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Overgrass Tower

In the civil parish of Newton On The Moor And Swarland.
In the historic county of Northumberland.
Modern Authority of Northumberland.
1974 county of Northumberland.
Medieval County of Northumberland.

OS Map Grid Reference: NU144033
Latitude 55.32410° Longitude -1.77353°

Overgrass 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 ruins of a medieval tower house of late C14 or C15 date, situated in a valley bottom beside the Swarland Burn. A later building is attached to the north side of the tower. The tower, which is Listed Grade II, stands up to first floor level. It is rectangular in plan and measures 11.2m by 8.5m internally, with walls of coursed sandstone ashlar about 1.8m thick. Externally, there is a chamfered set-back 1.8m above ground level. The entrance lies at the east end of the south wall. Only the west side of the entrance lobby survives, as the south east corner of the tower has collapsed. The south east corner originally contained a newel stair which was visible as the beginning of C20 but is now overgrown. Internally, the basement vault of the tower survives largely intact, with the exception of the south east corner, and was formerly lit by a chamfered loop at the east and west ends. In addition, there is a smaller square opening above the western loop. There are two small aumbries, or recesses, in the east and south walls; the one in the south wall is now blocked. In the thickness of the west wall are the remains of a garderobe chute. Abutting the north wall of the tower is a later building, 6m wide by 6.5m long with walls about 0.6m thick. It is clearly built from reused stonework from the upper parts of the tower and the ruins stand to a similar height. (PastScape)

The tower is not mentioned in the 1415 Survey and nothing is known of it during the 15th and 16th centuries. It stands low, lying about 20 yards to the south-west of the Swarland Burn, and is almost hidden from view by the banks of the stream, which are steep and wooded. There are indications by the side of the stream of the abutment of a bridge. The structure is comparatively small, oblong in shape with a slight projection or buttress to carry the staircase. It is built of good masonry, with extra large stones to the external angles and door jambs. It was erected probably during the 14th century. Only the vaulted basement now remains. It measures internally 23ft 6ins by 15ft 10ins with walls about 6ft thick. The entrance door is at the east end of the south side, and was secured by a falling bar.
The lower steps of a newel stairway exist on the right of the entrance. At the foot of the staircase, a flat pointed-arched doorway gives access from the lobby to the basement, which is vaulted, and is lighted by two small windows in the east and west ends. There are two small recesses or aumbries on the interior, and a shaft in the thickness of the west wall probably belonged to a garderobe.
In 1874, Mr W J Robinson of Newmoor House purchased Overgrass (Hodgson 1904).
Description in Hodgson correct except that the south east corner of the tower has collapsed and most of the stones removed. The western part of the entrance lobby with the remains of two jambs can still be seen. It is also possible to trace the north side of the newel stairway with one step still in situ. Lying nearby is part of the arch of a pointed doorway.
The walls of the tower, 1.8m thick, are well-dressed masonry, including some very large blocks. There is a set-back about 2m above ground level. The remains are overgrown in places and in generally poor condition. On the north side are the ruins of a cottage.
No trace could be seen of the bridge abutment referred to by Hodgson (F1 EG 28-JAN-1957).
Overgrass Tower. Ruins buried in trees, may be 14th or 15th century. Not in list of 1415, little known of its history (F2 BHP 16-AUG-1971).
Overgrass Tower and adjacent ruins, Grade II. Ruins of towerhouse, late 14th or 15th century. Adjacent building probably 18th century.
Tower measures 7.15m x 4.7m internally, walls 1.8m thick. Walls stand to about first floor level except at south east corner. Interior: slightly pointed tunnel vault almost complete, mural cupboards on south (bricked up) and east (Listed Building Report).
The ruins of Overgrass Tower are rather unusually sited in a valley bottom, on the east side of the Swarland Burn. The tower is built of large courses of sandstone ashlar and measured 11.2m by 8.5m externally, over walls c.1.8m thick. The walls have a chamfered set-back 1.8m above ground level. The only surviving external features are a chamfered loop in the centre of the east wall (the outer face of which is now toppling outwards) and the ragged openings of a central loop in the west wall (the outer face of the wall having fallen) with the remains of a garderobe chute to its north. Above the western loop is a smaller square opening, its lintel oddly set a little above the top of the vault. The entrance to the tower has been towards the east end of the south wall; only the lower part of the west side of the entrance lobby survives, showing the chamfered jamb of its outer archway and a rebate, with drilled holes for door fittings, at its inner end. Nothing now remains visible of the newel stair, which was at the south east corner of the tower and entered from the entrance lobby.
Whilst no features remains at first floor level, the basement vault of the tower remains intact, except for a collapse at the south east corner. The internal walls of the basement have two aumbries, or wall cupboards, one to the north of the eastern loop (now a ragged hole in the wall) and a second, infilled with relatively recent brick, at the west end of the south wall. Set a little east of centre are rough sockets cut into the haunch of the vault, on both north and south, presumably housing a transverse timber. Adjacent to the western part of the north wall of the tower is a secondary building, 6m wide by 6.5m long with walls c.0.6m thick, clearly built of material reused from the upper parts of the tower. The only features are a doorway opening (its lintel gone) in the centre of the east wall, a blocked window in the west wall, a tapered loop at the west end of the north wall and a strange little recess with a monolithic head in the internal face of the same wall further east.
The tower and attached building form part of a complex of structures and features in the valley bottom. A ruinous wall links the north east corner of the attached building to another ruin, probably of 18th century date, about 30m to the north west. About 20m east of the tower is an irregular enclosure, 15m-20m in diameter, in part enclosed by the remains of a rubble wall (now up to 2m wide and 0.8m high) and in part by a bank; this might be the 'barmkin' mentioned in some sources. Between the enclosure and the tower is another rubble wall, running north-south and extending southwards for some distance. Just west of this is the old head race for Overgrass Mill, which stands in ruins some distance further south. Large stones at the edge of the field between the head race and the stream suggests that ploughing here has disturbed some structures (Ryder 1994-5)
Overgrass tower was added to the DCMS schedule list (SM 31723), on the 7-July-1999. It is well preserved and retains many original features and significant archaeological deposits. It will make an important contribution to the study of settlement at this time (DCMS (IAMs) SM 31723, 7-JULY-1998). (Northumberland HER)
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:09

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