Saturday, March 29, 2008

Askham, nr Lowther


Situated about two miles West of the A6 and less than quarter of a mile from Lowther Castle, the picturesque village of Askham is built around a village green once used for the safe corralling of cattle and other livestock. The village is one of three in the area regarded as defensible, and consists of a central green, surrounded by an almost unbroken ring of houses. Although the green has long since been developed and buildings have been erected within the confines of the green, the basic shape that defines this type of village can still be seen here.

Many of the original buildings have long since been replaced or demolished entirely, but the basic idea of the ring of houses and buildings can still be seen. The village is much the same in shape and form as nearby Milburn and Temple Sowerby.

The manor of Askham (in the past named Ascum) passed from the Helbeck and Swinburns over time, and eventually came to be held by the Sandford family. The Sandford family held the manor from the 1375 until 1724, when William Sandford died with no male heir. The manor was sold to the Lowthers thereafter, who's family seat was the nearby Lowther Castle.

Askham Hall was built on a small prominence overlooking the village, originally by Robert de Swinburn, but whatever building was here, was burnt down by the Scots in 1325. There are no records stating what damage was done to the village. The Sandford family built the current hall in around 1375, and it's believed that the layout of the village also came into being at about this time, probably to defend valuable live stock against raids from Scots and English alike.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Dacre Castle, Dacre

Dacre Castle

The village of Dacre lays just south of the A66, East of Penruddock, and West of Stainton. The area is literally over flowing with pele towers and castles. Within 5 miles of Dacre, Dalemain, Catterlan, Johnby, Hutton-in-the-forrest, Greystoke and Blencow, to name but a few, can all be found.

Above. A view of the castle from the North, with St Andrews in the background.

The Dacre family were medieval landowners in this area and the church of St Andrew just across the beck, contains the remains of a sandstone effigy that probably depicts a Dacre knight from the 14th century.

Above. An effigy of a Dacre Knight.

This small castle probably dates from the late 14th century, and most likely replaced an earlier tower, dating, in turn, from the early 1300’s. The castle sits at the side of a small roadway, which fortunately is a right of way, and affords excellent close up views of the castle. Portions of the moat can still be seen, specifically, the northern corner of the moat, and a small portion to the south of the tower, now landscaped. The rest has been filled in and lays beneath the road. (This pathway\road incidentally, eventually leads to Dalemain, some 2 miles to the East)

Above. The moat to the West of the castle.

The earlier building on this site, was so badly destroyed by a Scottish raid in 1317, that it required a complete rebuild. It is probably this building that we see today, dating from around 1354, when Margaret de Dacre was granted a license for the castle chapel.

Above. Another view of the moat to the West of the castle.

Many of the walls are up to 2 and a half metres thick, and built of the locally familiar red sandstone. There are four towers, three of which are almost identical, with the North East tower slightly larger. The crenellations now give way to steepled roofs, but they would once have been flat. The Dacre family crest can be seen over the doorway, but owing to the amount of greenery in the garden it was impossible to get a good photograph.

Above. The castle from the East.

The castle remained in the Dacre family until the death of Lord Dacre, Earl of Sussex in 1715. The castle and the extensive lands that went with it, were purchased by Sir Christopher Musgrave. Musgrave’s daughter Julia married Edward Hasell, who was then granted the Dacre estates. These grants of land and property were absorbed into the Dalemain estates under who's stewardship they remain to this day.

Above. The castle from the North West.

The castle is shown in an engraving of 1739, as ruinous with vegetation growing from the top floors and the roofs. It found use as a farmhouse during the latter part of the 18th century. In 1961, the castle was restored sufficiently to be inhabited, and has thus remained a home to this day.

The castle lays a few hundred feet from the buried remains of a pre-Norman (Anglo-Saxon) monastery. This site was raided by Vikings in around 875, and then rebuilt in 926. Extensive archaeological excavations have found the buried remains of at least 200 people, clearly indicating a site of significant importance. The cemetery was probably disused for a long period of time, and eventually the whole site was superceded by a church on the site of the present St Andrews across the beck.

As mentioned before, the castle is easily accessible via the public right of way that runs alongside the gardens and the remains of the moat. From here, great views can be had. A few hundred yards to the North West, the church of St Andrews lays, with its carved bears and 12th and 13th century architecture.

Lowther Castle Stead, Lowther

Lowther Castle Stead
nr Askham

The earthwork remains of Castle Stead lay about a quarter of a mile north of Lowther castle, and overlook the River Lowther from the top of a high cliff. The remains of this medieval fortification are one of a few in this small area. To the West is Askham Hall, a 14th century pele tower.

(Askham Hall from the river side. Yes I know....a poor shot, but believe me, the hall is incredibly difficult to photograph.)

A few hundred yards up the road is the small village of Askham....a defensible village.

To the south are the remains of Lowther castle, incorporating both 19th, 13th and 17th century towers and halls.

It has been suggested that these remains represent the remains of a pele tower, possibly dating from the late 12th century. The earthworks are rectangular in shape, perhaps 60 feet by 20 feet and stand to about 6 feet in places.

The earth banks appeared to consist of a mixture of earth and rubble, and in places mature trees were growing from the remains. Each side of the enclosure was broken in half by a gap, perhaps 6 to 8 feet in length. There didn't appear to be any features in the centre of the site.

General consensus is that the position that these remains occupy, represent a good site for a tower, possibly a pele tower. Indeed, the point at which the current road bridge crosses the river Lowther, is very shallow. Here the water flows over a slick river bed made of solid stone. On a normal day, the water here is only a matter of a few inches deep.

A map of 1863 clearly shows a square enclosure on this spot, labelled as Castle Stead. The site is obviously of some antiquity. It is easily accessible too. The footpath leading to the remains, can be joined opposite the church of St Michael. Alternatively, you can make the steep scramble up the hill side from the road to the remains.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rosgill Hall, nr Shap

Rosgill Hall
Nr Shap

Rosgill Hall sits on the banks of the River Lowther, about two miles north of Shap abbey, and about two and half miles west of Shap. This small hall is either on the site of a pele tower, or contains the remains\masonry of a pele tower. The hall is also described as a fortified house, in the same vein as Helsfell Hall and Gillthwaiterigg near Kendal.

The manor of Rosgill was held by the Rosgill\Rosgil family from the early 1200's, through to around 1399, when it passed by marriage to the Salkeld family. In later years, the manor was then sold to the Lowthers. The Rosgills were of such standing, that there is a burial chamber at the end of the South aisle in the nearby church of St Michael's in Shap. Some records state that the house, as seen in the photo above, once existed alongside the tower here at Rosgil. The current building definitely dates from the 16th century, but with so little information to go on, there's not really much else that can be said here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Piel Castle, Piel Island

Piel Castle
Piel Island

Situated on the 20 acre island of Piel, at the mouth of Piel Channel, this castle has battled the elements for nearly 880 years. The island was originally fortified during the reign of King Stephen, although a licence to crenellate was granted sometime before his reign began, in 1327. This early licence was granted to the Abbot of Furness Abbey by Edward III, and was documented as having been granted to "crenellate their dwelling house of Fotheray in Fourneys".

The castle has in the past also been known as Fouldry Castle, The Pile of Fotheray, Fowdray, and Peel....but it is by the island's name that it is best known. Piel Castle. The island was fortified as a means to defending the Piel Channel, a deep area of water that would enable ships of all sizes to dock at nearby ports. The Abbey at Furness was originally a controlling force in local trade, and exerted great control over the area. The fortification on this small island, meant that the Abbey could control sea-going traffic arriving and leaving the West coast of Lancashire (as it was then) The lands on the island were granted to the order of Savignac monks by King Stephen in 1127, and formed part of the grant which also included the lands on which Furness Abbey would be built. The Savignac order merged with the Cistercians around 1150-60, and it was about this time that the Abbey's influence in the local area, and indeed wider afield began to grow. This of course included trade, and the island was an ideal place to build a protected harbour and warehouses.

In 1212, a wooden tower, possibly of a defensive nature, was erected on the island, when King John granted the abbey a license to land one ship of wheat, four and other foods during a famine that was affecting the area. Further licenses were granted in 1232 and 1258, granting the abbey the right to ship unlimited ship loads of cargo in and out of the harbour. These licenses also meant that the ships were now under Royal protection.

With the full license to crenellate from 1327, the stone castle was constructed, and much of what can be seen today, dates from this period. As well as keeping pirates and raiders away from the valuable stores and cargoes held at the castle, the strong walls also kept the Royal Customs officers out. Some documents suggest that smuggling, to the gain of Furness Abbey, was committed at this time.

When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries of Great Britain, the castle passed into Royal ownership. With the threat of invasion from mainland Europe, the castle was upgraded, re-fortified and strengthened. The channel that ran alongside Piel Island was recognised as being deep enough for large enemy warships, with large amounts of men to use. By 1537, the castle was in a poor state of repair. It was stated at the time that £300 would scarcely be enough to make good any damage. During the civil war, the Parliamentary forces considered repairing the castle and making it a North Western stronghold. Further investigation apparently revealed the level of decay and idea was shelved. Charles II, upon his return to England, and the restoration of the monarchy, granted the island and the castle to George Monck, Duke of Albermarle. A certain amount of repairs were conducted between 1876 and 1878, but these works seem to be the last time the castle was attended to.

Photo of Piel Castle courtesy of John Jefferies.

The remains consist of the keep with its attendant curtain wall, around half of which still survives, and the outer ward with its corner towers and chapel. The sea has claimed the curtain wall to the South and to the East of the castle, with the North Eastern and South Eastern towers also suffering erosion. The outer ward walls have also been eroded on the South and the East of the castle, and to the West it looks as if the wall has been demolished, possibly used for building material elsewhere on the island. The castle keep has also been eroded, so that around a quarter of the of the East wall has fallen into the sea. Huge amounts of fallen masonry lay on the beach to the South and the South East of the island. The inner ward earthworks still survive between the inner ward wall and the outer ward, but again, sea erosion has destroyed the Southern and Eastern portions. The keep's walls are around 2 and a half metres thick, with huge buttresses at each corner. The gatehouse on the North end of the keep, still has the grooves in which the portcullis was raised and lowered. The inner part of the gatehouse also had a portcullis. The defensive capabilities of the castle seem quite formidable.....whether they were ever put to the test is not known.

The castle is still pending a visit, but I've managed to take some photos from Roa Island which lies about half a mile to the North of Piel Island. From here, in the Summer, a ferry can be used to gain access to the island, and the castle is freely accessible. Unfortunately, each time I've been to visit the castle so far, the ferry hasn't been running. Another visit is due this Summer.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Smardale Hall, nr Crosby Garrett

Smardale Hall
nr Crosby Garrett

Smardale Hall, now part of a working farm, lays about a mile and a half South East of the small village of Crosby Garrett. The hall sits in a prominent position overlooking Scandal Beck, and the small unused ford that crosses this narrow stretch of water. It's thought that a small motte may have been the original fortification on this site, with the original hall being built sometime in the late 14th century, possibly around 1388 by the Smerdales. The original earthworks are still meant to be evident, although these were not seen on my visit.

The hall as seen today, is, to all intents and purposes, a 15th and 16th century house, with scant elements of the original pele tower surviving. These earliest 14th century portions may only be limited to a newel, the central support for a spiral staircase, in one of the two corner towers, possibly the one on the right of the above photo. There are four towers in total, situated at each corner of the main part of the house. The two rear towers probably date from the 15th and 16th century rebuilding of the house, whilst the two front towers are older, and at least one of these two, dates from the late 14th century.

It is thought that the hayloft, a large building that still stands, attached to the rear of the present hall, was the original great hall, indicated by the survival of some decorative plaster work. This building would have formed part of one side of the whole recangular courtyard layout, with the long, four towered builing forming the top end of the enclosure. The following plan of the original layout of the site shows how it would once have looked.

The Old Tower, as marked on the above plan, was a 14th century defensible tower, which was unforunately demolished.

Looking at the above photograph, it's just possible to make out the other two towers at the rear of the building. These towers (behind the trees) are the later of the four towers. The two at the front on all the photos here are the South East and the South West towers, and as such, are the only remnants of the original pele tower. The walls of these two front towers are said to be much thicker than the two rear ones, possibly indicating their defensive qualities.

Above. Old postcard showing one end of Smardale Hall.

The hall was later owned by the Warcops, who also had strong links with Warcop Tower in the small village of Warcop. The hall can be viewed from the nearby road, and also from the walk along the now disused railway. This is one of those sites that is best viewed in winter when the trees are bare.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Lammerside Castle\Tower, Mallerstang

Lammerside Castle
nr Kirkby Stephen

The remains of Lammerside tower lay 2 miles to the South of Wharton Hall, two miles to the North of Pendragon, and about 4 miles to the South of Kirkby Stephen.

This tiny scrap of a castle occupies the beautiful West side of Wharton Fell a few hundred yards from a bend in the River Eden as it passes through the valley and on towards Pendragon.
The castle is off the A683, and down an open fell road leading to Croop Farm, a private residence but with free public access to the field in which the castle is situate via a public footpath.

The footpath takes you right up the castle, giving you the opportunity to explore the remains here, close up. What you will find is a small tower surviving to second floor height in most places. Most of the walls survive to around one and a half metres thick, and the remains are around 14 by 11 and a half metres square.

It’s obvious from the amount of rubble buried beyond the tower walls, that there were other buildings here, possibly containing a hall. There are also the earthwork remains of a barmkin wall, which would have provided an enclosed yard to the West of the tower. aerial photos on the Visit Cumbria web site show the extent of the earthworks surrounding the tower to great effect.

Probably built sometime in the 1300’s the tower and its attendant buildings may have been built by the Warcops, with a branch of the Wharton family occupying it until the late 1400’s.

The Warcops are associated with a tower of Lambersete in documents dating from 1404, detailing Thomas de Warcop’s part in the abduction of Margaret de Sandford, aged only nine years old, so that he could marry her. The abduction was carried out by Roland de Thornburgh on Thomas’ behalf. Later documents state that Edward V, in 1462, stipulated that Thomas Warcop should pay the amount of “fyve marc sterling” to Thomas Sandford, possibly a relation of Margaret’s. Whether this payment formed some sort of punishment for Margaret’s abduction, isn’t known.

The tower still retains its superb vaulted ceilings on the ground floor, and these can be seen upon entering the tower. Much, if not all, of the outer stone dressing has long since gone, whether removed or simply fallen away over the years, giving the outer walls a very rough look. The base of a fallen spiral staircase can still be seen in one wall.

The valley of Mallerstang is a beautiful place to visit on any day, even just for the scenery, but with the addition of Pendragon and Lammerside (Wharton Hall cannot be visited!!) it makes for a great place to spend some time. Lammerside and Pendragon are linked by the public footpath, and only about two miles apart.