Sunday, April 29, 2007

Lowther Castle, Lowther

Lowther Castle

About a mile to the West of the village of Lowther, and South of the church of St Michael, Lowther castle overlooks the massive parks laid out in the early 19th century.

The castle was started in 1806 for Sir Hugh Lowther, and built following designs by Sir Robert Smirke. This relatively modern 19th century building is sited either on, or near earlier towers and peles, dating from 1272, 1350, 1628 and 1692. These earlier buildings were variously great houses, fortified towers\pele towers and minor castles. However, the castle we see today is no more than a ‘faux’ castle….a fake built to indicate the power and wealth of the Lowther family. The main range of buildings, as shown in the photo above, are built over the footings and foundations of towers from the various periods mentioned above.

This area has been the seat of the Lowthers since the reign of Edward I, and the family have been knighted almost continually since this period, from generation to generation.

Today, the castle is empty and in places in danger of complete collapse. It seems that the expense of running such a splendid and massive castle or house, was too much for the Lowthers, and in 1935 it was closed. Most of the interior was removed and perhaps sold, including roofing materials and marble floors and staircases. The castle isn’t open to the public at the moment, although it undergoing some reconstruction and consolidation to ensure that further collapse is halted.

As the castle is built on private land, it's extremely difficult to get a good, close up photo of it. There is a footpath that runs through the park, enabling closer inspection, so a return visit will be necessary in future.

This photo shows the castle from the earthwork remains that can be found on the footpath that runs nearby.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Clifton Tower\Pele, Clifton

Clifton Tower\Pele

Clifton Tower is sited to the West of the A6 as it passes through the village of Clifton, just outside Penrith. The tower is the isolated remains of a larger group of buildings, thought to date from the 1500’s. The building doesn’t possess the normal thick defensive walls of other pele towers and fortified dwellings in the area, so it’s assumed that it was built in less turbulent times.

The tower measures a meagre 33 by 26 feet, however accommodation was split over three floors, each with one or two rooms divided by thin red brick walls. Marks of earlier buildings can still be seen etched into the outer walls, indicating the presence long ago of additional buildings and wings. Indeed, the tower is all that now remains, albeit with the outline of foundations in the surrounding yard. The last of these buildings were demolished in the 1800’s and some new and larger windows inserted.

The tower was plundered by Jacobite troops in 1745 before the battle of Clifton Moor….the last battle to be fought on English soil. They are believed to have lived on this site from about 1365, until the land passed to the Lowthers in 1705 after they had re-mortgaged in the 1650’s.

On the day that I visited (my third visit) the hall was open, and I was able to gain entry to inspect the interior. As far as I can tell, it’s been renovated to the stage where it’s safe to enter, and even to climb the spiral staircase hidden away in the newel tower. A gallery has been created on the first floor, enabling you to look onto the first floor (albeit fragmented) down into the ground floor rooms, and up to the second floor living space.

The hall is situated in the middle of a working farm yard, although a footpath now leads from the main road to the compound that the tower sits within. The English Heritage web site states that the tower is open Monday to Friday, and every day except Christmas day and New Year’s day.

The tower was built by the Wybergh family who are represented by some wall memorials in the nearby church of St Cuthbert.

The above wall memorial tells us of the marriage of Elianor de Engayne to William de Wybergh. The stained glass window below, appears to show us Helynor Ingayne (same person, different spelling!!!)

Across the road lays the church of St Cuthbert, which some sources say is built on the site of an early motte and bailey castle.

The church is definitely built on the summit of a mound, albeit a very low mound, perhaps some three metres at its highest point at the road side, but the mound is higher towards the back of the church. There is a lack of sufficient documentary evidence to support this claim, although given the proliferation of fortifications in this area, it's not beyond belief.

Philip Davis of the Gatehouse web site would be telling me to look for ditches and earthen ramparts, but there are none to be seen around the church and its grounds. There's obviously plenty of room for more research on this site.

St Andrew's Church, Penrith

St Andrews

The church of St Andrew is situated at the junctions of Middle Gate and King Street just off the market place in Penrith. The church is surrounded by a mixture of modern and older buildings, some dating to the 1600’s. From the outside, the church looks fairly recent, and the tower’s looks certainly do not give away the fact that it is somewhere in the region of 620 years old!! Indeed, the main body of the church we see today dates from 1720 to 1722, when a major period of rebuilding was undertaken. The new building was probably built following designs laid down by Nicholas Hawksmoor. However…..the tower is the most interesting piece of this building. It’s believed that it dates from the 1300’s, and was possibly built as a place of refuge for the people of Penrith against Scottish incursions into the town.

In 1337, the Scots raided south of the border, reaching as far as Carlisle. The city was surrounded and those parts outside of the secure walls were burnt. Rose Castle was severely damaged and huge swaithes of country side put to the sword and the flame. In 1342, the Scots raided south once again, this time reaching as far south as Gilsland and then Penrith. And, once again, they burnt nearly everything they came across. Three years later, Sir William Douglas led yet another Scottish army over the border, Penrith receiving the brunt of his army's willingness to lay waste to the countryside. Penrith was burnt again, and Douglas' army returned North with huge amounts of loot.

In 1380, Penrith was once again the target for another Scottish incursion. This time though, the raid coincided with one of the town's fairs, and the population was therefore swelled. Many people were killed, and even more were probably taken act common in these sorts of military incursions. It's not clear what role the tower of St Andrew's may have played in these dangerous times, but at least some of the town's inhabitants may have found refuge behind the huge thick walls.

Above. Floor plan of the tower.

There is a possibility that the church tower was originally built specifically as a place of refuge, adjoined to an earlier church. Indeed some documents state that the townsfolk were ordered to make good the tower when it was found to be in a poor state of repair. As the parish church of Penrith, the church most likely had a good peel of bells, which meant that the tower would, by necessity, have had thick walls to support the great weight of both bells and walls. This may account for the thickness of the walls, an character trait most often attributed to fortified buildings and towers. The body of the church is much more recent, as are the upper portions of the tower. The lower levels are original, and date from the earlier church, sometime in the early 1300s. The huge arch in the interior wall of the tower dates from the 18th century.

Inside the tower, the thickness of the walls can be seen from the windows cut into the walls. The stair case is split in two, and runs either side of the interior. At the top are two stone effigies, very badly defaced. These represent members of the Hutton family, well known local land owners of the time.

The church is open most days (although check for any services) and the open door policy is most welcome.

Above. A couple of postcards showing St Andrews from my personal collection.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hutton Hall, Penrith

Hutton Hall

At the junctions of Friargate, Folly Lane and Benson Row in Penrith sits Hutton Hall. The building consists of three seperate but conjoined structures. The main and largest part of the building is the red Penrith trade mark sandstone 18th century building. This part of the building used to be Penrith's Masonic Hall. The second part of the building is the small cottage joined to the right of the main building. The cottage is 17th century and the oldest part of the whole building is joined to the back of this cottage. Walking down the side of the cottage into Benson Row, the pele tower rises above the walled enclosure that now surrounds the site.

Above. Looking North West towards the cottage that hides the tower.

The tower is almost square, four storeys high, and built of red sandstone....although this is hidden by badly deteriorated render. The tower may have been built in 1397, when William Strickland obtained a license to crenellate his dwelling, however this license may actually relate to Strickland's pele tower, the original part of Penrith Castle. Whatever the relationship with this licence, the tower was almost certainly built in the late 1300's and is in remarkably good condition.

Above. The tower is visible from the road, with the wall low enough to provide good views. 

The existence of a fortified tower, rather than a fortified town house in the middle of a busy market town, is somewhat of a rarity. Peter Ryder indicates that the small windows, devoid of any decoration, have more in common with Border bastle houses rather than pele towers or tower houses, and it is this mixture of architectural detail that provide so much interest in this small tower. The wall that survives on the North and East sides of the tower may be contemporary with the tower...perhaps all that remains of a curtain wall or barmkyn.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Laverock Bridge, Skelsmergh

Laverock Bridge
nr Kendal

Laverock Bridge carries Mealbank road across the River Mint just outside Kendal and South of Skelsmergh. The bridge is mentioned in documents dating from 1692. The bridge is a steep, single arched structure, which was once a narrow pack bridge. The North side of the bridge is the oldest\original part of the bridge, and can be seen beneath the single arch as the narrow section of brick work. The South portion of the bridge is the later (undated) portion of the bridge, added to increase the width without necessitating the building of a completely new bridge.

The oldest part is the right hand section. The newer part, is the left hand section.

In 1708\1709 the bridge was judged to have been in a poor state of repairs, and documents show that the Chief Constable, Mr Will Shepherd was instructed to inspect the bridge and arrange any necessary repairs.

In October of 1726 the local High Constable was instructed to again inspect the bridge and assess the necessary repairs. In this instance, William Newby was contracted to carry out the repairs, which were completed in 1727. For this work, he was paid £3 10s.
In 1738, the bridge was partly demolished by Joseph Sisson of Kirkby Kendall (Kendal). The records do not state why he caused the bridge to be damaged, but for this act of vandalism, he was fined 6d.

In January 1748, the bridge was once again judged to be out of repair, although this time, records don't state what remedial action was taken.

In April 1756, the bridge's state of disrepair was judged to have been so bad, that repairs were once again demanded. It wasn't until 1759 that the repairs were once again reported on, when the bridge was found to be in excellent condition.

In October 1868, it was remarked that the Iron bolts holding the two 'composite' bridges together were in a poor state of repair. It was feared that should the bolts fail, the bridge may split and become unusable.

In 1920, the brige was once again inspected, and found to be in need of yet more work. A quotation was received for the work, advising that the repairs would cost around £920. The advice was not acted upon, and only the bolts were inspected.

Sizergh Castle, Sizergh

Sizergh Castle
nr Kendal

Sizergh castle sits about two miles to the South of Kendal, and about a quarter of a mile West of the A591. It is one of a group of great houses\castles in the area that started off as defensive structures and later became luxurious homes. Others in the area are Muncaster Castle and Levens Hall.

Above. A view of the castle from the walled garden to the South.

The area around Sizergh, has been continually occupied since the ninth or tenth centuries, with the first inhabitants being Scandinavian settlers. Sometime between 1170 and 1180, Sizergh was included as part of a larger swaith of lands, as a grant to Gervase Deincourt, by Henry II. A relative of Gervase's settled in the area, and no doubt took command of the day to day running of the huge estate. The main part of the Deincourt family settled in Blankney in Lincolnshire however. When Gervase's great grandson died, the estate was taken over by Elizabeth, his great granddaughter the sole heiress to the vast estate. She in turn, conveyed ownership of the estate to her husband, Sir William Strickland. The year was 1239, and from this date forward, Sizergh has been continually the primary residence of the Strickland family.

The Strickland family name can be traced back to a family called de Castlecarrock, most likely descended from a Norman family called the Vaux's or de Vallibus. Walter de Castlecarrock married and moved South, to an area called Great Strickland. Around 1179, he changed his name to de Strikeland. The name Strickland can find its roots in the word Stercaland, a Westmorland name meaning 'pasture of young cattle', and is the name of one of Kendal's main streets, Stricklandgate. Walter was knighted at some point, and his grand son was Sir William Stirckland, the husband of Elizabeth Deincourt.

Above. A view of the castle from the gardens below.

The oldest part of the castle, is the four storey tower. This portion of the castle was probably built in around 1340, after Sir Walter was granted licence in 1332 to enclose his lands for ever, and to create a park. An interesting aside here, is that Sir Walter's sister, Joan Strickland was married to Robert de Wessington, an early ancestor of the Washington's of Warton in Lancashire. Descended from this family, was the first President of the United States, George Washington.

Above. A view of the central hall block and the tower (right)

The early tower, is 18 and a half metres long, and nearly 11 metres wide. As you look at the entrance to the castle, as shown in the photo below, the tower (most likely a pele tower) is the building to the right of the door.

Above. Detailed floor plan of Sizergh Castle and adjoining buildings.

The walls are, in some places, up to 2 and a half metres thick. The turret that can be seen at the back of the tower, is the stair turret, carrying a spiral staircase to the four storeys of the tower.

Above. Close up view of the tower.

The tower is surrounded by later buildings dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, all of a non-defensive nature, and designed with comfort in mind.The Strickland family have a long history of alliance with the Parr's of Kendal, and the chapel dedicated to the Strickland family in Kendal Parish church, is testament to their connection with the town. Indeed, Katherine Parr lived at the castle for a number of years prior to her marriage to Henry VIII. In 1530 she sent him a coat of Kendal cloth as a gift. Her residence at Sizergh Castle was a precautionary arrangement after the death of her mother, to oversee her inheritance then under the control of her brother. The Queen's room at the castle still displays the huge counterpane and toilet cover that Katherine embroidered. These quarters are situated in the older portion of the castle, then called the Deincourt Tower.

Above. Engraving showing the 14th century tower from the gardens.

Above. Photo of Sizergh from beyond the estate's boundary wall.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Castle Stede, Hornby

Castle Stede

One mile North of Hornby, just off the A683, the earthwork remains of Castle Stede guard the crossing of the river Lune. Together with motte and bailey castles to the North in Arkholme, Whittington and Kirkby Lonsdale, to the East in Melling, and to the South in Halton, this is the largest concentration of these earthwork remains to be found outside of Wales. Of these castles, Castle Stede is perhaps the largest, most complex and best preserved example in the area and even possibly in the UK.

The remains are easily accessable from the road to the south of the bailey. You can park on the other side of the bridge, and walk back towards the remains. Entry is through a thin gap in the wall, a short walk up the field, and the entrance to the bailey is marked by a modern stone causeway over the ditches.

The remains are thought to be from the 13th century, and overlay the remains of an iron age hill fort. From this, it's plain to see that the river crossing here was very important from the earliest of times. The motte is approached through the bailey, which is laid out to the left and right as you cross over the causeway. The earthwork ditches and banks are still very much in evidence, providing good defensive barriers against any attack. The oval shaped bailey is around 70 by 60 metres, and is surrounded by a ditch and raised bank reaching an additional height of around 2 metres in places. The North and West sides of the bailey are also protected by the high sided natural embankment, with the North side falling away sharply towards the river, some 4o feet below.

The motte stands at the far Eastern end of the bailey, seperated by a deep ditch, some 3 metres deep. The motte itself stands to a height of around 8 metres, with a fairly flat summit of 15 metres across. The motte is fairly intact, but suffers slightly from rabbits and a few mature trees growing from the sides. The base of the motte has been walled up, probably to prevent any slippage, and this, unsightly as it is, seems to have done the trick. The motte is protected on its West, South and East sides by ditches and emmbankments, still very much in evidence. The North face of the motte decends to the river, again around 40 feet below.

There is documentary evidence to suggest that the castle was in use in 1205, when it was taken from Roger de Montbegon by King John, and returned a mere three months later. There doesn't seem to be any other sites to which this documentary evidence could relate to....Hornby castle some two miles to the East wasn't built until much later.

So important was the crossing here just outside Hornby, that a pill box was constructed during the second world war, no doubt designed to offer protection of the river crossing in the event of a German invasion.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mottes in Kendal


As well as the more well known motte and bailey castles in and around Kendal, there are at least two mottes in Kendal, with, perhaps dubious, antiquity. This basically means that they may, or may not be medieval motte and bailey castles. They may be lesser sites, possibly centres of administration and not defensive structures, or they may just be natural geological occurances. Whatever, I think they deserve some mention here.

The first of these sites is situated near a farm called Birds Hill Farm, about a half a mile up the old Sedbergh road. The site is tucked away in the corner of a field, with a stream running around its base. The motte, if that is truly what it is, is about 15 metres high on its Southern flank where the stream seperates it from the rest of the field.

The Northern and Eastern flanks are about three metres high. There's no doubt that this motte is made from a natural feature in the landscape, but at the same time, it's also possible that whomever used it as a place of local administration, built upon it to further enhance its position. I don't have any dates regarding the use of this motte, or any further history at all.

The second motte is situated in the middle of a busy housing estate to the North of the town, sandwiched between Kettlewell Road, Aysgarth Close and Low Garth. This motte is reputedly the suggested site of a pre-conquest administrative centre. The motte has steep sides and may have been an early medieval fort of some sort. It stands to a height of around eight metres, and is very well defined.

I'm again unable to find any datings for this site, who built it or what it was used for, and there is some suggestion that it may even be a spoil heap from the nearby railway.

There are even a few sites within Kendal, and one or two on the outskirts of town that are known or at least thought to have been very early medieval mottes, perhaps sites of local administration rather than full blown motte and bailey castle such as Kendal's Castle Howe.

Just outside Kendal, there is a motte, visited last year, that lends some weight to the "is it - or isn't it" argument. Situated about two miles West of Kendal on Hawes Lane just outside Natland, Hawes Bridge Motte is mostly hidden from view from the road. The earthwork remains sit just above the river Kent, appearing to defend the river crossing. The motte stands in an area generally thought to contain the remains of a deserted medieval settlement called Bothelford, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book.

The remains stand to around six metres high and would have afforded a good view of the river crossing and the surrounding country side. There do not appear to be any remains of banks and\or ditches. There is a question hanging over the validity of this motte, in that it's very near to the route of the Lancaster to Kendal canal, so there is every possibilty that it's actually a spoil heap. Still the location looks good for a defensive site at the river crossing, and so near to the possibly deserted village.