Wooler Tower

Has been described as a Certain Pele Tower

There are masonry footings remains

NameWooler Tower
Alternative NamesWoller
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishWooler

The 16th century, like the centuries before, was a troubled time for Wooler with cross Border strife becoming endemic, frequently at a local level. It was a town in need of protection. A 1509 garrison list for the English Borders notes that 20 soldiers were maintained at Wooler (Vickers 1922, 329-30). And the perceived threat of warfare with Scotland prompted the building of a defensive tower. The exact date of its construction is unknown; the 1509 list might imply that it was already in existence, but it may not have been built before the period of great anxiety following the Battle of Flodden in 1513. In 1526, the tower was still referred to as the 'new castle' (ibid). A survey of the Borders in 1541 described the tower as a "mervelous convenyent place for the defence of the country thereabout" and as still "standing strongly" (Vickers 1922, 329). Certainly in 1545, the tower and its garrison were still a part of the organised defences of the area, shown as such by Christopher Dacre in his plan of the Border defences (Vickers 1922, 329-30) and the tower is again shown on the prospect of the town made in the second half of the 16th century. All that survives today is three masses of pink-sandstone masonry held together by mortar (Vickers 1922, 329-0). Of the three blocks, one may still be in-situ (Ryder 1994, 24). The visible area of faced walling is uninterrupted by openings or any other distinguishable features. Whether the fall of the tower was a result of intentional demolition, decay or instability is uncertain. (Northumberland Extensive Urban Survey)

Despite the fragmentary nature of the remains of Wooler Tower and the erection of a war memorial, the mound has not been greatly disturbed and significant archaeological remains will survive beneath the ground surface

It was an important link in the chain of border defences in the 16th century and will contribute to any study of defences at this time.

This monument includes the remains of a medieval tower of early 16th century date situated on a prominent mound. There are steep slopes on the north and east, where it falls to Wooler Water. The tower survives as three large blocks of masonry, one of which, a mass of core material, is believed to lie in situ. A block lying near a modern war memorial is a section of the corner of the tower with walls 1.5m thick; the walling is faced with large blocks of sandstone. To the east of these remains are traces of a slight earthwork platform. The mound on which these fragments lie is believed to be natural, rather than artificial, but is the probable site of a 12th century castle with timber defences which belonged to the Muschamps. Documentary evidence records that it was disused by 1255 and the site was not reoccupied until the tower was built in the early 16th century. The tower is first mentioned in 1509 and in 1526 was referred to as the 'new castle'. It was built in reaction to disturbances on the English-Scottish border and became an important link in the chain of forts featured in a plan of border defences drawn up by Christopher Dacre in 1584. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

A small tower built on a long abandoned castle site and, therefore, separated from Wooler Castle by a gap of a couple of hundred years and a building of quite different social status. It should be noted that the 1509 survey was a proposal of the size of garrison the tower could accommodate not a statement of the size of an existing garrison. 20 men is the minimum number of men for all the towers and suggests a small tower. The 1541 survey records the little tower standing strong but half fallen down and again as a possible site for a garrison not the location of an active garrison. The 1584 report by Christopher Dacre does not state that the tower was part of the defences of the area but that it could be made so at the cost of £60 for repairs and would be fit and convenient for a small number. There is, in fact, no evidence that this small tower was ever anything other than a residential house, probably let out, although clearly it could have been adapted for use as a centre for a small garrison.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceNT992280
Latitude55.5466117858887
Longitude-2.01286005973816
Eastings399290
Northings628090
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
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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Books

  • Dodds, John F., 1999, Bastions and Belligerents (Newcastle upon Tyne: Keepdate Publishing) p. 66-7
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 113
  • Graham, Frank, 1993, Northumberian Castles Aln, Tweed and Till (Butler Publishing) p. 46
  • Jackson, M.J.,1992, Castles of Northumbria (Carlisle)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 344
  • Graham, Frank, 1976, The Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham) p. 359-60
  • Long, B., 1967, Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) p. 175-6
  • Vickers, Kenneth H. (ed), 1922, Northumberland County History (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Vol. 11 p. 329-30 online copy
  • 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. 433-4
  • Bates, C.J., 1891, Border Holds of Northumberland (London and Newcastle: Andrew Reid) p. 4, 24 (Also published as the whole of volume 14 (series 2) of Archaeologia Aeliana view online)

Journals

  • Hunter Blair, C.H., 1944, 'The Early Castles of Northumberland' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser4) Vol. 22 p. 116-70 esp 160-2
  • Bates, C.J., 1891, 'Border Holds of Northumberland' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser2) Vol. 14 p. 4, 24 online copy

Primary Sources

  • 1584, Report of the Commissioners on the Borders (1584) under Lord Hunsdon; largely the work of Christopher Dacre. Online transcription
  • 1541, View of the Castles, Towers, Barmekyns and Fortresses of the Frontier of the East and Middle Marches Survey of the East and Middle Marches
  • Brewer, J.S. (ed), 1867, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII Vol. 3 p. 852 No. 1986 online copy
  • 1509, Holdis and Towneshyppes too lay in Garnysons of horsmen Survey of Tevedale

Other

  • Northumberland County Council, 2009, 'Wooler' Northumberland Extensive Urban Survey doi:10.5284/1000177 [download copy > http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/northumberland_eus_2011/downloads.cfm?REDSQUIDARCHIVES_7_799BB461-A0C4-488C-B90DF1259EFE2DA8&area=Wooler]