History Index

Westmorland Villages

The Scotch Raids and Wars and the
Building of Penrith Castle

For more than a century after the seizure or reversion of the manor of Penrith by Edward I., the town and district was subjected to invasion by the Scotch, both regular and raiding, and it is estimated that no less than 250,000 lives, and a proportionate amount of property, were made an end of in these regular and predatory incursions of the Scotch, between the times of Bruce and the death of Eliza-beth. From 1173 to 1185 war was intermittently waged between William the Lion, of Scotland, and Edward I., until the latter year, when Edward came with a great army and carried war into Galloway, and settled the country; the two kings meeting at Carlisle in the following year, and the Scottish king doing homage for his kingdom. This forfeited freedom of the Scottish kings was re-purchased in the reign of Richard I., and
the Scottish claim on Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmorland became again a bone of contention, but it is scarcely necessary to recount all the various incursions on record, when the district was wasted by fire and sword and the Forest of Inglewood cleared of cattle belonging to the people of Penrith. In those days a man might retire to rest dreading no immediate danger, yet the red glare of burning houses might meet his eyes ere the morning, and his own house be entered and sacked by armed banditti. These troubles were attempted to be disposed of in 1242, in pursuance of an arrangement effected in York in 1237, by Otho, the Papal Legatee.

Certain manors in the Forest of Inglewood, namely, Penrith, Sowerby, Langwathby, Salkeld, Carlattan, and Scotby, with a rental of L200 a year, were given to the Scottish king, in compensation for his claims. He was to do homage for them, and to render yearly one goshawk to the captain of Carlisle Castle. In 1297 the Scotch overran these counties and carried off an immense booty. A chronicler of that period, writing of this district immediately after this raid, says: "At this time the praise of God was unheard in any church or monastery throughout the whole country, for the monks, canons, regulars, and other priests, who were ministers of the Lord, fled with the whole people from the face of the enemy. The Scots roved over the country from the feast of St. Luke to St. Martin's day, inflicting upon all the horrors of unrestrained rapine and blood shed." On another occasion, in 1345, a large force of the Scottish army, under the command of Sir William Douglas, wasted Cumberland, and their track was marked by the smoking ruins of towns and villages. The English, led by the Bishop of Carlisle, Sir Thomas Lucy, and Sir Robert Ogle, were too weak to openly oppose the Scotch, but in pursuit of the retreating host, succeeded in disposing of a few stragglers.

A few years later a body of 3,000 Scotch were again in the neighbourhood. It was the time
of the annual fair at Penrith, and the great quantity of valuable merchandise brought into the town on such occasions was a prize too tempting to forego. The plague was prevalent in the town, and with the spoils they carried the plague into Scotland, where it wrought sad havock, and brought just retribution. The hardships endured by the people of Penrith from these marauders, and from wild beasts, will best be judged from the following copy of a grant made by Edward III, and subsequently confirmed by Richard II.:--

"For the men and tenants of the manors of Penreth, Salkeld and Soureby.
"The King to all whom these presents may come greeting.
"The men and tenants of the manors of Penreth, Salkeld, and Soureby,
which are of the antient demesne of our crown, dwelling within our
Forest of Inglewood, have besought by their petition, before us and our
council in our present parliament exhibited, that, whereas they,
forasmuch as their lands and tenements, for which they are bound to pay
us a great farm, by our enemies of Scotland are frequently destroyed and
laid waste, as well as the corn there in these lands growing by our
beast of the forest aforesaid in like manner, so that they will be
unable to pay us the aforesaid farm unless assistance be afforded to
them, we being willing to grant to them in aid of their said farm, that
they should be able to have to them and their heirs for ever, common of
pasture for all animals in the aforesaid forest. We, considering the
premises, and forasmuch as it hath been testified before us in the same
parliament, that the same premises do contain contain the truth, being
willing to do special favour to the same men and tenants, have granted
to them for us and our heirs, that they and their heirs shall have and
hold common of pasture for all their animals, within the forest
aforesaid, for ever, as the Prior of Carlisle, and William English, and
other tenants within the forest aforesaid, do have common of pasture
there of the grant of us and our progenitors without hindrance
impediment of us or our heirs, our justices, foresters, or other our
bailiffs, and ministers of the forest whatsoever.

"Witness the King, at Westminster, the 26th day of October, 1362."

The family of Nevill, which has been the main factor in the making of a great part of our country's history, contributed also to the making of the record of Penrith. Ralph Nevill, grandfather of Edward IV. And Richard III., was created, by Richard II., a Knight of the Garter and First Earl of Westmorland, and had granted to him, among others, the manor of Penrith. Henry IV, afterwards made him Earl Marshal of England. When he died, in 1426, he was seized of the manors of "Bolton, Gamesleby, and Unthan, in Cumberland." Why Penrith is omitted from the list of manors is not clear. During this period Penrith Castle was reared by the great Earl of Westmorland. Prior to this a tower had been built by Bishop Strickland, on the site of the castle, but this did not prove of much service in the protection of the inhabitants of the town. When the castle was completed it not only supplied a defensive fortifi-
cation, but a place of refuge where all the inhabitants of the town and the cattle of the neighbourhood might find ample room for shelter and protection against the raiders. A decisive check was thus put upon these predatory incursions.

"In these sad days of lawless power
How valued was yon castle's tower!
E'en now its ruins, crumbling down,
Seem, as of yore, to guard the town."

The fortress--for such it has been--is of red freestone from the Beacon, but the utter state of ruin it has been allowed to fall into prevents us forming any adequate idea of its original appearance, strength, or beauty. The whole of the interior is completely gutted, and the walls
and towers exhibit a scene of venerable ruin crumbling into nothingness beneath the silent but destroying touch of time. It has, however, been a strong fortress, in the form of a parallelogram, fortified with a rampart and a deep ditch, the only approach being towards the town, where an opening in the masonry still appears, formerly occupied, it is supposed, by a drawbridge. It has been 246 feet on the east side and 222 feet on the west, with proportionate width, and of capacity to accommodate the inhabitants of the town in case of attack by Scottish marauders, and it would appear that this was the main object aimed at in building the castle, for the Scotch had burnt the town only a short time previously, but after the erection of the castle little more is heard of their dreaded forages.

Though inferior in magnitude and strength to many of the feudal piles erected during the middle ages, the extent of the ruins shows that it was capacious enough to receive within its embattled walls all the inhabitants which the town then contained; a deep moat surrounded the castle, and over this a single drawbridge afforded the only entrance. Once within its massive walls the people could, from their elevated position, bid defiance to their enemies without. Whatever may have been the superstition and ignorance of the people in those so-called "dark" ages, they had, at least, attained perfection in the art of building. For evidence of this we have only to examine the ruins of the castle, and we shall find that, whilst the stone is crumbling away beneath the corroding hand of time, the mortar is in as good a state of preservation as it was when the fabric was erected 500 years ago. Had "time" been its only enemy, the castle, with very little care, might now have been standing in its entirety; but more ruthless hands were at work, as we learn from a survey made by order of Elizabeth, in 1572. From that document it appears that as early as 1547, large quantities of stones were taken from the castle to build a prison [the prison referred to is the old lock-up near Lark Hall, Townhead] in the town and for other purposes; we are further told that there were two towers, known respectively as the red tower and the white or bishop's tower.

The Nevills were a powerful family in those turbulent old times, and their friendship was courted even by royalty, Ralph Nevill was succeeded in the manor of Penrith by his son Richard, who received from Henry VI a grant of "all fines and forfeitures within Penrith and Sowerby, the exclusive power of nominating justices and of appointing coroners." In the unhappy contests between the houses of York and Lancaster, the Nevills threw the weight of their influence on the side of the Yorkists; the Cliffords, of Brougham Castle, their near neighbour, on the other hand, espoused the cause of the Lancastrians. At the battle of Wakefield, where the Red Rose obtained a temporary success, the Duke of York was slain on the field, and Richard Nevill, Earl of Salisbury, taken prisoner, and beheaded at Pontefract. In this battle fought John, Baron Clifford of Brougham Castle, call the Black-faced Clifford, a man of fierce disposition and violent passions. While the battle was still going on, the young Earl of Rutland, a youth in his teens, and son of the Duke of York, was being led away for safety, by one to whose care he had been entrusted when he was stopped on Wakefield bridge by Lord Clifford. Observing the richness of his apparel, Clifford demanded who he was, but the youth, overcome with terror and unable to utter a word, fell on his knees in a supplicating attitude. "Save him," said his attendant, "for he is a prince's son, and peradventure may do you good hereafter." "Then," exclaimed Clifford, "as thy father slew mine, so will I slay thee and all thy kin," and plunging his dagger into the breast of the young prince, bade the tutor "go, and bear the news to the boy's mother." For his services he was rewarded with the stewardship of Penrith. The success of the Lancastrians was but temporary, and the Black-faced Clifford fell at Towton, three months afterwards. This battle crushed, for a time, the fortunes of the Red Rose, and proved the utter ruin of the house of Clifford. Their lands were seized by the Crown, and parcelled out among the local rivals and old enemies of the fallen house. The strange eventful history of the son forms one of the most interesting episodes among the traditions of the north, and was the subject of one of Wordsworth's poems, "Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle."

When the Duke of York ascended the throne as Edward IV., he requited the services of his powerful adherent, Nevill, Earl of Warwick, with the honour of Penrith. But the star of "The King Maker" was then fast descending towards the horizon. Dissatisfied with the conduct of Edward, whom he had been chiefly instrumental in placing on the throne, Warwick transferred his services to Margaret, the valiant queen of a weak and inoffensive king. The scales of fortune were turned against the earl; his army was defeated and himself slain at the battle of Barnet. By the defection of the earl, the manor was forfeited to the Crown, and was given by the king to his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was afterwards Richard III., and bore the nick-name of "Haunchback." [Local tradition says that "Haunchback" threw his wife or paramour out of the east window, which is sill standing.}

The duke, after repairing the castle, took up his residence here for some time; probably that he might keep in subjection the friends of the deposed king. By Richard's accession to the throne, the manor became again a royal appendage, and continued to be held by the Crown until the days of Cromwell, that much maligned patriot. The royalist leader, in command of the castle and garrison, on hearing of the approach of Cromwell's troops, dismantled the castle, even to the lead, and sold everything removable before scuttling out; and it is exceedingly doubtful whether the Protector's troops ever fired the cannon they are credited with, from Carlisle Brow, at the dismantled fortress.


Dockray Hall is closely associated with the castle, and probably existed prior to its being built, forming the residence of Ralph Nevill when he erected the castle. Similarly, we find, at a later period, a branch of the Lowther family resident at the "Two Lions Hotel," which is known to antiquarians as "Gerard Lowther's House," and a branch of the Musgrave family at Musgrave Hall. Uniform tradition has established a subterranean passage between Dockray Hall and the castle, but both the entrances have been lost sight of, though a place in the cellar wall, in the hotel, is pointed to as covering the entrance from that end. Many stories have been current as to this passage, and of these the last is that some ducks, belonging to the cottages, were lost at the castle, which turned up in the cellar of the hotel. Of course that was before the cellar entrance was built up. This passage, thus existing, was used for the purpose of receiving supplies, and also as a means of escape when danger threatened. The walls of the hotel bear testimony that it was not built for an ordinary residence, but as a place of strength, the walls being in some parts as far as nine feet thick.

In 1695, the honor of Penrith passed into the hands of the Bentinck family, as previously referred to, and by them sold, in 1717, to the Duke of Devonshire, and is now held by the present Duke. Besides the manor of Penrith, the parish includes three mesne or inferior manors: Bishop's Row, Hutton Hall, and Carleton.

BISHOP'S ROW consists of about twelve leasehold tenements within the town, and several other leasehold and customary tenements both in Cumberland and Westmorland. This manor was from an early period in the hands of the Bishops of Carlisle, but is now held by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

HUTTON HALL. This manor anciently belonged to the family whose name it bears. The Huttons appear to have been settled here as early as the reign of Edward I.. It continued in their possession until 1734, when Addison Hutton, Esq., sold it to John Gaskarth, Esq., whose son sold it to the Earl of Lonsdale, in whose family it still remains. The principal steward on the Lowther estate resides at Hutton Hall.

CARLETON is a manor and hamlet about a mile south-east of Penrith, and gave name to a family who were located here soon after the Conquest; but they do not appear to have been in possession of the manor until purchased from the Earl of Burlington, who obtained it through his wife, the sole heiress of the last Lord Clifford. The Carleton family became extinct in 1707, by the death of Robert Carleton, Esq., when the manor was sold to John Pattinson, Esq., from whom it passed, by the marriage of the heiress, to Thomas Simpson, Esq.. It next came into possession of James Wallace, by his marriage with Mr. Simpson's only daughter. Their son, the Right Hon. Thomas Wallace, sold it, in 1828, to John Cowper, Esq., in whose family it still remains. Carleton Hall, the manorial residence, is a modern structure, surrounded by most beautifully laid out grounds, commanding many most charming views.

We have already stated that the manor of Penrith was granted, in 1397, to Ralph Nevill, of Raby, and also that a market was established by charter in the beginning of the thirteenth century. Some account of the manorial courts and the ancient market may be of interest to our readers.

The court incident to the manor is the Court Baron, and to the market or fair the Court of Pie-Powdre. There has also been immemoriably held at Penrith a Court Leet and View of Frankpledge, which is said to be the most ancient of our courts, and is a court of record for punishing offences against the Crown. The Court Baron and Court of Pie-Powdre must have been in existence in the reign of Henry III., since we find the manor, the fair, and the market then existing. The Court Leet is said to be incident only to a hundred; but might be granted by charter. It is probable that a charter was granted to Nevill, of Raby, and that the Moot Hall, which stood on the north of the market place, and in which these courts were anciently held, was erected shortly afterwards. It is described in an ancient survey as the "Moote Hall, situate in Burrowgate, Penrith, consisting of seven bayers of building, with five shopps, underromes in the sayd Hall, worth per annum, besides a place of judicature, L9." [In a survey made in pursuance of a commission granted by Queen Elizabeth, in 1572, the "Old Mote Hall" is mentioned as held by one.

Taken from a "History of Penrith" by Ewanian

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