Bywell Castle/Biwell Tower/Biwell Castle/Balliol Tower



Bywell, Northumberland

    • Scheduled Monument
    • Grade II Listed Building
    • Baronial Castle




Also referred to as a Medieval Bamkin (Scottish term for a defensive enclosure), this rectangular tower has a great history. Situated on a bank overlooking the River Tyne, it was built to protect the village of Bywell from attacks and raids. Some believe it could be located on the site of an earlier wooden structure known as Balliol Tower.

Measuring 18 m by 11.6 m it contains three storeys, is castellated and has corner turrets. There is a portcullis and remains of the original gate at the entrance. The tower is built of stone and includes some re-used Roman masonry from the surrounding area.

Internally the tower includes rooms off to either side of the main entranceway. These rooms both measure approximately 4.5 meters square and have vaulted ceilings, as does the entrance passageway. The room on the left of the entranceway contains a garderobe, and just past this room is a straight stairway leads to the first floor. These lower basement rooms were used as a porter’s lodge and for storage.



The first floor is one large area sectioned off to make two rooms. The largest portion measures 7 meters by 8.9 meters. It includes a fireplace and a garderobe located it’s the south west.



The next room measures 5.4 meters and includes a fireplace. To the south east of this portion there is a doorway which opens out onto the curtain wall surrounding the site.

There is a spiral staircase located to the north west of this floor which goes up to the second floor. This floor is one large open space measuring 15.25 meters long and includes fireplace and windows. The spiral staircase continues up to the roof level.



On the roof the turrets are octagonal in shape. The roof is flat and surrounded by castellations. Originally it was covered in lead. The embrasures measure 1 meter high, 0.5 meters broad and 0.85 meters deep.

The tower was never completed, and this has been recorded through the years,

In Bywell town the ancestors of the Earls of Westmorland built a fair tower or gate-house, all of stone, and covered with lead; meaning to have proceeded further, as appreas by the walls, the height of a man, left unfinished (Walter Scott 1814).

There is a chapel located just across the river, said to belong to the Tower.   This chapel was dedicated to St. Helena, and there was a footbridge linking it to the grounds of the tower.The manor also had its own deer park, which included red deer, and its own forest.

One of the best recorded events for this tower are the items left behind King Henry Vi, fleeing from the Battle of Hexham. The following is mentioned in one of the 15th century chronicles,

Deliberata sunt in breve domino de Mowntagw castra de langeley Tawne turris de Exham, castrum etiam de Bywell. In quo quidem castro inventum est le helmet regis Henrici cum corona et gladio et faleris dicti Henrici. Et quomodo aut quo ipse evasit, novit Deus, in cujus manu corda sunt regum

Translated as

…….. towers of the castle of the Bywell. In this castle was found Henry’s helmet with a crown and a sword and its [horse] trappings said Henry. And how is it that he himself had, or he escaped, he knows that God, in whose hands are the hearts of kings. (Gairdner 1880).


The Balliol family, who initially held the manor, were originally from Bailleul-en-Vimeu, the Somme, in France.

Here is the timeline for the site,


1087-1100          During this time the lands were granted to Guy de Balliol.

1216-1272          During this period the manor was held by Hugh de Balliol.

1272                    The Manor passed to John de Balliol.

1336                    Ralph de Nevill, Lord of Raby held the manor. He married Alice, daughter of Sir Hugh de Audley.

1367                    Manor held by John de Nevill, Lord Raby and Knight of the Garter. He married, first, Maude, daughter of Henry, Lord Percy; and secondly, Elizabeth, daughter of William, Lord Latimer.

1388                    Ralph de Nevill inherited the Manor. He married firstly Margaret, daughter of Hugh Earl of Stafford; and secondly, Joan Plantagenet, daughter of John. Duke of Lancaster.

1398                    Ralph Nevill was created Earl of Westmorland.

1415                    Ralph fought at the Battle of Agincourt.

c.1415                 Built in stone by Ralph de Nevill, 1st Earl of Westmorland.

1423                    Sir John Nevill, son of Ralph, died. He had been married to Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent.

1425/6                Ralph Nevill 2nd Earl of Westmorland, inherited. He married firstly, Elizabeth Percy; and secondly, Margaret, daughter of Lord Cobham.

1430                     Recorded as having a lead roof.

1461                    John Nevill, son of Ralph, died at the Battle of Towton. The Manor passed to his son Ralph Nevill, 3rd Earl of Westmorland. He was married to Matilda, daughter of Sie Richard Booth of Barton.

1464                    Henry VI fled to the tower following the Battle of Hexham, and left behind his sword, crown and trapping belonging to his horse, who had been killed under him.

1464                    Possibly: Surrendered to Lod Montague.

1465                     Montague was created Earl of Northumberland and granted Bywell Manor by Edward IV.

1499                    Ralph Nevill died at Hornby Castle in Yorkshire, and his two-year-old grandson Ralph, inherited the Manor.

*                           Ralph married Catherine, daughter of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.

1549                    Ralph died, and his son Henry Nevill, 5th Earl of Westmorland, inherited the Manor. He married Anne, daughter of Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland.

1564                    Henry Nevill died and his son, Charles Nevill became the 6th Earl of Westmorland and inherited the Manor. He married Jane, daughter of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.

1570                   Survey taken of the manor.

1571                   The manor was forfeited to the Crown as the Nevill family line died out. The Nevill family had been sympathizers of Mary, Queen of Scots, so a bailiff and receiver was appointed for the Crown – Mr. John Forster. Mr. Foster is rumored to have locked a man, Mr. Anthony Lee, in the tower and left him there for two days before his friends came and rescued him.

1604                    The tower was purchased by a Mr. Fenwick.

1608                    The site was surveyed again, and it as noted that the lead had been removed from the roof and the internal timbers were all decaying. The tower was deemed no longer habitable.

1713                     Until: Held by the Fenwick family. Another branch of this family purchased it.

1809                     The Rev. Septimus Hodgson inherited the Manor when he married Mr. Fenwick’s daughter Frances Fenwick. He then sold it on for £145,000 to Thomas Wentworth Beaumont.

1810                     Sir David Smith wrote, at this date, ‘The Gunhouse is in the S. E. corner and the Dungeon in the S. W. corner of the courtyard. The dungeon is about 26 links square, and the curtain wall between the square tower and Gunhouse is 125 links’ (Bates 1891).

1856                      Guns were fired from Burwell to celebrate the marriage of Wentworth Blackett Beaumont esq. MP, to Lady Margaret Anne de Burgh, 4th daughter of the Marquis of Clanricardie.

1862                      The site was held by Wentworth Blackett Beaumont esq. MP.

19th C                    The wall was incorporated into a new house built against it.

1912                      The wall was remodeled.

1956                      Field Investigation.

1966                      Field Investigation.

1994                      Scheduled Ancient Monument notification.


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