The comprehensive gazetteer and bibliography of the medieval castles, fortifications and palaces of England, Wales, the Islands.
The listings
Other Info
Print Page 
Next Record 
Previous Record 
Back to list 

Tynemouth Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Tynemouth Priory; Tiefort; Tynemuth

In the civil parish of Tynemouth.
In the historic county of Northumberland.
Modern Authority of North Tyneside.
1974 county of Tyne and Wear.
Medieval County of Northumberland.

OS Map Grid Reference: NZ372694
Latitude 55.01776° Longitude -1.41896°

Tynemouth Castle has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Artillery Fort, and also as a certain Fortified Ecclesiastical site.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


The monument includes the remains of an enclosure castle built by the priors of Tynemouth around the headland to enclose the monastery and defend it from attack. Licence to crenellate was granted in 1296 and enclosure walls and towers were built around a circuit of 974m. The visible remains today are of C13 and C14 date and include a gatehouse with a barbican and the curtain wall with two towers. Fragments of the first phase of the castle survive on the north side of the promontory where they have become incorporated into later lines of defence. During the early C14 an additional tower, known as the Whitley Tower, was added to the defence at the north west corner of the castle. In the late C14 a replacement gatehouse was built which survives well today as a three storied rectangular tower. After the dissloution in 1539, Tynemouth became part of Henry VIII's scheme of national defence and was modified to serve as an artillery castle. Some time after 1545 the medieval walls of the castle were reinforced and the main front of the castle was replaced by stone revetted earthworks in order to provide artillery platforms. Gun ports were inserted into the south wall. The fortifications were provided with cannon and held a garrison of 50 men. It has also been suggested that the remains of a Norman castle may survive in the large mound of earth known as The Mount situated at the south west corner of the promontory, which later became incorporated into the defences of C16 artillery castle. (PastScape)

The monument includes the remains of an Iron Age and Romano-British settlement, a pre-conquest and a post-conquest monastery, a ninth century wayside cross, a possible Norman motte, an enclosure castle, an artillery castle and 19th and 20th century coastal defences. They occupy a prominent headland with steep cliffs on three sides. This is an important strategic position at the mouth of the River Tyne where, from the earliest times, it could command the mouth of the river, and indeed the site is known to have been occupied from the Iron Age onwards. The whole of the monument is in the care of the Secretary of State. The earliest evidence for occupation on the headland was uncovered by excavation in 1963. There survived the part remains of a large pre-Roman round house measuring 11.5m in diameter within a wall of upright posts set within a narrowly dug foundation trench. There was a doorway through the south wall. An outer concentric line of post holes which held the eave posts was situated 0.6m beyond the inner wall giving an overall diameter of 14m. Roman pottery found above the foundation trench indicated that the house had gone out of use by the late second century AD. It is thought that the house may belong to a much more extensive Iron Age settlement, possibly a promontory fort where the neck of land which joins the headland to the mainland would be defended by a palisade or a series of ditched defences. The 1963 excavations at Tynemouth also uncovered the remains of a second circular house, 4.5m in diameter and of different form to the first. This house was not considered to be contemporary with the first, instead it was dated to the later Romano-British period. There was a concentration of Romano-British pottery in this area as well as a scatter across the rest of the excavated area and one of the pieces of pottery was dated to the late second century AD. Part of a Roman altar and a statue base were discovered built into the later monastic foundations at Tynemouth in 1783. Both are thought to have been brought to Tynemouth from the Roman fort at Wallsend and were removed to the Society of Antiquaries, London. A monastery is thought to have been established at Tynemouth by the mid- seventh century AD when it is believed that the body of St Oswin was interred here. It was certainly in existence by the eighth century as it is mentioned in Bede and during the ninth century it was sacked by the Danes. Fragments of Anglo-Saxon crosses have been discovered in or just outside the priory which further support early activity on the site. It is thought that this church was still standing when it was replaced by a post-conquest monastery at the end of the 11th century. Excavations in 1963 and 1980 revealed traces of five rectangular timber buildings which were interpreted as pre-conquest buildings associated with the early monastery. However, there were no datable finds and therefore no certain traces of the early monastery has been uncovered. The monastery at Tynemouth was refounded by the Earl of Northumberland, Robert de Mobray in 1085. It was founded under the Benedictine order and was a daughter house of St Alban's Abbey in Hertfordshire. Throughout the subsequent history of the monastery, documentary evidence records continual quarrels with the monks at Durham who had held the earlier church at Tynemouth. The upstanding remains of the priory comprise three main phases; first, the ruins of this Norman foundation, secondly, modifications and additions of early 13th century date and thirdly, modifications and additions during the 15th century. The earlier remains include the ruins of the church and parts of the claustral ranges including a chapter house. Some foundations of this first phase have also been exposed by excavation, making it possible to reconstruct other parts of the original layout of the site. The original Norman church did not resemble its mother church but was similar to a type introduced into England at Battle Abbey. It measured 55m in length and included an aisled nave of seven bays, a chancel and transepts. There was also an apsidal presbytery, the area at the eastern end of the church in which the principal altar was located. Much of this early nave is visible today along with an opening into the north transept in addition to two semicircular window arches and several piers, one of which displays a decorated capital. At the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century the church was largely rebuilt and the nave extended by the addition of two bays at its western end and a new presbytery was built which was intended to house the Shrine of St Oswin, although this was subsequently removed in order to separate pilgrimages from normal monastic services. In addition, a Lady Chapel was constructed on the north side of the presbytery. The church as it is visible today is 94m long which includes an aisled nave of nine bays, transepts and an aisled choir in addition to the new presbytery which replaced its Norman predecessor. During the 15th century a small vaulted chapel with an elaborately carved ceiling, known as the Percy Chantry, was attached to the eastern end of the church; the tracery in the rose window through the west wall is of 19th century date. The elaborately carved western doorway also dates from the 15th century. Tynemouth had one of the earliest recorded monastic lighthouses. Documentary evidence indicates that it comprised a coal fire in an open brazier and that it was situated at the east end of the church upon one of two turrets which flanked the east end of the presbytery. The claustral range are situated to the south of the church, the cloister being entered through two doorways at the eastern end of the south aisle. As in the church there is evidence of Norman fabric but, although built on the same arrangement of the 12th century ranges, most of the upstanding remains date from later centuries. The cloister, which is small for a priory of this size, measures 25m by 24m. Nothing remains of the covered alleys around each side. The east range contains the chapter house whose wall arcade survives. The chapter houses survives to a height of two to three courses while the remainder of the claustral range, containing the standard range of buildings including the communal hall and the warming house with surviving floor tiles, stand only one or two courses high. To the south of the cloister stand the prior's lodgings including a hall and a chapel standing to virtually full height. The monks' cemetery is situated to the south and east of the priory church. It was reused and extended over the ruins of the church in the post-medieval period. It contains some 700 grave stones, mainly of the years between 1715 to 1856. The development of a local form of grave stone can be seen in the use of table tombs supported on four legs. To the north of the priory church lies the outer court containing two large yards and the buried remains of buildings such as large store houses, barns and stables. Excavation in 1963 uncovered part ground plans of some of these buildings and others to the north of the church. It is thought that a 14th century room for the safe keeping of sacred vessels and vestments known as a sacristy was uncovered as well as a medieval lime kiln, a series of pathways and fragments of stone drains. A building situated to the west of the sacristy has been interpreted as a priest's house connected to the church. Large quantities of medieval pottery was discovered during the 1963 excavations in particular large pieces of cooking pots, cups and jugs. Other finds included glass from both windows and vessels, coins of Charles I and Charles II and a coin of Ethelred II of Northumbria (841-844), part of a jet finger ring and several bone implements and clay pipes. Further excavation in 1980 uncovered the remains of a large aisled barn, known from historical evidence to be the monastic wheat barn. The priory was dissolved in 1539. An incomplete cross shaft, which stood originally along the road to the priory near Monkhouse Farm north west of Tynemouth, was moved to its present location east of the claustral ranges earlier this century. It is 1.93m high, 0.46m wide and between 0.30m and 0.23m deep. Although the decoration is now difficult to make out, a detailed study of the cross has revealed more detail. The west side consists of two panels depicting a hunting scene and three animals. The south side, also of two panels, depicts two animals on an interlaced background and three pairs of beasts. The eastern contains a tree scroll and the north side, again of two panels depicts a foliated design. The cross is thought to be a boundary or wayside cross of ninth century date. Early documents attest to the existence of a castle at Tynemouth in 1095 when it was besieged for two months during the rebellion of Robert Mobray against William Rufus. It has been suggested that remains of this early castle may survive in the large mound of earth known as The Mount situated at the south west corner of the promontory, and which later became incorporated into the defences of the 16th century artillery castle. This was superseded by an enclosure castle built by the priors of Tynemouth around the headland to enclose the monastery and defend it from attack. Licence to crenellate, formal consent from the crown, was granted in 1296 and enclosure walls and towers were built around a circuit of 974m. This was one of the largest fortifications in England at this time. The visible remains today are of 13th and 14th century date and include a gatehouse with a barbican and the curtain walls with two visible towers. Fragments of this first phase of the castle survive on the north side of the promontory where they have become incorporated into later lines of defence. In addition a length of walling stands to full height on the south west side for 27m, surmounted by a well preserved gallery and also containing a 13th century semicircular tower. During the early 14th century an additional tower, known as the Whitley Tower, was added to the defences at the north west corner of the castle. This is visible as a square tower and was originally of three storeys. In 1349 Tynemouth was described as one of the strongest fortresses in the Anglo- Scottish borders. In the late 14th century a replacement gatehouse was built: it survives well today and consists of a three storied rectangular tower, with a three storey block attached to its south eastern corner with a barbican to the front separated by an open court. On the ground floor of the main tower were housed a series of passages and guardrooms, on the first floor is the great hall and the upper floor contained the great chamber. The relative grandeur of its accommodation is thought to suggest that one of the main purposes of the new gatehouse was to provide a guest suite for royal and other important visitors. The attached block contains the kitchen. The castle remained in military use after the dissolution of the priory in AD 1539 and has been modified down the centuries reflecting the military needs at various times down to the 1960s. After the dissolution in the 16th century, Tynemouth became part of Henry VIII's scheme of national defence and was modified to serve as an artillery castle. The eminent military engineer Sir Richard Lee designed the bastioned town defences at Berwick upon Tweed was sent to Tynemouth in 1545 to assess the potential of the site as a fortress. He was accompanied by two Italian fortification experts. The conclusion was reached that Tynemouth required modern artillery defence and its strategic importance as the obvious main defence of the Tyne was recognized. A plan to provide Tynemouth with bastioned defences was, however, not carried out. Instead, the medieval walls of the castle were reinforced and the main front of the castle was replaced by stone- revetted earthworks in order to provide artillery platforms. Gun ports were inserted in the south wall, several of which are visible. A wide ditch in front of the barbican was dug which isolated the headland from the mainland. The ditch visible today was remodelled at a later period. The fortifications were provided with cannon and held a garrison of 50 men. These 16th century alterations were part of a larger defensive scheme which involved an extension of the earthwork outwork defences designed to command the harbour and river entrance. This involved extending the outworks behind the small bay to the south called Prior's Haven to enclose the smaller promontory to the south known as Spanish Battery. However, the full defensive and offensive potential of the site at Tynemouth was not realized and for the remainder of the 16th century it was under manned and neglected. During the English Civil War of the 17th century, the castle constantly changed hands between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. After the Restoration of Charles II, Colonel Sir Edward Villiers became the governor of the castle. In 1663 it is known that the fortifications at Tynemouth were repaired and a governor's house was constructed. This was situated immediately north east of the east end of the church and part of its buried remains were uncovered by excavation in 1980. The monastic lighthouse which had collapsed in 1659, was also replaced at this time and was situated in the north east corner of the promontory. It was subsequently rebuilt during the later 18th century when the coal brazier was replaced by an oil lamp. It was demolished in 1859. The foundations of the lighthouse are thought to survive beneath the ground level. During the 18th and early 19th century the walls of Tynemouth castle which encircled the cliffs were adapted for coastal gun batteries in response to threats such as French invasion attempts and the Napoleonic invasion preparations. By the late 19th century coastal defence batteries were rearmed to mount breech loading and high angle guns to counter attack from fast torpedo boats. Tynemouth was the principal defence of Tyneside, at this time the north of England's main outlet for iron and coal and the centre of shipbuilding and the manufacture of armaments. The earliest surviving above ground feature of this phase at Tynemouth, is one of two original emplacements for a six inch breech loading gun constructed in 1893. It is the most northerly of an arc of emplacements of different ages. Its gun pit is now filled by a World War II concrete store building. Adjacent to this is an emplacement for a 9.2 inch breech loading gun constructed in 1904. intended for counter bombardment against large warships and two six inch gun emplacements for close defence constructed in 1902. Situated on the southern cliff overlooking the river there are positions for two 12 pounder quick fire guns also constructed in 1902. Adjacent to the latter batteries there are the restored underground magazines which stored ammunition and supplied the guns. The Tynemouth batteries were updated and operational during the First World War and additional buildings were constructed including a fire observation post and the Admiralty signal station. These were demolished in advance of the construction of the new coastguard station in 1980. At the beginning of the Second World War the batteries were once again operational and one four inch navel gun emplacement was built which is visible in the extreme south east corner of the castle. The army remained in residence at the castle until 1960 at which time much of the modern military evidence was removed. (Scheduling Report)

A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1296 Sept 5 (Click on the date for details of this licence.).


The fortification consists of a strong wall and ditch across the neck of the headland with a gatehouse and barbican complex surmount by what amounts to a tower house for the priory's steward.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
PastScape   County HER   Scheduling        
Maps >
Streetmap   NLS maps   Where's the path   Old-Maps      
Data/Maps > 
Magic   V. O. B.   Geology   LiDAR   Open Domesday  
Air Photos > 
Bing Maps   Google Maps   Getmapping   ZoomEarth      
Photos >
CastleFacts   Geograph   Flickr   Panoramio      

Sources of information, references and further reading
Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.
It is an offence to disturb a Scheduled Monument without consent. It is a destruction of everyone's heritage to remove archaeological evidence from ANY site without proper recording and reporting.
Don't use metal detectors on historic sites without authorisation.
The information on this web page may be derived from information compiled by and/or copyright of Historic England, County Historic Environment Records and other individuals and organisations. It may also contain information licensed under the Open Government Licence. All the sources given should be consulted to identify the original copyright holder and permission obtained from them before use of the information on this site for commercial purposes.
The author and compiler of Gatehouse does not receive any income from the site and funds it himself. The information within this site is provided freely for educational purposes only.
The bibliography owes much to various bibliographies produced by John Kenyon for the Council for British Archaeology, the Castle Studies Group and others.
Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
Minor archaeological investigations, such as watching brief reports, and some other 'grey' literature is most likely to be held by H.E.R.s but is often poorly referenced and is unlikely to be recorded here, or elsewhere, but some suggestions can be found here.
The possible site or monument is represented on maps as a point location. This is a guide only. It should be noted that OS grid references defines an area, not a point location. In practice this means the actual center of the site or monument may often, but not always, be to the North East of the point shown. Locations derived from OS grid references and from latitude longitiude may differ by a small distance.
Further information on mapping and location can be seen at this link.
Please help to make this as useful a resource as possible by contacting Gatehouse if you see errors, can add information or have suggestions for improvements in functality and design.
Help is acknowledged.
This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:07

Home | Books | Links | Fortifications and Castles | Other Information | Help | Downloads | Author Information | Contact