Michael George Shapland

Buildings of Secular and Religious Lordship: Anglo-Saxon Tower-Nave Churches

Tower-nave churches are a small group of free-standing towers incorporating chapels. Their limited capacity and elaborate construction suggest that they were not built as conventional congregational churches but rather as private, high-status buildings, which accords with their location at late Anglo-Saxon lordly residences. There is also some documentary evidence to suggest that tower-naves were architectural demonstrations of early medieval lordship above and beyond any practical function that they may have had. We can expect them to be highly visible in the landscape in order to project this message to a wide audience. We should not, however, abandon the idea of a practical function for these towers. They would have had obvious utility as watchtowers and mustering-points, known Anglo-Saxon lordly responsibilities. This study aims to test these ideas by recording all known tower-naves and placing them in their contemporary landscape contexts.

These towers were originally found in English monasteries from the early 8th century onwards, where they had roles such as private chapels, gate-towers, royal burial chapels and even aristocratic dwellings which prefigured and echoed their late Anglo-Saxon local aristocratic usages. However, these chapels were symbolic and meaningful structures beyond this, employing the early medieval conception of towers as symbols of power and lordship which stretched across the Continent into late antiquity.

At the end of this period, Anglo-Saxon tower-naves gave way to early Norman tower-keeps as architectural manifestations of lordship at a local level. Indeed, some tower-naves were converted into tower-keeps, and tower-naves continued to be constructed at lordly residences into the 12th century. It is for this reason, together with a developing understanding of Anglo-Saxon fortified lordly residences, that it is hoped that this research will shed new light on the origins of the castle in England.

Funding organisation

  • AHRC


 Educational background

  • BA, Archaeology, UCL 2005
  • MA, Buildings Archaeology, University of York 2007

(with Bintley, M. D.), forthcoming. Trees, Timber and Woodland in the Anglo-Saxon World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (with Pardo, J. C. S.), forthcoming. Churches and Social Power in Early Medieval Europe. Turnhout: Brepols.

2011. SS Simon and Jude, East Dean and St Andrew’s, Jevington, Newsletter of the Friends of the Sussex Historic Churches Trust.

2010. In Unenvied Greatness Stands: The Lordly Tower-Nave Church of St Mary Bishophill Junior, York, Church Archaeology 14.

2008. St Mary’s, Broughton, Lincolnshire: a thegnly tower–nave in the late Anglo-Saxon landscape, The Archaeological Journal 165, 471-519.


Holywell Priory and the Development of Shoreditch to c. 1600, by Raoul Bull et al. Museum of London Archaeology Monograph 53 (2011). Church Archaeology 15.

Burial in Later Anglo-Saxon England, c. 650-1100, Edited by Jo Buckberry and Annia Cherryson (2010). Early Medieval Europe 19.4.

Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited, Edited by Martin Carver, Alex Sanmark and Sarah Semple (2010). Archaeological Review from Cambridge.

Conferences organised:

Thetford: The Medieval Church in Context. To be held at Thetford Grammar School, July 2012.

Churches and the Sea: The Society for Church Archaeology Annual Conference (co-organised with Jude Jones, University of Southampton). Held at the University of Chichester, September 2011.

Local Churches and Lordship in the European Middle Ages (co-organised with Jose Sanchez-Pardo, Institute of Archaeology, UCL). Held at UCL, November 2010.

The Folkmoot: A Meeting of the Medieval Research Students of UCL and Cambridge (Co-organised with Tom Williams, Institute of Archaeology, UCL). November 2009.

Trees, Timber and Woodland in the Anglo-Saxon World (co-organised with Michael Bintley, Dept. English, UCL). Held at UCL, November 2009.

Papers presented:

Aristocratic Designed Landscapes in Anglo-Saxon England. Society for Medieval Archaeology Postgrad. Colloquium, Cambridge, October 2011.

Beacons of Faith: Lighthouses in Anglo-Saxon England (with Kevin Booth, English Heritage). Churches and the Sea, Chichester, September 2011.

Anglo-Saxon Churches and Monasteries, Undergraduate lecture, UCL, January 2011

Anglo-Saxon Tower Naves: The Ultimate Lordly Church, Local Churches and Lordship in the European Middle Ages UCL, November 2010.

Anglo-Saxon Monastic Tower-Naves, Early Medieval Archaeology Student Seminar, Dublin, May 2010

Towers of Secular and Religious Lordship, Society for Medieval Archaeology Postgrad. Colloquium, University of Birmingham, February 2010.

Timber as the Secular Building Material of Anglo-Saxon Society, Trees, Timber and Woodland in the Anglo-Saxon World, UCL, November 2009.

Anglo-Saxon Tower-Nave Churches, Early Medieval Archaeology Student Seminar, Sheffield, May 2009

  • : The late 11th century lordly tower-nave at Morland, Cumbria
  • : Measured survey of the tower-nave at Caistor, Lincolnshire
  • : Viewshed of the tower-nave of St Mary Bishophill Junior, York

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