Great Tosson Tower

Has been described as a Certain Pele Tower

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameGreat Tosson Tower
Alternative NamesGreat Tasson
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishTosson

The ruins of Great Tosson Tower stand on rising ground, on the south side of the village. The site commands an extensive view northwards across the Coquet valley; a short distance to the north east is the head of a gully, containing a spring which now only flows in wet weather. The Ogles obtained land in Tosson in the 1330s, but only gained possession of the whole township in 1386; in 1517 William Ogle gave Tosson tower to Lord Ogle in exchange for Cocklaw Tower, and in 1522 Lord Ogle leased it to a local landowner, William Gallon, who still held it in 1546 (Ogle 1902, 362). In Bowes and Ellerker's Border survey in 1541 it is described as 'a tower of lorde Ogles inherytance & not in good reparacions' (cf. Hodgson 1828, 214; Bates 1891, 45; Selected Sources and Surveys no. 3). The court leet of Hepple Barony was reputedly held in the tower after the destruction of Hepple Tower (NCH XV (1940), 380-1; Bulmer 1887, 795).


Tosson Tower measures c. 12.2 by 10m externally (the longer axis east-west), although the almost complete lack of facing stones at ground level makes this hard to measure; the walls are c. 1.9m thick. The entrance was near the east end of the south wall; the one surviving course at the foot of this wall steps out just west of this, showing that there was a projecting turret at the south-east corner (cf. nearby Hepple Tower). All that now survives of the entrance is some of the facing of its internal west jamb and the turn of its rear arch. The turret appears to have projected from the east wall as well, although here the evidence is more tenuous; it is not clear whether fragmentary footings exposed here are of the turret, but the in situ wall core above projects too far forward to have carried facing stones on the same line as the extant facing of the upper parts of the same wall further north.

This corner projection presumably contained both the entrance and a newel stair

Bates (1891, 392) refers to the traces of a stair at the north-east corner, but this must be an error. A couple of roughly-faced stones in this position may represent part of the curving side of the stair well.

The tower basement was barrel-vaulted; this vault survived when Hodgson wrote c. 1830, but now only its ragged haunch, stripped of its facing, survives; an 1884 photograph reproduced by Bates shows the ruin very much in its present condition. The basement was lit by loops in both end walls; the splayed recess of the western retains parts of its jambs and head, but the eastern is simply a shapeless ragged hole in the rubble wall core. Towards the east end of the north wall is a low opening that has been walled up; it would appear to have been a secondary doorway, perhaps enlarged from an original loop (one large slab forming its internal lintel suggests this).

At first floor level much of the facing of the north wall survives, and a large patch on the east. The facing is of well-squared sandstone blocks, laid in courses which vary in height.  Internally the lower course of the ashlar wall facing largely survives on the north, south and west - presumably because it was buried in debris at the time when dressed stone was being removed, when the survival of the vault meant this level was still accessible. The surviving features at this level - in what was presumably the hall - are the splayed recess of a fireplace more or less central in the north wall, traces of a window set south of centre in the west wall (identifiable only through the survival of two dressed blocks of the inner splay), and a dog-legged garderobe passage at the north east angle. This is roofed by flat slabs, laid radially to the outer angle of the passage. The garderobe itself has gone; the broken stubs of the two corbels which carried its projection survive.

A little of the rubble core of the north wall stands to above the original; second floor level, and has two rough recesses which presumably represent sockets for its beams.

Dixon (1903, 329-30) suggests that the tower possessed a 'barmkin', but there are no clear signs of associated buildings or an enclosure, although there has been considerable disturbance; a group of late 18th or early 18th century farm buildings stands close to the tower on the west. To the east is a terrace on the valley side with faint ridge-and-furrow; the lower (northern) edge of this is formed by a small scarp that might be partially artificial. There are the faintest traces of what might possibly be an encircling bank close to the tower.


Tosson Tower follows a fairly conventional plan, similar to that of Hepple, Whitton, Overgrass and Craster and, on a slightly grander scale, Chipchase. Both the plan and the well-squared stonework are suggestive of a late 14th or 15th century date; the latter is probably more likely given its absence from the 1415 list.

The vaulted basement would have served for storage; there may have been a loft within it (as at East Kyloe). Access to the upper floors was by means of a newel stair opening from the entrance lobby. At the first-floor level was the hall, heated by a fireplace on the north, which may have served for cooking as well; the hall was provided with a garderobe at its north-east corner. The stair would have continued to the second floor which would have housed the solar (the owner's private quarters); there may have been an attic above this and there was almost certainly an embattled parapet; as at Cocklaw, the stair projection may have been carried up as a turret.

One question that remains unanswered is whether the tower was a solitary tower house, or part of a larger establishment. None of this type cited seem to have had any physical link to adjacent structures (e.g. a hall block), but some, notably Chipchase, almost certainly stood alongside other buildings (which may in fact have provided the principal accommodation on the site), the main function of the tower being to provide a refuge in case of attack. So whilst it is possible, or even probable, that Tosson was a self-contained tower house, this classification cannot be regarded as certain.s at Hepple there appears to have been some post-medieval re-use of the derelict tower as a farm building; the inserted doorway on the north of the basement, and some socket holes in the external face of the north wall for roof timbers, indicate some post-medieval structure in this position. (Peter Ryder in Northumberland National Park website)

Great Tosson tower house survives reasonably well despite the evident stone robbing. It exhibits no evidence for a surrounding barmkin (outer enclosure).

The monument includes the remains of the medieval tower house of Tosson situated in a grassy enclosure on the south side of Great Tosson hamlet. It commands extensive views to the north across the Coquet valley. The tower is rectangular in shape and measures 8.5m east-west by 6.5m north-south within stone walls 2m thick and survives to first floor level, a height of 7m. Few of the facing stones have survived, with the exception of an area at first floor level on the north elevation, which shows them to be large square blocks laid in a regular fashion. The basement is entered through the remains of an original entrance at the south-eastern corner of the tower and is lit by two narrow windows in the east and west walls. A fireplace survives on the north wall. The basement vaulted roof does not survive but traces of it can be detected around the walls. At first floor level there are the remains of an internal passage and a well preserved garderobe in the north-eastern corner, as well as a window opening in the west wall and a fireplace recess in the north wall. The tower house is also a Grade 2star listed building. There is no visible evidence of attached buildings and therefore it is identified as a free-standing building. Tosson tower is first mentioned in a document of 1517 in which it was given by William Ogle to Lord Ogle in exchange for Cocklaw Tower but it is not mentioned in a survey of 1415; it therefore would appear that the tower was constructed in the late 15th century. (Scheduling Report)

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 ReferenceNU029005
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Copyright J Somerville All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Copyright J Somerville All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image

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  • Geldard, Ed, 2009, Northumberland Strongholds (London: Frances Lincoln) p. 27
  • Ryder, Peter, 2004, 'Towers and bastles in Northumberland National Park' in Frodsham, P., Archaeology in the Northumberland National Park (CBA Research report 136) p. 262-271
  • Dodds, John F., 1999, Bastions and Belligerents (Newcastle upon Tyne: Keepdate Publishing) p. 192-3
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 58
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 195-6
  • Rowland, T.H., 1987 (reprint1994), Medieval Castles, Towers, Peles and Bastles of Northumberland (Sandhill Press) p. 11, 60-62
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 342
  • Graham, Frank, 1976, The Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham) p. 178
  • Long, B., 1967, Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) p. 110-111
  • Dodds, Madeleine Hope (ed), 1940, Northumberland County History (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Vol. 15 p. 395-6
  • Hugill, R.,1939, Borderland Castles and Peles (1970 Reprint by Frank Graham) p. 111-2
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Dixon, D.D., 1903, Upper Coquetdale Northumberland: Its History, Traditions, Folk-lore and Scenery (Newcastle-upon Tyne: Robert Redpath) p. 329-330 online copy
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 423 online copy
  • Bates, C.J., 1891, Border Holds of Northumberland (London and Newcastle: Andrew Reid) p. 45, 392 (Also published as the whole of volume 14 (series 2) of Archaeologia Aeliana view online)


  • Hadcock, R.N., 1939, 'A map of mediaeval Northumberland and Durham' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser4) Vol. 16 p. 148-218 esp 182
  • Hodgson, J.C., 1916, 'List of Ruined Towers, Chapels, etc., in Northumberland; compiled about 1715 by John Warburton, Somerset Herald, aided by John Horsley' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser3) Vol. 13 p. 13 abridged transcription
  • Bates, C.J., 1891, 'Border Holds of Northumberland' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser2) Vol. 14 p. 45, 392 online copy

Primary Sources


  • The Archaeological Practice Ltd., 2004, 'Great Tosson Northumberland an archaeological and historical study of a border township' Northumberland National Park Historic Village Atlas (The Northumberland National Park Authority) online copy