Bellister Castle

Has been described as a Possible Timber Castle (Motte), and also as a Possible Fortified Manor House, and also as a Certain Pele Tower, and also as a Possible Bastle

There are major building remains

NameBellister Castle
Alternative NamesBellester; Bellecester
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishFeatherstone

The ruin of a square tower or 'bastelhouse', mentioned in 1471, and a survey of 1541, attached to the NW end of a house with a date-stone 1669. It was defended by a moat which is traceable on all but the south east side (Pevsner 1957; Hodgson 1828; Tomlinson 1902).

The tower is a roofless shell, and in poor condition. It adjoins a 19th century 'pseudo' castellated house incorporating a revised 17th century datestone all of which stand on an artificial mound. Remains of the moat are slight, and apparent on the south and west sides only (F1 RWE 07-JUL-1966)

Bellister Castle stands on a prominent mound rising from the floodplain of the South Tyne, 1km south west of Haltwhistle.

The early history of the castle has not been thoroughly researched. The mound or motte on which it stands - apparently partly natural and partly artificial - suggests an origin in the late 11th or 12th century, whilst the present ruined building is a first floor hall house of late 13th or early 14th century type enlarged by the addition of a three storeyed solar tower at its north west end.

By the 16th century Bellister Castle had passed into the hands of the Blenkinsopp family; in the 1541 survey it is described as a bastle house. It continued to be occupied throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, as evidence by a stone inscribed 'EJB 1667' (Elizabeth and John Blenkinsopp) and the moulded ogee arched doorway of the present house; the walls of the north western part of the present house may be of this date. An early 19th century sketch by the Rev John Hodgson shows the ruins as much more extensive than at present; the same writer's History of Northumberland speaks of a 'grey and goodley pile of ruined towers, with modern inhabited additions'.

The inhabited part of the castle, then owned by John Kirsop, was damaged by fire in 1827, after which the south eastern part of the building was rebuilt by John Dobson

There were further alterations later in the 19th century, and then, after a second fire in 1901, the entrance block was heightened from two to three storeys, and the semi-octagonal stair tower built in the angle between the entrance block and Dobson's south east wing.

The remains of the castle never appear to have been examined or recorded in detail. The earlier part of the building appears to have been an elongate hall block aligned north east to south west (hereafter north-south) along the top of the mound. The block has been 14m wide and perhaps around 26m long (if it extended the full length of the present house), although little more than its north end survives today. The added tower, c.8m wide and 7m long, is built onto the west part of the north end of the earlier building.

Both hall block and tower have large clasping buttresses at the angles. Few features survive; there has been a large first floor window at the north end of the east wall of the hall block, the segmental rear arch of which survives, and a large first floor fireplace towards the centre of the north wall of the block. The solar tower has had three floors; external masonry changes suggest that the second floor may be an addition or reconstruction; there is a garderobe chute on the west side of the tower, a small first floor window on the north, and a large second floor window, with an elaborate roll moulded surround, on the north.

Some surviving architectural detailing, such as the moulded surround of a second floor window in the tower, and other moulded pieces lying loose within the ruin, suggest that this was a building of considerable status. Some of the mouldings look to be of 16th or 17th century date, and of the same rather Scottish character seen again at Featherstone (NY 66 SE 7) and, in some reset fragments at Blenkinsopp (NY 66 SE 1).

Although some 17th century walling may be incorporated, the majority of the present house is post-1827. The south east front, with its central porch tower flanked by oriel windows with attractive carved detail, is one of John Dobson's earliest essays in his 'castellated Gothic' style which climaxed ten years later at Beaufront Castle (NY 96 NE 19) north east of Hexham.

The castle is of importance both intrinsically as a partial survival of an early first floor hall house (and, in its 19th century parts, as a significant early work of a well known Victorian architect) and, standing on its earlier motte, as a prominent and attractive feature in the Tynedale landscape. The ruined sections merit a detailed survey and analysis, and the scattered architectural fragments a proper examination and recording (Ryder 1994-5). (Northumberland HER)

Ruined tower house and adjoining occupied house. Ruined section possibly a C13 hall-house with C14 (possibly solar) tower on west; altered c.1600. Occupied house dated 1669 but possibly incorporating medieval fabric in lower courses; major alterations c.1826 by John Dobson and c.1890; partly rebuilt c.1901-5 following an extensive fire. Tower coursed rubble with dressings; roofless. House squared and snecked sandstone, roofs not visible. L-plan medieval range with U-plan occupied house on east end. Castellated style house.

Ruined section of 2 builds retains few architectural details. Original north and west walls are 2 and 3 storeys high, south wall has partly collapsed and east wall is largely destroyed. Projecting north-west corner with alternating quoins; fragment of spiral stair near south-west corner. Narrower added tower on west has similar projecting corners; fragmentary window openings on north; window in surround with double-roll moulding set high on west; fragment of garderobe on partly-collapsed south wall.

Occupied house has mainly C19 2- and 3-light mullioned windows and embattled parapets. North front has recessed centre and projecting wings: 3-storey, 3-bay centre has possibly re-set moulded ogee-headed doorway and 1669 datestone; slightly-projecting c.1890 tower on west, adjoining ruined section, with projecting single-storey wing on front; far-projecting early C19 2-storey east wing with flanking corner turrets, cross windows and a later 3-storey semi- octagonal tower on north-west corner. 2-storey, 3-bay east return has projecting tower with pointed doorway, flanking elaborate oriel windows and projecting corners. South front of 2 builds: recessed 3-storey, 3-bay centre; c.1890 tower at west with taller turret; wider 2-storey tower at east with projecting corners and turrets. Interior refitted in early C20. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

A survey of 1541 writes “At Bellester is a bastell house in thoccupanc'n of one Blenkinsoppe & is in measurable good rep'ac'ons.” Here the term 'bastell house' appears to have attached to a tower house, which does demonstrate, as expressed by Philip Dixon, that originally Bastle house was a term used for high quality buildings. The castle certainly stands on a mound, which does appear to have been ditched about, the resemblance to a motte may be co-incidental although the earliest C13 phases of the masonry buildings are supportive of this being an earlier site but the early tenurial history seems obscure, although Hodgson (1840) suggests it may have been held by the Roos family.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 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 ReferenceNY700629
Latitude54.9604187011719
Longitude-2.46903991699219
Eastings370060
Northings562970
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Copyright Dave Barlow All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow 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

Books

  • Geldard, Ed, 2009, Northumberland Strongholds (London: Frances Lincoln) p. 94
  • Dodds, John F., 1999, Bastions and Belligerents (Newcastle upon Tyne: Keepdate Publishing) p. 381
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 23
  • Emery, Anthony, 1996, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 1 Northern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 48
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 175
  • Jackson, M.J.,1992, Castles of Northumbria (Carlisle) p. 25
  • Pevsner, N., 1992 (revised by Grundy, John et al), Buildings of England: Northumberland (London, Penguin) p. 166
  • Rowland, T.H., 1987 (reprint1994), Medieval Castles, Towers, Peles and Bastles of Northumberland (Sandhill Press) p. 11, 48
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 327
  • Graham, Frank, 1976, The Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham) p. 57-8
  • Long, B., 1967, Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) p. 61
  • Pevsner, N., 1957, Buildings of England: Northumberland (London) p. 85
  • Hugill, R.,1939, Borderland Castles and Peles (1970 Reprint by Frank Graham) p. 41-2
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 368 online copy
  • Tomlinson, W.W., 1897, Comprehensive Guide to Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) p. 170
  • Bates, C.J., 1891, Border Holds of Northumberland (London and Newcastle: Andrew Reid) p. 48 (Also published as the whole of volume 14 (series 2) of Archaeologia Aeliana view online)
  • Hodgson, J., 1840, History of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Part 2 Vol. 3 p. 344- online copy
  • Hodgson, J., 1828, History of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Part 3 Vol. 2 p. 217 online copy
  • Hodgson, J. and Laird, F., 1813, Beauties of England and Wales; Northumberland Vol. 12 p. 113
  • Hutchinson, Wm, 1776, A View of Northumberland (Newcastle) Vol. 1 p. 11-12 online transcription

Antiquarian

Journals

  • Ryder, P.F., 1999-2000, 'Bellister Castle 1999' Archaeology in Northumberland Vol. 10 p. 29
  • 7-1-1990, Northumberland Gazette
  • 21-1-76, Newcastle Journal p. 3
  • 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. 8 abridged transcription
  • Bates, C.J., 1891, 'Border Holds of Northumberland' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser2) Vol. 14 p. 48 online copy
  • 1890, The Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend p. 545-6 online copy

Primary Sources

Other

  • Constable, Christopher, 2003, Aspects of the archaeology of the castle in the north of England C 1066-1216 (Doctoral thesis, Durham University) Available at Durham E-Theses Online
  • Ryder, P.F., 1994-5, Towers and Bastles in Northumberland Part 4 Tynedale District Vol. 1 p. 65-6