It has charmed poets and painters over the centuries. Now a beautifully preserved fortified manor house on the Durham-North Yorkshire is on the market

The situation of Mortham is eminently beautiful, occupying a high bank, at the bottom of which the Greta winds out of the dark, narrow and romantic dell... and flows onward through a more open valley to meet the Tees, about a quarter of a mile from the castle

- Sir Walter Scott

MORTHAM Tower has charmed painters and poets over the centuries, and no wonder. The stunning Grade I-listed property on the Durham-North Yorkshire border is well documented as one of the best-preserved and most picturesque medieval fortified manor houses in the North of England, but there’s a romance about it too.

It has a tower for starters, a great hall, a walled garden, a beautiful range of 'model farm' buildings, ponds and about five acres of ornamental woodland. And it’s perfectly set, in a slightly elevated position, with views over the parkland to the River Tees.

Now it’s on the market, and about to change hands for only the seventh time in seven centuries.

“There are many examples of exceptional country houses in North Yorkshire and the North-East, but Mortham Tower has a more fascinating history than most,” says John Coleman, of GSC Grays, who are marketing the estate. “It is also in exceptional condition having been relatively recently restored and modernised so that is fit for the modern Lord of the Manor.

“I have personally been involved in the sale of a great many castles and tower houses, having specialised in this market for over 30 years in Scotland. There is a romance about these properties which you simply can’t find in the average country house, and interest in them comes from around the globe as a result.”

According to Pevsner, Mortham Tower was originally one of the peletowers of the Borders before the additions of the 14th and 15th centuries, which he describes as “marking the transition from a castle to a fortified manor house".

Mortham Tower was built to replace the original house, which was burned by the Scots in the reign of Edward II. It was acquired by Sir Thomas Rokeby through his marriage to the heiress of the Morton family and he built the first additions. These included the Great Hall beside the tower and East and West Wings to form the courtyard, which he enclosed on the south side by a battlemented wall. Sir Thomas’s coat of arms, carved in stone, is still clearly visible in the courtyard.

The Great Chamber, Inner Chamber and Low Parlour were added to the North side of the tower by his descendants during the 15th century and Mortham Tower stayed in the family until the early 18th century, when it was bought by Sir Thomas Robinson, who had by then acquired the whole of Rokeby Estate.

Sir Thomas was a renowned Palladian architect who, not content with a medieval tower house, went on to build Rokeby Park on the site of the old house a couple of fields away. In doing so, he also built up considerable debts and was forced to sell the estate, including Mortham Tower, to the Morritt family.

Mortham was much admired by the novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott, who regularly visited his friend JBS Morritt at Rokeby Park. Morritt constructed an artificial cave just below Mortham for Scott to write in and Scott is reputed to have set his epic poem “Rokeby” at Mortham Tower in 1812.

The cave is still there. To the south of the house and beyond the crenelated wall of the Courtyard Garden is the south lawn which leads into an area of woodland and flowering shrubs bounded by the steep-sided cliffs of the River Greta and known as the Glade. Within the Glade is to be found the Herm of Ceres statue and beyond it is Scott’s Cave, cut into the limestone cliff above the Greta with a stone bench and upright slabs at each corner supporting the roof.

Scott’s friend, the romantic painter JMW Turner, was also much taken with the area and visited Mortham in 1816 to sketch the building and the junction of the River Tees and Greta.

During the early 20th century Mortham suffered a period of neglect from which it was rescued by Linda Morritt - Mrs Rhodes-Moorhouse - who bought it from her brother in 1938. Her restoration of Mortham was described in Country Life in July, 1945. “By restricting themselves to making good the structure and adapting it cleverly and sympathetically to modern requirements, [her architects] have successfully accomplished an exceptionable restoration, bringing back to life an historic building without prejudicing its architectural significance.”

Mortham Tower is approached along a private lane running between the River Tees and Rokeby Park leading over a stone bridge - Dairy Bridge - across the River Greta and into the open parkland. The drive then sweeps gently uphill to the gate and forecourt at the north front of the house.

The main entrance leads into the magnificent Great Hall with minstrels’ gallery, which opens onto the central courtyard garden. From the Great Hall a glazed iron door leads to a stone stairwell, up to the Great Chamber and the stone spiral staircase to the Middle and Upper Tower rooms.

The Great Chamber dates from the 15th century with a heavily moulded chestnut ceiling and a magnificent fireplace. A door in the west corner leads into the Lounge Gallery with its butler’s cupboards, and into the magnificent Long Room. Below is the parlour, which also dates from the 15th century and now serves as the dining room.

The East Wing at Mortham Tower is separated from the main accommodation by a gated wall into the courtyard garden. It has been beautifully converted from a lofted byre into a three-bedroom annex with two bathrooms, north and south sitting rooms and an open-plan kitchen with doors to the central courtyard and to the kitchen garden.

Outside, the main lawn leads to a sunny west terrace with topiary, herbaceous borders and sheltering stone walls. There’s an enclosed kitchen and flower garden, laid out in geometrical beds, and a gate in the wall leads through to a paddock separating the main house and gardens from the Grade II-listed farmyard. Beyond the outbuildings are two duck ponds and an all-weather tennis court and tennis hut surrounded by ornamental trees and tall hedges.

The estate land extends to about 70 acres of rolling parkland with mature parkland trees and magnificent views over open countryside. And to add to the sense of history all around at Mortham, in the middle of the park are believed to be the foundations of the villa of the commanding officer of the Roman garrison at Greta Bridge, as yet unexcavated.

Mortham Tower was last sold in 2015; now it’s in search of a new owner who will appreciate its mixture of history and romance with modern-day comforts.

"It is a property of status and importance, but is also a superb place to bring up a family,” says John Coleman. “I would love to have been a child growing up there with river, caves, fantastic park trees to climb and hide in, a tennis court and, of course, the castle battlements to play on.”

  • Mortham Tower is on the market with GSC Grays. Price on application. W: