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Shortflatt Tower

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Shortflat; Shortflate

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

OS Map Grid Reference: NZ07938109
Latitude 55.12326° Longitude -1.87735°

Shortflatt Tower has been described as a certain Fortified Manor House, and also as a certain Pele Tower.

There are major building remains.

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Built after 1296 (licence to crenellate 1305), but much altered. A house with 16th/17th century features is attached to it (Pevsner 1957).
House and tower. Tower seems late 15th or early 16th century, the attached house early 17th century incorporating and reusing earlier masonry. Tower has stone slate roof. Three-storey tower; two-storey house.
Interior: tower has tunnel-vaulted ground floor; one jamb of a recently discovered (1985) large 16th or 17th century fireplace on first floor; and possibly a reset medieval fireplace on second floor. Massive 16th century roof timbers
In the roof space of the adjoining wing a 16th or 17th century fireplace and the vestiges of plasterwork prove existence of a former second floor. Considered by Honeyman to be of 1305 in date but more recent information suggests a later date (Listed Building Report).
Built c.1290 by Robert Reymes (effigy in Bolam church) (Davies and Davidson 1988-9).
Shortflatt Tower or Fortalice. Retains vaulted basement and battlements with rainspouts below them. House attached in late 18th century (Long 1967).
Shortflatt Tower is one of the earliest towers - licence to crenellate in 1305 (Milner 1976).
The house consists of a tower with an east-west range (the Manor House) adjoining to the east and two service ranges with a narrow court between extend from the east part of the Manor House. Shortflatt is first mentioned in 1223. It was part of the possessions acquired by Hugh de Reymes of Suffolk between 1293 and 1295. Robert de Reymes II obtained a licence to crenellate his house but by the time of his death in 1323 Shortflatt had been burnt and was valueless. The manor was sold c.1604 to William Selby who was probably responsible for the reconstruction of the main block, or Manor House. In 1631 Shortflatt was sold to the Fenwick family and in 1755 to John Dent.
Shortflatt consists of a tower with an east-west range (the Manor House) running eastward at a slightly skewed angle from the northern part of its east side. From the east end of the Manor House two parallel service ranges, with a small court between, extend north.
The tower measures 13.7m north-south by 9.7m east-west and is three storeys high with, in addition, a gabled caphouse within the embattled parapet. It is constructed of squared blocks of sandstone laid in regular courses, although there are some local irregularities, for instance in the lower quoins at the southern angles, which are unusually elongate and do not course in well with the adjacent masonry. The stone is generally whitish or yellowish in colour, with the exception of the lower section (up to the first set-back) of the east wall, which is darker - it is not clear whether this colour change is due to a rebuilding or refacing, a different degree of weathering, or simply lichen.
The tower has a chamfered plinth on north, west and south; a lower chamfered plinth appears for a metre or so at the east end of the south wall, but there are no plinths at all on the east, but instead two chamfered set-backs, the first roughly at first floor level and the second a metre or so above. The parapet is carried on a chamfered oversailing course (with a series of old stone waterspouts just above) and has moulded battlements which appear ancient.
The basement has a segmental barrel vault, now plastered over; it is divided into two rooms by a 19th century cross wall, set towards the north end.
The only ancient entrance to the tower at basement level is a doorway close to the south end of the east wall. This has a four-centred arched head, cut in two stones and a square external rebate (presumably for an iron gate or yett). The southern half of the lintel has a sunk panel, following the outline of the block, with a shield (now blank) and an elongate object, which has been interpreted as a pair of tongs, carved in relief. The corresponding northern half of the lintel simply has an incised line as a border. Further north, in the same wall, the tower opens to the Manor House by an arched opening (plastered over) showing no evidence of antiquity.
In the centre of the south wall is a segmental-headed window, probably of 19th century date. A 1769 survey by Davison shows a doorway with a pointed arch in this position, which would seem unlikely to have been an original feature. In the west wall are two more inserted openings, the southern a round-arched window of early 20th century date and the northern a square-headed doorway with a tooled-and-margined lintel of the later 19th or early 20th century, but older (18th century?) jambs.
Towards the east end of the north wall is the present front door of the house, a 19th century insertion. It has a rebated four-centred doorway apparently modelled on that in the east wall; to the west of this is a small rectangular window (now blocked) which appears to have had a narrow chamfered surround but looks like an insertion or widening of an earlier loop.
The first floor of the tower is either reached by a 19th century staircase within the tower, or a doorway from the first floor landing of the Manor House. This doorway has an angular four-centred head with a continuous roll moulding and looks of 16th century type. Within the tower is a stone-flagged floor; the largest room, south of the cross wall, has the remains of a large fireplace on the east. Only its south jamb is exposed, showing a hollow chamfer inside a wave moulding and the springing of an arched head, the remainder of which has been cut away. The northern jamb is concealed by a projection (forming the east end of the cross wall); this seems like the stub of a very thick wall, but is in fact hollow and its interior can be seen through a glass panel in the floorboards of a second floor cupboard. Looking down into this cavity, the northern edge of the fireplace projection can be seen (with its plaster painted black to just above the level of a horizontal half-roll moulding on its northern return). This projection forms the eastern half of the south side of the cavity; the western half is formed by rough stonework, apparently the rear face of an inserted blocking, the other three sides are faced with olive green plaster in poor condition.
At this level there are a series of boxed-in east-west ceiling beams, carried on rectangular projections; these are all plastered over and it is not clear whether they are stone piers or timber posts. Internal piers or posts like this would be an unusual feature in a medieval tower and they might be a relatively recent insertion, possibly to support beams that were in poor condition at their ends.
The main room has a central sash window on the south, which has formerly been of two semicircular-headed lights; it may be a 16th century insertion. Running diagonally down the wall to the west of the sill of the window is a cut for the roof of some removed building, presumably a post-medieval addition.
On the west is a window with a 19th century tooled-and-margined lintel, but old chamfered jambs to its upper half. The sill has been dropped at some time to convert the window into a doorway, the worn threshold of which survive; a 1779 plan by Davison shows an external flight of steps giving access to this. Further north is a narrow loop-like window without a chamfered surround; it is probably an insertion. On the east, to the south of the fireplace, is a large window, obviously secondary, with a double-chamfered surround and a hoodmould with turned back ends; it is probably a 17th century insertion or enlargement of a smaller opening and was probably originally mullioned.
On the north, the only first floor opening is a small blocked square-headed window, above the present front door. This has the unusual feature of superimposed wedge-shaped key stones in the two courses above its lintel.
The second floor of the tower shows few features of interest internally. The 19th century stair continues up in the north east corner, where it is lit by a chamfered square-headed window in the north wall. West of this is a second similar opening, now blocked. On the east is another square-headed chamfered window and another on the south; towards the south end of the east wall is a similar, but narrower loop and, north of it, yet another similar opening, now blocked.
An inserted doorway, with a narrow chamfered surround, opens from the attics of the Manor House into the second floor of the tower. Above this, in the external face of the tower, is what appears at first sight to be a blocked square-headed window with a neat chamfered surround. Closer inspection reveals this is not as simple a feature as it appears. The north jamb is relatively short, dropping to what appears to be a contemporary sill, without any chamfer, which has an irregular projection, partly hacked back, on its front face. That this sill did not extend the full width of the opening is seen by the chamfered south jamb, which drops to a lower level. Whatever this feature is, its projecting sill seems to be associated with the apex of the roof of an earlier adjacent building, a raised tabling for which survives running diagonally down the wall on either side of the doorway. This is now hidden by fitted cupboards, but photographs are held by the owners.
The parapet has already been briefly described, but it has one or two further unusual features. On the east it is stepped up considerably to rise above the present apex of the Manor House roof; a raised block of masonry adjacent to its internal face here is the sealed off top of the old stack serving fireplaces on the ground floor of the western bay of the Manor House and first floor of the Tower. On the north the parapet is not embattled and has an irregular series of features including small raised blocks, one with a sinking that could have been used for the pivot of a handgun or similar apparatus. They have previously been described as 'stools' or stub-bases, as if it had formerly some kind of ornamental cresting or panelling set upon it.
The caphouse rises within the parapet; the late 19th or early 20th century brick stack serving the fireplaces in the cross walls rises through its centre. Its roof is carried by four principal rafter trusses that may be of 17th century date, two with later collars. At the north end is a basket-arched doorway with a simple chamfered surround, now blocked, which formerly opened on to the parapet walk; to the east of this is a blocked window, most easily seen internally.
At the south end of the chamber is an old fireplace with stepped chamfered jambs. Adjacent to this on the east is a doorway, probably quite late, providing the present access to the parapet walk.
The Manor House is now a range of two storeys and attics divided by a massive transverse stack into a three-bay section adjacent to the tower and an end bay with a hipped roof. The walls are of squared stone, laid in less regular courses than those of the tower; the impression is given of stonework from an older building being reused. There is a chamfered plinth and two moulded string courses, stepped up to form hoodmoulds over both ground and first floor windows; below the plinth, irregular footings are exposed by a general lowering of the ground level, perhaps quite recent. The windows on the south and in the east end of the range, are all now sashes, replacing mullioned predecessors (probably of three-lights) some dressings of which survive. The western ground floor window appears to have originally been a doorway and is shown as such (with a triangular pediment) on the 1779 survey.
On the north, in the two bay section of wall between the tower and the service wings, are more altered mullioned windows and a sash set in what was apparently another doorway, opposite that on the south; the chamfered west jamb survives. The mullioned window above has been replaced by a circular window with radial voussoirs, very like a pair in the Vicar's Tower, Ponteland (NZ 17 SE 5).
The section of wall containing this circular window is slightly thicker internally at first floor level than the wall further east; this change in thickness corresponds with a vertical alignment of several large blocks visible externally. This would appear to mark a surviving section of the north wall of the medieval upper floor hall house; the vertical feature may mark the west jamb of a large window.
The most interesting feature on the north side of the house is a small turret or projection, rising to c.1m below the eaves, which overlaps the junction of the house and tower in a rather unusual way. This has a steep double-chamfered plinth, quite unlike that of either tower or house. Its west face clearly predates the adjacent masonry of the tower, but its east side has been rebuilt, except for a couple of courses above the plinth; a small chamfered loop at first floor level is clearly a 19th century feature. There are traces of a possible blocked loop in the centre of the north side, although this is rather confused by an obvious rebuilding line associated with the reconstruction of the east face. It is clear that the projection has been cut down in height; above it a few courses of the north east angle of the tower have clearly been rebuilt in smaller stone following the removal of its upper section. This rebuilt section of the corner of the tower rises as high as an especially large angle quoin which has a continuous groove on its east face, as if to take a capstone (or floor) associated with the projection.
Internally, there are small wall cupboards within the projection at both ground and first floor levels. That at ground floor level has a chamfered ogee-arched doorway, rebated internally. In plan, it is rectangular at floor level, but further up the south east corner is curved, as if a remnant of the side of a newel stair. The first floor closet is panelled round, but the internal west jamb of its doorway is cut away, again a feature that might be associated with a newel stair.
The majority of the internal features of the house are of 18th and 19th century date. However, three features are of some note:
i) A doorway opening from the house into the western service wing (kitchen) may have been the original main door of the house; it has a flattened four-centred arch with a continuous chamfer and a long drawbar tunnel in the internal west jamb.
ii) The western bay of the house is now occupied by a 19th century staircase. In its west wall (ie the east wall of the tower) is a fireplace, now concealed within the understair cupboard. This is square-headed, with a plain chamfered surround and is difficult to date. It may appear to be an insertion in an earlier wall; its flue is of relatively small proportions.
iii) The house has clearly had a second floor at some time, replaced by the present attics when the roof was lowered. Evidence of the former roofline can be seen on the faces of the main chimney stack, where a chamfered set-back ends in sloping cuts considerably above the present ridge.
The second floor room in the eastern bay retains some features of interest. It is reached from the main attic, by a lobby on the north side of the stack, which may have been the head of a stair (although it is a little difficult to envisage this extending the full height of the house, as at ground floor level this position was occupied by the entrance lobby). The opening from the attic to the lobby retains one chamfered ashlar jamb; the opening from lobby to eastern room has both jambs of a doorway, rebated internally, but with a later lintel (the original head cut down by the lowering of the roof). Within the room there is a fireplace on the west wall with its own separate stack built against the main one; this has a flat-pointed arch within a chamfered square frame. There are remains of wall plaster, with a moulded edge where it abutted on what was either the exposed stonework of the fireplace (and doorway) or, more likely, on a timber fire surround/overmantle and a timber architrave to the door. These features suggest a room of some prestige, possibly a Roman Catholic chapel.
The two service wings show fabric of several different periods. The western overlaps the east end of the Manor House in a rather strange manner; its walls are of rubble fabric with roughly-shaped angle quoins and include several openings of 17th century character. The eastern wing is more of a puzzle; its north end is of similar fabric to the east wing, but its west wall and the northern part of its east wall are of roughly-squared and roughly-tooled masonry of late 18th or early 19th century character. The 1779 survey shows the western wing as containing kitchen and brewhouse and the eastern, the stables.
The small court between the service wings (already partially infilled by 1779 when a pantry is shown here) is now entered from the north by a square-headed doorway made up of the head and jambs of former mullioned windows with double-chamfered surrounds; it is probably of 19th century date.
1. The Turret and the early Hall House
The turret, or projection, in fact clearly pre-dates the tower. This can be seen at its north west corner, where one block has been cut away to key in the masonry of the tower, but the plinth clearly returns behind the masonry of the north wall of the tower. The turret, with its ogee-headed doorway and steep double-chamfered plinth, might well be of earlier 14th century date. It seems likely to be the corner turret of an upper floor hall house. The tower was built on to the end of the hall, for some reason at a rather skew angle. This resulted in
the corner of the tower actually overlapping the earlier turret; a corresponding turret at the south west corner of the early house would have probably stood adjacent to the tower, rather than have been overbuilt by it. This would explain the lack of any plinths on the east side of the tower; either the tower was built abutting the earlier turret, or possibly this section of the tower wall was refaced after the adjacent turret was removed. Removal of the north western turret would have been less practical and have meant more extensive rebuilding.
2. The Tower
The tower lacks any closely dateable features. The 1415 reference to a 'ffortalicum' (fortalice) would tally better with an upper floor hall house than a tower and the 1450 description again suggests a house of this type - in particular the reference to three cellars, which were presumably the ground floor undercrofts of the living accommodation above. This leaves the later 15th century as the most likely date for the tower, with some alterations in the 16th century (into which most of its surviving architectural features could be placed). The lack of a stair is rather unusual for a tower of this period, but is probably explicable by the newel stair in the north west turret of the earlier hall block being utilised to serve the tower.
3. Post-medieval changes
The hall block, with the exception of the surviving turret and a short adjacent section of wall, would appear to have been completely rebuilt in the early 17th century. It is not clear how much of its west wall is incorporated in the east wall of the tower - the simple fireplace now concealed beneath the stairs might possibly be a survival from the undercroft of the early hall. It is possible that the eastern service wing might have already been built by this time; the manner which it overlaps the end of the Manor House is rather strange. The main entrance into the Manor House may have been the re-opened doorway on the north of the hall stack; a lobby entry such as this is typical of the period.
The date of the service wings is still a puzzle. The western (kitchen) wing presumably post-dates the rebuilding of the Manor House as it is built in front of what appears to have been an external door. After this, the entry seems to have been moved to the western bay, adjacent to the tower, although it is possible that the pair of doors here may perpetuate an earlier medieval arrangement. Prior to the construction of the western wing the kitchen may have been housed in the end bay of the house.
Further changes took place in the 18th century; the mullioned windows were altered to sashes and the roof of the Manor House was lowered. The 1779 Davison survey shows the house very much as it stands today, except that the basement of the tower was subdivided into cow houses and other offices, with an external stair giving access to the farmer's living accommodation on the upper floors. In the mid 19th century the tower was re-incorporated in the main house and a variety of more minor changes carried out.
Shortflatt is one of the best examples of a Northumberland manor house, demonstrating the development from a 13th or 14th century hall house, through the addition of a solar tower in the 15th century and the reconstruction of the main block in the 17th century (Ryder 1994-5). (Northumberland HER)

A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1305 April 5 (Click on the date for details of this licence.).


As with his other property Aydon Castle Robert Reymes obtained a licence to crenellate at a time when the Scottish wars of Edward I had ended and it was expected that there would be peace in the north for the foreseeable future. The licence was probably a reward for financial support wealthy Reymes gave Edward I and were obtained to help Reymes, a Suffolk merchant, to fit in with his Northumberland knightly neighbours. Misunderstanding about licences to crenellate have resulted in inaccurate dating of the tower. The original form of Reymes's house of 1305 seems to have been a hall house, again as at Aydon, and the recent refurbishment of the tower as luxury holiday accommodation may be closer to what Reymes built than the military base more usually portrayed.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:09

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