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Shittleheugh Pele, Redesdale, Northumberland

Shittleheugh Pele, Pele-House or Bastle, Redesdale, Northumberland

The shattered remains of Shittleheugh stand high above the river Rede and are a conspicuous landmark in Redesdale. The side walls have fallen but the gable ends still stand to almost their full height. There are remains of buildings that have been added to the original bastle to make a larger house.

The doorway at Shittleheugh retains its lintel and there is evidence of its two draw-bars at ground-floor level. The basement does not seem to have had a stone vault. The building is of rather better quality than the average bastle and was formerly “the mansion house of the Reeds”.

The terms “bastle” and “bastle-house” were used loosely in the 16th and 17th century for stronghouses and “pele-houses”. In Cumberland these terms were unknown as late as the 19th century.

Typically bastles are rectangular on plan and have two storeys and quite steeply pitched gables. The walls are about four feet thick and built of large irregular stones infilled with chippings set in a weak lime mortar.

The ground floor has a single narrow doorway set in the middle of the gable wall; the jambs and lintel are finished with a chamfer or simple roll moulding and there is a small relieving arch above. The jambs have rebates or checks for two “harr-hung” doors (turning on pivots in sockets above and below). These are secured by wooden drawbars housed in tunnels in the wall.

There are no windows in the basement, only ventilation slits. Access to the upper floor is by a doorway set towards one end of the long wall which was originally reached by a removable ladder. In surviving bastles these have been replaced by a stone stair.

Windows with iron bars are set on either side of the doorway; sometimes there are two in the longer length of wall. A fireplace was usually set against the gable wall farthest from the door. No original bastle roof survives but evidence suggests that most would have had straight principals with feet that curved down to meet the wall face. Roofs of this type with ridge-pieces and collar- beams are common in the region and it is supposed that most bastles were roofed in this way. All bastle roofs are now covered with slate but in the past some were thatched, probably with heather.

There are two varieties of bastle, those in which the upper floor is carried on timber beams and those in which the floor is carried on a stone barrel vault. There are examples of unvaulted bastles north of the Border in Roxburghshire, on the upper Jed Water. These represent a northern extension of a considerable group of similar structures to the south in Redesdale.

Location: Northumberland, Redesdale, Otterburn
OS sheet 80 GR 869951

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