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Birtley Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Bertley; Birteley

In the civil parish of Birtley.
In the historic county of Northumberland.
Modern Authority of Northumberland.
1974 county of Northumberland.
Medieval County of Northumberland.

OS Map Grid Reference: NY87747787
Latitude 55.09507° Longitude -2.19361°

Birtley Castle has been described as a Masonry Castle although is doubtful that it was such, and also as a probable Tower House.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This is a Grade 2 listed building protected by law*.

Description

Ruined castle. Licence to crenellate 1307. Said to have been dated 1611 over door. Roughly dressed stone. Fragmentary remains. Parts of two walls stand to c.7ft. One slit window with dressed-stone surround, widely splayed inside, with old wood lintel. South-west corner is rounded. (Listed Building Report)

A chief messuage of Birtley is mentioned in 1307, but the name does not occur in the list of castles and fortalices of 1415 nor in the survey of 1541. The ruined walls of Birtley Hall in the vicarage garden may be of a building not earlier than 1611. This date together with the letters "J.H." is on a stone built into the wall of an adjoining building. It was probably built by the cadet line in the Heron family of Chipchase (Hodgson 1897).
Tower at Birtley (possibly as late as 1611) (Hadcock 1939).
The vicarage occupies the site of the old pile or castle of Birtley, which judging from the remains of Norman dog tooth ornament and other architectural features was built by the Umframvilles in the latter part of the C12th. There is however no historical record of a tower which at a later period was known as Birtley Hall (Tomlinson 1902).
The remains consist of a main NE-SW wall and portions of two adjoining walls running to the NW. They are some 1.5m wide and up to 2.5m. high. In the majority of places the external facing has collapsed and the inner rubble core is clearly exposed.
Modern facing may be seen in places, completed no doubt when the remains were incorporated in the present garden wall. No date stone or dog-toothed ornament is visible within the garden or within the build up of adjacent walls.
The sole architectural feature visible is a slit window which is undateable. The stonewalk is roughly coursed and bonded and appears to be much earlier than 1611. The date stone was originally within the fabric of the adjoining building and may possibly apply to the house preceding the present vicarage and not to the ruined building (F1 FDC 11-APR-56 ).
The major part of the surviving wall collapsed in 1963 and has since been crudely rebuilt by the present owner. The remains have also been further slighted by being incorporated into an ornamental garden (F2 RL 21-DEC-65).
Birtley township was an Umfraville possession until the late 14th century, when it passed to the Percy family. Neither family ever lived there, and it was retained as a letting property. Although recorded as a chief messuage in 1307, a term which usually means a fortified main seat, often a tower, no tenants names were recorded until 1533. No trace of a likely ruin has been seen in the area. In 1611 a small tower was built in Birtley village opposite the church by John Heron, and appears to have been an entirely new construction (Dodds 1999). (PastScape)

The ruins of a medieval building, often called Birtley Castle, lie in the grounds of Birtley Hall. Only the east and south walls survive, standing to about 2m high. In 1963 a large part of the walls collapsed and they have been rebuilt. At the end of the 19th century the remains were much better preserved and features up to first floor level were recorded in the County History. At that time two date stones were visible, one inscribed 1107 and the other 1611. Although neither of these is now present at the ruins the stonework which survives is thought to be medieval in character. (Keys to the Past)

It has been incorrectly suggested that a Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1307 (Click on the date for details of this supposed licence.).

Comments

This large manor, with a deer park, was held in chief from the King, along with Prudhoe and Hirlaw, for two and half knights' fee and is certainly a manor where one could expect a fortified house of some form although the current remains may well not represent anything medieval. However Birtley is not in the medieval listing of fortifications in the Marches and there is no reason for it being absent from these lists if it was a defensible building capable of holding a garrison. Given the Umframvills had castles at Prudhoe and Harbottle perhaps this manor just functioned as a hunting lodge and estate centre. It should be also noted the Inquistion Post Mortem of 1307 calls Prudhoe and Harbottle castles but calls Birtley a manor, again suggesting this not the site of a castle.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
PastScape   County HER       Listing   I. O. E.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 02/02/2017 13:45:50

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