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Shilla Hill Bastle, Thornburn

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Starr Head

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

OS Map Grid Reference: NY76369038
Latitude 55.20718° Longitude -2.37299°

Shilla Hill Bastle, Thornburn has been described as a certain Bastle.

There are masonry footings remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Despite the fact that only the lower courses survive, the bastle 350m west of Comb retains significant archaeological deposits. The importance of the monument is enhanced by the survival of other bastles in the vicinity. Taken together they add to our knowledge and understanding of post medieval settlement at this time.
The monument includes the remains of a bastle, a form of defended farmhouse situated on the summit of Shilla Hill commanding the valley of the Tarset Burn. The bastle is rectangular in shape and measures 14.5m by 7m externally with walls of large unhewn stone 1.4m thick. They are best preserved on the northern and eastern sides where they stand to a height of 2m. Shaped boulders have been used to form quoin stones at the corners of the building. There is a main entrance in the eastern wall giving access into the ground floor basement; it has an arched roof over a lintel and is furnished with a draw bar tunnel. It is thought that the west end of the bastle, which is encumbered by fallen debris, contains the remains of a stair which would have given access to the upper storey living area of the bastle. It is thought that the original name of the bastle was Starr Head. (Scheduling Report)

The tower or bastle at Shilla Hill, in poor condition, measures externally 48ft x 24ft. The walls are four feet thick except the west wall which is eight feet thick and probably contained a mural stair. The walls are of rubble with large quoins. The doorway is in the east end. The bastle is surrounded by the ruins of a complex series of enclosures, some of stone, and some of earth and stone, and generally curvilinear in plan, while at its east end are the better built remains of what was probably a later farm house (Dodds 1940)
Remains of a building upon the top of Shilla Hill, at approx 680 feet above O.D. The ground measurements are 14.4m east-west, 7m north-south and the walls, of large unhewn stones with shaped boulders at the corners, are 1.4m thick. The entrance in the east end is 0.6m wide, has an arched roof over a lintel stone and has bar holes in the side stones. The north and east walls stand to a height of 2m, the wall stands to 1.5m, and the south wall to 0.3m. No evidence of access to an upper storey, or of vaulting. The ruin is overgrown, and a tree growing on the wall in the north east corner threatens to demolish this part. The site commands the valley of the Tarset Burn to the north west, north east, and south east, and a wide stretch of gently rising open moorland to the south, west and north west, and stands within newly-afforested lands belonging to the Forestry Commission. Similar remains in the region have been dated to the 16th/17th century. Foundations of a steading to the immediate east of the Pele are too fragmentary to date, but the walls do not appear to have been of any great thickness or age. The enclosures surrounding the Pele, referred to by Authority 2 lie in afforested ground and could not be located (F3 AGM 09-MAY-1977).
Condition unchanged. Apart from the steadings to the east which appear to be recent there are no traces of the surrounding enclosures, which have probably been destroyed by deep furrow ploughing within the afforestation (F2 BHP 28-JUL-1970).
Ruin of rectangular building 14.4m x 6.95m externally with walls of roughly-squared roughly-coursed blocks; north wall 1.35m thick. North east corner stands to 2m. Doorway in centre east wall has rounded jambs, checks for two doors, and drawbar tunnel on south; one inner lintel survives. Remains of 'later farmhouse and other enclosures' at east end now barely visible, following Forestry planting then clearance. Tree growing on east wall, masonry has recently fallen. Byre entrance could be consolidated and lintel possibly replaced (Ryder 1990).
The earliest reference to the name Shilla Hill is 1749; it is marked on Armstrong's map of 1769; but is not recorded in 1770. The original name may have been lost as the bastle must be late 16th/early 17th century. The name Starheyd (1552)/Starr Head (1583)/Stairhead (1663)/Starry Head (late 17th century) occurs in association with known places in the area and is suggested as the original name of Shilla Hill (Long 1988). Remains of a later cottage and a field system lie close by. A possible stack stand lies near the ruins. Shilla Hill pele (Long 1967).
Surveyed at 1:500 scale by RCHME in May 1997. Inspection of 1948 aerial photographs, prior to afforestation, show the bastle, the building to the north east, external enclosure bank and small semi-circular enclosure. Remains of ridge and furrow cultivation are visible outside the enclosure banks to the north, north east and south, but not within the enclosures. Description of bastle largely as above. Two other buildings lie to the north east and east of the bastle and survive as earthworks. A series of banks form four enclosures, probably used for livestock (Chandler 1997).
Watching brief during conservation works in 2009 recorded a probable narrow slit vent west of centre in the north wall. In the east part of the same wall were two massive squared blocks which seem to be the base of the north-west angle of the original building. The west end extension of the bastle revealed, 2.5m inside the line of the external wall face, a wall face two courses high in parts, with a rough facing only to the interior, with a gap at the south end and another just short of the north end. This thickening is considered to be a crude stone bench, perhaps used as a feeding platform for stock and was probably an insertion made after the bastle was extended, and later cut through towards its north end by a doorway. A possible threshhold of a seconday opening was also apparent in the south wall of the bastle, suggested by a footing of loose small rubble. A test-pit excavated against the interior face of the south wall, in order to determine the depth of rubble overburden, revealed a flagged floor at about 0.75m depth. This was found to have been laid on a base of imported clean sand which itself had been spread on sub-soil at the same depth as the adjacent wall foundation course. It appears that the flagged floor was an original feature, although the only dateable finds to emerge from this small excavation were 18th or 19th century pot sherds (The Archaeological Practice 2009). (Northumberland HER)

The bastie, which measures 12.2m by 4.5m internally, is as described by Ramm et al. (1970, 92) except that the relieving arch above the doorway in the north-eastern wall has since fallen down. (Lax 1999)

One of a group of several bastles near Tarset Head, 8.5 to 12 km nw of Bellingham. Others in group include Black Middens 1 and 2, Waterhead, Highfield, Bog Head (Corby's Castle, Barty's peel), The Comb (Combe, Keame), Hill House.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:28

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