Bastle houses of Northumberland
The bastle houses of Northumberland come to across 400 or more years of history. They grew out of the time
of the Border Reivers. Most of England would have been subdivided into fiefdoms and in each area there would have
been a carefully determined power structure. Those at the top had their castles, below them there would have been
manor houses some of which would have been crenellated and would probably have had a Pele Tower as well.
But in the Borders there wasn't a similar structure. The reiving meant that the communities had to defend
themselves but without the money and resources to build substantial castles they were reduced to fortifying their
A traditional farmhouse or long house would have had a room for the animals alongside the living quarters. A
bastle house changed this completely by moving the living quarters above the animal room.
The walls were strengthened and became wide and substantial. Access was often by an external ladder although
there was usually a small access hole through the floor so that whoever closed the doors of the lower floor could
then climb up into the safety of the upper floor.
We have descriptions and pictures for
Black Middens in Tarset
as well as Housty and Nine Dargues in
Julia Grint in her excellent guide to Bastle houses of Northumberland believes that most Bastle houses were
built between 1550 and 1650 AD. The union of the Crowns in 1603 whilst taking away the fundamental reason for the
border troubles did not lead to an immediate cessation of reiving.
The images below were taken in the Upper Tyne Value near to Tarset. They show the Black Middens Bastle House and
See also Edlingham Castle. A fortified house which came closer to
being a castle.
It is interesting to think how at one time all the people of this Border land were probably neither English or
Scottish but Borderers and that it was the creation of the Border itself which set in motion the differences which
would plague the area.
For instance this quotation from Tom Moss:Prior to the formation of the Border Line, the people
who lived to the north or south of the rivers of Esk and Tweed and the great hills of the Cheviots lived in
relative harmony. However by 1237 the Border Line was in place, agreed by kings whose lines of demarcation took
advantage of these great natural barriers