Friday, March 10, 2017

Kendal, Coney Beds\High Graves

Coney Beds\High Graves
Nr Kendal

W.G.Collingwood mentions Coney Beds in his 1907 article "Three more ancient castles of Kendal". His comments "Another site, Coney Beds on Hayfell, was not visited on this occasion, but should be added to the list of Kendal castles" obviously point to the importance of this now vanished earthwork, a site that has long since mysteriously been erased from the historical landscape of the surrounding fells of Kendal. Unfortunately, all we have to illustrate this site now, are some maps and a single diagram of some of the features that were once visible within the confines of the earth ramparts that surrounded it.

Above. Aerial photo of Kendal and fells, showing location of Coney Beds.

Travelling West out of Kendal on the B6254, and then turning onto Hayclose Lane at the Station Inn, and heading North, will take you onto Hayfellside, East facing fells, overlooking Kendal out towards Scout Scar and eventually Morecambe Bay. About half a mile along Hayclose Lane, on the West side (left) of the road, the open fields between Hayfellside Barn and a house hidden by a screen of trees the site of Coney Beds can be found. These days the fields are criss-crossed with boundary walls and are grazed by sheep and cows. There's no indication of the earthwork that once stood here. 

Maps, over the years, appear to show the earthworks as fairly substantial, until 1971's map shows an empty field with no earthworks, only the name Coney Beds. It is thought that the earthworks at Coney Beds were destroyed when the common land above Kendal was Enclosed during an 'inclosure of 1815' whereby common land and open fields were walled and removed from public ownership. A trench was dug in the area soon after the destruction, but nothing was reported from these archaeological explorations.

Above. Map of 1868.

Above. Map of 1898.

Above. Map of 1914.

Above. Map of 1971.

By 1971, the earthworks appear to have gone, and only a 'place name' indicates the location. Coney Beds has alternatively been known in the past as Coney Heads and High Graves. My best guess is that there may once have been some rabbit warrens here, as at Mallerstang near Lammerside Tower. As these warrens are often referred to as the Giant's Graves, it's not a huge stretch of the imagination to suggest that in the past, the warrens here may have been thought to have been giant's graves. 

Above. Aerial view of the Giant's Graves at Mallerstang.

The word 'Coney' is an alternative name for an adult rabbit.....Coney Beds could well have been a collection of rabbit warrens, perhaps not a fortified site after all. This suggestion is provided with a little weight when a sketch of some features once found inside the enclosure is seen.

Above. Sketch of features found inside Coney Beds earthwork, taken from the Annals of Kendal by Cornelius Nicholson.

The oblong features look to me just like the rabbit warrens found at Lammerside....long lozenge shaped earthworks, used to farm rabbits for fur and meat. These warrens would have been protected with earthwork ramparts and fences, and would normally have been associated with high status houses....a licence was normally required to build and maintain warrens. It is interesting to note that the maps shown above, dating from 1914 and 1971, show the area to the North and West of the earthworks as "Deer Park", and the area generally to the West as "The Park". If this label denotes a deer park as would have been found in the Middle Ages, an assumption can be made in that the rabbit warrens were part and parcel of this emparked landscape. Another bold assumption could be made, that the land was emparked for the then owners of Benson Hall, only a two and a half mile drive North along Paddy Lane. 

There are other important hall houses in the local area, all connected with families of means and land, noted in historical records from the mid 1200s to the early 1600s, all of which may have been responsible for the emparkment of this area above Kendal. Skelsmergh parish, with its hall house and pele tower, belonged to William of Skelsmergh during the mid 13th century. Between 1230 and 1246 the land was granted to Robert de Leyburne, and his son, Nicholas de Leyburne was granted 'free warren' in 1301. Perhaps the earthworks at Coney Heads were part and parcel of Nicholas' development of his Skelsmergh estates. 

Cornelius Nicholson in his the Annals of Kendal, mentions Coney Beds at length:


Another exploratory fort, or encampment, called Coney- beds, is situated on Hay Fell, on the east side of Kendal, in the field immediately above the house called High Park, belonging to Wm. Wilson, Esq. It is nearly on the summit of the hill, and overlooks the vale of Kendal. Before the inclosure in 1814, its vallum and fosse were very perfect, inclosing a bell-shaped area, the upper end of which was 128 feet in breadth, its sides 208, and the southern end, which was semi-circular, 224 feet in diameter. 

About half way down the area, and on its eastern side, were two interior entrenchments, having a sort of bending street between them, and each of them having the southern end semi-circular. The less of the two which adjoined the east vallum was 42 feet on the north, 70 on the east and west sides, and 70 across the south. The other was 64 feet on the east and west sides, and 80 on the north, and across the south. Both of them had pits unequally dispersed (as is represented in the engraving), all of which, except the central one, which was round, were of irregular shape. The remaining part of the great area was smooth. This encampment overlooked the fort on Helm, and commanded a view of several hills in Lancashire, Cumberland, Westmorland and Yorkshire ; of the estuary of the Kent ; and, in clear weather, extended even to the mountains above Beaumaris, in Wales. This station was trenched after the inclbsure, but nothing was discovered to lead to its history. From its form it must have been made in the latter period of the Roman empire ; and probably was a place of temporary- retreat for the garrison at Water Crook. 

In the time of the plague which desolated the kingdom in 1597-8, provisions were brought to this spot by the country people, and deposited for the inhabitants of Kendal, which was their only intercourse during that destructive period, when, according to the following inscription from a stone in the Church of Penrith, 2,500 of the inhabitants of Kendal were swept away."

Typically of many Victorian antiquarians, a large number of earthworks seems to have been associated with the Roman occupation of the British Isles....Cornelius Nicholson doesn't fail us in this instance, and puts Coney Beds firmly into the category of Roman. My gut instinct is that this was an area used to farm rabbits, purely and simply....both of the place names suggest this....High Graves and Coney Beds, and even the sketch provide for us in the Annals of Kendal seems to suggest earthworks similar to those found at Lammerside in Mallerstang. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Motte and bailey castles in the Northwest of England.

Motte and bailey castles of the Northwest of England

Mary Higham's short piece, "The Mottes of North Lancashire, Lonsdale and South Cumbria", from 1991, is an interesting read, and throws up a number of sites that have since been questioned.

The list of earthwork castles that Mary details (as shown in the map below) is as follows:

Bothelford (Bodelforde)
Old Tebay
Kirkby Lonsdale
Burton in Lonsdale

Above. Mary Higham's map of the North West showing mottes and castles.


Above. The church of Holy Trinity at Millom.

Both the church of Holy Trinity and the medieval castle at Millom are thought to sit on top of an original motte, thought to occupy the site before either church or castle were ever built. Whilst the view shown above clearly shows both church and castle within the confines of a shallow raised platform, it's not clear if there was a motte here before the building of either structures. Indeed many castles in the area are reputed to have started off as motte and bailey that in many cases are simply not substantiated with any historical evidence. In this instance, Mike Salter in his "The castles and tower houses of Cumbria" states that "the motte with a ditch to the East and South on which the castle stands, may go back to when Godard de Boyville was granted the manor in 1134".


Castle Hill at Pennington was probably never actually a motte and bailey style castle, but rather a ring work, some would say a more primitive medieval fortification utilising banks and ditches as opposed to a motte and banks and ditches. The fortified enclosure is ideally situated for defence, making good use of the lie of the land here. To the West and the South, the site sits high above the surrounding countryside, with Pennington Beck providing another obstacle for any would be interlopers.

 Above. A view of the interior of Pennington Castle

Above. Sketch plan of Pennington Castle.

Traditionally held by the Penningtons up until around 1318, the family may have already moved to nearby Muncaster by 1242, later establishing a fortified site that later developed into the sprawling castle we see today.  


Above. Aldingham castle from a distance. 

Above. Sketch plan of Aldingham castle.

Kendal Castle Howe:

Above. Kendal Castle Howe from Bowling Green Fell

Bothelford (Bodelforde):

Above. Bothelford motte, also known as Hawesbridge motte. 

Above. The alleged site of Bothelford DMV

Old Tebay:

Above. Panoramic view of Castle Howe at Tebay

Above. Sketch plan of Castle Howe at Tebay




Above. View of the motte at Sedbergh

Above. Sketch plan of Castlehaugh at Sedbergh

Kirkby Lonsdale:

Above. View of the damaged motte at Kirkby Lonsdale

Above. Kirkby Lonsdale motte, also known as the Cockpit

Above. Map of Kirkby Lonsdale


Above. The indistinct motte at Whittington


Above. Classic motte and bailey at Arkholme

Above. Sketch plan of Castle Hill at Arkholme


Above. The beautiful motte at Melling

Above. Sketch plan of Melling Motte

Burton in Lonsdale:

Above. View of the motte from Bentham Moor Road to the South

Above. View of the motte and the second bailey at Burton in Lonsdale
Above. Sketch plan of the motte with its two bailey areas


Above. The spectacular motte at Hornby

Above. Sketch plan of one of the most perfect mottes in the North West


Above. The motte at Halton
Above. Sketch plan of the motte at Halton



Above. Gisburn castle from the South
Above. Sketch plan of the castle on the banks of the River Ribble





Castle Howe, Kendal - old photos

Castle Howe

Castle Howe seems to be Kendal's sad and mostly forgotten castle. Probably built in the early 1090s, the remains of the motte still tower above Kendal sat below it in the river valley, though its bailey area has largely been destroyed and dug out. Some of the earthworks still remain at the North, South and West of the motte; ditches and banks can still be seen here. There are only a few old photos of Castle Howe in the public domain, a few of which I've managed to lay my hands on, and are shown here.

Above. Castle Howe as it appears today.

These days the castle is not really on the tourist trail. Any information boards that used to be here have long since been vandalised and removed or stolen. There are plans afoot though for this situation to be remedied. Kendal Civic Society and Kendal Town Council recently announced plans to clean the area up and to re-introduce information boards. Perhaps we'll see more visitors to Kendal's first castle once  again.

Above. Old photo of Castle Howe.

The photo shown above clearly shows that the tree cover has increased over the years. It's a shame that it's not this clear today. During the Spring and Summer months the tree cover is such that it's difficult to see the form and layout of the motte and its surrounding earthworks clearly.

Above. Another photo showing the motte with little tree cover.

Above. This must be a later photo - the tree cover has increased.

Castle Howe is well worth a visit. Don't just look at the front though, from the old bowling green....venture around the back of the motte and take in the ditches and banks....only here will you get a real idea of the immense size of this great Cumbrian motte and bailey castle. Ignore the litter and the mess that you'll find here...I know it may be difficult, but to fully take in the form of this 900 hundred year old castle, you just have to venture off the beaten track.

As I come across any more old photos of Castle Howe, I'll post the photos here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Masons Arms, Kendal

Masons Arms

All across Kendal, pubs that for years served the beer-faithful of Kendal, are slowly closing down and standing empty. Recently, a couple of these historical drinking holes have been taken in hand and renovated, breathing new life into buildings that would otherwise have stood empty and unused. One of the most recent additions to this club, is the Masons Arms, situated at the Western end of Stramongate.

 Above. The Masons Arms in 'days gone by' and as it appears today!!

The inn and most of Yard 26 next door, once formed Ralphord Hall. This spectacular three storey building was once a town house. It's marked on a map of 1777 as a residence, though there's not much information about who built it or who lived there before it became an inn.

In 1908, architect James Hutton was employed to make some cosmetic changes to the front of the building, resulting in the layout we see today. The rear of the inn was apparently not included in his commission, and apparently remains as it was when originally constructed. 

The sign that was originally hung at the front of the building, has almost the same coat of arms on it as the Freemasons of Gateshead and Tyne, used from somewhere around 1671. 

Above. The sign has been saved and is now on show down the yard.

The original sign, seen in some black and white photos, showed two freemasons working. This sign was replaced in the 1970s, and thankfully for us, has not been discarded, but instead can now be seen down the yard that runs alongside the inn.

Records dating from 1882, show that the yard once led directly into the grounds of the Unitarian Chapel at the top of Branthwaite Brow, possibly indicating the high status of the the occupants of Ralphord Hall direct access to their regular place of worship. This direct access to the chapel was eventually blocked in 1900. Thomas Gibson, once owner of Ralphord Hall, died in 1781, and gave the building over to the Ralphord Hall trustees, specifically for use by the Protestant Minister of the area. This was his to use in return for a small rent, payable annually to the Blue Coats Hospital in the town. 

The first licensee of the Masons Arms, is shown in records, to be Thomas Derome, in 1826. Records from 1892 tell us that the inn had stabling for ten horses, two drinking rooms, two bedrooms and one dining room that had seating for fifty people. 

In 1997, under the ownership of brewers Whitbread, the inn underwent major refurbishment. However, more recently, with changing habits in drinking habits, the Masons Arms succumbed and was closed down. The subsequent renovation and refurbishment has been spectacular, and it's great to welcome the inn back onto the drinking scene in Kendal again.

A recent visit, and an inevitable trip to the loos, revealed these small pieces of masonry, hidden down the yard next to the inn. 

The first finds could well be tethering blocks from the inns days as a coaching inn. One is set into the wall and the other is set into the floor, and both still have their iron rings still attached. If they're not tethering blocks for horses, they could have come from the nearby shambles, where animals were butchered.

The other pieces of masonry are both set into the walls, and have been used to protect the downspouts. 

I'm not sure what these two pieces of stone represent, what they were, or even if they're contemporary with the original building here....or possibly from elsewhere in Kendal....perhaps Kendal Castle? Who knows?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Required reading - some important journals

Required reading.

Every so often, some important articles are written, that impart important information, reshape our ideas regarding specific castles or buildings, and expand our knowledge of castles, towers and other fortifications. Here are some links to some very important documents and articles, produced by experts and researchers who continue to bring castles, towers and fortifications to life.

Lancaster Castle Revealed - The Keep part 1 by Neil Guy.

Lancaster Castle's Great Tower, interim report.

Castle Gatehouses in Northwest England by Richard Nevell.

English Licenses to Crenellate 1199 to 1567 by Philip Davis and a comprehensive list of Licenses to Crenellate 1264 to 1294 also by Philip Davis.

Original Castle Gates and Doors by Peter Burton.

These all represent good starting points in formulating a good understanding of English castles, their forms, their symbolic and real world uses and the intentions behind their construction. Castles and towers are strange beasts....sometimes simple on the outside, but with complex hidden lives that can take a lot of reading and research to truly understand. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Breaking news - Gleaston Castle survey results.

Breaking news.......more information emerges regarding Gleaston Castle, the enigmatic ruins of which were surveyed during 2015 and 2016. Louise Martin, Cultural Heritage Officer of the Morecambe Bay Partnership has written an excellent article for the Castle Studies Trust, detailing some of the information that has come to light following the surveying that was undertaken in April 2016. See here for the full article.

My short piece can be found here, written in May following the week of surveying the ruins at Gleaston.