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Little Swinburne Tower

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Little Swinburn; East Swinburn; Swinborne; Swyneburne

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

OS Map Grid Reference: NY94977784
Latitude 55.09496° Longitude -2.08034°

Little Swinburne Tower has been described as a certain Pele Tower.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

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


The shrunken village remains at Little Swinburne, including the tower and fishpond, survive well and represent a good example of a small medieval upland settlement. The tower provided the major focus of the settlement; the fishpond contributed to its food supply. Around these two features are remains of ordinary houses, yards and trackways used by the village inhabitants. Detailed study of these diverse elements would provide a significant insight into the development and history of the former village.
The monument includes part of the shrunken village and tower of Little Swinburne, situated in a sheltered position surrounded by high ground in the valley of Dry Burn. The tower has been much robbed of stone but the remains show that it was faced in courses of roughly squared blocks with traces of a protruding chamfered course 3.5m above ground level. It measures 9.2m north- south by 5.2m east-west within walls 1.5m thick which survive up to 3.7m on the north and 6m on the south side. The tower had a vaulted basement, traces of which can be seen in the north-western corner. The walls survive at least one storey above this but earlier accounts describe three storeys above a basement, with an entrance lobby and staircase in the east side of the tower. Little Swinburne Tower was constructed shortly after 1415, and is mentioned in a document of 1541. It was clearly once part of a much larger complex as in the field surrounding the tower there are the remains of a shrunken village visible as a series of earthworks standing 0.2m to 1.2m high. The remains are part of the medieval village of East Swinburne, later referred to as Little Swinburne. The area immediately surrounding the tower is divided by low banks into small plots and small rectangular enclosures and platforms represent the steadings of buildings. An area of medieval rig and furrow ploughing, bounded by prominent banks and additional rectangular platforms, is visible in the centre of the field south of the tower. In the south-eastern corner of the field there is a well preserved fishpond, consisting of a rectangular depression 30m by 18m with banks on either side, measuring 8m to 10m wide and standing from 0.3m to 1.2m high. The village of East Swinburne is first mentioned in documents in 1296, when there may have been as many as 300 inhabitants, before being devastated by Scottish raids in the 14th century. Since that time the village has gradually dwindled to its present size of one farmstead and two cottages. Other earthwork remains of this village survive outside the area of the scheduling. (Scheduling Report)

Ruined tower house. C15. Random rubble. Substantial parts of south and west walls stand to c30 feet. East and north walls are more fragmentary and have largely lost their facing stone.
South and west walls have chamfered offset at first floor level.
West side shows trace of roof of building now demolished.
Interior has vestiges of basement vault and traces of 1st floor fireplace. (Listed Building Report)

The tower measures c.14m by 9m externally, with walls of coursed rubble cut back internally to their present thickness of c.1m. There is a chamfered set back 3.3m above the present ground level. The south end and south part of the west elevation stand to c.10m high; the east wall is more ruinous and has lost all its external facing, whilst only a fragment of the north end survives.
The original entrance appears to have been at the north end of the east side, giving access presumably both to the tower basement and to a mural stair in the north wall. Parts of the north walls of the lobby and stair are visible, and a small window lighting the stair. The internal wall faces of the basement have been cut back and roughly plastered; this hacking back is very clear at the south end and almost certainly entailed the removal of a vault. The basement has been lit by a loop in the centre of the south end, now just a ragged hole in the wall retaining a fragment of its internal splay; there has also been an opening in the east wall, also badly damaged; it appears to splay outwards and may be secondary. At the north end of the west wall are remains of a small mural chamber.
At first floor level there are remains of a large fireplace in the west wall, with to the south of it some sort of channel or chute in the wall, possibly connected with a garderobe; there are also traces of a mural chamber at the south west corner. Externally, there are evidences of an adjacent gabled roof on the west side of the tower, its tabling formed by sloping slabs and a large shaped block that seem coeval with the walling; rather strangely, apart from some projecting masonry high up, there are no physical evidences on the wall for this attached building, perhaps implying that this was timber framed; on the ground there is an irregular mound and an abundance of nettles.
The tower does not retain any architectural features which enable the original fabric to be dated; it is most likely a 15th century structure, considerably modified at some stage by the removal of its basement vault. There would appear to have been a contemporary building on the west; it is not clear how this functioned.
The ruins are in poor condition; parts of the south end wall are precarious, with masonry about to fall. It still forms quite a dramatic ruin. (Northumberland HER ref. Ryder 1994-5)
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:27

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