Black Middens Bastle 1

Has been described as a Certain Bastle

There are major building remains

NameBlack Middens Bastle 1
Alternative NamesThorneyburn; Black Middings; Black Myddynes; Blackmedens
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishTarset

The monument at Black Middings is an exceptionally fine example of a pair of bastles with an associated field system and a later farmhouse demonstrating continuity of occupation within a period of approximately two hundred years. Although the standing remains of one bastle and the farmhouse do not survive well, the other bastle is extremely well preserved and retains numerous original features as well as later ones which contribute to an understanding of its subsequent development. Occupation debris relating to all phases of use will survive as buried features throughout the area of the scheduling.

The monument, which is sometimes also referred to as Black Middens, includes a well preserved 16th century bastle or defensible farmstead, an 18th century farmhouse, the remains of a second bastle which survives in use as a sheepfold, and a group of enclosures representing an associated inner field system and the beginnings of a larger outer field system. The second bastle, most of the walls of which now stand only to a few courses, is the usual rectangular structure, measuring 9.5m x 7.5m, with a small walled enclosure to the north east. It is identified as a former bastle because of the thickness of its surviving walls which, in places, are over 1m wide. The east wall survives up to 2m high. Bastles were, on occasion, built in groups for common protection, hence it is likely that both bastles at this site were constructed and used around the same time. The first bastle remains largely intact, with only its roof missing, and measures 7.3m x 10.4m x c.8m high to the gable ridge. Its walls are 1.4m thick and it illustrates the usual arrangement of a two storey structure with steeply pitched gables; the ground floor was used for storage and occasional shelter of animals, and the upper floor served as living quarters. The stumps of the original raised cruck roof survive

It is of the rarer type of bastle in which the ground floor had a timber ceiling instead of a vaulted stone roof. An original ventilation slit can be seen on the ground floor of the north west gable end and two later windows in the upper storey of the south west wall. There are two doorways in the south west wall, one leading into the basement and the other into the upper floor. Both are 18th century replacements of original doorways and are wider than the 16th century doors would have been, since the defensive function of narrow doors was no longer necessary by that time. The upper door was also heightened by incorporating two original windows whilst the original ladder access to the upper floor was replaced by an outer staircase. At about this time or slightly later, a new farmhouse was built immediately south east of the bastle, partially on the foundations of an older building or enclosure which extended 6m beyond the south east end of the farmhouse. Little remains standing of this later farmhouse but the bastle survived due to its continued use as a cattle shed. In the vicinity of the buildings are numerous low banks which represent the remains of an associated field system. The building remains illustrate the development of a small upland farming community into a single linear farmstead, probably inhabited by a single family. The intact bastle is a Grade II-star Listed Building and has been in State care since 1978. (Scheduling Report 1994)

Bastlehouse. Late C16 or early C17. Random rubble. Roofless. 2 storeys. All 4 walls stand to eaves level.

Outside stone steps to original 1st-floor doorway which has chamfered surround; the lintel has 3 holes for mullions and so may have been altered. Small narrow chamfered window to right and, to left, a small square window with- chamfered surround and holes for 2 mullions or iron bars. On the ground floor two C19 doorways.

Original ground-floor doorway, now-blocked, on right return.

Interior: walls 4 ft. thick. Stumps of curved principals or upper crucks remain in situ. (Listed Building Report 1988)

At Black Middings there is a two storied Bastle House. There is a door at one end of the lower storey, and on the south side an outside stair to a door on the upper floor, which also has two small window openings. The upper door, which has an older window united for its head is not later than the 18th century. The flooring and rood roof are modern (Article compares this building with the two bastles at Gatehouse which are probably of the time of Henry VIII or Elizabeth). To the east of the building are the ruins of an 18th cent cottage which stands partly on the massive foundations of an earlier house which possibly preceded the bastle (Dodds 1940).

Black Middings. A typical Tudor strong house (Headlam 1939)

NY 77318999. Remains of a defended house situated upon a rocky rise, against a fairly steep south west - facing slope of pasture moorland, which drops to the River Tarset. A slight depression north east of the site and separating it from overlooking high ground is subject to boggy conditions, and is need filled. The site commands the Tarset valley to the north west, south west and south east. The building measures 7.3m by 10.4m and is approx 8m high to the gable ridge. The walls of massive stones, are 1.4m thick. Two modern doors in the south west wall lead into the two ground floor compartments, now used to house cattle and poultry. There is a splayed window in the north west wall. The derelict farmhouse to the south east stands upon older foundations which extend from the defended house to a point 6m south east of the farmhouse. (F1 ASP 30-JUL-1956).

The remains of the bastle are as described, but the foundations to the south east are too indefinite for survey action (F2 DS 21-JUL-1970).

Rectangular building 10.4m x 7.2m externally with walls of roughly coursed and roughly squared blocks (most massive in the lower courses) 1.4m thick (south east end wall). Blocked byre entrance doorway in centre of south east end with chamfered surround; on south west side two 19th century openings on either side of stone external stair leading up to upper door with rounded arris to jambs, but chamfered lintel apparently re-used from a window (sockets for three bars); drawbar tunnel and harr socket. Byre has slit vent in north west end, later window (blocked) in north east wall and later cross wall. First floor has two original windows in south west wall, one on north east, stone cupboards in both end walls (with sockets for firehood timbers in each end as well) and stubs of upper cruck trusses. Adjacent buildings at each end; to north west only traces of foundations, to south east grassed over footings of building with 1m thick walls, joining 18th/19th century cottage further from bastle (PRF 27-JUN-1990).Built of random rubble with roughly-dressed quoins; roofless. All four walls stand to eaves level. On the ground floor two 19th century doorways with older, but not original, stone stairs between them. The stairs lead to the original first floor doorway, though the lintel is in fact a re-used window lintel for it has three small holes for mullions. The ground floor doorway is blocked on the east gable end. The walls are about 4 feet thick and the stumps of the original upper cruck roof remain in situ (Grundy 1987).

Tree-ring analysis of eight samples from the small number of timbers available at the bastle was carried out in 2009. Unfortunately there was no conclusive cross-matching between any of the samples and a site chronology could no tbe formed. None of the samples could be dated individually, despite their being compared to a large corpus of reference chronologies for oak. The bastle therefore remains undated (Arnold and Howard). (Northumberland HER)

Gatehouse Comments

One of a group of several bastles near Tarset Head, 8.5 to 12 km nw of Bellingham. Others in group include Black Middens 2, Waterhead, Highfield, Shilla Hill (Starr Head), Bog Head (Corby's Castle, Barty's peel), The Comb (Combe, Keame), Hill House.

- 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 ReferenceNY773899
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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
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

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  • Grint, Julia, 2008, Bastles an introduction to the bastle houses of Northumberland (Hexham: Ergo Press) p. 65-9
  • 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. 298
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 117 (slight)
  • Rowland, T.H., 1987 (reprint1994), Medieval Castles, Towers, Peles and Bastles of Northumberland (Sandhill Press) p. 43
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 360
  • Graham, Frank, 1976, The Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham) p. 72
  • Ramm, H.G., McDowall, R.W. and Mercer, E., 1970, Shielings and Bastles (London: HMSO) p. 91 no. 60
  • Long, B., 1967, Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) p. 69-70
  • Pevsner, N., 1957, Buildings of England: Northumberland (London, Penguin) p. 96
  • Dodds, Madeleine Hope (ed), 1940, Northumberland County History (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Vol. 15 p. 271
  • Headlam, C., 1939, The Three Northern Countries of England (Gateshead: Northumberland Press) p. 334


  • Christopherson, R., 2011, 'Northumberland bastles: origin and distribution' Medieval Settlement Research Vol. 26 p. 21-33 (listed in appendix)
  • < >Lax, Amy, 1999, 'Border Troubles and Border Farmers: A study of Bastle Houses in the Upper Tarset Valley, Northumberland' Northern Archaeology Vol. 17/18 p. 165-72 < >
  • Graham, A., 1945-6, 'Notes on Some Northumbrian 'Peles' Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Vol. 80 p. 37-43 online copy

Primary Sources

  • Bain, J.G. (ed), 1894, Calendar of Letters and Papers Relating to the Affairs of the Borders of England and Scotland (Edinburgh) Vol. 1 p. 109 online copy
  • Nicholson, Willaim, 1705, Leges Marchiarum or Border-Laws p. 262 (Order of marches watch in 1552) online copy


  • Arnold, A. and Howard, R., 2009, Black Middens Bastle, Greenhaugh, Northumberland: tree-ring analysis of timbers: scientific dating report (English Heritage Research Department) online copy
  • The Archaeological Practice Ltd., 2004, 'Tarset and Greenhaugh Northumberland an archaeological and historical study of a border township' Northumberland National Park Historic Village Atlas p. 42-3 (slight) (The Northumberland National Park Authority) online copy