Burradon Tower House

by Alan Fryer

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Once the focal point of the village, a tower house stands alone and ruinous at Burradon Farm. It is enclosed by a stone wall and surrounded by tall sycamore trees. The site has a somewhat eerie feel to it.

Tower houses were fortified homes, but not large enough to be termed a castle, which would also have a curtain wall. Burradon Tower is known locally as the Pele Tower. This term is now usually frowned upon: pele being derived from the same source as the modern palisade, which is a timber fortification.

The period from 1296 to the early 17th century was a one of turmoil and strife in Northumberland. War with Scotland and internal reiving made this a relatively lawless, unsafe county, although the worst areas were in Tynedale and Redesdale. Anybody who had the means to build himself a defensible house did so.

There is no firm date for the building of the tower. H.H.E. Craster (N.C.H.) suggests that the building of the tower may be associated with Bertram Anderson, who was conveyed a moiety of Burradon in 1548. He is described as "of Burradon" in 1553. The earliest mention of the tower in documentary sources is 1569. No mention is made of the tower in the survey of fortified buildings of 1415. There is however, mention made of a tower at Weetslade beside the sea. There is debate as to the location of this tower as Weetslade is not beside the sea and no other settlement of this name has been identified. However, Weetslade, which abuts Burradon, was known to have had a chapel in the middle ages. The location of this chapel is not known as no remains exist above ground, the stone having been completely robbed out. The same fate may have befell the tower. Another possible, if less likely explanation, is that the surveyors of 1415 made an error in the location of Weetslade Tower and it was, in fact, at Burradon. This was a very southerly tower and they were becoming old-fashioned by the late 16th century. In the 1570s the Ogle family took over residency of the tower. In the 17th century the tower became the home of a succession of tenant farmers. At a later stage a farmstead was attached to two sides of the tower. In 1833 T.M. Richardson noted in his descriptive text of a survey of Burradon that the tower was being used as the farm offices. The farmstead was demolished c.1860 leaving the tower once again alone and isolated.

It is a typical tower house, if not slightly small. It was described by Pevsner as tiny. The external measurements are, twenty-five feet three inches by twenty feet six inches. The tower is three storeys in height, with an entrance facing east; this is a low, round arched doorway, with a crude attempt at decoration on its lintel stones. On entering the tower, above your head, is a parapet with spaces to fire arrows, or other missiles through (machicolations), to repel any unwelcome visitors. The ground floor is described as being a slightly pointed vault, with a small slit at the north end giving light and ventilation.

The first floor is reached by a newel (spiral) staircase. A square headed door leads into an apartment nineteen feet three inches by sixteen feet two inches. A fireplace has been added to this room sometime after the original building of the tower. This, on its lintel, bore the initials L.O. (Lancelot Ogle), the date 1633 and between the initials some floral decoration and two shields. This was still visible in 1940, But Robert Hughill noted in 1970 that no traced remained. The chimney and breast have now since disintegrated. In the south wall a large window was put in around the same time as the fireplace. This had fallen out previous to 1876, but the remaining sill shows it to have been a large window for this class of tower. It is believed there may have been a similar window to the west. It is also thought that the second floor was similar to the first.

There is a tradition within the community that a tunnel runs under Burradon Tower. Its eventual destination is unknown. In 1914 a group of engineers based at Gosforth Park, according to an elderly local resident, discovered this tunnel. It was found to be caved in at not a great distance along its length. Tunnels running from towers are not unheard of, but are not well documented. An area of intrigue for some further study, perhaps.

  • N.C.H IX
  • R. Huggill, Borderland Castles and Peles
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Northumberland
  • Tyne and Wear HER 312