Low Chibburn Hospitallers Preceptory

Has been described as a Certain Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameLow Chibburn Hospitallers Preceptory
Alternative NamesChibourn
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishWiddrington

This monument represents a largely intact preceptory, house and pillbox. The survival of the preceptory courtyard is particularly rare. The 16th century house is in excellent condition. The site is well documented from the 14th century onwards and drawings of the site from the last century provide valuable information on its former appearance. The pillbox is one of a line established to monitor and defend the coastline during World War II.

The monument includes the remains of a preceptory of the Knights Hospitallers which was reused in the 16th century as a house. Part of the chapel was converted into a pillbox during World War II. The ruins are situated in a low lying area of pasture land reinstated in 1973-4 after large scale opencast coal mining. Prior to these operations the buildings stood beside a small stream known as the Dunbar Burn. This stream once fed the moat which encircled the site during its life as a preceptory. The preceptory was first recorded in 1313 and the later house was almost certainly a dower house built by the Widdrington family. An account of 1338 states that the mansion house associated with the preceptory was in a dilapidated condition and that the lands, including 190 acres and pastures and meadows were 'destroyed and greatly devastated' by the Scottish wars. At that time there were three brethren of the order at Chibburn, one of them a chaplain, and a pensioner, a chamberlain and a steward, a cleric for collecting voluntary contributions, a stableman and a page. The preceptory was abolished in 1540 and all its lands were taken into crown ownership. Although it was briefly revived by Queen Mary I, Elizabeth I confiscated the lands again. Sir John Widdrington came into possession of the manor in 1553 and at this stage the west range was converted into a house. The buildings were burnt during a French raid in 1692. The ruins today consist of two main buildings, the chapel and the house, which formed two sides of a courtyard

The remaining two sides of the courtyard survive as foundations and tumbled walls. The south side of the courtyard was formed by the chapel; it is aligned east-west and measures 16m x 6m externally. It consists of a south wall, the east wall, the eastern section of the north walls and the lower remains of the central part of the north wall. It is built of sandstone ashlar and contains a piscina and an aumbry in the south east corner. Built into the top of the south wall, directly above the easternmost window, is the head tracery of a 14th century window which is now invisible from ground level. Externally, there is a chamfered plinth at the foot of the south and east walls and a moulded string course at mid height. Towards the west end of the south wall is a blocked doorway with a two-centred arch. The hoodmould above it, formed by the string course, also forms the hood mould of three large square headed windows, all blocked. A block of stone immediately above the doorway is carved with two shields in relief. Lower in the wall there are two small single light ogee headed windows, one west of the doorway and one between the central and western of the large windows. In addition to these original openings there are several later insertions. Close to the west end of the wall and above the string course are the remains of a narrow window with hollow chamfered jambs. The lintel now lies at the foot of the wall. Internally the rear arch of the window has been reduced in size. At the same level, but on the east side of the doorway are the remains of a three light mullioned window and below it a small square headed light, now blocked, inserted into the blocking of the westernmost of the original larger windows. A two light mullioned window has been inserted into the blocking of the easternmost of these larger windows, utilising the sill and parts of the moulded jambs of its predecessor. Remains of mortar on the wall face indicate the outline of the pitched roof of an attached building to the east of the doorway. The north east angle of the chapel has been rebuilt, possibly in the late 16th or early 17th century. The rebuilding, which included much of the northern wall, is in thinly coursed rubble with larger roughly squared angle quoins. The lower part of the south wall of the former north range survives and to the west of a former gateway which was the main entrance into the courtyard, there is a part of the west wall of the range. A piece of wall further south attached to the east side of the west range is part of an 18th or 19th century outbuilding. The lower part of the west wall complete with the jambs of two openings survives from the east range. The west range consisting of the 16th century house survives relatively intact. This range is built of coursed roughly squared stone with cut dressings and elongated squared quoins in the typical 16th and 17th century style. The principal elevation faces west and divides into four irregular bays, the northern being divided off by a cross wall and stack. Immediately north of this stack is a cross passage. Its doorway has chamfered jambs and an unchamfered arched head of flattened triangular form. West of this door is a plain square headed window, formerly of two lights, but with its chamfers cut back and its sill lowered in the later 19th century. Above are the remains of a window opening, with two heavy corbels projecting from the wall beneath its sill. To either side of a blocked doorway are windows originally mullioned with three lights. The openings have hollow chamfered heads and jambs. All three ground floor openings have relieving arches set four or five courses above their lintels. The east wall of the west range has a shallow projection housing a garderobe at first floor level. The garderobe was lit by a small chamfered loop, the sill and one jamb of which remain. North of the doorway into the garderobe is a doorway opening into the chapel from the range. Immediately above is a first floor doorway. To the north of this is a plain doorway with a timber lintel opening into the courtyard. Above is another window with three corbels beneath its sill. Further north again is the east doorway of the cross passage with a single light window above. The south gable end of the west range has a central projecting stack. East of the projection is a single light window at ground level, and at first floor level an area of rubble and brick patching marks the position of another window. The north end of this range has a chamfered plinth set back four courses above the present ground level. At first floor level the stack projection has been extended to the east in irregular rubble masonry. Inside the house nine transverse beams survive, of which two have fallen. All the principal openings have heavy rear lintels of oak and the remains of plaster still obscure much of the stonework. Remains of the stairs can be seen alongside the entry from the cross passage. The lower steps were of stone, of which three remain. The room north of the cross passage has a large and original fireplace in the centre of the north wall with a massive lintel, now broken, carrying a narrow chamfer and a relieving arch above. The first floor fireplace above at the east end of the wall is a later insertion and has fallen. Another large fireplace is situated in the northern of the two rooms south of the entry passage. Above is a slightly smaller first floor fireplace set forward with its hearth supported by the ground floor ceiling beam. Some fragments of the original floor boards survive trapped between the beam and the stonework. Below the beam are remnants of a plaster cornice still clinging to the wall. There are similar fireplaces in the south end wall. The Ordnance Survey maps pre dating the opencast mining depict a moat encircling the site. This was destroyed during the mining operations between the 1950s and the 1970s. In the north wall of the chapel, immediately east of the junction with the surviving west wall of the east range, is a horizontal embrasure surviving from a World War II pillbox. It has a timber lintel surrounded by brick and is beneath a decayed timber lintel of an older opening which has some older brick in its west jamb. (Scheduling Report)

The remains of this Chapel still exist as shown on O.S. The north wall is fragmentary, although the remaining section adjoining the east wall, is 6 ft. high. The east wall is in fairly good condition, it stands approximately 15 ft. high and retains the window frame. The south wall is in the best condition, it stands appx. 15 ft. high and two doorways and a window are blocked; although one window frame remains. The eastern end of this chapel has been fortified and used as a blockhouse during the recent war (SS Reviser 6" 5/8/52).

Knights Hospitallers founded at Chibburn pre A.D. 1313 and dissolved pre A.D. 1535(?) Net income in 1535 was £43. First recorded A.D. 1313. (Plan showing complete buildings of a house of this order) (Woodman 1860) In 1338 the community consisted of 3 brethren including the preceptor and a chaplain brother, a chaplain, a clerk, two officials and three servants. (Larkin 1857)

In an account of 1338 we learn that the gross income amounted to £23-18-8 and the manor house was ruinous. The possessions were surrendered in 1540. The establishment was possibly founded by the FitzWilliams or by the Widdringtons, who held under them in 12c.

The Preceptory of the Knights of St. John was defended by a moat enclosing an area c.100 yards diam; the buildings formed a parallelogram having a courtyard in the middle, a dwelling house on the west, a chapel occupying the entire south side and various offices on the north and east sides - the principal entrance was by an arched gateway on N. side. The dwelling house is of 2 stories with 3 compartments on each floor. A piscina remains in SE angle of the chapel; human bones have been found and a grave slab forms the threshold of the door leading from courtyard into a stable. The upper portion of a stone coffin is in one of the windows.

The present dwelling house was erected after the Dissolution possibly by Sir John Widdrington, who was granted the manor of Chibburn in 1553.(Wilson) (Knowles and Hadcock 1953).

The descriptions in SS Reviser 6" 5/8/52 and Knowles and Hadcock and the plan in the latter are, generally, correct, except that the majority of the buildings in the northern range have now disappeared. The walls of the western range and what little remains of the northern range are of rough dressed masonry with rubble filling. This part of the building represents the remains of the 16th c. Manor House mentioned in Knowles and Hadcock.

The walls of the chapel are of much finer workmanship, and represent the sole remains of the Preceptory of the Knights of St. John. The position of the piscina is as stated in T5.

The grave slab and the upper portion of stone coffin mentioned in Knowles and Hadcock were not seen.

The remains are in a ruinous condition and the whole building is now roofless.

No trace of the moat remains and the OS siting has been accepted.

Open-cast ruining is taking place in the near vicinity (F1 EGG 1/3/54).

The ruins now fall in the centre of an active open-cast mining site, but they have been fenced off and their condition is substantially unchanged (F2 RE 28/4/71).

A medieval/post medieval hospitallers preceptory, moat and potential pond are visible as earthworks and ruined buildings on air photographs. The preceptory is located at NZ 2659 9653. The section of moat is located to the south-west of the chapel at NZ 2654 9648 and appears to have been reused as a drain in the Twentieth Century. The potential pond is at NZ 2654 9652. The ruined building is still extant on the latest 1989-1998 Ordnance Survey vertical photography. The earthwork moat and fishpond have been destroyed due to open cast mining (UID 14468219) (RAF 541/394 4051 14-NOV-1949). (PastScape)

This is the site of Low Chibburn Preceptory, a small farm owned by the Knights Templar {sic}. It was first recorded in 1313, and it was abolished in 1540 and all its lands were taken over by the king. Today, there are two main buildings to be seen here: the chapel and the house, which form two sides of a courtyard. The east and south wall and parts of the north wall of the chapel still stand. Traces of a piscina and an aumbry can still be seen. A block of stone over the door has two shields carved onto it. The house, probably 16th century in date is almost complete. Until the area was badly affected by coal mining in the 1950s the entire site was surrounded by a moat. Part of the chapel was used as a pillbox during World War Two (1939-45). The preceptory buildings have undergone a period of repair and restoration by Northumberland County Council. (Keys to the Past)

Gatehouse Comments

A moated and walled site which included among its inhabitants three trained and possibly experienced (if perhaps elderly) knights making this a fortified site although there is no suggestion of a gatehouse or a wall walk on the boundary wall.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceNZ265965
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Photo by Matthew Emmott All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image

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  • Brooke, C.J., 2000, Safe Sanctuaries (Edinburgh; John Donald) p. 158-9
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 114 (slight)
  • Pevsner, N., 1992 (revised by Grundy, John et al), Buildings of England: Northumberland (London, Penguin)
  • Rowland, T.H., 1987 (reprint1994), Medieval Castles, Towers, Peles and Bastles of Northumberland (Sandhill Press) p. 91
  • Graham, Frank, 1976, The Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham) p. 100-1
  • Long, B., 1967, Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) p. 81-2
  • Knowles, D. and Hadcock, R.N. 1953, Medieval religious houses in England and Wales (London) p. 241, 302


  • Rushton, S., 1995-96, 'Recent Work at Low Chibburn' Archaeology in Northumberland Vol. 6 p. 6-7
  • 1993-94, Archaeology in Northumberland Vol. 4 p. 2
  • Honeyman, H.L. 1942, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (ser4) Vol. 9 p. 192
  • Fincham, H.W., 1922, 'Notes on a Field Meeting to Chibburn, 28th June 1920' Proceeding of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne (ser3) Vol. 10 p. 261-263
  • 1903, 'Notes on a Field Meeting to Chibburn' Proceedings of the Society of Antiquares of Newcastle upon Tyne (ser3) Vol. 1 p. 86-87
  • Embleton, D., 1896, 'Ruins of buildings formerly on the quayside, Newcastle' Archaeologia Aeliana Vol. 18p. 262-3 online copy
  • Hodgson, J, Crawford, 1895 'Chibburn and the Knights Hospitallers in Northumberland' _Archaeologia Aeliana_  Vol. 17 p. 263-280 online copy
  • Wilson, 1861, 'Chibburn Preceptory' Archaeologia Aeliana Vol. 5 p. 113-118
  • Woodman, W., 1860, 'The Preceptory of the Hospitalers at Chibburn, Northumberland; with some Notices of Temple Thornton in the same county' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 17 p. 35-47 online copy

Primary Sources

  • Larking, L.B. (ed), 1857, The Knights Hospitallers in England (The Camden Society) p. 52-3 online copy


  • Historic England, 2016, Heritage at Risk North East Register 2016 (London: Historic England) p. 26 online copy
  • Historic England, 2015, Heritage at Risk North East Register 2015 (London: Historic England) p. 27 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2014, Heritage at Risk Register 2014 North East (London: English Heritage) p. 26 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2013, Heritage at Risk Register 2013 North East (London: English Heritage) p. 29 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2012, Heritage at Risk Register 2012 North East (London: English Heritage) p. 42 online copy
  • Ryder, P.F., 1995a _Some Architectural Features at Low Chibburn, Northumberland_ unpublished report for Northumberland County Council
  • Ryder, P.F., 1995b _Architectural Fragments at Low Chibburn, Northumberland_  unpublished report for Northumberland County Council