered at the top.


Books and journals
Ambler, L, The Old Halls and Manor Houses of Yorkshire, (1913), 36-44
Hartwell, C, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Lancashire North, (2009), 492, 570
Pearson, S, Rural Houses of the Lancashire Pennines 1560-1760, (1985), 53, 58-101, 128-130, 153, 175
Champness, J, 'The building of Gawthorpe Hall' in Contrebis, , Vol. XXXI, (2007), 33-41


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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