Birdoswald Bastles

Has been described as a Certain Bastle

There are masonry footings remains

NameBirdoswald Bastles
Alternative NamesHigh Burdoswell
Historic CountryCumberland
Modern AuthorityCumbria
1974 AuthorityCumbria
Civil ParishWaterhead

In the 13th century a tower house was built by the porta princpalis sinistra. In the 16th century a bastle house replaced the tower house, which in its turn was replaced by a farmhouse in the 17th century. (PastScape ref. Wilmott 1997)

Former farmhouse, now (1988) HQ of the archaeological unit excavating the adjacent Roman site. Substantially the house built by Henry Norman in 1858, but incorporating extensive remnants of an earlier building, possibly C15 or early C16 and perhaps erected by the de Vaux family. Coursed rubble masonry, rendered on all but the rear (N) elevation; Welsh slate roofs. Plan and development: The building consists of a principal range aligned E-W, 2-rooms deep (main living rooms to the S, scullery and other service rooms to the N), entered from the S by a central porch; attached to this range to the W is a 2-storey tower which appears to be an almost entirely C19 construction in the form of a tower-house. A now internal dated lintel in the principal range between the service rooms and the entrance hall (AQMB1745, commemorating Anthony and Margaret Bowman) and a blocked window, strongly suggests that this range was originally only a single room in depth, and extended in 1858. The rear wall of the SE room, and that to the W of the room and dividing it from the entrance hall are extremely thick and contain features that confirm an early date: a four-centred stone doorway arch, partially blocked but visible in the entrance hall; the remains of a newel stair in the SW corner of the room; and an early (but undateable) window in the rear wall, 1st floor, and now blocked. These features together suggest the possibility that the SW room was once a tower-house, but the presence of a high quality doorway at ground level militates against this (although it is possible that the ground level may have been altered)

A C19 engraving shows that there was no tower to the W before 1858; however the external stack visible on the E wall of the tower evidently pre- dates the 1858 work for its extensive corbel table survives and is visible in the roof space. (It may have served as a corbelled fireplace, but this seems unlikely in this position). Exterior: S elevation: symmetrical 4-window range with castellated gabled porch containing datestone HN 1858 under small single-light window. Square-headed doorway with chamfered surround. 2-light windows to 1st floor with chamfered and vermiculated mullions and surrounds, and 2-pane hornless sash windows. 3-light window to either side of porch, otherwise treated identically to those above. Stone coping and internal end stack (with 3 brick shafts) to E wall, with one C20 window. Rear (N) elevation of principal range with C19 fenestration; 3-window range, the right-hand (W) windows set well to the W; 8-pane harnless sash windows throughout (altered to ground floor, left). Stone plain surrounds. One doorway to left, another blocked right of centre. Tower: rendered, except for N elevation and battlements, the render out back at the angles to resemble quoining. 2 stages, the upper stage slight recessed. Battlements corbelled out with external stacks to E and W. S side with one window to each floor, 2 lights to 1st floor, 3 to ground, with plain chamfered mullions and surrounds. W side with 2 2-pane hornless sash windows to 1st floor and a narrow slit to external stack at the same level, all with stone surrounds. Centrally placed shield to battlements. N: 2 pane harnless sash window to 1st floor; lean to with stone coping, the door, C19 and studded. Interior: many early features probably remain under the plaster. 4-centred doorway, remains of newel, and old window (with wooden lintel) mentioned above. Otherwise standard c19 furnishings; one stone fireplace, Cl9 but in C16 style. Roof: standard tie, ridge-piece, side purlin roof, difficult to date but pre-1858. The corbelling in the W gable indicates an ancient well at this point, date not known (see above). Note: The C19 owner (Henry Norman) was an antiquerian and conducted his own excavation of the adjacent Roman site. This 'tower house' (to the W) is an interesting example of 'medieval reconstruction', although it is possible that some archaeological evidence indicated the presence of a tower here, and that the surviving C16 work represents the remains of a hall range. Birdoswald Farmhouse also indicates the long-established and continuous occupation of this site from Roman times. (Listed Building Report)

Two tenements adjoining more easte called High Burdosell between the Pight (Picts') Wall on the north; Irding & Lowe Burdosell on the south & backing easte with a narrow end upon a cotage of Henr. Twedells. Hereof Thos Twedell hath one tenemt with the Stonehouse, Jeffrey Twedell the other Tenemt (Gilsland Survey 1603 as quoted in Wilmott 1999)

Building 4407 falls close to the typical dimensions of bastle houses (10.3 x 6.6m), and has a doorway in the west gable walL The narrow corridor at the eastern end is not typical, though Peter Ryder (personal communication) has suggested that the strip of foundation separating the rooms might have supported a heavy fireplace and chimney stack at first floor level. Such fireplaces are usually located at the end opposite the ground floor byre door, but tend to be either recessed into thick end walls or carried on heavy corbels (Ryder 1992a, 373-4). There is no evidence for an external stone stair. The upper floor may have been carried on a vault or on timber beams. The reconstruction drawing of this phase (Fig 284) shows Building 4407 as a typical bastle house based on the surviving example at Black Middens, Northumberland. (Wilmott 1999)

Gatehouse Comments

In C16 a bastle house (some sources write two bastles) replaced the tower house, which in its turn was replaced by a farmhouse in C17 The farmhouse may, in fact date to the C15 or early C16 and thus be the second bastle. A family called the Tweddles lived in Birdoswald's Bastle House in the 1580's. Raided twice by the Elliots and the Nicksons in 1588 and again in 1590 by the Armstrongs. Having their door burnt' down and their cattle and household goods stolen. The Gilsland Survey mentions two tenements but only one stonehouse. The current farmhouse is described in Willmott (1999 p. 399) as an 'undefensible bastIe' and dated as after the Gilsland Survey.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 2 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceNY612662
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  • - The bibliography for this site is large and extensive but mostly, usually exclusively, deals with the Roman fort and occupation and is beyond the scope of this record.
  • Wilmott, T., 1999, Birdoswald: Excavations of a Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall and its successor settlements, 1987-1992 (London: English Heritage) p. 387-91, 394-99 Download via ADS
  • Salter, Mike, 1998, The Castles and Tower Houses of Cumbria (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 20
  • Perriam, Denis and Robinson, John, 1998, The Medieval Fortified Buildings of Cumbria (Kendal: CWAAS Extra Series 29) p. 134-5 (plan)
  • Wilmott, Tony, 1997, Birdoswald: excavations of a Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall and its successor settlements, 1987-92 (London: English Heritage Archaeological reports (new ser) Vol. 14)


  • Haverfield, F., 1911, 'Cotton Iulius F.VI. Notes on Reginald Bainbrigg of Appleby, on William Camden and on some Roman inscriptions' Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Vol. 11 p. 365 online copy

Guide Books

  • Wilmott, Tony, 2005, Birdoswald Roman Fort (London: English Heritage)
  • Wilmott, Tony, 1995, Birdoswald - A History and Souvenir Guide (Cumbria County Council) p. 49-53

Primary Sources

  • Graham, T.H.B. (ed), 1934, The Barony of Gilsland: Lord William Howard's survey, taken in 1603 (Kendal: CWAAS Extra Series 16) p. 17


  • Barker, Louise and Rushworth, Alan (compilers), 1998, Hadrian's Wall at Birdoswald: a survey of the extent and state of preservation of Archaeological remains in the guardianship of English Heritage