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Heritage Blog: Cumbria's fortified history...
Inspired by Max Clark's Heritage Blog on Kendal Castle, Matthew Emmott contributed this look at our 'definsive history', delving into fortified houses, pele towers and more....
If you live in Kendal, work here, or visit, Kendal's castle is the most obvious piece of defensive history. It sits atop a drumlin overlooking Kendal to the North, South, East and West. Meanwhile, across the valley perched on the hill side, is Castle Howe, the remains of an earlier motte and bailey castle. Together, these two sites offer a glimpse of the necessity to defend the town's people from the pillaging Scots.
Not so well known, are the multitude of fortified houses, pele towers and motte and baileys that litter the Cumbrian countryside. These buildings are evident just over the borders in North Yorkshire and Lancashire also, but for the time being, I'll just concentrate on the Cumbrian sites.
A good scouring of the English Heritage's web site PastScape,(see link below) will help any heritage hunter pin down his or hers intended target. It's proved an invaluable site for planning trips out to photograph these hidden treasures over the past two years. And the best thing is, there seems to be so many, you don't have to drive hundreds of miles to find them.
Let's start near by. If you drive through Burneside, you'll encounter the dramatic ruins of 14th century Burneside Hall with its impressive 16th century gatehouse. Obviously in a poor state of repair, the ruins are none the less impressive in their size, and attached to a working farm.
If you find yourself in Killington, keep an eye out for the lovely Killington Hall. It's hidden back from the road opposite the village's church and offers a good example of a 15th century pele tower, but with one exception. Unlike most of the Cumbrian pele towers, Killington has its own moat.
Matthew Emmott explores our 'fortified' past....Click on the link to see his new blog
Drive out to Beetham, along the main road from Milnthorpe, and Beetham Hall dominates the farm on the hill side. The 14th century tower is fairly complete, and even sports a good long section of curtain wall.
Take a trip out to Arnside. The tower there stands tall and majestic on the hill side overlooking the farm below it. Again, it's a huge structure, originally a five or six storey tower dating from around the 15th century. Arnside tower is interesting in one exceptional wayand that is that it forms part of a defensive ring around the Bay area. The other towers are at Hazelslack, another 14th century pele tower, Wraysholme tower in Allithwaite near Grange, a 15th century pele tower, and Beetham mentioned above. All these towers are in pretty good condition considering their ages, although Arnside tower appears to have suffered some storm damage in the 1800s.
Two little gems, hidden away from prying eyes, are the ruined remains of Nether Levens pele tower, near Levens Hall, and the single wall of Heversham pele. Nether Levens is situated in the corner of the garden of a later 16th century house. All that now remains are the overgrown ruins of one wall and the gable end. A small section of curtain wall runs behind the current house. Heversham Pele, or the single section of wall measuring about twenty feet tall by fifteen feet wide, stands in the back garden of Heversham Hall, a beautiful 14th century house in Heversham, The last pele tower I'll mention here, is probably the most beautiful of the lot. Kentmere Hall stands at the end of the Kentmere valley, attached to a 14th century farmhouse. The tower is fairly intact, and commands a prominent position looking back down the valley towards Staveley. Apart from its obvious grandeur, its surroundings are simply stunning, a photographer's dream!
Moving on from the more obvious pele towers, that can reliably be identified when seen at the road side from a moving car, or in the distance when walking Cumbria's many walks, there are the more obscure dwellings once used as a place of safety from invading armies and warring peoples. These dwellings need a lot of researching to find, and sometimes a little imagination to put them into context.
The best examples near Kendal of these fortified houses and converted pele towers, are probably Hollin Hall near Crook, and Selside Hall near Kendal. Upon first inspection, both houses look like the thousands of other farms and beautiful houses that litter the Cumbrian countryside. However, when you look at them closer, and with the English Heratige architectural descriptions to hand, their past histories become a little more obvious. Most of the pleasure in tracking these dwellings down, is in the hunt..driving through some of the most beautiful countryside in the Lake district, and quite often, driving down the same stretch of road again and again!
There are dozens of fortified houses around the South Lakes area. Some are easy to spot while others are only identifiable from records and show little or no indication of their past. These are also targets for a photographic record that is growing by the week.
The motte and bailey castles that litter the countryside are easier to find and more obvious once tracked down. Take Sedbergh's own castle. How many people from outside Sedbergh realise that there's a medieval motte over looking the village, and an excellently preserved one at that. And how many people driving up the M6 motorway towards Penrith, upon passing Tebay, have wondered what that strange earthwork was on the left. Yes, even Tebay has a castle!! Albeit gradually being washed away by the river. And even Kirkby Lonsdale has a castle, hidden away in gardens along the Ruskins Brow footpath. Admittedly, all that remains of these sites are earthworks, but once you know they're there, it's fairly easy to see what's what!!
Crossing over the border into Lancashire from Kirkby Lonsdale, and a 30 minute car drive, will bring you to the motte and baileys of Arkholme, Melling, Whittington and Castle Stedes at Hornby. All very well preserved sites, except Whittington which has had a grave yard built into it!!
So, apart from its more distinguished castles such as Sizergh, Kendal, Appleby, Penrith and Carlisle, Cumbria has a good number of sites to visit. Many of these are hidden away, many aren't readily identifiable as a tower or pelebut the hunt for these sites is half the fun.the rest is coming away with a set of photographs to remember the visit by. To date, I've visited around 39 sites in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Lancashire, and built a collection of around 700 photos. It's a growing collection, with many sites still to visit, and maps and plans ready for my next outing.
Matthew Emmott 27th November 2005