Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A Hidden Manor House and Medieval Tower, Broughton Tower | Life in the Past Series


Set back from the village of Broughton-in-Furness, hidden by trees, stands the interesting and suitably impressive Broughton Tower.




Currently private flats Broughton Tower started life as a 14th Century pele tower, much like those found in towns like Dalton-in-Furness. The tower, much like many others, was erected to defend against the ever growing possibility of Scottish attacks. Something that was a common threat at this time as the Scots were performing constant raids on England. In the picture above you can see the original pele tower, with its typical crenelated Medieval style, in the centre of the large complex of buildings.

Much like the castle at Dalton the tower was most likely used as a manorial court, a place where local disputes and wrong doings could be brought in front of the monorail lord and brought to a conclusion. The tower even as a dungeon which could be used to hold wrong doers before further punishment.

The tower was constructed by the Broughton family, Lords of the Manor of Broughton. They stayed in the town until 1487 when Sir Thomas Broughton was killed in the battle of Stoke. Thomas had allied himself with Bonnie Prince Charlie and fought against the Kings men for him. On his death his seat at Broughton was seized by the crown and given to the 1st Earl of Derby.

Some hundred and seventy years later the 7th Earl of Derby was executed for his allegiance to Charles II. It was then, in 1658, that the tower and the seat was passed to the Sawrey family. They kept ownership of the tower until the 1920s. The Sawreys, during the 18th Century, turned the tower into a manor house. A grand extension was added to the original 14th Century tower creating a much larger and impressive structure, the structure we can see today.




















The whole site was turned into flats in recent times, which are now in private ownership. This means that the historic site is off limits for any visitors but you can walk along a public footpath through a nearby field and be rewarded with great views of the structure, including the original 14th Century tower.

The manor house and original tower are a real piece of hidden heritage, tucked away out of sight behind the small town of Broughton, and is a real treat to stumble across!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

An Enchanting Medieval Fortification, Piel Castle | Life in the Past Series


Across the water from Roa Island near Barrow is the peaceful island of Piel and standing upon it are the enchanting ruins of Piel Castle, a once extensive and imposing building.


The Abbot of Furness built Piel Castle on the southeastern point of Piel Island during the 14th Century. This was built as Edward III had granted Furness Abbey a license to crenellate on the island in 1327. There would have been an earlier fortification on the island but it is difficult to determine to what size and style as the current castle is most likely built where it would have been. The early castle was no doubt made from wood also which would leave little evidence today.

The Castle was built to guard the deep-water harbour at the southern tip of the Furness Peninsula against Scottish raiders and, most likely, pirates! A lot of trade took place through the harbour so any raids or piratical attack could have caused major problems for the Abbey and local tradesmen.

The castle was seized into the king's hands in 1403 as the Abbot, John de Bolton, had been accused of a lack of maintenance. It did later return to the abbey's ownership in 1411. Sadly by the time of the dissolution of the monasteries the castle was in a state of decay and was too ruinous to be used. It was then left unused and slowly fell into even more of a ruinous state, with parts of the curtain walls becoming victim to erosion and the building becoming the picturesque ruins we can see today.

The site consists of a large keep, inner and outer baileys as well as a towered curtain wall. An impressive building in its time and an impressive ruin today! The ruins are under the care of English Heritage and are free to look around and on certain occasions a stairway to the top of the castle keep is opened to the public.

The castle is certainly worth a visit as is the island itself, Piel.



The island is beautiful and picturesque with not only the castle but several small houses, wildlife in abundance, a camp site, a 18th Century pub and even a king!

Whoever is landlord of the pub becomes the King of Piel. This is a tradition that is said to date back to the time of Lambert Simnel when he attempted to usurp the English throne. Simnel and his army landed on Piel in 1487 on their way to battle the King. Whether it does date back to this time is anyones guess but still any new landlord is crowned as King of Piel at an unusual ceremony. The soon to be king is seated on an ancient wooden thrown, wearing a helmet, holding a sword while beer is poured over his head. Odd for certain but quite a spectacle. Once crowned the king can even appoint knights! Usually local fisherman or even anyone who buys a whole round for everyone in the pub.

William Wordsworth wrote a poem in 1806 about Piel Castle. He had visited Piel in 1794 and his wife owned a picture of the castle painted by their friend and Wordsworth’s patron Sir George Beaumont. The poem is called 'Elegiac Stanzas Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm, Painted by Sir George Beaumont' and is a lament on the death of his brother at sea, but also for his own youth and imagination. You can read this poem in full here.

The island and castle has an interesting and vivid history with traditions still upheld today and is perfect for a day trip in the summer months, catching the boat across the channel to Piel's shores.






Monday, 11 January 2016

10 Castles of South Cumbria

Furness and South Cumbria, as this blog showcases, has a deep and rich heritage stretching back to pre-history. This post will show 10 Castles from South Cumbria that are well worth a look. This list has castles of all size from various periods of history. There are small towers alongside large full blown castles/manor houses. Many you will recognise but some you may not have realised existed, so sit back and take a moment to discover these wonderful fortifications (in no particular order).

1. Dalton Castle

















Once the court house and prison for Furness Abbey, Dalton Castle is a wonderful little pele tower sitting proudly overlooking Dalton. Owned by the National Trust and run by the Friends of Dalton Castle, the property is open on Saturdays from April to October and is well worth a visit. It may be a small property but there is much to discover with in as well as in the surrounding town.

2. Arnside tower
















This lovely little pele tower sits on a rise along a picturesque valley just outside Arnside. It was built in the late 14th Century as a free standing tower most likely as defence against possible Scottish raids. The castle suffered a large fire in the 17th Century but was repaired and used until later that century when some dismantling happened and the tower was left a ruin. It is now on private land and not open to the public but can be seen from a footpath running near by. Further up this same valley is another pele tower known as Hazelslack Tower which is smaller but similar to Arnside.

3. Millom Castle

Millom Castle stands on the outskirts of Millom itself and consists of a large central pele tower surrounded by now ruined buildings, once halls, kitchens and living quarters. The site dates back to the 12th Century when it was a wooden built motte and bailey castle. It was not until the 14th Century that it was built in stone. The castle is now a privately owned farm and is not open for viewing inside but you can get good views from the passing road and from the next-door church yard. 

4. Gleaston Castle















The most ruinous castle on the list is most likely Gleaston Castle. Found next to a farm on the road out of Gleaston this castle is believed to have been started in the mid 13th century by John De Harrington I but was never fully completed. Certain areas were made fit for habitation and lived in but the full fortification was never finished. The site is now owned by a local farming family sitting in a field next to their home. The castle is not accessible for public viewing but can be seen clearly from the road passing by.

5. Piel Castle
















Piel Castle was built by the Abbot of Furness on the south-eastern point of Piel Island, to guard the deep-water harbour of Barrow-in-Furness against pirates and Scots raiders. The site boasts the ruins of a 14th-century castle, now in the care of English Heritage, with a large keep, inner and outer baileys and towered curtain walls. The castle can be visited via a small ferry service running throughout the year, when the tide is right, over to the island. 

6. Kendal Castle



This impressive ruin stands on a hill overlooking the town of Kendal. It was originally built in the 1200's as a home for the barons of Kendal, who had influence on the development of the town. The Parr family was one of these barons and lived in the castle for a time. Their daughter was Catherine Parr, the sixth and final Queen of Henry VIII. By the time Catherine was born though the family had abandoned Kendal Castle and it soon fell into ruin. Today it is accessible to view just a short walk up a rather steep hill. There are information boards across the site and some stunning views of the town below.

7. Wray Castle















Wray Castle is the youngest castle on this list being built in the 1800s by retired surgeon James Dawson and wife Margret, whose fortune was used to pay for it. It was constructed on the north west shore of Windermere in a neo-gothic style, meant to mimic medieval castles. The castle has changed hands many times after the Dawson's passing but is now in the care of the National Trust, who open it throughout the year. The castle is pretty bare inside from its former life as a training centre but well worth a visit.

8. Broughton Tower















Standing just outside Broughton, to the north, is an impressive structure known as Broughton Tower Castle. This castle is a mix of varying periods, it was started as a Medieval pele tower (seen in the centre of the above picture) but was later expanded in the 18th Century turning the tower into a manor house. A large extension was added to the original 14th Century castle creating a much larger and impressive structure. Today the castle has been turned into private flats so is off limits for visitors but the building can be seen from a near by field and public footpath.

9. Muncaster Castle















Muncaster Castle sits high on a hill overlooking the picturesque Esk Valley and is an impressive structure. The castle started life as a medieval pele tower (right tower in the above picture), it was extended and later, in 1862 remodelled and extended further to create the building which can be seen today. This extension included the addition of a second tower, made to match the original medieval construction. The castle has been owned and lived in by the Pennington family since 1208. They still live there today and open it to the public throughout the year.

10. Sizergh Castle















Another National Trust property to round off the list is the beautiful Sizergh Castle. Starting life as a 14th Century solar tower the castle was expanded during the Tudor period to create the large building which is present today. The Strickland family have lived in the castle since 1239 and, although they gifted the property to the National Trust in 1950, they still live there today. The castle is definitely  worth a visit and a look around, be sure to take a walk in the stunning gardens too!


So that's our list of 10 Castles in South Cumbria, it is by no means an exhaustive list of all castles in Cumbria but it does highlight some of the more impressive affairs. All these sites are well worth a look, you can visit many for a wander inside and out but those which you can't are easy to see from a relatively close distance.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

World War I, the effects in Furness

On the 28th July 1914 the 'Great War' began and was set to have a massive impact across the world, including on the home front here in the towns and villages of Furness.

From 1914 many young men enlisted in the British Army, they left their homes and went off to Europe to fight in the war. Many never returned from the trenches and fields of Europe and that, in turn, left lasting effects on the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers left grieving at their losses. Death and loss had never been seen on this scale and so many families were left broken because of it. But, that being said, life back at home had to, and did, carry on as normal! Or at least as normal as it could.

To begin with life didn't change too dramatically as men could choose whether or not to enlist meaning many stayed home and carried on working, doing equally patriotic work in local industry. There was no immediate threat of invasion or attack and at the start it was widely believed that it would all be over by Christmas. But by December 1914 it was starting to become clear that this war was going to go on long after the 25th and life wasn't going to stay the same.

Another Christmas would come and go with no end to the blood shed insight. Work had amped up at local industry sites like Vickers shipyard in Barrow who were creating weapons and ammunition for the army when, in 1916, conscription was introduced. The government passed the Military Service Act which specified that single men aged 18-45 were liable to be called for military service unless they were widowed, with children or ministers of religion. Suddenly hundreds of men were being called up for service and local industries were to be left with a much diminished work force. But new measures were taken. Women were called up to work.

Throughout 1916 many young women moved into the area and especially to Barrow to work in the shipyard as munition girls, creating ammunition for the army. These women came to take up the work of the vast amounts of men who were being sent off to Europe. It was at this time that the population of Barrow shot up to its highest point ever with hundreds of women and girls  moving in from across the country. Yet, the town had under half the housing it does today! Due to this there was often a quest for lodging when arriving in the town. A form of billeting was in operation in Barrow where the women were paired off and given a room in locals houses. One would work a shift while the other slept, on returning the next would sleep in the same, warm, bed recently vacated by the other now on shift. A reasonable living in an over crowded town, but each would have to pay 14 shillings a week, even though they only received a pound a week in pay, which didn't leave much to spend on ones self.

Working long and tiring hours (a night shift lasting from 5pm until 7.30 the next morning) munitions girls had little time to relax and have fun but when they did they would go on dates with boyfriends, visit Walney to see the sea (many of the girls coming from cities like Manchester had never seen the sea before) and also play football! Munitions football teams started springing up across the country and Barrow was no different. A Vickers team of 11 was created and played often throughout the war years going up against various teams from across the modern county.

Although being the 'home front' there was some military activity in Furness, particularly on Walney island where there was two military encampment, one known as Hilpsford Fort and one as Fort Walney. The Fort Walney site was operational from 1881 right through the First and Second World Wars. It was improved three years previously to the First World War in 1911 as a better coastal defence. The fort was manned by the Lancashire and Cheshire Royal Garrison Artillery which no doubt would have consisted of some men from the local towns and villages, like Barrow. The fort would have sat in a patch of land that is now half way up Walney golf course, around the current coastguard tower (which once was part of the fort complex). Interestingly if you look at aerial views from today of where the fort was you can still see the faint markings of where the walls used to be. Also note you can see the markings from Medieval ridge and furrow farming around the site too!

Left: Fort Walney from the Air 1940  |  Right: Aerial view of where Fort Walney was today courtesy of Google Maps. 

Hilpsford Fort was based at the very southern tip of Walney island where the Nature Reserve and Gullary is today. This fort was built during 1914 at the start of World War 1 and provided a good amount of jobs for an area in need of labour. It was constructed as an emergency battery and would have held at least one large defensive gun. The fort was dismantled in the 1920's after the war had ended but was re-instated in 1940 during WWII. Evidence of the later fort can still be seen today amongst the gulls and grass of South Walney.

Dotted across Walney there are also three Costal Artillery Searchlight Emplacements which date back to 1914, although they were all modified during World War 2. These emplacements are easily visible today, two situated amongst the golf course (next to the site of Fort Walney) and another situated where Hipsford Fort once was. They are wonderful reminders of the areas military past and of the effects of World War 1 on the area. You can find out a little more about these emplacements on a previous blog post about Remnants of World War II here. Just imagine the men who would have stood in these structures keeping an eye out on the sea incase of invasion. It must have been a long and somewhat dull job and can't have been the easiest thing to do day on day. But if invasion were to happen they would provide early warning and create a first line of defence.

Aerial view from Google Maps
showing the trench layout.
Walney, along with it's forts and emplacements, has had practice trenches built sometime in the early months of World War 1. These trenches were situated in the northern part of Walney near to the coastline. They were used for soldiers to practice in ahead of going out to the Western Front to fight. Exact details of what might have happened in these trenches is uncertain as there is a distinct lack of documented evidence along with many embargoes on Ordnance Survey maps from the time. But suffice to say many of our ancestors from the area could well have trained in these trenches. You can see the layout of the trench system in the picture to the left, they appear in a crenellated design.

On November 11th 1918 peace was finally announced and the war was over.

There is no doubt that the war had a great impact on Furness and its people. Military bases being built formed jobs but also brought concern. Men going to war brought hope but also fear and, of course, heartbreaking sorrow. Women came to the fore with many flocking to towns like Barrow to work but this, in turn, brought a population boom causing new issues for the area.

War is a terrible thing which brings much destruction both physically and emotionally and can leave lasting effects across the planet. Furness, as everywhere in Britain, Europe and the world, felt the effects of World War 1 and things never were quite the same again but life, as ever, went on. 



"Your Country Needs You"

Below is a short film that was created by myself for a heritage project called One Day in Cumbria, it is a sensitive look at what many young men across Furness were struggling with; whether to enlist or not. Follow Ben as he tries to come to a decision on the 5th December 1914. You can choose whether he enlists or not by watching on YouTube to see what the options were.