Hepburn Bastle, Chillingham

Has been described as a Certain Bastle, and also as a Certain Tower House

There are major building remains

NameHepburn Bastle, Chillingham
Alternative NamesHebburn; Hebburne; Hebborn; Heburn; The Bastile
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishChillingham

Hepburn, or Hebbum Bastle, stands just within the southern boundary of Chillingham Park, on the western slope of Hepburn Moor, commanding an extensive prospect westwards across the valley of the Till and the Cheviots beyond. The Northumberland County History XIV (1935), 347, comments that the building 'has no documentary history1, beyond references to a 'hold' here in 1514, a tower in 1541, and a 'mansion house' in 1564. The building is thought to have been abandoned after the death ofthe last male heir, Robert Hebbum, in 1755; his daughter married the Rev. Edward Brudenell, who demolished part of the building and built a shooting box (now itself demolished) using the stone.

The bastle is a rectangular structure c 16.6 by 10.8 m externally, of two storeys and attics; at basement level the walls are c 2.7 m thick, except for the east wall (which includes a mural chamber) which is 3.5 m thick. It is built of tooled sandstone ashlar: there is a chamfered plinth, and a chamfered set-back a little below eaves level, and twin gables to the east and west ends.

The entrance is through a doorway set towards the east end of the south wall; it is a square-headed opening, clearly altered, with re-used blocks (including one moulded one) in its jambs and a keyed supra-lintel suggesting an 18th-century date. East of the doorway a full-height rent in the wall results from the collapse of the outer side of the well of the newel stair. There is a square-headed first-floor window near the centre of the wall; west o fthis can be seen the roof weathering of an attached north-south range, almost certainly a later addition.

The east end of the building has a central slit window at basement level, Much, together with a large patch of rubbly masonry immediately south of it, looks to be of relatively recent date. Further north is a small square­ headed loop with remains of sockets for an iron grille

At first-floorlevel are two windows, each of two-lights, with a transom; the southern has trefoiled heads to its lights. The twin gables above the set-back are partly covered by ivy, but the northern has a square-headed window, its lintel formed by a re-set transom.

The north wall of the building is very plain; there is a single two-light square-headed window (again transomed) at first-floor level, near the west end; it has a hoodmould with tumed-back ends. There are two openings for gardreobe chutes, the eastern immediately above the plinth and the western below.

The west end of the building has a single chamfered loop, set centrally, to the basement, and a pair of square-headed windows to the first-floor; both have originally been of two lights, the northern retaining its mullion, but they do not have transoms. The northern gable has a small chamfered window, and the southern a rather larger window, with chamfered jambs but a plain lintel.

The entrance doorway leads into a lobby with a segmental-arched stone pseudo-vault; on the right is a segmental arched doorway (with a continuous hollow chamfer to head and jambs) opening into the newel stair, although its north jamb is partly obstructed by the facing of the remodelled stair well. The west wall of the lobby splays at a slightly different angle to the edge of the pseudo-vault above, and seems to correlate with an adjacent area of rebuilt masonry in the south wall of the basement The rather rough join between the basement vault and the pseudo-vault of the lobby, coupled with this rebuilt masonry on the west and a roughly-cut section of wall on the east seems to imply that an inner doorway, from lobby to basement, has been removed.

The lobby opens straight into the side wall of the barrel-vaulted basement, lit by loops in the end walls; the western has a four-centred rear arch. Below the sill of the western loop is an area of later rubble masonry, but neither this nor two rubble-blocked openings towards the east end of the north wall are visible externally. At the extreme east end of the north wall is an opening with a later timber lintel, from which a shaft rises to link with a fireplace recess at first floor level (which incidentally forms the safest means of access to the first floor). The south wall shows an area of rebuilt masonry adjacent to the opening into the lobby; the entire west wall of the lobby. The east end wall has a large area of patching set between a doorway with a four-centred arch, at the north end of the wall, and the square-headed rear arch of the eastern loop.

The four-centred doorway opens into a mural chamber, roofed by a north-south vault of roughly two-centred section. The north end wall of the chamber curves forward at mid-height, so as to make space for the splay of the loop beyond. In the east wall of the chamber is a large area of rebuilt masonry, including a window, with a roughly shouldered rear arch, cut at an oblique angle through the wall. The south end of the chamber has a ragged opening at roof level, into the collapsed stair well.

The floor of the southern half of the chamber is raised a little above the northern, and contains a square trapdoor dropping 2.5 m into a small rectangular chamber, perhaps a prison or oubliette.

The stair well is an especially puzzling feature. Only the broken ends of stairs remain attached to the circumference, and it is difficult to relate these to a stair which would give access to the first floor! On the north is a blocked opening, possibly formed by the enlargement of the well truncating the south end of the mural chamber. West of this the walling of the well is of good squared stone, but obviously secondary from the manner in which it obstructs the north jamb of the lower doorway; the short section of the walling of the original well seems to be set on a curve of a lesser radius, as if it were considerably smaller. East of the blocked opening the walling of the well, to its full height, is of small angular rubble set in cement. The curve of the face of the final form of the well, if projected, would extend beyond the external face of the

south wall, implying that it must have been partly housed in some form of projection. The lower courses of the original south wall survive, implying that this projection must have been corbelled out a little above ground level, although there are some rough footings in front of the wall which may also relate to it. An additional complication - if one were needed - is raised by the fact that these footings look rather like the base of an external stair, suggesting that at one stage the building was entered by a doorway part way up the stair well.

The first floor of the building appears to have been divided by two transverse walls, although these have left only traces - chamfered doorjambs attached to the south wall, and fragmentary toothings on the north. The eastern chamber, entered directly from the stair well, was lit by the two two-light windows in the eats wall, which have three-centred rear arches (the southern with conventional voussoirs, the northern cut from four blocks); it was heated by a fireplace on the north, which has now lost its arch (a drawing in the NCH shows it as having a segmental head). The central room was lit by the window in the south wall, and heated by a fireplace opposite on the north, which again has lost its lintel. The westernmost room was provided with two windows on the west and one on the north; in addition there is a square-headed fireplace between the western windows, and a mural recess, probably a garderobe, to the east of the northern window.

Ivy growing on the mined gables partially obscures the remaining features at attic level. At the east end, one hollow-chamfered jamb survives of a central feature, probably a fireplace, walled up during some later phase. Also blocked up is the recess of a window to the south of the fireplace, which has a window seat in its surviving northern jamb. At the west end, both gable windows are set in square-headed recesses; the north side of the northern is formed by a block of masonry partly concealing what appears to be a chamfered door jamb at the west end of the north wall. Between the gables are the remains of a second-floor fireplace, its rear wall cut through by an opening which would appear to have held a spout draining the valley gutter between the two roofs.


Whilst the building is often said to be of late 14th century date (the NCH account suggests this on the basis of the 'pointed' or 'dabbed' tooling of the ashlar work), there are no features conclusively pre-date the first recorded mention in 1509, and it is perhaps safer to regard it as a building of c.1500. Several accounts point out that most of the windows appear to be insertions, on the basis that their jambs do not course in with the adjacent masonry; this again is an arguable point.

There are a number of more convincing evidences of later alterations, in particular the remodelling of the stair; most of the features at attic level, including the twin gables, may also be the product of late 16th or 17th century works; this is clearly demonstrated by the cutting down of the section of the west wall with the second-floor fireplace. There were similar paired gables, again the product ofpost-medieval remodelling, at both Cartington Castle and Whittingham Tower.

The most likely interpretation of the building, bearing in mind the alterations at attic level, the massive wall thicknesses at basement level, and the chamfered set­ back (which now looks very incongruous, running as it does just below eaves level on the side walls) is that the original form of the building was a tower-house of three or more storeys. Its classification as a strong house or 'bastle' (of a supra-vemacular variety!) is thus incorrect. (Ryder 1994-5)

Despite alterations in the late 16th or 17th century, the medieval tower house in Chillingham Park is well preserved and retains many original features and significant archaeological deposits. It will make an important contribution to the study of settlement at this time.

The monument includes the ruins of a medieval tower house of early 16th century date situated within the grounds of Chillingham Park. It was modified in the later 16th or 17th century and buildings were attached to it. It is commonly known as Hepburn Bastle. The tower, which is Listed Grade II*, stands two storeys high plus twin gable ends to the east and west. It is rectangular in plan and measures about 16.6m by 10.8m externally with walls of tooled sandstone ashlar. Externally, there is a chamfered plinth and a chamfered set-back a little below eaves level. At basement level, the walls are about 2.7m thick, except for the east wall which incorporates a mural stair and is 3.5m thick. The entrance lies in the south wall and is a square- headed doorway, altered at some time and incorporating reused blocks in its jambs. East of the doorway the wall has partially crumbled following the collapse of the well of the newel stair. Additionally, there appear to be rough footings projecting about 1.2m in front of the wall, and which suggest an external stair. The south wall has one window at first floor level and a scar left by the roofline of a former building, the footings of which are partially visible close to the main building but obscured elsewhere by deep tussocky grass. The east wall has a slit window and small loop with the remains of sockets for an iron grille at basement level and an area of patched masonry; two windows lie at first floor level and in the gable ends are two smaller openings. The north wall has a window at first floor level as well as two openings for garderobe chutes. The west wall has a single chamfered loop to the basement and a pair of windows to the first floor; the gables also have two openings. Internally, the ground floor comprises a barrel vaulted basement with a later fireplace in the north wall. At the east end, a doorway leads to a mural chamber with a trap door in the floor which drops 2.5m into a small rectangular chamber. The mural stair in the south east corner would have given access to the first floor, although it appears to have been modified as the stairwell contains evidence of blocked openings and different size building stone used in its construction. It has been suggested that the original stairwell must have projected beyond the face of the south wall and may have been corbelled out. Additionally, there appear to be rough footings in front of the wall which may suggest an external stair. The first floor was divided into three rooms, each with a fireplace. The second floor, or attic level, is partially obscured by ivy but fireplaces, windows and a window seat are traceable. The twin gables at this level are thought to be late 16th or 17th century in date. The earliest documentary reference to the building is in 1509, when it was described as a 'hold' and in 1542 it was referred to as a tower. By 1564, it was called a mansion house and was of a larger extent than remains today. The house appears to have been abandoned after the death of the last male heir, Robert Hebburn, in 1755. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Hodgson (1923) is insistent the correct spelling is Hebburn, based on historical precepts, but the modern Hepburn spelling seems the more common usage. This is a substantial house of quality and gentry social status and is what Philip Dixon argues was the most common type of building meant by the original use of the term 'bastle' rather than the simple chamber over byre 'pele-house' now (since the publication of Ramm et al, _Shielings and Bastles_ in 1970) usually called a bastle. Because of this terminological confusion Ryder, and sources using his authoritative description (such as the Listed Building Report), insist this is not a bastle but call it a 'tower house' which is a 'catch all' term used by Ryder for numerous forms of buildings of various forms, dates and social status of three or more storeys. Even within the current use of the term 'bastle' it should be noted this is a building with a single vaulted floor level chamber and a single first floor chamber (although one probably subdivide by wooden partitions) with chambers in the eaves level (not uncommon in 'pele-houses'). Within the Gatehouse database terminological usage this is a bastle with the term 'tower house' being used for baronial status buildings. The small subterranean chamber suggested as an oubliette by Ryder is most likely a strong room or 'floor safe.'

- 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 ReferenceNU070248
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Copyright Bill Carnaby All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved

Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.

Calculate Print


  • Grint, Julia, 2008, Bastles an introduction to the bastle houses of Northumberland (Hexham: Ergo Press) p. 131-5
  • Durham, Keith, 2008, Strongholds of the Border Reivers (Oxford: Osprey Fortress series 70) p. 34-5
  • Dodds, John F., 1999, Bastions and Belligerents (Newcastle upon Tyne: Keepdate Publishing) p. 104-5
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 65
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 187
  • Graham, Frank, 1993, Northumberian Castles Aln, Tweed and Till (Butler Publishing) p. 29-31
  • Pevsner, N., 1992 (revised by Grundy, John et al), Buildings of England: Northumberland (London, Penguin) p. 230
  • Rowland, T.H., 1987 (reprint1994), Medieval Castles, Towers, Peles and Bastles of Northumberland (Sandhill Press) p. 28-9
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 358
  • Graham, Frank, 1976, The Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham) p. 196-7
  • Long, B., 1967, Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) p. 117
  • Hugill, R.,1939, Borderland Castles and Peles (1970 Reprint by Frank Graham) p. 121-2
  • Dodds, Madeleine Hope (ed), 1935, Northumberland County History (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Vol. 14 p. 347-50
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 393 online copy
  • Bates, C.J., 1891, Border Holds of Northumberland (London and Newcastle: Andrew Reid) p. 23, 42, 302-4 (Also published as the whole of volume 14 (series 2) of Archaeologia Aeliana view online)
  • Hodgson, J., 1828, History of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Part 3 Vol. 2 p. 209 online copy


  • Mark Gillings and Glyn Goodrick, 'Sensuous and Reflexive GIS Exploring Visualisation and VRML' Internet Archaeology Vol. 1 online copy
  • Hodgson, J.C., 1923-5, 'Notes on Hebburn Bastle' History of the Berwickshire Naturalist Club Vol. 25 p. 41-2 online copy
  • 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. 6 abridged transcription
  • Bates, C.J., 1891, 'Border Holds of Northumberland' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser2) Vol. 14 p. 23, 42, 302-4 online copy
  • Bates, C.J., 1887-8, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (ser2) Vol. 3 p. 337-8

Primary Sources


  • Ryder, P.F., 1994-5, Towers and Bastles in Northumberland Part 2 Berwick District p. 8-10