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 

Bellister Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Bellester; Bellecester

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

OS Map Grid Reference: NY70066297
Latitude 54.96042° Longitude -2.46904°

Bellister Castle has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a probable Fortified Manor House, and also as a certain Pele Tower, and also as a probable Bastle.

There are major building remains.

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


The ruin of a square tower or 'bastelhouse', mentioned in 1471, and a survey of 1541, attached to the NW end of a house with a date-stone 1669. It was defended by a moat which is traceable on all but the south east side (Pevsner 1957; Hodgson 1828; Tomlinson 1902).
The tower is a roofless shell, and in poor condition. It adjoins a 19th century 'pseudo' castellated house incorporating a revised 17th century datestone all of which stand on an artificial mound. Remains of the moat are slight, and apparent on the south and west sides only (F1 RWE 07-JUL-1966)
Bellister Castle stands on a prominent mound rising from the floodplain of the South Tyne, 1km south west of Haltwhistle.
The early history of the castle has not been thoroughly researched. The mound or motte on which it stands - apparently partly natural and partly artificial - suggests an origin in the late 11th or 12th century, whilst the present ruined building is a first floor hall house of late 13th or early 14th century type enlarged by the addition of a three storeyed solar tower at its north west end.
By the 16th century Bellister Castle had passed into the hands of the Blenkinsopp family; in the 1541 survey it is described as a bastle house. It continued to be occupied throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, as evidence by a stone inscribed 'EJB 1667' (Elizabeth and John Blenkinsopp) and the moulded ogee arched doorway of the present house; the walls of the north western part of the present house may be of this date. An early 19th century sketch by the Rev John Hodgson shows the ruins as much more extensive than at present; the same writer's History of Northumberland speaks of a 'grey and goodley pile of ruined towers, with modern inhabited additions'.
The inhabited part of the castle, then owned by John Kirsop, was damaged by fire in 1827, after which the south eastern part of the building was rebuilt by John Dobson. There were further alterations later in the 19th century, and then, after a second fire in 1901, the entrance block was heightened from two to three storeys, and the semi-octagonal stair tower built in the angle between the entrance block and Dobson's south east wing.
The remains of the castle never appear to have been examined or recorded in detail. The earlier part of the building appears to have been an elongate hall block aligned north east to south west (hereafter north-south) along the top of the mound. The block has been 14m wide and perhaps around 26m long (if it extended the full length of the present house), although little more than its north end survives today. The added tower, c.8m wide and 7m long, is built onto the west part of the north end of the earlier building.
Both hall block and tower have large clasping buttresses at the angles. Few features survive; there has been a large first floor window at the north end of the east wall of the hall block, the segmental rear arch of which survives, and a large first floor fireplace towards the centre of the north wall of the block. The solar tower has had three floors; external masonry changes suggest that the second floor may be an addition or reconstruction; there is a garderobe chute on the west side of the tower, a small first floor window on the north, and a large second floor window, with an elaborate roll moulded surround, on the north.
Some surviving architectural detailing, such as the moulded surround of a second floor window in the tower, and other moulded pieces lying loose within the ruin, suggest that this was a building of considerable status. Some of the mouldings look to be of 16th or 17th century date, and of the same rather Scottish character seen again at Featherstone (NY 66 SE 7) and, in some reset fragments at Blenkinsopp (NY 66 SE 1).
Although some 17th century walling may be incorporated, the majority of the present house is post-1827. The south east front, with its central porch tower flanked by oriel windows with attractive carved detail, is one of John Dobson's earliest essays in his 'castellated Gothic' style which climaxed ten years later at Beaufront Castle (NY 96 NE 19) north east of Hexham.
The castle is of importance both intrinsically as a partial survival of an early first floor hall house (and, in its 19th century parts, as a significant early work of a well known Victorian architect) and, standing on its earlier motte, as a prominent and attractive feature in the Tynedale landscape. The ruined sections merit a detailed survey and analysis, and the scattered architectural fragments a proper examination and recording (Ryder 1994-5). (Northumberland HER)

Ruined tower house and adjoining occupied house. Ruined section possibly a C13 hall-house with C14 (possibly solar) tower on west; altered c.1600. Occupied house dated 1669 but possibly incorporating medieval fabric in lower courses; major alterations c.1826 by John Dobson and c.1890; partly rebuilt c.1901-5 following an extensive fire. Tower coursed rubble with dressings; roofless. House squared and snecked sandstone, roofs not visible. L-plan medieval range with U-plan occupied house on east end. Castellated style house.
Ruined section of 2 builds retains few architectural details. Original north and west walls are 2 and 3 storeys high, south wall has partly collapsed and east wall is largely destroyed. Projecting north-west corner with alternating quoins; fragment of spiral stair near south-west corner. Narrower added tower on west has similar projecting corners; fragmentary window openings on north; window in surround with double-roll moulding set high on west; fragment of garderobe on partly-collapsed south wall.
Occupied house has mainly C19 2- and 3-light mullioned windows and embattled parapets. North front has recessed centre and projecting wings: 3-storey, 3-bay centre has possibly re-set moulded ogee-headed doorway and 1669 datestone; slightly-projecting c.1890 tower on west, adjoining ruined section, with projecting single-storey wing on front; far-projecting early C19 2-storey east wing with flanking corner turrets, cross windows and a later 3-storey semi- octagonal tower on north-west corner. 2-storey, 3-bay east return has projecting tower with pointed doorway, flanking elaborate oriel windows and projecting corners. South front of 2 builds: recessed 3-storey, 3-bay centre; c.1890 tower at west with taller turret; wider 2-storey tower at east with projecting corners and turrets. Interior refitted in early C20. (Listed Building Report)

A survey of 1541 writes “At Bellester is a bastell house in thoccupanc'n of one Blenkinsoppe & is in measurable good rep'ac'ons.” Here the term 'bastell house' appears to have attached to a tower house, which does demonstrate, as expressed by Philip Dixon, that originally Bastle house was a term used for high quality buildings. The castle certainly stands on a mound, which does appear to have been ditched about, the resemblance to a motte may be co-incidental although the earliest C13 phases of the masonry buildings are supportive of this being an earlier site but the early tenurial history seems obscure, although Hodgson (1840) suggests it may have been held by the Roos family.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
PastScape   County HER   Scheduling   Listing   I. O. E.
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.
*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of, the described site.
This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:28

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