Shield Hall Old Pele, Slaley

Has been described as a Questionable Fortified Manor House, and also as a Questionable Pele Tower, and also as a Possible Bastle

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameShield Hall Old Pele, Slaley
Alternative Names
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishSlaley

The small tower or peel, the remains of which exist at Shield Hall was probably an outlying fortified homestead of the Earl of Westmorland. At the time of the rebellion of 1569, John Swinburne of Chopwell, the Earl's commissioner, held a tenement called Shield Hall.

The tower has been incorporated into the present farm buildings. One end of it was taken down when it was made into a barn. The lower chamber is vaulted, and the upper chamber, which is flagged with stone, has a modern roof. Windows indicate late 13th century date (Hodgson 1902; Pevsner 1957)

Contained within the farm buildings of Shield Hall are the remains of an old fortified house. Only the north wall (6.8m long) and a portion of the east wall (overall length 10.5m) is visible from the outside - the remainder being within the byres and farmhouse.

The walls are 1.5m thick in places and in the north face is a two light pointed arch window with another in the south face of the byre but this is not in situ; there are small windows and a loop-hole elsewhere. An internal stairway leads to the upper apartment. The tower, which is situated in a prominent position, is strongly constructed but resembles a Bastle or fortified house, common in this region, rather than a Keep or Pele tower.

The farmer (Mr J E Charlton) has no historical knowledge of the building (F1 JLD 08-MAY-1956).

Outbuilding to east of tower. Bottom few courses of stone on the north elevation appear to be medieval and suggest that the outbuilding has been constructed on the site of the hall. A blocked doorway is visible on the north elevation, left of the water tank. A platform extending from the north side is built of dressed masonry and may be the cross wing of the hall house. Visited by C Hardie and P Ryder on 5th December 1991 in response to planning application 91/E/LB830 (F2 CH 06-DEC-1991).

Wing of late 13th/early 14th century house incorporated in early 19th century farmbuildings

Medieval part squared stone with massive quoins; 19th century parts squared rubble with tooled-and-margined quoins and dressings; slate roofs except for stone slabs on part of east range. Pigeon holes in part of 19th century range. Ranges around yard open to the south with medieval part at north-west corner.

Old building two storeys, north end only. Lower part of wall hidden by 20th century pent shed. East wall shows original chamfered loops to ground and first floors at far right.

Interior: ground floor barrel vaulted; slit on north with semi-circular rear arch. Mural stair on south of door cuts away original drawbar tunnel. The medieval building probably formed the solar wing of an unfortified manor house, with a hall block on the east (Listed Building Report District of Tynedale: Slaley 18-Jun-1986).

THE WEST RANGE: The medieval structure forming the north part of the west range of the farmbuildings is a roughly rectangular block c.10.8m by 6.5m externally, with walls 1m-1.3m thick at ground level, built of rubble with massive roughly squared angle quoins and cut dressings. The south wall of the block has been removed, presumably when the farmbuildings were built.

The ground floor has a roughly segmental barrel vault; it is entered by a doorway towards the south end of the east wall which now has a roughly square head; the remains of the original chamfer seem to indicate that it formerly had a shouldered head. The jambs have a drawbar socket on the north and tunnel on the south; the latter has been partly destroyed by the widening of an adjacent mural stair within the thickness of the wall. Towards the north end of the west wall is what appears to be the shouldered rear arch of another doorway; heavy pointing and remains of plaster conceal any other traces of the opening. The basement is lit by a single narrow loop in the centre of the north wall (hidden externally by 20th century outbuildings), with an almost semicircular rear arch and a second small loop, also deeply splayed, at the north end of the east wall. Externally, this has a plain square headed opening, that seems to have been renewed in the early 19th century; lintel and sill are formed by relatively thin slabs and the jambs are of very much the same nature as those of the doorway in the adjacent section of the north wall of the north range.

The mural stair, curving westward at the south east corner of the block, gives access to the stone flagged upper floor. This is lit by a window set centrally in the north wall, consisting of two lancet lights with an ogival piercing in the spandrel. The entire window head is cut in a single monolithic block; the individual lights have chamfered surrounds, interrupted on each side of the lancet head by what appears to be a large single nail head ornament. Above this window, and an internal set-back at eaves level, there is a small square headed loop in the shallow pitched gable. There is another square headed loop, with a chamfered surround and a deep internal splay, at the north end of the east wall; a splayed recess towards the south end of the west wall probably indicates the position of another former window.

The north gable end (its lower part concealed by the range of 20th century out houses) has a chamfered set-back approximately at first floor level - this now ends short of the north east corner which, together with an adjacent area of the upper part of the east wall, appears to have been rebuilt in much smaller stonework (possibly in the 19th century); the original quoins may have been reset. The coping of the gable is of flat slabs and is probably of 18th or 19th century date, except for a large shaped block at the foot of the eastern slope; this survives from the earlier coping of larger interlocking blocks on a gable of considerably steeper pitch and has been reset in the wall at a rather skew angle to adapt it to the present pitch.

The present roof of the block consists of three simple principal rafter trusses, with one level of purlins and a later ridge board. The principal timbers and purlins are clearly of some age (some are clearly reused members) and are heavily worm eaten.

THE NORTH RANGE: The north range in its present form appears to be a typical section of planned farmbuilding of the 1830s or 1840s, having a range of four segmental arches (now infilled) on the ground floor and a granary above; it is built of coursed squared stone, with tooled and margined dressings. Only in the external face of the lower part of the north wall is older fabric visible. Here the lowest courses and irregular boulder plinth appear to relate to a structure c.16m long; the lower part of its north east quoin is visible and, 5.4m from the west range, the western jamb of an opening which may relate to the same building. This structure which, from the form of its quoins and the few courses of masonry which survive, might well be coeval with the medieval part of the west range, appears to have been largely rebuilt at some time prior to the general 19th century remodelling. The evidence for this is seen in coursed rubble masonry of slightly different character to that of the adjacent north wall of the east range, and possibly two features - a blocked doorway with timber lintel and a slit vent - which may pre-date the 19th century works.

It seems likely that pre 19th century work also survives in the east end wall of the range (now an internal wall between the north and east ranges), but this is obscured by plaster. Its thickness (0.64m) suggests that it is largely post-medieval work.

The roof of the range above the granary consists of six collar beam trusses, three of which reuse older cruck blades as principals - these have been reset upside down (so that they have a concave rather than a convex curve, with the original halvings now vertical rather than horizontal).

REMAINS OF A STRUCTURE NORTH OF NORTH RANGE: A low mound and some exposed bouldery footings indicate the former presence of a structure of some sort, c.8.5m long and c.2.75m, adjacent to the north wall of the north range, its east end corresponding with the eastern angle quoins of the medieval(?) structure incorporated in the range. It is conceivable that it could be part of the medieval house. These remains are proposed to be buried beneath an earth terrace.

INTERPRETATION: The traditional interpretation of the medieval block in the west range as a 'little tower or pele' is almost certainly wrong. There is no sign that the block was ever carried up above two storeys; the very marked thinning of the walls at first floor level suggests that it was never any taller. It seems much more likely that the block represents the cross wing at the west end of a hall block, evidence by the positioning of the ground and first floor windows at the north end of the east wall (so as to see round an adjacent structure) and by the apparent survival of medieval fabric in the north range itself.

The architectural features of the block suggest that it pre-dates the majority of Northumberland towers (mostly late 14th century onwards); the two shouldered arches might be expected in a 14th century context, but the two-light window with its primitive tracery seems more likely to be c.1250-60, unless it is a piece of later medieval vernacular harking back to earlier traditions.

The relative status of the wing - hinted at by the window and window seats - suggest that it housed the solar of the medieval house; the length of the medieval north range would imply that it contained both a hall block and a service bay beyond that. The timber lintelled doorway in the north wall, although post-medieval in its present form, might perpetuate the position of a cross passage either within the service bay or at the low end of the hall.

It would appear that the hall block was remodelled, probably as an agricultural building, in the 17th or 18th century. The cruck trusses which provided the timbers reused in the present 19th century roof are typical of the late 17th and early 18th centuries and may have come from its predecessor. The medieval cross wing also suffered post-medieval alterations prior to the 19th century. The present low pitched roof structure looks of 18th century date. It may have remained in use as a dwelling until the present farmhouse was built, and then been relegated to an agricultural function (Ryder 1994-5). (Northumberland HER)

Gatehouse Comments

Appears to have been an unfortified manor house possibly dating from the relatively peaceful, in Northumberland, 13th century. Not recorded in the C15/C16 lists of Northumberland fortifications. Has been remodelled at several points in its long history. By the end of the C16 the then ancient building was let as a farmhouse and the vaulted basement of the hall block was probably used as a byre and the building had basically become a bastle in form and function, although it may have been too wide to support a heavy fireproof roof of thick stone slates or turf.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

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 ReferenceNY953586
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  • Hodgson, John Crawford (ed), 1902, Northumberland County History (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Vol. 6 p. 368-9 online copy


  • Hadcock, R.N., 1939, 'A map of mediaeval Northumberland and Durham' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser4) Vol. 16 p. 148-218 esp 184


  • Ryder, P.F., 1994-5, Towers and Bastles in Northumberland Part 4 Tynedale District Vol. 2. p. 135-8