Peel Island

Has been described as a Questionable Uncertain

There are uncertain remains

NamePeel Island
Alternative NamesPiel Island; Montagu Island, Coniston Water
Historic CountryLancashire
Modern AuthorityCumbria
1974 AuthorityCumbria
Civil ParishColton

(SD 2952 9190). Partial excavation of an early mediaeval site of Piel (Peel) Island, in Coniston Lake, undertaken by Mr W G Collingwood (c 1896). 13th century pottery and nails found."All appearances point to its having been a little fortalice for security from attack, and its name bears this out" (PSAL 1895).

(C AD 1896) the author carried out excavations on Piel Island in Coniston Water. Between the two main ridges which form the island a gap about 170 ft long, 33 ft wide and 20ft above the water "has been quite filled with buildings", and sealed at each end with a double wall. A flight of steps near the north end leads over the ridge to a "curious foundation" 30ft by 15ft constructed from a natural ravine. There had been a door at the NE end, a window on the NW side, and a recess on the SE side cut in the rock with stones forming a seat; the floor was flagged. At the SW end was a D-shaped building 10ft 7ins by 7ft, originally of considerable height. The straight part of the wall was 2ft 4ins thick, the curved part 1ft 6ins, it is very much of the type of the earliest iron smelting furnaces. "Every part of the island is built up in such a way as to suggest that it was intended as a rude fortress".

In digging out the "side building" the following finds were made; a piece of flint; fragment of bone; an ancient key; "early mediaeval" potsherds; also slabs of gritstone which appeared to be fragments of large querns or millstones, and parts of red sandstone mortars. "A piece of ancient red brick found in the digging is very like a sample of Roman brick from Hardknott Camp, but is probably mediaeval". Evidences of iron working were shown by lumps of porous purple dross (which is scattered over the island), great quantities of nails, bolts, rivets and lumps of iron, lying amongst burnt stones and blackened soil, and fragments of charcoal. "The conclusion is that there was a forge here, and that earlier still Peel Island was a rude fortress"

(A model of the site is now in Coniston Museum) (Collinwood).

A barrow, uninhabited tree covered island oriented north-east south-west, the perimeter of the island consists of high rock ridges leaving an internal central depression which is completely secluded, sheltered and an ideal defensive position, the previous classification of fortalice would appear to be correct.

The description of the artificial remains by Collingwood is correct, as also is the attached plan. The remains of the walling may be traced only with difficulty there being much humus, thick undergrowth and excavation spoil throughout; a survey of the walling was not possible.

The better preserved portion of the remains is the "D" shaped building noted by the preceding Authority. Here the walls stand to a maximum height of 1.3m, elsewhere a height of 0.1m; 0.2m is average.

A complete and thorough perambulation of the island revealed only 3 small pieces of scoria and the supposition of a forge is considered doutful, the island is quite small and timber for building would be an important factor, it does not seem creditable that both ore and fuel would be imported into such a minor site on a large scale. Also found during perambulation was the head of an iron nail.

A representative collection of finds from the early excavation are exhibited in the Ruskin Museum, Coniston, as also is an early model of the island based on the plan in Collinwood (F1 FC 28-AUG-57). (PastScape)

Gatehouse Comments

Isolated island is an odd site for post-Conquest medieval English fortification but not unknown. The name is suggestive and the site may represent a temporary retreat from (or for) bandits. Collingwood's excavation seemed to suggest a fortified iron smelting site. The economics of transporting fuel and ore to such a site has been questioned (although water transport in this area must be easier than land transport) but the produce of such a site would have value worth protecting, although Collingwood seems to be suggesting the Iron smelting site (of post-Conquest date) was sited in an earlier fortified site (presumably of Dark Age date and basically a crannog). A example of the various ways 'Peel' (Pele) is used for any number of defensible sites of numerous forms and function.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSD295919
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  • Perriam, Denis and Robinson, John, 1998, The Medieval Fortified Buildings of Cumbria (Kendal: CWAAS Extra Series 29) p. 388


  • Collingwood, W.G., 1926, 'An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Westmorland and Lancashire North-of-the-Sands' Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Vol. 26 p. 40 online copy
  • 1923, 'Tillesburc' Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Vol. 23 p. 140 online copy
  • Collingwood, W.G., 1901, 'The ancient ironworks of Coniston lake' Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire History Society Vol. 53 p. 15-18, 21 (plan opp p. 13)
  • 1896-7, 'Excursions and Proceedings' Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Vol. 14. p. 440 online copy
  • 1895-7, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London Vol. 16 p. 258 online copy