The Medieval Buildings of Elsdon : Elsdon Tower
Elsdon Tower, 'the finest of all the existing rectorial tower-houses of Northumberland' (Morris 1916, 152), stands on the summit of a detached spur of land formed by an acute turn in the valley of the Elsdon Burn, which from running south-eastward turns to flow west. This spur, on the opposite side of the valley to the early earthwork castle (Castle Hills), provides a naturally strong site; on the east is a steep drop to the Burn, with gentler slopes on the other three sides; to the south is the broad village green of Elsdon, with the parish church at its centre.
Although some 19th-century antiquaries believed the tower at Elsdon to have originally been built by the Umfraville family, the earliest reference to a tower here occurs in the 1415 list of castles, fortalices and towers in the county, when the 'Turris de Ellysden' is listed as being in the possession of the rector (Bates 1891, 19). A number of authorities have taken the evidence of the heraldic panel on the south of the parapet as relating to Sir Robert Umfraville, lord of Redesdale 1421-1436. No mention of any fortification at Elsdon is made in the more detailed survey of 1541.
The Lordship of Elsdon was purchased from the Howards by the First Duke of Northumberland c 1760, after which it became home to a series of noteworthy rectors. The Rev C.Dodgson (1762-1765) wrote letters, including some often-quoted lines describing his vicissitudes at Elsdon; he states 'the vestibule of the castle is a low stable, and above it is the kitchen'; he also refers to the 'parlour' (where he slept) which was presumably on the second floor. There followed the long rectorship of Lewis Dutens (1765-1812), who was succeeded by Thomas Singleton (1812-1842); Hodgson (1827, 96/7) states that at the time of Dutens' death the stone-flagged first floor served as a kitchen and servants' apartments, whilst the second floor was fitted up as a lodging room and study, with closets on either side of the bed, one serving as a wardrobe and the other 'for more general purposes'; he also refers to the former existence of 'two low rooms above, each containing four chambers'.
Singleton had remodelled the house, (before 1825; a drawing of this date shows the northern additions) converting the vaulted basement into a comfortable drawing room, the first floor into two bedrooms, and the second floor into a bedroom, dressing room and library; he had also made considerable additions to the tower, namely 'a vestibule and kitchen; a dining-room, 26 feet by 14; and bed-rooms above these: besides a back kitchen, pantry and other offices'.
An account of the house, after Singleton's remodelling, is contained in an undated letter surviving in the Northumberland County Record Office (ref (97) NRO 2471/15); addressed 'to My Dear Aunt' it describes the house from the point of view of observing it window-by-window; the two upper windows in the tower were of the 'library' out of which two small rooms ('my aunts and my cousins') opened, looking westwards; the lower windows (ie on the first floor) were of bedrooms'. The lower windows of the 'new part' were of the dining room, with over it a 'most delightful sleeping room which my father and mother occupy'. At the back of the 'porch' were two very good kitchens and other offices with three bedrooms over (one for women servants, one for men)'.
There seems to be no record of later 19th-century alterations, although it is clear that more than one phase of work is present in Singleton's extensions. The 1st edition O.S. 25":1 mile map of c 1860 shows an outline plan of the building as it stands at present.
The Tower ceased to be a rectory in 1961, when the parish went into plurality and the rector moved to Otterburn. A programme of restoration was carried out from 1995 and 1998, during which a considerable amount of archaeological recording was carried out. The following account is based on a study carried out in 1994, altered and amended to take into account this subsequent recording.