Mysteries and theories about the tower

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The best analysis of Cockle Park Tower is a series on it by Roland Bibby in Northumbriana, numbers 11-15, 1977-79.

“The name," he says, "sets the scene for much of the place’s sketchy history: COCKLE, Cock (implying a wild variety) Hill, and PARK, a game park, an area of the ancient forest (from which) slices were hewn off in order that sundry Earl’s Barons could be endowed with estates.

“One such was the large, well-wooded manor of Bothal, held by the Norman Bertrams as military tenants. Later, about 1195, Bothal manor was converted into a barony in its own right, and Tritlington and Hebburn (now Hebron), between which Cockle Park stands, were ‘members’ of it.

“The Bertrams were succeeded by a junior branch of the Ogles in 1409... and in 1472-86 by the senior branch, the Lords Ogle.

“The first mention of Cockle Park itself is in a Bertram grant of the period 1154-89 to Hugh de Morwick. In this it is written COLCHALE... one concludes that it was a wild terrain in the gap between the fields of Tritlington and Hebburn, and not a settlement at all; ridden over by sporting barons and occasional but temporary tenants like de Morwick. In 1314 COCK HILL was described as ‘a forest’.”

Richard Carlton and Peter Ryder, writing in Archaeology in Northumberland, Vol. 21, think it may have been “built in the second half of the 15th century as a grand hunting lodge”.

Bibby leans to the view of it being later, concluding, “we must assume that Cockle Park Tower was built by or for Sir William Ogle, not before 1517.” If so, he thinks the likeliest builder would be Sir William’s brother, the 4th Lord Ogle.

He does not think of the Tower as a hunting lodge, but notes rather that Sir William was a hard-riding, hard-fighting border gentleman for whom the Tower was an appropriate residence, albeit nominally merely his official residence as his brother’s forester. It was never a principal residence.

Sir William Ogle was the son, brother and uncle of successive Lord Ogles. His nephew, the 5th Lord Ogle, left it in his will as a dower house for his wife, and after her for a younger son, Cuthbert Ogle.

After World War II it was used as a student hostel for the university farm, but in about 1972 the east wall was found bulging outwards, leaving the upper floors unsupported. Even before that, the great north room on the second floor had been, Bibby says, “long disused”, with “an alarming hole” in the floor.

The Tower was repaired in 2007-12. It looks splendid on the outside, but the money did not extend to refurbishing the interior.

Seen from the north, it is a grim border hold with bartizans (corner turrets) and a machicolated wall-walk between (with holes for dropping missiles through.) The parapet may have had battlements, but in the earliest view we have, of 1774, it had collapsed completely.

The perpendicular window on the second floor is a modern replica. The original was moved, along with a medieval fireplace, to Bothal Castle in 1830. There is a ‘jamb’ or staircase tower on the east side, with a spiral stairway inside. The main entrance, and probably the only one, was in the angle so created. Arrow loops gave cover for the entrance and the east wall.

When Hodgson visited in 1810, the heraldic panel showed the arms of Ogle quartering Bertram. The supporters, two antelopes, are those of the lords Ogle. He deduces from this that the building is no older than 1461, when the Ogles were ennobled.

One might assume that the southern part of the Tower is a later addition, but Bibby found that its walls are the same thickness as the north end, 5ft thick for the ground floor, 4ft for the first floor, and only thinner at second floor level.

The west front has Tudor-style mullioned windows, now blocked up. There are no old drawings of it, but Hodgson says there was a “projection” on this side with small windows. It fell in 1828, after which the wall was rebuilt flush. The sash window towards the left, a reused medieval mantelpiece and the loop above it, are part of the rebuild.

The projection may have been an oriel or bay window, but oriels usually project from one floor only, whereas the rebuilding goes right to the top. Bibby thought it might also have had loops enfilading the main west wall.

The west staircase tower was probably built when the house was reorganised internally in the 17th century. The door at the top of the steps is more modern. The south and east fronts have arched recessed openings with sash windows, put in, Hodgson says, about 40 years since.

Acknowledgment: The extended quotations from the late Roland Bibby’s articles appear by kind permission of Mrs Kim Bibby-Wilson.

The Early Christian Landscape of the Wansbeck Valley, 48 pages, illustrated, is a study of the Anglo-Saxon church in Northumberland. Available from Morpeth TIC, Newgate News and T&G Allan, or email rhcu@btinternet.com, price £6 post free.