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Historic England Research Records

Belsay Castle

Hob Uid: 20700
Location :
Northumberland
Belsay
Grid Ref : NZ0848078550
Summary : Belsay Castle. The tower was constructed between 1391 and 1396. It is known that there was an earlier manor house, which received Edward I in 1278, but its location has never been confirmed, although fragments of 14th and 15th century paintings survive. The tower is a 3 storey rectangular stone building with two short projections or wings at the south west and north west corners. It is capped by 4 rounded corner turrets with battlements in between and constructed of square blocks of sandstone. The tunnel-vaulted ground floor was probably used as a kitchen, with the great hall on the floor above. Traces of 15th century painted wall plaster survive in the hall. In 1614 a low two storey range was added to the tower house, possibly on the site of an earlier range of buildings. The building, one of the earliest undefended houses in the county, reflected the more settled conditions in the Border area after the union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603. An extensive levelled platform in front of the south front defines the probable extent of an associated formal garden compartment. A terrace defines the probable eastward extent of another compartment containing a dry depression which probably represents a canal-like pond, possibly ornamental (previously suggested to be part of a pre-1439 moat). The 1614 house was re-modelled in 1870s and the tower restored and re-roofed in 1897. Attached to the west of the main range are the remains of a three storey block, probably built in 1711. Situated immediately north of the tower house is a 2 storey range of buildings, originally freestanding but joined by a small building to the tower in the 19th century. This building, known as the north wing, displays obvious medieval masonry, especially in the eastern wall. The gable end and the roof of this building were replaced in the 19th century but the remainder is thought to be of a similar date to the tower house.
More information : NZ 0848 7855: Belsay Castle (NR). (1)

A 3 storey tower with 4 rounded bartizans and machiolated battlements between. The date of erection is unknown but would appear to be of early to middle 14th century. The 2 storey house
adjoining the tower to the west was built in 1614. (2)

As described by Pevsner and in good condition. (3)

Belsay Castle, included in Interim Statutory List as Old Castle Cottages. First half of 14th century with early 17th century addition. Rectangular stone tower with battlements, crenellations and corner turrets, in good repair. Ground floor has loop lights, main floor has larger cusped windows and top floor again has loops.

Interior of hall has a fireplace and remains of painted murals. Low 2 storey house added on west side in 1614; stone with 2 storey porch with coupled columns, stone mullioned and transomed windows, flat parapet hiding roof and a tall chimney. Unoccupied but habitable. (4)

Belsay is in the care of English Heritage. The precise date of its construction is not known but it was probably in the latter half of the 14th century. There were additions to it dating from 1614 when it became a gentleman's residence, complete with formal garden to the south and ancilliary buildings to the rear. (5a)

The manor of Belsay is first recorded in 1240: nothing is known of it although it was sufficiently well-appointed to receive Edward I in 1278. There are no certain traces of this manor, although it
probably occupied much the same site as the castle (at NZ 08487855). There are traces of what may have been a moat to the east of the tower. The towerhouse was probably built in the late 14th century and a manor house was added in 1614. A large west wing was added in the early 18th century and this was replaced in the late 19th century with a much smaller house now in ruins. Nothing remains of the formal walled garden to the south of the manor, shown with considerable licence on an engraving of 1728 (5b), except a barely perceptible linear mound, 0.05 metres high extending from the 17th century front door, which is clearly the remains of the central path shown on the engraving.

Surveyed at 1:1000 as part of the RCHME Belsay Survey, full information is held in the NMR archive. (5)

Scheduled. (6)

Belsay Castle (formerly listed as Nos 1 and 2 Old Castle Cottages). Grade I. Towerhouse with attached house circa 1370, attached house added 1614, possibly around earlier core, by Thomas Middleton and Dorothy, his wife. Ruined fragments of early 18th century west wing attached to left. Tower has lead roof, house is roofless. Attached to the north side of the tower is a 2-storey barn, altered 18th century and 19th century but largely of medieval masonry. It has, on the east side, a blocked 2-light mullioned window and several blocked small 16th century windows; on west side 5 18th century bays with doorway in 4th bay; all openings have raised surrounds and are now boarded up. See List for full account. (7)

NZ 085 784; NZ 088 782: Belsay Castle (Old Tower). Scheduled No ND/226. (8)

Additional bibliography.(9-14)

The manor of Belsay belonged to Richard de Middleton in 1240. He became Chancellor to Henry III in 1270. The manor was forfeited in 1318 but came back to the possession of the Middleton family at a later time. It may have been during this period that the building of the castle was commenced.(15)

Belsay belonged to the Middletons in royal service until the lamentable lapses of Edward II. Sir Gilbert Middleton was involved in kidnapping and raiding so that he forfeited his life and property. Sir John de Strivelyn, a distinguished soldier and related to the Middletons, took over. There was a manor house at Belsay, but Sir John was responsible for the building of a magnificient Tower house. He served Edward III in his wars and acquired the King's love for chivalry and display as well as knowledge of fortification.

Tower house castle, built between 1439 and 1460 during a period of turbulent border warfare. (16)

Belsay Castle. NMR aerial photographs. (17)

Listed by Cathcart King and Dodds. (18,19)

The wall paintings in the Great Hall reflect two periods of medieval secular painting. The 14th century decoration of red vinescroll against a bright white background was replace in the 15th century by a more ambitious scheme. This later scheme is divided into two tiers. The upper level depicts a naval scene with two ships and various figures, while the lower tier consists of heraldic shields hanging from lopped trees set against a dark landscape covered in white flowers. Conservation work in 1996 revealed a 'wild man' supporting the quartered shield of the Middleton and Strivelyn families on the east wall. (20)

English Heritage's Archaeological Survey & Investigation team carried out a Level 1 rapid survey of Belsay Castle in April 2009 (21). The extent of the large formal garden compartment in front of the south front of the 1614 house and presumably broadly contemporary with it (see Source 5a), is reasonably clear from the levelling that has taken place, defined by gross earthworks which have been 'smoothed' to some degree at a later date. To the east, a terrace (followed by the present track) may mark the eastern limit of another garden compartment. The long rectangular pond to the east of the castle (see Source 5) shows no signs of returning at either end and may therefore be a 17th-century ornamental canal rather than a fragment of an earlier moat. Further east, a hollow way which appears to be overlain by broad ridge and furrow, starts to turn as though to cross the south front, before it is lost where the garden earthworks end. This hints that a portion of the medieval settlement may have been lost when the formal garden was created. (21)

The late 14th century tower is one of the best surviving examples of a peel tower. It was probably built by John Middleton between 1391 and 1396. It was probably not a free-standing self-contained residence, but more likely to have served as the defensive stronghold to a larger domestic complex. Decorated wall plaster is visible in the great chamber.
The Belsay estate has been held by the Middleton family since first recorded in 1270, when it was known as Beleshou. Confiscated in the 14th century after regional anarchy prompted the holding to ransom of two cardinals in 1314 by Gilbert and John Middleton. Returned to Middleton family by marriage in 1391. (22)

A ha ha, pond, embankment and garden remains associated with the castle are visible as earthworks on air photographs and lidar. To the south of the castle are traces of a low bank, thought to be the remains of the gardens depicted on the Buck engraving of 1728. To the north of the castle is a broad embankment running between NZ 0844 7865 and NZ 0841 7884 for a distance of around 197m. Its function is uncertain but the axial relationship to the castle complex suggests a direct association. To the east of the castle is rectangular hollow, originally thought to potentially represent part of a moat surrounding the castle complex. However, a more likely interpretation of this feature is a later ornamental pond. To the west is a scarp which aligns with the extant northern wall of the castle complex before turning south. This may represent traces of the enclosure depicted on Green's 1769 plan. All the features are extant on the latest 2016 lidar.
(23)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Annotated Record Map
Source details : 25" 1964
Page(s) :
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Source Number : 2
Source : Northumberland
Source details :
Page(s) : 85
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 9
Source : Register of parks and gardens of special historic interest in England
Source details : Northumberland (1985)
Page(s) :
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Plates :
Vol(s) : Part 31
Source Number : 10
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : Northumberland, 17-JAN-1935, amended 16-MAY-1997
Page(s) :
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Source Number : 11
Source : Belsay Hall, garden and castle [guide]
Source details :
Page(s) :
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Source Number : 12
Source : Archaeologia Aeliana : or miscellaneous tracts relating to antiquity
Source details : 1940
Page(s) : 75
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 17
Source Number : 13
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Wallis J. 1769. The Natural History and Antiquities of Northumberland
Page(s) : 535
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : II
Source Number : 14
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Hodgson J. 1827. The History of Northumberland
Page(s) : 359-65
Figs. :
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Vol(s) : 2, part 1
Source Number : 15
Source : An Account of Belsay Castle in the County of Northumberland
Source details : Sir Arthur Middleton, 1910
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Source Number : 16
Source : Medieval castles, towers, peles and bastles of Northumberland
Source details : TH Rowland, 1987
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Source Number : 17
Source : Aerial photograph
Source details : NZ 0878/10-14, 17-19 26-JUL-1999; NZ 0878/2/22, 7/27, 8/28, 9/29 11-MAR-1987
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Source Number : 18
Source : Castellarium anglicanum : an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Volume II : Norfolk-Yorkshire and the islands
Source details :
Page(s) : 327
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Source Number : 3
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 Pritchard BP 08-AUG-1968
Page(s) :
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Source Number : 19
Source : Bastions and Belligerents: Medieval Strongholds in Northumberland
Source details :
Page(s) : 271-3
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Source Number : 20
Source : Our painted past : wall paintings of English Heritage
Source details :
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Source Number : 21
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : English Heritage: Field observation on Belsay Castle 03-APR-2009
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Source Number : 22
Source : Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens
Source details :
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Source Number : 23
Source : Light detection and ranging (lidar) airborne survey
Source details : LIDAR English Heritage Trust DSM 03 & 14-MAR-2016
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Source Number :
Source : Belsay/ink survey
Source details :
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Source Number : 4
Source : List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest
Source details : Ward Rural District, July 1968
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Source Number : 5
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Keith Blood and Humphrey Welfare. April 1986. RCHME: Belsay Survey
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Source Number : 5a
Source : Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens [souvenir guide]
Source details :
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Source Number : 5b
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Buck S and Buck N. 1728. Views of old castles and priories in the counties of Northumberland and Durham
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Source Number : 6
Source : County list of Scheduled Monuments : March 1992
Source details : Northumberland
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Source Number : 7
Source : List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest
Source details : Northumberland, Castle Morpeth, 27-Aug-1952, amended 22-Aug-1986
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Vol(s) : 1632
Source Number : 8
Source : County list of Scheduled Monuments : March 1994
Source details : Northumberland
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Medieval
Monument End Date : 1540
Monument Start Date : 1066
Monument Type : Manor House, Hollow, Moat
Evidence : Documentary Evidence, Earthwork, Conjectural Evidence
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : 1278 origins of earlier manor
Monument End Date : 1278
Monument Start Date : 1278
Monument Type : Manor House
Evidence : Documentary Evidence
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : C15
Monument End Date : 1499
Monument Start Date : 1400
Monument Type : Tower House, Great Hall, Wall Painting
Evidence : Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Built 1439-1460
Monument End Date : 1460
Monument Start Date : 1439
Monument Type : Tower House
Evidence : Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : 1614 addition
Monument End Date : 1614
Monument Start Date : 1614
Monument Type : House, Formal Garden
Evidence : Ruined Building, Documentary Evidence
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : Extended 1711
Monument End Date : 1711
Monument Start Date : 1711
Monument Type : House
Evidence : Ruined Building
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : C19 addition
Monument End Date : 1899
Monument Start Date : 1800
Monument Type : Tower House
Evidence : Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : Remodelled in 1862
Monument End Date : 1862
Monument Start Date : 1862
Monument Type : House
Evidence : Ruined Building
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : Repaired in 1897
Monument End Date : 1897
Monument Start Date : 1897
Monument Type : Tower House
Evidence : Extant Building

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : ND 226
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 25163
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Listed Building List Entry Legacy Uid
External Cross Reference Number : 238494
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 118
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Unified Designation System UID
External Cross Reference Number : 1015517
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Unified Designation System UID
External Cross Reference Number : 1042837
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : NZ 07 NE 6
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 1002961
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1002959
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON NZ 07 NE 6
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1968-08-08
End Date : 1968-08-08
Associated Activities : Primary, BELSAY CASTLE
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 1984-01-01
End Date : 1984-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, BELSAY CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1985-01-01
End Date : 1985-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: BELSAY SURVEY
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1985-12-01
End Date : 1986-04-01
Associated Activities : Primary, BELSAY CASTLE
Activity type : ARCHITECTURAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1997-01-01
End Date : 1997-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, BELSAY CASTLE GLASS
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 2011-01-01
End Date : 2011-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT BELSAY CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 2014-01-01
End Date : 2015-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, BELSAY HALL AND ESTATE
Activity type : MANAGEMENT SURVEY
Start Date : 2016-01-01
End Date : 2017-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, BELSAY HALL AND CASTLE
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2016-01-01
End Date : 2017-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, BELSAY AWAKES: HISTORIC ENGLAND CONTRIBUTION
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 2016-07-01
End Date : 2017-07-01