Marmion Tower

History of Marmion Tower

Marmion Tower is the entrance to, and the only significant remaining part of, a former manorial complex.

Marmion Tower, showing the striking oriel window on the first floor above the arched gateway
Marmion Tower, showing the striking oriel window on the first floor

West Tanfield is situated on the banks of the River Ure, where the main route from Ripon once crossed the river. A stone bridge, constructed by 1725, replaced the original ferry. Located west of the bridge near the church of St Nicholas, Marmion Tower is a residential gatehouse. The quality of the accommodation in the upper two storeys – shown by the fine carving and detailing – makes the building distinctive.

The rooms in the gatehouse might also have served as the private apartments to the manorial block. The entry in Domesday Book records that the manor at West Tanfield was held in 1086 by Count Alan of Richmond Castle. The Marmion family owned the manor for much of the 13th and 14th centuries, but the gatehouse dates from the 15th century. It was probably built by William Fitz Hugh, who died in 1452.

After the death of his grandson’s wife, the manor passed to the Parr family. Later alterations, in the 16th century, were probably made by William Parr, who was Marquis of Northampton and brother to Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII. The manor was granted to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, in 1571. Following later changes of ownership, the tower was placed in guardianship in 1976.


The square tower is three storeys high with a vaulted gate passage set off centre. The different appearance of the masonry at second-floor level shows where the tower was heightened. The most striking feature on the east face is the fine oriel window at first-floor level.

The vaulted ceiling at the eastern end of the gate passage is higher than that at the opposite end; this allowed the gates to open inward. To the left is a small doorway leading into the porter’s lodge. This room is vaulted, with a fireplace and a small opening for a cupboard in the south wall. A door leads to the garderobe (latrine) in the south-west corner. A small squint in the north wall enabled the porter to look into the passage.

A spiral staircase at the north-west corner of the gate passage leads up to the first floor. At the entrance to the first floor a recess has been cut into the west wall to allow the door to open. This is probably because the ground-floor vaults replaced an earlier timber floor set at a lower level.

The first-floor room has similar features to the ground-floor room, such as a garderobe and a fireplace, but these are more ornate. The elaborate oriel window replaced an earlier window recess. On the second floor a horizontal channel is visible along the wall. This carried the support for the floorboards and the earlier roof structure before the tower was heightened.

Further Reading

Chandler, J, John Leland’s Itinerary: Travels in Tudor England (Stroud, 1993)

Emery, A, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300–1500, vol 1: Northern England (Cambridge, 1996)


The text on this page is derived from the Heritage Unlocked series of guidebooks, published in 2002–6. We intend to update and enhance the content as soon as possible to provide more information on the property and its history.

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