Kirknewton Tower And Manor House
There was a tower-house at Kirknewton which had probably been built by the Strothers after they acquired the land in the 14th century. It is first mentioned in the list of Northumbrian fortifications compiled for Henry V, in 1415, before his departure for France, when the tower was in the hands of Thomas Strother.
In 1541 it is described as a ‘lytle towre and a stone house joyned to the same’ by the Border commissioners Sir Robert Bowes and Sir Ralph Ellerker (Bates 1891, 32-3; see below: Selected Sources and Surveys). This sounds like a classic ‘solar tower’ arrangement, with a tower tacked on to an earlier manor house, which usually took the form of a single or more often two-storey hall house with a kitchen at one end separated from the hall by a cross-passage, with the lord’s private chamber (solar) located at the other end of the range. It was the latter end which the tower was invariably added to. This arrangement was much more common than was previously realised.
Investigation has shown that a great many towers once considered to have been freestanding in fact had earlier houses attached, fragments of those houses being found preserved within the fabric of apparently later, 17th- or 18th century mansions standing alongside the tower. However the potentially severe disadvantages of this arrangement are revealed by Bowes and Ellerker who go on to record:
the walls of which stone house ys so lowe that in the laste warres (c. 1532) the Scotts wanne (won) the said stone house & sett fyer on yt and had thereby allmost brunte the tower & all. The experience whereof sheweth that yt were expedyente to rase the walls of the said stone house higher and to fortefye the same able for the defence of common skrymyshes.
This might suggest the attached manor house only had a single storey, but even a two-storey hall would not necessarily have defeated determined Scottish raiders. The solution Bowes and Ellerker recommended was essentially that adopted at Haughton Castle in North Tynedale where a two-storey hall house was reinforced and raised another two floors during the later medieval period. However the Strothers actually seem to have adopted a different course. In the early 18th century, John Warburton described a large ruinous tower in Kirknewton surrounded by a ‘quadrangular wall and circular towers’ (Hodgson 1916, 11; see Selected Sources and Surveys).
In other words the Strothers enclosed the tower with a circuit wall to create a defensible ward, furnished with circular towers or turrets, perhaps at the four corners. Warburton does not mention the remains of the manor house. It is uncertain whether the Strothers had demolished it, heightened it as Bowes and Ellerker suggested or, perhaps most likely, the antiquary had simply failed to distinguish the ruins of the house from those of the tower. It is noticeable that, unlike Bowes and Ellerker, he considers it a large tower, which would imply one of the latter two explanations. The quadrangular enclosure might have occupied the later site of West Kirknewton Farm, as suggested above.