Penrith Castle

Has been described as a Certain Masonry Castle, and also as a Certain Palace (Royal)

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NamePenrith Castle
Alternative NamesStricklands Pele Tower
Historic CountryCumberland
Modern AuthorityCumbria
1974 AuthorityCumbria
Civil ParishPenrith

The ruins of the 15th century Penrith Castle together with a 14th century pele tower built by Bishop Strickland. The pele tower has external dimensions of 10 metres by 8.8 metres width walls 2.3 metres thick and over 1 metre high. A doorway in its south western side gives access into a substantial yard measuring 36 metres square internally which is enclosed by a high barmkin or curtain wall. This wall still stands virtually to its full height on the south east and much of the south west sides but is considerably reduced in height elsewhere. The yard would have contained timber buildings associated with the pele tower. The buildings of the later castle were constructed within this yard and against the curtain wall, thereby creating an inner courtyard, and survive as low stone walls. These internal buildings included a great chamber, a chapel, a private chamber and great hall, kitchens, and the White Tower. The castle was later extended beyond the north west wall of the barmkin and there are foundations of a garderobe turret, guard chambers flanking an elaborate entrance, and remains of the Red Tower at the northern corner. Surrounding the castle on all sides except the north west where it has been lost, is a dry moat up to 15 metres wide and 6 metres deep. There are foundations of a bridge abutment and later gatetower giving access across the moat's north eastern arm. In 1397 William Strickland obtained a licence to strengthen and crenellate his pele tower. Two years later a further licence was granted to build the barmkin. In the early 15th century Richard II gave the town and manor of Penrith to Ralph Nevill, Earl of Westmorland, and the new owner added the Red Tower, began construction of the internal buildings in stone. In 1471 Richard, Duke of Gloucester, continued the internal building and added a substantial outer gateway on the north western side, enlarging the structure into a royal castle. The moat was added in the late 15th century

(PastScape)

Penrith Castle is a good example of a medieval castle which developed within the barmkin or curtain wall of an earlier pele tower. Its ruins are well preserved and it provides an important insight into the types of fortification required in the unsettled northern borderlands during the medieval period.

The monument includes the sandstone ruins of the 15th century Penrith castle together with a 14th century pele tower built by Bishop Strickland. It is located on a low natural eminence to the west of the town centre. The earliest feature of the site is the square pele tower, known as Strickland's or Bishop's Tower. This has external dimensions of 10m by 8.8m with walls 2.3m thick and over 1m high. There is a slit window in its north western side and a doorway in its south western side giving access into a substantial yard measuring approximately 36m square internally which is enclosed by a high barmkin or curtain wall. This wall still stands virtually to its full height on the south east and much of the south west sides but is considerably reduced in height elsewhere. The yard would have contained timber buildings associated with the pele tower. There are two entrances through the curtain; one adjacent to the pele tower, the other through the north western side. The buildings of the later castle were constructed within this yard and against the curtain wall, thereby creating an inner courtyard, and survive as low stone walls. These internal buildings included a great chamber on the north eastern side; a chapel, private chamber and great hall on the south eastern side; kitchens on the south western side; and the White Tower at the western corner. There is a well adjacent to the southern corner of the courtyard. The castle was later extended beyond the north west wall of the barmkin and there are foundations of a garderobe turret, guard chambers flanking a more elaborate entrance, and remains of the Red Tower at the northern corner. Surrounding the castle on all sides except the north west where it has been lost, is a dry moat up to 15m wide and 6m deep. The upcast from the moat forms an adjacent outer bank measuring a maximum of 9m wide by 2m high on the north east and south east sides. There are foundations of a bridge abutment and later gatetower giving access across the moat's north eastern arm.

The earliest documentary evidence for the site dates to 1397 when William Strickland obtained a licence to strengthen and crenellate his pele tower in response to the frequent Scottish raids into northern England during the 14th and 15th centuries. Two years later a further licence was granted to build the barmkin. In the early 15th century Richard II gave the town and manor of Penrith to Ralph Nevill, Earl of Westmorland, and the new owner added the Red Tower, began construction of the internal buildings in stone and enhanced the defensive nature of the two gateways. In 1471 Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, continued the internal building and added a substantial outer gateway on the north western side, enlarging the structure into a royal castle. The moat is thought to have been added towards the end of the 15th century and was crossed originally by a bridge, possibly a drawbridge, which was later replaced by a gatetower. By the mid-16th century the castle had begun to fall into disrepair and was being used as a source of building material. A survey of the remains in 1565 indicated that only Strickland's or Bishop's Tower, a chamber between the tower and kitchen, the Red Tower, two stables, a brewhouse and a bakehouse were habitable. By 1580 the castle was described as 'greatly decayed'. In 1648 Major General Lambert made his headquarters in the castle for a month when his troops consisting of 3000 horse and foot soldiers were quartered in the town during the Civil War. The castle was dismantled soon after. It is now in the guardianship of the Secretary of State and is a Listed Building grade I. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Perriam (2008) convincingly argues that Strickland is more likely to have built Hutton Hall on the bases of the 1397/99 licences, and that the castle was built by one of the Nevilles, probably in 1386. William Stickland did not become bishop until 1400, but had done much long civil and legal service to the bishop of Carlisle and to the Percys and Cliffords before then. This is the prime example of how an incorrect view of licences to crenellate (that they were permission to build castles) has probably led to false interpretations of building dates for Penrith Castle. The Scheduling record, PastScape and most of the sources below, which use those licences to date this building are probably incorrect and need to be used with critical care. To reiterate for clarity. Despite the later association of parts of the castle with William Stickland he did NOT build or live in this castle - it was built by the Nevilles.

- 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 ReferenceNY512299
Latitude54.6621017456055
Longitude-2.75713992118835
Eastings351260
Northings529920
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved

Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.

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Books

  • Grimsditch, Brian, Nevell, Michael and Nevell, Richard, 2012, Buckton Castle and the Castles of the North West England (University of Salford Archaeological Monograph 2) p. 104
  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 373
  • Yates, Sarah (ed), 2002, Heritage Unlocked; Guide to free sites in the North West (London: English Heritage) p. 38-9
  • Perriam, Denis and Robinson, John, 1998, The Medieval Fortified Buildings of Cumbria (Kendal: CWAAS Extra Series 29) 212-3 (plan)
  • Salter, Mike, 1998, The Castles and Tower Houses of Cumbria (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 80-1
  • Thompson, M.W., 1998, Medieval bishops' houses in England and Wales (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing) p. 168
  • Emery, Anthony, 1996, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 1 Northern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 237-9, 263
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 46
  • Cope, Jean, 1991, Castles in Cumbria (Cicerone Press) p. 109-10
  • Jackson, M.J.,1990, Castles of Cumbria (Carlisle: Carel Press) p. 80-1 (plan)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 89-90
  • Clare, T., 1981, Archaeological Sites of the Lake District p. 58-63
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 274
  • Hugill, Robert, 1977, Castles and Peles of Cumberland and Westmorland (Newcastle; Frank Graham) p. 155-8
  • Colvin, H.M., Ransome, D.R. and Summerson, John, 1975, The history of the King's Works, Vol. 3: 1485-1660 (part 1) (London) p. 226n, 403
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus, 1967, Buildings of England: Cumberland and Westmorland (Harmondsworth) p. 175
  • Curwen, J.F., 1913, Castles and Fortified Towers of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire North of the Sands (Kendal: CWAAS Extra Series 13) p. 189-90, 219-23
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 327-8 online copy
  • Taylor, M.W., 1892, Old Manorial Halls of Westmorland and Cumberland (Kendal: CWAAS Extra Series 8) p. 244-52 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1884, Mediaeval Military Architecture in England (Wyman and Sons) Vol. 2 p. 357-9 online copy
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 420 online copy
  • Lysons, Daniel and Samuel, 1816, 'Antiquities: Castles' Magna Britannia Vol. 4: Cumberland p. ccii-ccvi online transcription
  • Hutchinson, W., 1794, The History of the County of Cumberland (Carlisle) Vol. 1 p. online copy
  • Buck, Samuel and Nathaniel, 1774, Buck's Antiquities (London) Vol. 1 p. 48
  • Grose, Francis, 1783 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 1 p. 61-3 online copy

Antiquarian

  • Camden, Wm, 1607, Britannia hypertext critical edition by Dana F. Sutton (2004)
  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 96, 97
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1910, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 5 p. 54 online copy

Journals

  • Nevell, Richard, 2012-13, 'Castle gatehouses in North West England' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 26 p. 258-81 online copy
  • < >Perriam, D.R., 2008, 'William Strickland's tower in Penrith: Penrith Castle or Hutton Hall?' English Heritage Historical Review Vol. 3 p. 36-45 < > abstract and online purchase
  • Petre, J., 1984, 'The origins of Penrith Castle' The Ricardian Vol. 6.86 p. 371-3
  • Craster-Chambers, M., 1984, 'Penrith Castle and Richard Duke of Gloucester' The Ricardian Vol. 6.86 p. 374-8
  • Bouch, C.M.L., 1947, 'Proceedings' Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Vol. 47 p. 219-20 online copy
  • Hudleston, F.,1930, 'Penrith Castle' Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Vol. 30 p. 13-26 online copy
  • Curwen, J.F., 1918, 'Penrith Castle. Some suggestions and notes from the Patent Rolls as an addition to Dr. Haswell's description, contained in these Transactions, N.S., vii.' Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Vol. 18 p. 174-88 online copy
  • Haswell, F., 1907, 'The castle of Penrith' Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Vol. 7 p. 281-91 online copy
  • Clark, 1871, The Builder Vol. 29 p. 1021

Primary Sources

Other

  • Horn, R., 2008, Archaeological Watching Brief at Penrith Castle, Cumbria' (CP/727/08. NPA Ltd: Nenthead) online copy
  • English Heritage, 2006, Extensive Urban Survey - Cumbria (Cumbria County Council) Download copy
  • Payne, Naomi, 2003, The medieval residences of the bishops of Bath and Wells, and Salisbury (PhD Thesis University of Bristol) Appendix B: List of Medieval Bishop's Palaces in England and Wales (available via EThOS) (A reject of Thompson's suggestion this was a bishops palace)