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Horsley Tower, Longhorsley

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

OS Map Grid Reference: NZ14509463
Latitude 55.24571° Longitude -1.77159°

Horsley Tower, Longhorsley has been described as a certain Tower House, and also as a probable Pele Tower.

There are major building remains.

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


The tower is a plain rectangle, 42ft east to west, and 30ft north to south. It has a large number of large windows on the south side with stone labels over them. They do not look like insertions. The present entrance is in the east wall, but an older square-headed doorway now converted into a window, in the south wall, led directly into the vault which occupies the western part of the basement. This vault with a cylindrical stone roof was 22ft 2ins long by 17ft 10ins broad before it was subdivided. At the north end of the east wall is a doorway into a small vault, and through this was the entrance to a gabled addition made to the tower, parallel with the east wall, apparently about the close of the 17th century. A short passage from near the former entrance at the south east corner of the main vault leads to the wheel-stair which ascends to the battlements, terminating in a small turret, which seems to have had embrasures of its own. The battlements are perfectly plain. The tower has three upper floors (Bates 1891).
When or by whom the tower of Horsley was built, there is no record, hint or tradition, though there can be no doubt that it belonged to Sir John Horsley in the time of Henry VIII. It is not mentioned in the 1415 Survey. The tower has been converted into a manse and a chapel (Hodgson 1832).
The massive old pale tower occupies a commanding position to the west of the village. There is apparently little change to be observed as regards its outward features, since the time it was built. It is now in the possession of the Riddell family (Anon 1891)
The external features described by Bates are correct except that the present entrance is on the south side and the square headed doorway, now a window, is to the east. The building is four storied and constructed of coursed and dressed masonry. None of the architectural features that remain appear to be earlier than the 16th century. The projecting wing on the north side has, in its west wall, a wide Tudor doorway and a large window with moulded surround. The building is in good condition and in use as a residence (F1 EG 14-JAN-57).
The Tower, Grade II star, Longhorsley. Probably 16th century, oblong stone tower 4 storeys high. South front has panelled door and fanlight in plain doorcase with hoodmould; low ground floor casement; first floor has a 3 light stone-mullioned window and an 8-paned non-opening window, both with labels; second floor has 2 (Listed Building Report April 1969). (PastScape)

Towerhouse, probably early C16; north wing mid-C17, some restoration c.1930. Coursed squared stone with dressings; slate roof, except for pantiles on outbuilding; L-plan, South front 4 storeys, irregular fenestration. Original square-headed chamfered doorway now blocked and C20 window inserted. C20 door to left. 3-light window above and pair of 2-light windows on 2nd floor are C20 except for hoodmould of former. Other windows mostly old, some with hoodmoulds; narrow loops to right for newel stair. Crenellated parapet above cut-back string course, stair turret rising slightly higher; hipped roof. 1-storey outbuilding to left has lean-to roof with crow-stepped coping.
West elevation of wing 3 storeys, 2 narrow bays; projecting right bay has external stair to 1st-floor door; left bay has boarded door in moulded flat- pointed surround; paired 8-pane sashes in architrave above. Right return shows varied fenestration including old barred 4-pane casement; at right windows in architraves. Rear elevation:gable end of wing has irregular projecting stack with 2nd-floor 2-light window in raised moulded surround, to right.
Interior: barrel-vaulted ground floor with separate vaulted chambers to east, former entrance lobby on south to stone newel stair at south-east angle. 1st floor has original fireplace with lintel on moulded corbels and segmental relieving arch above; chamfered segmental rear arches to some windows. Early C18 panelling on 2nd floor.
The tower, built by the Horsley family, passed c.1685 to the Widdringtons and c.1763 to the Riddells, Roman Catholic families who converted the top floor into a chapel, which remained in use until the present Catholic Church was built in 1841. (Listed Building Report 30-JAN-1986)

There are few documentary references to the history of the tower. It is thought to have been built by a member of the Horsley family and later passed to the Widdringtons who are said to have built the north wing. After the Widdringtons it became both priest's residence and chapel. The latter function was replaced by the present Catholic chapel built nearby in 1841. The tower remained the priest's house until 1936 when it was sold and restoration works carried out.
The tower is a rectangular building of four storeys, measuring c.12.8m by 9m, its longer axis east-west. It is constructed of squared and coursed stone without any plinth or set-backs below a moulded string, now badly weathered, at the base of the parapet. The parapet
has an embattled coping, which appears to be original. A short 17th century wing, of two storeys above a semi-sunken basement, adjoins the east part of the north side of the tower and an altered building, now a garage, the lower part of the west wall.
THE BASEMENT: The tower basement is made up of one large vaulted chamber with two smaller ones at the east end. The original entrance has been a doorway opening into a lobby adjacent to the south east corner of the main chamber; this doorway, 1.2m wide, has been converted into a window. It has a chamfered surround and a head, formerly shaped but later cut square, with a central keystone. Internally there is a long draw bar tunnel in the west jamb. A plain square-headed doorway further west is a 1930s insertion, replacing a sash window.
The original doorway opens into a small lobby from which a newel stair in the south east angle of the tower, lit by various small chamfered loops, rises to the roof. A fireplace in the centre of the west wall of the main vaulted chamber is an early 20th century feature, at least in its present form. To its north is an inserted doorway, now blocked, which gave access to the adjacent outbuilding (perhaps originally a brewhouse?) that has now been converted into a garage. On the north is another inserted doorway, now a window and at the north end of the east wall a square-headed opening, its head altered, opening into the northern of the two smaller chambers. This chamber has a blocked hatch in its vault and a chamfered loop on the east with a recess containing a stone drain in its internal north jamb. From this chamber square-headed doorways give access both to a stair rising northwards through the wall to give access to the first floor of the north east wing and to the southern chamber. This is lit by an inserted window on the east.
FIRST FLOOR: At the upper floor levels of the tower all the present sub-divisions appear to be post-medieval. It seems unlikely that any of the partitions are original work.
Access to the floor is both by the newel stair and a straight stair rising through the thickness of the north wall from the first floor of the wing, into a central north-south passage. The principal feature at first floor level is a splendid fireplace in the north wall of the western room. This has a massive lintel carried on shaped corbels, with a relieving arch above; it is difficult to date closely, but could be 16th century work. The large three-light window on the south side of the room has 20th century mullions and sill, but its chamfered jambs are old, although not coursed in with the adjacent walling. A sash window on the west, under a timber lintel, is probably an 18th century insertion. A small closet at the north west corner, perhaps a garderobe, is lit by an old chamfered loop in the north wall.
A smaller window further east in the north wall, lighting the central passage, has a chamfered surround coursed in with the walling. Its proportions hint that it might have been a high level doorway. In the east wall are an old chamfered loop and a broad two-light window, all restoration work except for its chamfered outer jambs.
SECOND FLOOR: Access to the second floor is both by the newel stair and by a relatively recent stair which has a landing lit by a peculiar window in the south wall. This is small and almost square, under a heavy hoodmould. Its position and form suggest that it might originally have been a recessed panel containing an inscription or coat of arms, later modified to provide a window. At second floor level there are two principal rooms, the western with good early 18th century panelling which conceals an L-plan garderobe at the north west corner. There is reported to be a priest's hole in the flue of the chimney serving a fireplace in the west wall. The panelled room is lit by a pair of
two-light windows in the south wall (20th century remodellings of older sashes of which only the outer jambs survive) and a small loop on the west. There is another probable garderobe at the north east corner of the eastern room, which has an old but plain fireplace on the north and is lit by a chamfered window on the east and an inserted one in the north. THIRD FLOOR: The third floor of the tower, reached only by the newel stair, was formerly a single room, used as a chapel prior to the construction of the present church alongside the tower. There are three windows on the south and one in each of the other walls, all old, although that on the west has had its sill lowered. A small fireplace towards the east end of the north wall has a roll-moulded surround and the date '1681' on its lintel. In front of it is a hinged stone slab (positioned so that its hinge would be concealed by the grate) covering a recess in which it is said Bibles or prayer books could be hidden. This room is said to have been lined with linenfold panelling, sold by a priest to pay off a gambling debt; it was taken to West Collingwood, where the new owner felt superstitious about installing it in his house. It is now in the dining room of Newminster Abbey House.
PARAPET: The parapet, with its broad merlons and moulded coping, is either original, or early post-medieval work. The newel stair ends in a low embattled turret near the south east corner. On the north three old stone spouts break the moulded string below the parapet.
NORTH EAST WING: This short wing, also known as the Lady Wing, appear to be a mid 17th century addition. It is constructed of squared and roughly-tooled stone, laid in more regular courses on the east than on the west. The present entry into the tower is by a short external stair rising to an altered doorway set in a shallow projection at the south end of the west wall of the wing. This entry opens into the first floor room of the wing, lit by windows with moulded surrounds in both side walls; there is also a blocked window in the north wall to the east of the stack. The basement below, entered externally by a short flight of steps descending to a sunken doorway in the west wall, has a two-light window on the east, again with a moulded surround. The basement doorway is very like that on the south side of the main tower, being quite wide (1.2m) and in this case retaining its triangular-arched head within a square frame. The frame in this case has quite an elaborate moulding, with a quarter round inside a double wave. The second floor of the wing has a window in each side wall, tucked beneath the eaves and a two-light window with a moulded surround in the north wall to the west of the stack.
The north gable end of the wing has a projecting stack, which at second floor level has a corbelled-out extension to the east. This stack, although clearly of some age, appears to be an addition, as it blocks a basement window (only visible internally). It is possible that the stack was originally corbelled-out at first or second floor level and that only the lower part is secondary, although there is no visible sign of this in the fabric.
OTHER BUILDINGS: The tower and wing form the east ends of a rectangular yard; the walls on the north and west have formed parts of other buildings, apparently of 17th or early 18th century date. A section of the north wall, of coursed squared stone, formed the north side of a cottage; the surviving section of wall has several blocked openings with chamfered surrounds.
DISCUSSION: The tower is somewhat unusual in several respects and its original date is hard to determine. The fact that it appears to have always been a freestanding structure in a part of the county where most of the earlier towers were tower solars accompanying hall blocks, might bear witness to a relatively late date. The tower is certainly medieval in its overall form, with its vaulted basement and newel stair rising from an entrance lobby, but many of its features would suggest a 16th or early 17th century date. Although some of the upper floor windows, with their typically Tudor hoodmoulds are apparently insertions and others 20th century restoration, a number seem original. One of the most puzzling features is the basement doorway; there is no sign of this being an insertion or alteration of an earlier feature and yet it would be difficult to place it stylistically as before 1600 (Ryder 1994-5).
During 1999, a series of repair and renovation works were carried out at the tower.
The work was observed by Peter Ryder and details recorded as they were revealed.
A break in fabric is visible around the whole building (two courses below the second floor window on the north of the building). The majority of the insertions on the upper floors of the south elevation are insertions, including the central opening at first floor level. The small window which lights the head of the stair is an insertion and has been smaller than at present. Both head and sill have been cut away to accommodate the present window. At second floor level the remains of what appears to be an original window have been revealed. The west jamb and parts of the head and sill survive. It is not clear whether it was a single window or something larger. At third floor level all three of the larger windows look like insertions whilst the stair loop may be original.
On the east of the tower the masonry is not of the same quality as on the south but no obvious breaks in build are apparent. The doorway which was recorded in the 19th century is an insertion. In the large three-light window on the south side of the Dining Room the rear arch of which appears to be later than the lintel. In the kitchen a small spy hole made in the rear wall of the large fireplace-like recess on the north shows a sizeable cavity, which appears to have been a stair, dropping northwards to the first floor of the Lady Wing.
In the second floor dining room a transverse ceiling beam was revealed which measured 0.27m wide. The present joists do not fit well into the upper angles of the beams and are probably secondary.
Removal of internal partitions has exposed the internal wall faces in the basement of the Lady Wing, and the window in the north wall, covered externally by the secondary lower section of the external chimney breast.The window is of two square lights which have been closed by a grille of two upright and three horizontal bars. In the east wall of the basement three mural lockers have been uncovered each around 0.30m square and 0.25m deep, with their sills 1.4m above the present floor.
On the south side of the basement room, the former passage/stair into the tower basement, later utilised by the stair from the basement to the first floor of the Wing is to be opened. Here there is a heavy projected footing, which is an inserted feature built to underpin the footings of the north wall of the Tower when the wing was constructed. The stone work of the passage and the footing are clearly of one build. The top step of the staircase leading from the basement to the Wing survive, the lower ones have been cut away (Ryder 1999)
The tower is noted as presenting a series of phases of development, though it is acknowledged as a rather puzzling structure. The tower has few closely-dateable architectural features which have hampered previous attempts to establish a date. The first phases of the tower is thought to be Medieval in date with the use of brown or yellowish sandstone - later work seems to be distinguished by a whitish sandstone as seen in the basement vault. Original features that may be primary features include the mural garderobes and fireplace, now disguised as a cupboard. It is unresolved if this was originally a tower attached to a hall house or as an isolated tower house.
The later remodelling may imply that that the first tower house had been reduced to a ruin. It is difficult to place this remodelling much after 1600, though it appears to have been in the tradition of Medieval work. The recast tower included the main principal rooms set side-by-side with their fireplaces all in the rear wall and windows in the front wall. Further post-medieval changes are thought to have included work around 1700 including wooden panelling, remodelling of the doorways and alterations connected with the priest's house and recusant chapel. Later alterations again included the insertion or enlargement of several windows and the creation of new doorways in the basement, as well as chimney stacks. 20th century changes to the tower can be generally classed as restoration works (Ryder 1998). (Northumberland HER)
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:09

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