The farms at Bishopside
Sheila and Valeria visited High Bishopside in July 1999.
This farm is the subject of the indenture (a document of
sale) dated 17 March 1650, which passed Bishopside to Nicholas Fairlamb
and his heirs.
This page deals with the land and and farm-buildings; for details
about the document visit the 1650 deed page.
The earliest reference to Bysepsid thusfar is on 21 March
1275/6. A resolved dispute, between the estates of the Archbishop
of York and William de Swyneburn over rights to common land, is
recorded by the York authorities.
Thirteenth century settlements in that part of the valley included
Bysepsid (Bishopside), Aldton (Old Town), Stawrth (Staward), Cateden
(Catton) and Alwenton (later, Allenton and Allendale Town).
principal farm is High (or Over) Bishopside. Fairlambs were also
living at the adjacent farm of Old Town in 1650.
The present farmhouse dates to the eighteenth century, and may
well have been built by the Fairlambs. A stone dated 1667 is built
into one of the byres and is said to date from the earlier house.
Just down the valleyside is the ruin of Low Bishopside which dates
from the fourteenth century and is an example of early defensive
The ruins of Low Bishopside stand on a spur of land between the
East Allen valley and a minor tributary, Bishopside Cleugh, 350
m south-west of the present farm of Bishopside and 4 km east of
The ruin is of earlier date than the present High Bishopside (which
is higher up the valley). The building was standing and part of
the farm when it was bought by Nicholas Fairlamb.
The east part of the ruin is formed by a bastle, 6.8 m long
by 6.0 m wide. This was a defensive building, dating back to
the fourteenth century.
Visiting the site today one can see why; it is an excellent defensive
site above a steep slope to the Allen, with uninterrupted views
up and down the valley and a commanding sight of the bridging site
The side walls are a massive 0.9 m thick, the end walls 1.3 m,
each constructed of roughly-coursed rubble and large roughly-squared
quoins; the surviving eastern gable end has massive triangular-shaped
The western part of the building is a later extension, c.1667 when
Fairlambs owned it. It is the same width as the bastle but 9.5 m
long, with side walls 0.65 m thick and a west end of 0.90 m,
is also of rubble, but with less massive quoins.
The farmhouse was inhabited into the twentieth century when Robert
Dixon's family took off the roof for use in other farm buildings.
Therefore, most of the decay of the building is less than a hundred
The only features in the earlier part of the building are a centrally-set
first-floor slit in the east end, a set back 1.5 m above ground
level in the internal face of the same wall, and ragged holes for
transverse beams in the internal face of the north wall.
The west end has been completely removed, and only a few footings
remain of the south wall.
In the extension there are traces of a firehood against the internal
face of the west gable end, with wall cupboards in the adjacent
side walls; the sill of a two-light mullioned window lay amongst
the tumbled remains of the south wall.
Low Bishopside is one of a group of small almost square bastles
in Allendale which may be of slightly earlier date than most in
The present High Bishopside is an eighteenth century farmhouse;
built into an internal wall of the adjacent farmbuildings is a stone
dated 1667 and said to have come from the old house. This
may be from the Low Bishopside extension (rather than the bastle)
or from an earlier High Bishopside farmhouse.
Pele towers and bastles
Small fortifications, called peles and bastles, are scattered throughout
the Northumberland countryside and stand as romantic and often eerie
reminders of the county's border past.
Link to further
information on bastles.
Peles or pele towers are the most common. These are stone-built,
oblong tower houses, measuring approximately 12 m by 9 m,
with walls around a metre thick.
Found on both sides of the border, the pele towers were virtually
impregnable against raiders and marauders and were lived in by the
rich and poor alike. They usually consisted of a tunnel-vaulted
ground floor for storage and livestock refuge, along with two or
three upper storeys accessible by a narrow spiral staircase.
Access to a pele tower could be gained through two sets of doors,
the outer made of iron the inner of oak. To ensure the tower's defences
were complete, windows in the peles were very small and kept to
Border pele towers can date from as early as the thirteenth to
as late as the seventeenth century, but were all built to very much
the same pattern. The vicar's peles found in some parts of
Northumberland are so named because they were once inhabited by
local vicars or rectors.
Bastle houses are a variation on the pele tower, but are a lot
less common. These are fortified farm houses rather than tower houses
and tend to be found in remoter areas of the border country, usually
not far from the border itself.
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