Fenham Tower and Castle

Has been described as a Questionable Timber Castle (Motte), and also as a Questionable Pele Tower

There are earthwork remains

NameFenham Tower and Castle
Alternative NamesFenham Mill
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishKyloe

The monument includes the remains of a monastic agrarian grange at Fenham. The site is situated on sloping ground leading down to the coast, at the edge of Fenham Flats. It has a clear view eastwards across to Holy Island. The grange was originally in the possession of Holy Island Priory. The monument consists of the remains of a moated manor house surrounded by a precinct wall and a series of enclosures containing the remains of service and agricultural buildings, crofts and tofts, the remains of medieval agricultural systems and part of the mill-race which served Fenham Mill. Cropmark evidence from aerial photographs suggest that the site may have extended into the ploughed field immediately to the south of the visible remains, however, this area has not been included in the scheduling as the extent and nature of the cropmark remains are not sufficiently well understood. The remains of the manor house are situated approximately centrally along the southern edge of the site. They comprise a rectangular building constructed on a low, sub-rectangular platform. The building is 28m long by 15.5m wide, the walls survive as stone banks 2.5m wide and up to 1.5m high. The building is divided internally into three rooms, the two northernmost rooms contain large stone mounds with domed tops, 2m in diameter and 0.5m high. The platform on which the house is built has maximum dimensions of 35m by 33m, it is up to 1m high. Situated in the south west corner of the platform, immediately to the south of the main building, are the remains of two rectangular stone buildings up to 14m long and 8m wide, the walls survive up to 1m high. The platform itself is surrounded by the remains of a well constructed, mortar-bonded, wall with dressed stone faces and a laid rubble core of large irregular blocks. It is 1m wide and up to 1.1m high and has a simple gap entrance 1.5m wide near the centre of the west side. This wall formed the boundary of the inner courtyard

Slight traces of a ditch to the north and west may represent the moat which was built around the site in 1385; the abbey mill-race runs directly behind the southern edge of the manor house complex. To the east and north of the inner courtyard is a second, larger, enclosed platform, possibly originally an outer courtyard to the manor house. This enclosure is a maximum of 53m east-west by 105m north-south; it is defined on three sides by a well constructed stone wall 1.5m wide and up to 1m high with an entrance 4m wide in the south east corner. On the north side, the edge of the platform falls away sharply, this fall is enhanced by the hollow way which runs parallel to it. This edge is defined by a stone faced bank up to 1.5m high. The foundations of a rectangular building, 10m by 8m, abut the outer north west corner of the bank and west wall. The interior of the enclosure contains the remains of ridge and furrow cultivation. To the east of this outer enclosure are the foundations of at least two steadings, aligned east-west. The westernmost steading is 17m long by 7m wide, with walls surviving up to 2m wide and 0.3m high, the building contains a central cross-passage with the eastern cross-wall clearly visible. A yard, or garden, area 10m by 12m lies to the rear of the steading and is defined by a low bank. A second steading lies to the east, this is 20m long by 7m wide and the interior is divided into four equal sized compartments, although the building narrows towards the east end. There are slight traces of a possible third steading beyond this, but evidence of this has been largely removed by later activity in this area. At the rear of each steading is a toft, or plot, 50m long. They are clearly visible as single wide ridges, with a narrow stone bank running along the bottom of each furrow marking the edge of the plots. The southern boundary of the plots is defined by a stone wall which abuts the east wall of the outer courtyard. This wall is 1m wide and up to 1m high, it contains a number of reused architectural fragments. The east edge of the plots is defined by the remains of a robbed field boundary wall which runs parallel to the modern wall which defines the edge of the field at this point. To the north of the steadings are the remains of a small rectangular field, defined by a much robbed field wall, which has been used until recently as a market garden. This area has been much reduced by recent activities and is not included in the scheduling. To the west of the manor house site and outer courtyard are a further range of buildings and enclosures. A large sub-rectangular area, with maximum dimensions of 100m by 110m is defined by low earth and stone banks, and by the remains of the mill-race which runs along the southern edge. A sub-rectangular building with a rounded north end is situated in the south east corner of this area. The walls, up to 1m high, are well constructed of dressed stone, the east and south walls are incorporated into the outer boundary walls of the enclosure. The building is 33m long by 10m wide, the interior is divided into three compartments, the central one of which comprises a raised platform, 5m by 5m and 1.7m high. On the same alignment, 35m to the north, foundations of a further structure, 9m by 6m, are incorporated within the wide northern bank of the enclosure. Within the interior of the enclosure are the circular foundations of a building, 10m in diameter. These are believed to be the remains of a dovecot and this is substantiated by the fact that the field was called Ducket Close from as early as the 16th century. Immediately to the west of the enclosure is the site of a well, now capped with a large block of sandstone supported on smaller boulders. To the north of the enclosure are the remains of further house platforms and a hollow way which runs east-west for virtually the entire length of the site. Fenham was a member of the Bishop of Durham's estate of Islandshire. It was granted to the monks of the Durham cell of Holy Island in 1082. The Account Rolls of Holy Island Priory contain detailed records of building and agricultural activities, and of the equipment of the manor house, grange and mill. From these records it is clear that the grange practised a mixed farming economy, growing wheat, barley and oats and rearing sheep, pigs, cattle and fowl. A chapel was built on the site shortly before 1200. In 1326 it was recorded that the tithes of Fenham, Fenwick, Beal and Scremerston were collected in the chapel at Fenham. The manor house is recorded as being built or repaired in 1339 and, in 1385, 40 shillings was spent 'for making a ditch round the manor house at Fenham'. By the end of the 14th century the lands were being let to farm. At some point a defensive tower was constructed, as in 1560 it was referred to as 'a towre in good repair'. The township was granted to Sir William Reade, a captain of Berwick upon Tweed, after the Dissolution. A full inventory was taken of the estate at his death in 1603 and this records in detail all the rooms within the manor house, including the 'towre chamber', and all the ancillary domestic and agricultural buildings in use at that time. The house was bequeathed to Sir William's son, but had passed out of the family by the end of the 17th century. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Benedictine grange or manor house of Lindisfarne Priory, built or added to in 1339 AD, with a moat or a ditch in 1385 AD. A tower was standing in 1560 AD. Now just a mound surrounded by the remains of a precinct wall and ditch and a series of enclosures thought to contain the remains of service and agricultural buildings, crofts and tofts, the remains of medieval agricultural systems and part of a mill race. Some sources suggests this as site of a small motte and bailey of late C11 date. Although this is a manorial centre there doesn't seem to be any evidence for this suggestion. The tower is certain; the castle is questionable.

- 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 ReferenceNU086407
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  • Dodds, John F., 1999, Bastions and Belligerents (Newcastle upon Tyne: Keepdate Publishing) p. 57
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 55
  • Jackson, M.J.,1992, Castles of Northumbria (Carlisle) p. 139
  • Rowland, T.H., 1987 (reprint1994), Medieval Castles, Towers, Peles and Bastles of Northumberland (Sandhill Press) p. 7, 23
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 333
  • Graham, Frank, 1976, The Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham) p. 164
  • Long, B., 1967, Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) p. 105
  • Bates, C.J., 1891, Border Holds of Northumberland (London and Newcastle: Andrew Reid) p. 53 (Also published as the whole of volume 14 (series 2) of Archaeologia Aeliana view online)
  • Raine, J., 1852, History and Antiquities of North Durham (London) p. 174-80


  • Hunter Blair, C.H., 1944, 'The Early Castles of Northumberland' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser4) Vol. 22 p. 116-70 esp 163 (where identified as a motte and bailey with plan adapted from OS map)
  • Bates, C.J., 1891, 'Border Holds of Northumberland' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser2) Vol. 14 p. 53 online copy

Primary Sources

  • 1561, The Survey Booke of Norham and Ilandshire, taken and made in the 3rd year of our Sovereign Lady Elizabeth, Queen of England, etc. Survey of Norham and Islandshire


  • Dixon, P.J., 1984, The Deserted Medieval Villages of North Northumberland Vol. 2 (PhD Thesis: University of Wales) p. 253-6.