Arnside Tower stands astride a natural limestone knoll, with the sea protecting it on one side and marshes on the other. It overlooks the important sand route from Hest Bank to Kents Bank. When exactly it was built, and by whom, remains a mystery. The earliest tradition is that it was constructed by the three sisters of Thomas De Thweng, owner of the barony of Kendal. This would give it a date of around 1375, but most sources think this is far too early for the construction style of the building. The tradition relates how the three sisters Lucia, Margaret and Katharine de Tweng were responsible for the building of Arnside, Dallam and Hazelslack Towers. Perhaps three towers for three sisters, but as shall be seen the fate of all three are still entwined today.

arnside first pic
Arnside Tower

The tower stands on land in the manor of Beetham which was owned by nine generations of the de Betham family. In the tenth generation, it was brought into the Middleton family by the marriage of Agnes Betham to Robert Middleton. Following fallout from the end of the War of the Roses, it came into the possession of the Stanley family, who positioned themselves on the winning Lancastrian side at the Battle of Bosworth. They were richly rewarded by being given confiscated land from those nobles on the losing Yorkist side. The tower’s first mention is in a historical document in 1517, following the death of Thomas Middleton. Once in the hands of the Stanley family, the tower and its lands would remain with them for the next 300 years.

The most likely date for its construction would be sometime in the latter part of the 1400s. This means it could have been made by either the de Betham family, or sometime later by the Middletons or the Stanleys. It resembles in structure the Great Tower built by Lord Hastings at Ashby de Zouch (see here) and the Clifford family’s Barden Tower in North Yorkshire (see here). There are different kinds of fortified towers, and Arnside is classed as a ‘tower house’. It was constructed from limestone rubble blocks and had five storeys, including the ground floor. A large turret was constructed on the north side and a smaller one on the south, which had garderobes (toilets) built into the walls.. A parapet and wall walk ran across the north west elevation.

Blaue atlas arnside
Arnside Tower lies close to the traditional county boundaries of Lancashire and Westmorland and has alternated over time between the two. It is shown as being in Lancashire on the 1579 Saxton map, the 1611 Speed map, the 1646 Janson map and the 1695 Morden map. The 1595 Mercator map has it in Westmorland, as do the 1662 Blau map (the one shown here) and the 1784 West map. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland (Creative Commons Attribution Licence).

The main entrance was through a pointed arch on the north-east side and this gave access to the central staircase. A smaller entrance was constructed later on the south-east side and there was a second staircase in the south corner.. A large cross wall divided the whole structure in two, with the larger north-west part having the bigger principal rooms. These included a kitchen on the ground floor, as evidenced by a large oven at the base of the north turret. The first floor acted as the main hall, used for dining and business matters. There was also a chapel on this floor, with the remnants of a piscina being found on the south-east side. In contrast to the limestone blocks of most of the tower, red sandstone was used for the window frames and arrow loops, and also for the large fireplaces.

Fire and Renewal

In October of 1602, whilst under the ownership of the Stanley family, a devastating fire broke out. The Lancaster Parish Registers recorded that “…at night, being a mighty wind, was Arnhead Tower burned, as it pleased the Lord to permit”. After the fire, it was restored and quite probably modernised.  This may explain the confusion as to its purpose which has caused debate amongst historians. Although many feel that the house is a defensive structure against the Border Reivers’ raids, others have pointed out that the large lower windows would compromise this. Tower Houses and Pele Towers tend to have very few windows as they are obvious places of entry. However, it could well be that Arnside had these features added after the fire when the area had become more lawful.

The south-east side of the tower

The reason for such a change is that the year after the fire James Stuart, who was already king of Scotland, became the king of England as well. This meant that the law was now the same either side of the border, and for the first time in centuries the Reivers could not stage an attack in England and then retreat over the border to safety. This meant that a relatively lawless region became much safer within a short period of time. It may well be that the larger windows were then put in place, and the defensive structure became one more of power and prestige.

Between 1684 and 1690, it appears that more modifications were being made, although it’s not clear what was being done. Lead and timber were removed from the tower to renovate the Stanley’s main residence at Knowsley. In 1770, some excavations and probably renovations were carried out at the tower. Records show that the “shell is complete and may be walked around at the top, within the kernell’d battlements”. Digging revealed the former occupants’ rubbish heap, which consisted mainly of cockle shells. A more grim discovery occurred when “…the house was pulled in pieces as the workman was taking up the floor of this closet, which, as in all the other rooms was earth, they sunk up to the middle, and to their surprise found two human bodies, which on the opening of them to the air moulder’d into dust”.

arnside hall plan a
A plan of the ground floor. Note the dashed line where the central partition wall stood that separated the two parts of the tower. There is a  circular staircase on the north east side by the main entrance. (Sketch by the author after An Inventory of Historical Monuments in Westmorland HMSO 1936).

Ann Wheeler’s Home

In the late 1700s, a portion of the tower was home to Ann Wheeler. Ann (also known as Agnes) was an expert in the Westmorland dialect. In 1790, she published a book entitled The Westmorland Dialect in Three Familiar Dialogues. This went through four editions, and a fourth dialogue was added in later publications. Previously, Ann had lived in  London for 18 years. At first, she worked as a housekeeper and later she married a captain of a ship. Having been born at Cartmel, she returned home to the region when she was widowed, moving into Arnside Tower to live with her brother, William Machel Coward.

Her book is of tremendous historical importance, with Ann being a contemporary of Robert Burns who published his Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect just four years earlier. While Burns is still widely read, Ann’s dialect writing is largely impenetrable to most people today. The pieces are a series of transcribed conversations, as if overheard, between village women. In the first, Mary explains to her friend Ann about her desire to escape from her abusive alcoholic husband, while Ann reminds of her duty to her children who Mary wants to leave behind. In the second, three women discuss how hard it is to survive financially once a woman has become a widow. In the third, two women debate about how to find a suitable man and, in the final piece, a young woman discusses her inheritance with an elderly neighbour.

These pieces are valuable reflections on the everyday plight of women two hundred years ago. Ann herself would have been no stranger to the exploitive nature of humanity, as her husband had been the captain of a slave ship. In 1804, she died, aged 68, at the tower, and was buried in the chancel at Beetham Church, where a plaque records her as Mrs Aggy Wheeler.

Ruin and Preservation

In 1815, Arnside Tower was sold to Daniel Wilson of Dallam Tower and the tower has been owned by the family that reside there ever since. In 1884, a great storm hit the coast, with devastating effect. The south-west side collapsed along with the central partition wall. The tower has remained in this ruined state to this day.

The devastating collapse of the south-west side of the tower, following the storm. A portion of the dividing partition wall can be seen in the middle of the picture.

Arnside Tower is a listed building of huge regional significance. In the early 2000s, interest grew in conserving the structure. Its owners, the Dallam Tower Estate, came together with South Lakes District Council, Cumbria County Council and Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the interested parties agreed to a study for a conservation plan to be undertaken.

English Heritage funded an inspection of the structure, which was carried out by Oxford Archaeology North. They compiled their recommendations into a report entitled The Three Towers. This wide-ranging study also included Hazelslack Tower and Beetham Hall, structures of a similar age also owned by Dallam Tower Estate. (Dallam Tower is no longer a pele tower, but a large Georgian mansion).

The report recommended immediate structural repairs to the north-west wall to prevent further collapse, along with replacement of the window lintels throughout. In the short term, general consolidation by repointing and repacking structural cracks is required, along with tying in areas of movement and re-bedding of some stones. Ongoing regular removal of vegetation to prevent plants taking hold in the building would then be carried out. These very sensible and achievable recommendations were published in 2006.

Since that time, very little appears to have happened and the deterioration has continued. In the Historic England 2022 Heritage at Risk report,  Arnside Tower’s condition is classed as “Very Bad” and the report adds “A sustainable management solution is required for this site”. Hazelslack Tower is also classed as “Very Bad” and also in need of a management solution. Beetham Hall is graded as “Poor”. It would be wonderful if Dallam Tower Estate, as stewards of this heritage, were prepared to implement the recommendations of the 2006 Three Towers report to safeguard the future of these unique buildings for future generations to enjoy. By working together with stakeholders of the local community, local and county councils,  as well as with the Historic England perhaps grants could be applied for to fund the required work. The alternative, to allow neglect and weather to gradually destroy them, would be a historical tragedy.

Site visited by A. Bowden and A. Shepherd 2022


Arnside Tower stands by a public footpath, which affords great views of the tower close up. It is dangerous to enter the tower. Close by is Arnside Tower Farm which serves teas in the summer. 

Grid reference 458 768


Leighton Hall

Warton Old Rectory

A little further afield

Bolton-le- Sands Viking Stones

Holy Trinity Church, Bolton-le- Sands

Free Grammar School, Bolton-le-Sands


The Three Towers, Dallam Tower Estate , Cumbria:  Management Plan, Oxford Archaelogy North (2005). This fascinating and important document gives both a history and recommendations for preserving Arnside Tower, Hazelslack Tower and Beetham Hall. It is available as a free pdf document from Oxford Archaeology. See the web address:,_William_Lord_Hastings%27s_Tower_from_the_south.jpg