The tower on Inner Farne

The tower on Inner Farne, Farne Islands

The most imposing building on the Farne Islands has gone through a varied existence. The tower - known as 'Prior Castell's Tower' after the Durham churchman who commissioned the construction - began its life as any other border Pele Tower did, being used to deter and defend. However as time passed its uses changed, right up until the present where it is called home by the National Trust rangers who manage and care for these islands.

Thomas Castell was Prior of Durham Cathedral from 1494 to 1519 and it was towards the beginning of his tenure that the tower on Inner Farne was first built. The tower initially served as upgraded accomodation for the monks as well as some protection from border raids.

Following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 the building accomodated a small garrison which in 1565 was four men. The Captain of Holy Island and the Farnes was Sir William Reed, and in February of 1565 he complained to Queen Elizabeth about the state of the tower, as it was ruinous. By May 1566 repairs had been done, probably due to the strategic importance of the tower on Inner Farne. Reed commented in 1565 that the tower, 'if taken... would be an evil neighbour for Berwick and the Holy island'. 

The tower appears on old plans connected to the monastic complex
John Speed's map of Inner Farne from 1613, taken from James Raine's History of North Durham, 1855

By 1637 the tower appeared to be in ruins and of no further military use. The location of the ruin however made it the ideal foundation for a beacon light. This may have been the case in the 1670s when permission was granted for a beacon light to be established. A century later Captain John Blackett was given permission to establish a lighthouse on the top of the tower. In 1809 the light on the tower was supplanted by the white round tower lighthouse seen today on Inner Farne.

At the dissolution of the monasteries the islands had passed into the ownership of the Dean and Chapter of Durham and they were able to lease them to suitable tenants. Archdeacon Charles Thorp was the tenant in the 1840s and he undertook a major restoration of the tower in order so he could stay there. The tower continued to be used intermittently into the twentieth century until the National Trust acquisition of the Farne Islands in 1925. 

Today the tower is home to National Trust rangers who live there for nine months of the year.