Cresswell Pele Tower

Volunteers hard at work excavating Trench 10 beside the pele tower. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2018
Cresswell Pele Tower seen from the north-east. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2018
Trench 11 showing earlier phase stone wall foundation (foreground) with the later wall of the 18th century mansion house in the background. A rough cobbled floor surface lies in between. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2018

Cresswell Tower, a 15th century stone-built pele tower, is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a Grade II* Listed Building and it is also on Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ Register. Pele towers are peculiar to Northumberland, Cumbria and the Scottish Borders and are miniature castles built in response to raids by the Border Reivers. Cresswell Pele Tower is a relatively well preserved but roofless structure and is the only surviving structure of the Medieval seat of the Cresswell family. In the mid 18th century it became part of a mansion house. This house itself was demolished in the 19th century and by the late 1960s the tower was derelict.

The tower has been the focal point of the village for over 500 years, but it is inaccessible in its current state. The wish of the local community is for the tower to be restored and made accessible so that it can become a valued and appreciated heritage asset for current and future generations. In 2014 Cresswell Parish Council was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund Start Up Grant to carry out preliminary work on the tower. This work inspired the council to seek funding to fully restore, interpret and open the tower while using the opportunity to broaden community involvement, including local schools, through a community archaeology and archive project.

A large circular pit excavated in Trench 10 that was found to contain a number of large cobbles as well as a large lump of red ochre. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2018
Two inter-cutting Bronze Age burial cists found within a trench in Fisheries field, to the north-east of the pele tower (scale = 1m). © Copyright ARS Ltd 2018
This stone-lined gully is believed to be a drain which pre-dates the pele tower. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2018

The 2-week long excavations carried out around Cresswell Pele Tower, Northumberland, at the beginning of February were a great success. One of the evaluation trenches that was excavated in Fisheries Field to the east of the tower unearthed two, early Bronze Age stone-built burial cist boxes. Unfortunately no human remains had survived due to the acidity of the soil however this is a very exciting find.

Trenches around the tower itself revealed evidence of the 18th century mansion house that was known to have been added on to the tower but that was demolished around 100 years later. Evidence of an earlier, previously unknown about building were also found as well as a small, stone-filled pit that produced chipped flint artefacts. A much larger, stone-filled pit was also revealed, the purpose of which remains unknown.

A report on the results of the excavations was published in Archaeologia Aeliana 5th series, volume 50 for 2021 (pages 183-227).

Please click here for more information on the Cresswell Pele Tower Project.

Archaeological Research Services Ltd