Dalton in Furness

Has been described as a Certain Pele Tower

There are major building remains

NameDalton in Furness
Alternative NamesDalton Castle
Historic CountryLancashire
Modern AuthorityCumbria
1974 AuthorityCumbria
Civil ParishDalton Town With Newton

Dalton Tower stands at the west end of the town on high ground immediately to the north-east of the parish church. It is a rectangular structure of C14 date, 44 ft. long by 29 ft. 6 in. wide externally, the greater length being from north to south, built of rough rubble limestone with red sandstone quoins and dressings, a good deal restored and the interior entirely modernized. Whether the building was originally part of a larger structure it is impossible to say, the evidence of the walling not being conclusive. It is often called 'Dalton Castle' locally. On the west side at the height of about 16 ft. 9 in. is an external row of stone corbels, probably marking the position of a lean-to building; the plinth, however, is carried round the building on this side as well as on the north and south, but the door and window openings are later than the walling. The building had originally three floors above the ground level, the positions of which are indicated inside by stone corbels and by the doorways opening from the stone staircase in the west wall, which is thickened out at its north end. The walls are 5 ft. thick in the lower story, giving an internal space of 34 ft. by 19 ft. 6 in., which was divided into two by a cross wall immediately south of the stairs. (There is a cellar 5 ft. 6 in. deep without windows at the north end of the building commonly called 'the dungeon,' the only access to which is by a trap door in the floor.) The entrance is at the south-east corner facing south, the staircase being originally approached only from the inside; but at a later date, probably early in C18, an external door to the staircase was cut through the wall on the west side. In 1545–6 the tower was in 'great ruin,' and was reported likely to fall into 'still greater ruin if speedy remedy be not shortly provided.' (Duchy Plead. (Rec. Soc. Lancs

and Ches.), ii, 204–5) It was then described as consisting of' three several chambers from the ground, one above another, all the floors whereof have been made of timber.' The floors and joists were, however, then rotten with water that had rained on them, 'the roof was decayed for lack of thatch,' the lime of the walls washed out, and the walls themselves partly decayed at the corners and other places. (Ibid) The tower was repaired with material from Furness Abbey, (This probably accounts for the red sandstone.) and was afterwards used as a prison. At the beginning of C18 the ground floor was converted into a stable, the original doorway to the staircase being then made up and the outer one inserted. About this time also the first and third floors were raised and the second floor partly taken out, the remainder at the north end being raised and made into a gallery with access from a doorway in the staircase. From the evidence of the corbels the height of the ground story was originally 7 ft. 4 in. and that of the first and second floors respectively 7 ft. 10 in. and 9 ft. 3 in.; the upper floor, which was probably the original courtroom, being 11 ft. 3 in. to the ceiling. The C18 alterations, however, raised the height of the ground story to 9 ft. and introduced a middle room 16 ft. high. The top floor remained unchanged, but before the end of the century all its windows had been built up. The new middle story was used till 1856 as the court-room, and was lit at the south end by a large new window of three lights with semicircular head. In 1856 it underwent a thorough restoration when the interior was practically gutted, the three stories being further reduced to two by the insertion of a single floor at mid-height. The ground floor was reconstructed, a wooden staircase being inserted at the north and approached by a corridor from the main entrance, and a new slated gabled roof erected, the building then assuming its present appearance. The C18 window on the south side was done away with and the upper window, which is of four lights with elliptical traceried head and external hood mould, was lengthened 3 ft. (There is an illustration showing these windows in Close's ed. of West's Antiq. of Furness (1805), 345.) At the same time a new pointed two-light window with traceried head was inserted on the west side to the ground floor, two squareheaded windows on the north side to the ground and first floor were restored, an elliptical-headed window at the south end of the east front to the top floor was replaced by a new pointed one of two lights, and other parts of the stonework, including the parapet, were renewed. The parapet, which is of red sandstone and 5 ft. in height, is quite plain except for a roughly carved human figure at each corner, with a quarter-round moulding below and setting back in three receding courses at the top, the height of which is 40 ft. above the ground. On the north and west sides is a string course at half height below the parapet, but the south and east sides are unbroken horizontally, the east being quite plain in the lower portion. This side of the building had, however, for some years previous to 1856 built up against it two rough-cast gabled houses carried on columns, probably of 18th-century date, the open lower part of which served as a covered market hall. The original aspect of the tower on this side can therefore only be conjectured. (A view in 1817 by C. Cuitt given in Gregson's Portf. of Fragments, 271, shows this structure still standing, the columns of stone or brick and wood. The plinth on the east side of the castle may have been cut away when these buildings were either erected or removed. A view from the north-east, c. 1784, showing the buildings against the north and east sides, is in Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. Soc. (new ser.), x, 322. An early 19th-century drawing from the south-west is also given, and a view showing the later buildings on the east side about 1860, pp. 324–5. The upper part of the wall, however, retains an original pointed window of two trefoiled lights with quatrefoil over which lit the original top floor, and two square-headed lights below. (VCH)

Despite much internal reconstruction Dalton Castle survives well and contains substantial original medieval features and fabric. Its original construction and ownership by the monks of Furness Abbey, together with its original function as a courthouse, make Dalton Castle an unusual example of a solitary tower house and it thus illustrates well the diversity of this class of monument.

The monument includes the upstanding and below ground remains of Dalton Castle, a 14th century tower formerly used as the manorial courthouse of Furness Abbey. It is located close to the south west corner of the Market Place in Dalton-in-Furness and in its present form consists of a rectangular two-storey freestanding tower constructed of limestone rubble with red sandstone dressings and a slate roof. Although the precise date of construction of Dalton Castle is unknown it is considered to have replaced an earlier gaol or courthouse possibly destroyed by Scottish raiders known to have been active in the Furness peninsula in 1316 and again in 1322 under the leadership of Robert Bruce. Originally built to resist further Scottish invasions, Dalton Castle would have contained a courtroom, gaol, guardrooms, stores and a crenallated parapet. After the dissolution of Furness Abbey in 1537 the castle passed initially to the crown then into private hands, however, it continued as a courthouse for over 300 years. Major internal alterations were undertaken in 1856 when three upper floors, accessible from a stone spiral staircase, were superseded by a single upper room and an additional stairway. The castle is flanked by a cobble plinth, parts of which are also included within the scheduling. In 1956 Dalton Castle was given to the National Trust. The ground floor now houses a small museum while the upper room is occasionally used for events organised for and by local people. Externally the castle has a chamfered plinth on all sides except the east and a string course on the north and west walls. The original doorway with a double-chamfered arch and hoodmould is on the south face. Above is a renewed four-light tracery window inserted in 1856. The west wall has a small round-arched door accessed by a short flight of stone steps above which are slit windows for illuminating the spiral staircase built into the west wall adjacent to the doorway. Another slit window at ground floor level lights a garderobe built into the west wall. There is a restored two-light window with ogee-headed lights, pointed arch and hoodmould on the ground floor to the south of the door, and a smaller window of the same style on the upper floor. The east wall has no windows at ground floor level. Above is a small square-headed single-light window and a blocked small two-light mullioned window. Above these are two pointed-arched windows with cusped ogee lights and hoodmoulds. The north wall has a blocked single-light window with blind tracery on the ground floor above which is a two-light window of similar design. The upper floor is illuminated by a two-pointed arched window of the same design as those found on the upper storey of the east and west walls. At roof level there is a sandstone parapet which is corbelled-out from the walls below and pierced on all sides by arrow-loops. It is surmounted at each corner by four decayed carved sandstone figures of 14th century date. On the east side there is a carved spout-head or gargoyle representing a figure holding a shield with a central boss. Internally corbels indicate the original floor levels and there are two original fireplaces in the east wall, one on the ground floor and one on the upper floor. The south entrance leads into a ground-floor corridor at the end of which is a wooden staircase of the mid-19th century. Off the corridor is the main lower room with a corner fireplace against the spiral stair. The west entrance has the spiral staircase immediately to the right and a garderobe to the left. The spiral staircase contains a blocked doorway. A short passageway leads to the corridor with a kitchen and WC to the left. Beneath this short passageway is a dungeon accessed by a trap door in the floor of the passageway. The upper storey contains a single large upper room. Access to the parapet is via the spiral staircase. (Scheduling Report)

Pele tower. Mid C14, repaired 1545, remodelled c1704, and in 1856 by Sharpe and Paley (drawing); reroofed 1907. Limestone rubble with red sandstone dressings, slate roof. Now 2 storeys, rectangular. Chamfered plinth, large quoins. Doorway in south side has double-chamfered arch and hoodmould; renewed 4-light window above inserted 1856; it has king mullion, cusped tracery under round arch with hoodmould. West side has small round-arched door with slit windows of spiral stair above; restored 2-light window on right has ogee-headed lights, pointed arch and hoodmould; string course beneath smaller window in same style. East side has no plinth and no windows to ground floor; square-headed single-light window on left of blocked 2-light mullioned window; above which are 2 pointed-arched windows with cusped ogee lights and hoodmoulds. Moulded oversailing course beneath ashlar sandstone parapet with slits, one medieval gargoyle, triangular copings built-up in 3 courses and figure to north-east corner. INTERIOR: remodelled, present staircase of 1845. Corbels show original floor levels. 2 original fireplaces to east wall, that in chamber with trefoil beneath keel-moulded arch with keystone. Ogee door-heads to the stair turret and to upper west window. Built to resist the Scottish invasions of the early-mid C14; later served as court house and prison. Given to the National Trust in 1965. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Most probably the residence and offices of the steward of the manor, which was held by Furness Abbey. Was a free standing building and the steward of the abbey was probably from a gentry family. This rather modest building seems often to have been called a 'castle' which it was in the sense of being the centre of political and judicial authority for Dalton and as a secure place for the storage of money from the rents and taxes due to the Abbey. Was used as a prison from an early period but that may not have been the intended initial function.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSD226739
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  • Richard Nevell, 2014-15, 'Castles as prisons' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 28 p. 203-224
  • Anon, 2008-9, 'Dalton Castle' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 22 p. 155 (brief news report)
  • Melville, J., 1971, 'Dalton Castle' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 127 p. 266-7
  • Kelly, P.V., 1929, 'Dalton Castle' Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Vol. 29 p. 234-41 online copy
  • Gaythorpe, H., 1910, 'Dalton Castle' Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Vol. 10 p. 312-30 online copy
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Guide Books

  • Dean, Richard, 1996, Dalton Castle (National Trust)

Primary Sources


  • English Heritage, 2006, Extensive Urban Survey - Cumbria (Cumbria County Council) Download copy
  • Clare, T., 1982, A Report on Medieval Fortified Sites in Cumbria (Cumbria CC)