Warcop Tower

From fortified manor to 18th century farm

Client

A&T Developments

Services

Historic Building Survey

Desk-based Assessment

Evaluation

Warcop Tower which was hereto fore a large building, though there is nothing thereof remaining but a small farmhouse and outhouses’               (Nicholson and Burns 1777, 606)

 

In 2006, NAA were commissioned to undertake a programme of desk-based assessment, historic building survey, evaluation in the form of trial trenching of a range of farm buildings prior to their conversion into domestic living accommodation at Warcop Tower, Warcop, Cumbria.

The early history of Warcop Tower is difficult to determine owing to much of the documentary material associated with the site being fragmentary and open to misinterpretation, compounded by the confusion between Warcop Castle, Warcop Tower and Warcop Hall, all of which at one time formed the manorial seat of the de Warcop family.

 

The surviving physical evidence of the medieval tower is contained within the fabric of the present day Warcop farmhouse, although numerous architectural fragments have been re-used in various buildings around the complex. One of these fragments, a coat of arms plaque, is located on the north side of one of the barn ranges and provides a tentative early 15th century date for the construction of the Tower. The devices on the shields belong to the Lowther and Warcop families and the plaque probably celebrates the marriage of Margaret de Strickland (Warcop) and Sir Robert Lowther in c.1400. Margaret was the illegitimate daughter of Isabel de Warcop and William de Strickland, then Bishop of Carlisle. The Tower and associated fortified medieval manor was probably constructed at this time.

 

The historic building survey focused on a Grade II listed barn range located to the north of the main farmhouse building and dated to a major phase of expansion in the early 18th century. The farmhouse itself contains a date stone of 1726. The large amount of re-used masonry found in both the barn and farmhouse suggests that their construction was probably concomitant with the demolition of a large medieval structure, maybe a hall, associated with the Tower. Documentary evidence suggests that the Tower survived, at least in part, until the early 19th century. The main element of the barn range dated to the first phase of farm expansion and was contemporary with a surviving large threshing barn opposite. It originally provided stabling for the estate horses and featured a large hayloft. Changes to the complex in the early 19th century saw the expansion of the barns out to the west, creating a L-shaped plan. These extensions were of a poorer quality than the original structure but continued to incorporate large amounts of re-used masonry. The ground floor of the range had been converted at various stages into animal stalling, the most recent alterations appeared to relate to the barn being used as a piggery although the upper floor remained relatively unchanged.

The archaeological trial trench evaluation focused on a rectangular earthwork platform possibly medieval in origin that was located to the east of the main nucleus of farm buildings. The evaluation identified that the ‘platform’ was an enhanced natural feature bounded by a ditch probably medieval in date. Several potentially medieval features were identified beneath the raised platform including ditches, gullies and a pit. This suggested that the focus of activity shifted during the post-medieval period, and after the various medieval features ceased to be used, they were buried by a natural accumulation of soil.

NAA’s work was crucial to enabling the renovation of farm buildings and replacement of redundant outbuildings with new residential structures. Furthermore, NAA were able to significantly advance the historical record of the site of a medieval manor that transitioned into a post-medieval farmstead. Through a review of documentary evidence and recording we were able to provide a chronology of the evolution of the various structures that comprised Warcop Tower and Farmhouse; and through trial trench evaluation we were able to suggest type and extent of buried features likely to relate to the medieval phases of activity.

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