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Newton Underwood Tower, Meldon

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Old Walls

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

OS Map Grid Reference: NZ14988613
Latitude 55.16929° Longitude -1.76633°

Newton Underwood Tower, Meldon has been described as a probable Pele Tower, and also as a probable Bastle, and also as a Urban Defence although is doubtful that it was such.

There are masonry footings remains.

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


In the north east corner of the village green of Newton Underwood is a garden containing an arch with a span of twelve feet and built on walls six feet thick. Thirty years ago {c.1802} there were two others adjoining it to the east, which like the one remaining opened on to the south. The place where the arch stands was called the 'Old Walls' and digging in the vicinity has revealed old foundations. Local tradition is that it was a 'bassel house' {bastle}. It was no doubt a fortalice or bastle of the family of Eure (Hodgson 1832).
Tower at Newton Underwood (Hadcock 1939).
Remains of a tower situated upon a gentle south east slope, which drops to south and east to a river valley, and overlooking a river valley to the north. Undulating ground to the west. Open farmland. The remains consist of one arch 3.5m wide in a stretch of wall 6.3m long and 2.2m thick, composed of large and small stones in mortar, faced with roughly shaped stones, coursed and bonded, on both faces. The fragment is part of the south wall of the tower and is orientated ENE-WSW. The other fragments or foundations of the tower are to be seen, though a surrounding garden wall is doubtless built of stones from the tower, they being of like appearance to these in the fragment still standing. The arch springs at 0.8m from present ground level. At the west end of the wall a farmhouse has been constructed, the tower wall abutting onto the south east corner of the farmhouse. The owner of the house, and land on which the tower stood, has no further information about the tower, to offer. There is no evidence for dating the structure. The height of the fragment is about 2.8m (F1 ASP 17-JAN-1956).
Newton Underwood Tower. Little remains to mark the site (Long 1967).
Old cottage and adjacent ruin, Grade II. Ruins probably medieval; cottage 18th century. To right of cottage is a ruined wall 2m thick with large semi-circular arch. Ruined structure formerly called 'Old Walls', not a conventional tower house (Listed Building Report).
18th century cottage with thick ruined wall attached to east end. More extensive remains in 19th century (Pevsner 1992).
The remains are attached to the east end of an 18th century cottage, now derelict, with its west end close to collapse. The east wall of the cottage is formed by the west wall of an earlier structure, 5.5m wide internally. Its west and north walls are only c.0.72m thick, but the remaining section of its south wall, pierced by the large semi-circular arch, is 2.13m thick. Its remaining voussoirs (both faces have partly fallen) are only of roughly-shaped stone.
The remainder of the structure is of roughly-coursed and roughly-squared stone, with large and quite well-squared blocks being used for the north west angle quoin. The west wall , with an internal (now external) set-back at first floor level, contains a blocked two- light window at its south end, its external opening with the sill cut away being used as a cupboard within the cottage. The badly-eroded lintel and south jamb are exposed, with the sockets for a bar in the centre of each light. A straight joint visible on the internal (east face) of the wall suggests that there was a second window directly above, but within the cottage this section of wall is concealed by plaster.
The footings of the north wall, overbuilt by a later field wall, survive for a few metres. The position of the original east wall is no longer clear, unless it is represented by a second field wall. The whole site is overgrown and cluttered with rubbish and partly occupied by a 20th century brick privy.
The remains are obviously of a building of some age, although the relatively thin walls and the presence of a two-light window at ground floor level militate against it being either a tower or a conventional bastle. The style of masonry and the mullioned window would suggest a later 16th or 17th century date. The large arch is a puzzle; is it part of a projecting loggia at the front of a 17th century house? (Ryder 1994-5)
A rectified photographic survey of the standing buildings and an evaluation of the archaeological deposits has been carried out by The Archaeological Practice, prior to intended developments taking place. Here an 18th century farmhouse incorporates walling of an earlier structure and abuts a large stone archway. This study confirmed that the 18th century farmhouse on the site incorporates the remains of an earlier, substantial stone structure. Due to the present condition of the standing buildings and the limited nature of the below ground evaluation, firm conclusions could not be made about the nature and date of some features.
Due to the presence of extensive internal plastering and the unstable nature of parts of the building, it was not possible to prepare internal elevations. Six evaluation trenches and a test pit were excavated to the east and south east of the standing buildings. These revealed that the standing archway and associated farmhouse wall were once part of a much larger structure, a full ground plan of which was not established within the remit of the specified works.
The farmhouse east wall which incorporates part of the early structure also contains the stone lintel and south jamb of a two-light window. This may represent an in situ feature of the pre-farmhouse structure. The exact date and nature of the early structure remains unknown (Williams 1999).
Survey and evaluation by The Archaeological Practice confirmed that the east wall of the 18th century farmhouse represents the west wall of an earlier structure. The most prominent portion of earlier fabric is a wall extending 4.7m from the south east corner of the farmhouse, which has a round-headed arch c.3.5m wide running through it. The structure has previously been interpreted as a medieval tower or bastle house and it has also been suggested the archway is the remnant of a 'loggia' associated with the 17th century house, although there is no supporting documentary evidence (Med. Arch. 2000).
The interior of the building was recorded by rectified photography in November 2003. The most significant feature recorded was the remains of a two-light window in the farmhouse east wall which appears to be an in situ feature of the pre-farmhouse structure. It is tentatively dated to the 16th/17th century. Early painted wall decoration was also seen on this wall (The Archaeological Practice 2003).
Evidence from topographic survey, aerial photography and historic maps suggests that Newton Underwood was originally a planned settlement, laid out on symmetrical lines and enclosed by walls or earthworks. It is suggested it represents a defended settlement, founded in the 12th or 13th century on newly cleared woodland. Newton first appears in the documentary sources in 1240, in a list of services due to the Barony of Mitford. This record, in conjunction with the fact that the roads in and out of the settlement appear to have provided direct access to Mitford, and the evidence that it may have once possessed strong fortifications, suggest that Newton may have been an important satellite of the baronial stronghold at Mitford. However, in the absence of an absolute date for the foundation of the settlement, the possibility that it may have predated the castle at Mitfford cannot be entirely ruled out (Hewitt 2002). (Northumberland HER)

Gatehouse is somewhat bemused by Hewitt's suggestion that Newton Underwood was a 'defended settlement'. There does not seem to be any other archaeological reports of earthworks or wall around the settlement and the C12/C13 was a period of prolonged peace in the north so the needs for the expense of such extensive defensive seems slight and the tenurial history does really suggest the money was available. However Hewitt's report has not been seen by Gatehouse and the Northumberland HER record of it may be misleading.
The 'Old Walls' ruins may well represent a defensible building although there is a tendency in this area to see all old buildings as defensible and that habit is an old one true even when Hodgson was writing in the early C19. Certainly it was a thick walled vaulted building and may date back to the C16. Hodgson's account would seem to suggest a building built on three adjoining semicircular arches (like a bridge) possible all open to the south side and if that was the form it could not really be defensible but neither would these be quite the quality one might expect from a loggia. They may have functioned as horse stables. Further investigation of the surrounding area to get a fuller plan of the original building complex may throw some light on things.
The adjoining cottage, which contains part of the older building, was empty in the late C20 but has been refurbished and the whole site has been cleared of obscuring plant growth.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:09

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