Staward Peel

Has been described as a Questionable Masonry Castle, and also as a Questionable Tower House, and also as a Questionable Bastle

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameStaward Peel
Alternative NamesStaward Pele; Staward-le-Pele; Staward le' Peel; Staward Castle; Stawarth; Staworth; Staword
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishHaydon

Tower house, possibly C14. Large squared stone. Remains of three walls of a rectangular structure c. 20 metres by 10 metres. External wall faces have stepped plinth and stand to 5 metres high. No openings survive. Spectacular wooded promontory site high above the confluence of the Allen and the Harsondale Burn. (Listed Building Report 1370424)

Gatehouse to Staward Pele, 65 metres south-east of Pele

Supposed gatehouse, late medieval. Coursed rubble with large squared quoins which are mostly re-used Roman material. Only the northern corner survives, on the right of the path to the Pele just beyond the narrowest section of the ridge, standing to a height of c. 5 metres.

A Roman altar re-used as a quoin has now been removed to Staward Manor (Listed Building Report 1045007)

The site of the pele is an almost impregnable promontory. Probably built in the 14thc. (Hagill 1939), it was approached by a gatehouse (part of which is all that survives) at the narrowest part of the ridge, and was defended on the NW side by a prominent ditch. It is not clear whether a second ditch, cut across the 'neck' a hundred yards short of the gatehouse, is part of the same defensive scheme, or the sole remaining feature of a small promontory fort into which the pele was inserted. Remains of a wall at the west end of the promontory appear to be of a later date.

Incorporated in the masonry of the gatehouse are numerous Ro. stones, which formerly included an inscribed altar (now at NY 8121 6027 NY 86 SW 2). The inference that a shrine existed prior to the pele is supported in some measure by a document of AD 1271, in which the place-name is written "Staworthe", which may be interpreted as "Stone enclosure" (Birley, 1950; Hagill 1939).

There is no trace of a tower. Remains of the gatehouse, at NY 8002 6076, consist of a fragment of rubble-core walling approximately 5m. high

The wall, at NY 7996 6080, is obviously later, but it cannot be dated by visual inspection, and insufficient survives to say whether it represents the remains of a building, or a curtain wall. Neither ditch has any I.A. affinity, and both appear to be part of the medieval defences. No ground evidence for a shrine exists beyond the reused material (F1 RWEmsley/05-JUL-1966/OS Archaeology Division Field Investigation).

NY 800 607 A fragment of walling 100 yds.S. of the peel is probably a bastle. It stands 10 feet high, 6 feet long, and has walls 4.5 feet thick with dressed quoins and random rubble walling. This contrasts with the well-squared and coursed masonry of the pele, which argues against this being an outwork of the pele. (Type-site NY 88 SE 14) (Ramm et al 1970).

Staward Peel is spectacularly sited on a high, narrow promontory thrusting out from the east side of the Allen valley. The Peel is unapproachable from the north and can only be reached with considerable difficulty from the south. The approach along the nose of the promontory from the west is easier but only from the east could the peel be approached by wheeled vehicles. The promontory is now heavily wooded but would be a prominent landmark if it were free of vegetation.

The approach from the east is barred by a substantial ditch at NY 8013 6071, up to 2m deep, crossed by a narrow causeway. The ditch extends to the top of vertical cliffs on either side and is backed by a bank which, though it appears to be a relatively slight feature, is built or revetted with stone. Beyond the ditch are some further slight earthworks and the promontory reaches its narrowest point at NY 8005 6075, the top being only 2.5m wide. This neck extends for about 40m and at its western end is a rise. At the top of this rise, at NY 8001 6076, is a stone structure, the north part of which is now surviving as a fragment 5m high but only 3m long, composed largely of re-used stone, some certainly of Roman workmanship. A Roman altar incorporated near the top fell in 1947-8 and was subsequently removed to Low Staward Manor. This structure, which is relatively crudely built, was free-standing and not part of a building (Authorities (2), (5) and (6) are misleading on this point); it was possibly an ornamental gateway. Its date of construction is unknown but it may be later than the Peel (despite Authority (5)).

To the west of this structure is a flat space and beyond this, at NY7995 6079, lies the Peel itself. Three walls, or parts thereof, remain standing to a maximum height of 3.5m. The tower is built of surprisingly fine squared masonry and measures 25.3m by at least 16.5m externally and was therefore large by comparison with other peels. The tower shows every sign of having been deliberately dismantled; the walls have been taken down to an almost uniform level except on the east, more accessible, side which has been completely robbed, and there is no tumbled stone on the site. This demolition had taken place before 1856 (OS map 1856). Beyond the tower the slope has been strengthened by a large ditch, up to 3.4m deep, at NY 7995 6082. A detailed description and discussion, with further references, accompanies the 1:500 plan of 1992. (Mark Bowden/14-FEB-1992/RCHME: Staward Peel Survey).

A pele consisting of a timber blockhouse and palisade was built on the site in 1316 by Antony de Lucy of Langley.. Lucy stationed 15 men-at-arms and 15 hobilars here. In 1326 Edward II annexed the western fringe of Lucy's liberty, including Staward. Noting the defensible nature of the site, he asked for tenders to demolish the pele and build a larger defendable complex. Thomas de Featherstonehaugh, keeper of Tynedale offered to build the fortification for only £100, and in only four months, provided he could have all the timber free. In a letter to the king, which recognised that he had neither the funds nor the time to complete the job, Thomas indicates that he is building a full scale castle. Edward's answer does not survive, but Thomas was granted the extra funds and time to complete the work. The site passed to Queen Phillippa and then to Edmund, Duke of York. He rented it to Hexham Priory in 1385 until the Dissoution. The site was then recovered by the Crown until 1603, when it passed to the earl of Dunbar.

Dodds argues that Featherstone's construction was a full-scale castle because:

a) the letter to Edward II indicates that it was a substantial project;

b) towers were built for knights and squires, monarchs demanded castles;

c) a plan of 1759 exists showing the ruins at that time. These indicate a gatehouse, curtain wall and a keep-like feature (Dodds 1999). (PastScape)

Across the river, the parish of Warden lay within the Barony of Langley, one of the lesser baronies of Northumberland which was enfeoffed to the Tindale family by Henry I (Hodgson 1839, 371). By 1305 the barony had passed to the de Lucys who are believed to have built Staward Pele in 1316, although it may have been a little earlier. As early as 1319, Nicholas de Swineburn had claimed that the garrison at Staward had been living off the profits of his land for six years (RCHME 1992, 1). The de Swinburnes held a moiety surrounding Staward which also included Harsondale to the north, and possibly the manor of Mooriley (Morralee) (Hodgson 1839, 371-375) In 1326, King Edward II seized the land and annexed the pele passing the custody to Thomas de Featherstonehaugh, keeper of Tynedale, who offered to demolish it and build the king a new castle. Following Edward’ s death, Featherstonhaugh was ordered to deliver the pele to John Darci (le Cosin) who was granted ownership for life. In 1373 Queen Phillippa purchased the pele from Darci and Nicholas de Swinburne, who held the surrounding moiety. It then passed from her to her son Edmund of Langley, Duke of York. In 1385 it was rented to Hexham Priory, who retained it until the Dissolution. In 1613, James I gave Staward to Lord Howard of Walden who later conveyed it to John Sanderson of Healey. In 1664 he sold the premise for £450 to George Bacon of Broadwood Hall. (Middleton 2010 p. 21-2)

Gatehouse Comments

Dodds (1999 p. 417) writes "There seems little doubt that, despite its name, Staward Pele was a true castle.' No other author supports this view. Called a pelum in 1326, 1329, 1373 and 1387 royal letters so the Crown certainly did not consider it to be a castle and it was never a residential manor of the Crown but merely a source of income. Gatehouse has not seen the plan of 1759 but such an early plan may well be open to other interpretation and may well show what the surveyor thought should be there rather than what actually was there (a fault made by many surveyors of all times)

- 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 ReferenceNY799608
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  • Dodds, John F., 1999, Bastions and Belligerents (Newcastle upon Tyne: Keepdate Publishing) p. 414-7
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 96
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 200 (slight)
  • Rowland, T.H., 1987 (reprint1994), Medieval Castles, Towers, Peles and Bastles of Northumberland (Sandhill Press) p. 49, 50
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. lxviii, Vol. 2 p. 341
  • Graham, Frank, 1976, The Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham) p. 321
  • Ramm, H.G., McDowall, R.W. and Mercer, E., 1970, Shielings and Bastles (London) p. 88, no. 45
  • Long, B., 1967, Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) p. 160
  • Pevsner, N., 1957, Buildings of England: Northumberland (London, Penguin) p. 294
  • Hugill, R.,1939, Borderland Castles and Peles (1970 Reprint by Frank Graham) p. 200-1
  • Bates, C.J., 1891, Border Holds of Northumberland (London and Newcastle: Andrew Reid) p. 10-11 (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. 373 and plate 336 online copy
  • Hutchinson, Wm, 1776, A View of Northumberland (Newcastle) Vol. 1 p. 111 online transcription
  • Wallis, 1769, The Natural History and Antiquities of Northumberland (London) Vol. 2 p. 32 online copy


  • Birley, E., 1950, 'A Roman altar from Staward Pele and Roman remains in Allendale' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser4) Vol. 28 p. 132-6 and 139-40 (some mention of medieval history)
  • Hodges, C.C., 1885-6, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (ser2) Vol. 2 p. 94

Primary Sources

  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 374
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1904, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward II (1324-27) Vol. 5 p. 261 online copy
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1891, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III (1327-30) Vol. 1 p. 385 online copy
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1914, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III (1370-74) Vol. 15 p. 288 online copy
  • Inquisitions Ad Quod Damnum 10 Ed. III. num. 33.
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1900, Calendar of Patent Rolls Richard II (1385-89) Vol. 3 p. 302 online copy


  • Middleton, Penny, 2010, Historic Environment Survey for the National Trust Properties in Northumberland Allen Banks Estate (Archaeo-Environment Ltd 0073/1-10) online copy
  • Mark Bowden, 1992, Staward Peel Survey (RCHME)
  • Selkirk, R., 1988, The 255 Degree Line
  • 1730s - Greenwich Hospital Commissioners Surveys Map