Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Earthworks of a Former Stronghold, Pennington Castle Hill

Perched on the hills above Pennington is an interesting and little explored heritage site, Pennington Castle Hill.

This castle is not your typical castle, it has no ruinous stonewalls, it has no obvious remains, instead it has a series of earth works that give evidence of the structure that once stood here.

There is little known about this site with little archaeological work happening here. What is known is that this was the original seat of the Pennington family, now in residence at Muncaster Castle near Ravenglass. This site was the pre-cursor to Muncaster and was where the family lived until around 1242 when they moved to their new home. Although they did hold onto this site until about 1318.

Pennington Castle Hill today is evident from a series of earth works. It has a semi-circular ditch and rampart creating a defendable structure where a building would have sat. Whether there was a stone built castle on the site is unclear but there doesn’t seem to be visible evidence of one. It seems likely that there was a wooden structure here instead. This was common after the Norman invasion of Britain.

Wooden castles, known as motte and bailey castles, were erected quickly across much of the island. It is plausible that Pennington may well have been a motte and bailey, although evidence of a bailey isn't clear. It is also possible that it could be a fortification known as a ringwork. A ringwork is a defencive structure built in a round or oval shape with a ditch and rampart as defence. Basically a motte and bailey without the motte. These structures started to appear in England towards the end of the 11th Century after the Norman conquest. Many such fortifications, as well as motte and baileys, were later replaced with stone built structures and it seems logical that the Pennington family decided not to replace their castle here with stone as they planned to move. When they moved to Muncaster they built a new stone castle, similar, if larger, to the pele tower seen at Dalton-in-Furness. Having done this the wooden defence at Pennington would become somewhat redundant, although it most likely stayed intact until 1318 when the Pennington's finally gave up the stronghold.

Panorama of Castle Hill Earthworks from atop the rampart

This long abandoned fortification commands stunning views across the Furness Peninsula, sitting on the edge of the Furness fells overlooking the southern and eastern plains. This gives it the perfect location for a fortification where the Pennington family could live and lord over their state. The family would have looked after the carucate of Pennegetun (Pennington), which for a time was taxed £5 6s. 8d. this shows that it was a relatively wealthy state in the area.

Pennington Castle Hill is a lovely place to visit but it does leave you somewhat pondering its history and what it could and would have been. A public footpath runs through the field that holds the site and it is well worth a wander, just make sure you wear some decent wellies or boots; it gets a little muddy in places!

Do come back October 31st for a special Halloween post and again on November 8th for new post on something a little more industrial!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

1066, the Year of the Normans: Spotlight on Normans in Furness

This year, 2016, marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings where Duke William II of Normandy defeated King Harold of England to become the new ruler of the country. A battle which saw the face of England change forever and the new Norman way of life take hold!

This blog post will shine a spotlight on the Normans in Furness and highlight posts from the blogs past about them, so, lets take a look:

A Motte Without a Bailey and a Manor Without a Town, Aldingham

The first Norman lord to come to Furness was Michael Le Fleming who was given the lands which later became Muchland, the main base for his rule though was at Aldingham. Here he built a large motte and bailey castle to impose his presence and his power on the area.

In this past blog post we explore the site of his castle and the lost town which it ruled over.

Furness Abbey, the Second Richest Cistercian Abbey in Britain

It was in 1127 that Furness Abbey was first founded by Savigniac Monks coming over from France. They no doubt set up here to bring more Norman rule to the land and introduce more of the Norman way of life. It was later taken over by the Cistercian order who built it to become one of the richest Cistercian monasteries in England!

This post took a look into the abbey and also showed some hidden features to discover around the site, now run by English Heritage.

Fading Faces in a Medieval Quarries - the Amphitheatre Next to Furness Abbey

The amphitheatre next to Furness Abbey holds many gems related to the great abbey. There is the precinct wall stretching the top of the natural formation, most likely constructed in the Norman period, and two large quarries where the stone for the abbey was carved out of the ground, again most likely first used in the Norman period.

Take a look at this post to find out more about these features as well as other, later features.

A Majestic Medieval Priory, Cartmel

Cartmel Pirory, just a short distance from Furness in the Cartmel Peninsula, was founded in 1189 by the Norman lord William Marshal. The Augustinian order worshipped in and ran the priory. Never growing to become an Abbey the site managed to survive until present day and is a beautiful and unique Norman building to behold!

In this post we took a deeper look into the priory and its history and showcased some wonderful pictures! Keep an eye out for the typical Norman features like the rounded Norman arches.

Urswick Church is predominantly of Norman construction, the chancel being constructed in the Norman era, and is a lovely little church to look at and wander around. There are also many interesting features dotted around the church from an earlier Anglo Saxon runic slab to pieces of stained glass from Furness Abbey.

This post looks at all these features as well as the history of the church itself.

The Tale of a Man Called Wimund

Wimund was a monk, turned bishop, turned warlord who lived and was at his height in the Norman period. He started as a monk at the newly founded Furness Abbey before being sent to the Isle of Man to set up a new daughter house, Rushen Abbey. He soon was accented to Bishop but turned power hungry and went on a rampage through Scotland.

Explore the tale of this interesting and vicious character in this fascinating blog post.

As you can see there is a great deal of Norman heritage dotted across the Furness peninsula, all well worth a look. Of course there are many other sites with Norman origins which we have yet to cover in this blog and there are no doubt many long lost Norman sites still waiting to be discovered. Maybe one day we can return to shine another spotlight on the Normans in Furness! Until then we have lots of other unique heritage sites still to explore...

Return here on October 25th for another new blog post about a fortification which may well have a Norman origin!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Tale of a Man Called Wimund

There is a man from history, once a monk at Furness Abbey, who became a bishop, a pretender and a warlord. This man was called Wimund.

There are not many accounts of Wimund except for one by a 12th Century historian, William of Newburgh. William was a Yorkshire Augustinian who wrote the History of English Affairs in which he relays the ‘most audacious acts’ of Wimund in Chapter 24 - "Of bishop Wimund, his life unbecoming a bishop, and how he was deprived of his sight".

William had met Wimund several times at Byland Abbey, where the discraced bishop lived in later life, and had heard the stories of ‘his merited misfortunes’.

Wimund was of humble birth, he was no nobal man or anyone of importance. He did, however, pocess the ability to read and write, something most common folk did not. This ability lead him to find employment at the Abbey of St. Mary in Furness, then ran by Savigniac monks, as a copyist. Wimund, with his ‘competent eloquence’ and ‘retentive memory’, made speedy progress at the monastic site and was soon shorn a monk.

Around 1134 Wimund was sent, with a group of other monks, to set up a new community on the Isle of Man. It was in 1134 that King Olaf of the Isle of Man granted land to Furness for the foundation of a daughter house. This daughter house was called Rushen Abbey. The site is now, as many are, in ruins but can still be visited. In the same charter granting the lands for a daughter house King Olaf also gave the abbey control over the election of the new Bishop of Sodor and Man.

Wimund was a tall man, standing head and shoulders above most men of the time and he held an athletic figure. This, along with his power to produce stirring speech, brought him the acclaim of the inhabitants of the Isle of Man, who soon appointed Wimund as their Bishop with the abbey’s consent. Although he was not a popular choice. It didn’t take long for Wimunds ambitions to grow and for him to become hungry for more power.

It was then that Wimund started to convince local supporters that he was the rightful heir to the earldom of Mowbray and that he had been deprived his inheritance by the King of Scotland. These supporters pledged their allegiance to Wimund and swore to help him reclaim his birthright, they soon were engaged on a crusade against the Scottish King. William of Newburgh comments that ‘this fisher of men turned hunter of men’. The band left the Isle of Man and headed for Scotland where they engaged in battle with the Scots and successfully ravaged them. Unfortunately for Wimund another Bishop stood up to him and refused to bow to his will. With the assistance of God the Bishop drove Wimund away hurling an axe at him! This axe wounded Wimund badly, he went into hiding for a time to recover but soon re-emerged to reign more terror onto the Scots.

Soon King David of Scotland granted Wimund the lands of Furness to make him less hostile, an act known as placation. The whole of Cumberland and Westmorland had been given to Scotland in 1536 by King Stephen of England, this included Furness. Wimund paraded his knew lands with his army and this stirred up the locals, who had known him as a monk, to set a trap. Wimund was captured and 'they took and bound him, and as both eyes were wicked, deprived him of both; and, providing against all future excess, they made him an eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of Scotland, not for that of Heaven'. In other terms they blinded and castrated him, taking away his sight and taking away his ability to breed.

Wimund survived this brutal attack and spent the rest of his days living at Byland Abbey in Yorkshire. He never repented for his wrong doings and was always willing to tell his tales to anyone who would listen, often remarking that ‘his enemies should have small cause to rejoice over their work’ and what they had done to him.

Wimund’s tale is an interesting one; it shows how power can easily corrupt even those who have sworn devotion to God and to the church. Alas Wimund’s tale is not the only one of its kind within the country but it is the only one recorded that relates to Furness and it is, certainly, a piece of hidden heritage.

Return here on October 11th for a special post which puts the spotlight on Normans in Furness!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Remnants of World War II, The Strand British Restaurant

September 1st 1939, the World is at war for the second time. Great struggle and upset lies ahead for everyone including those on the home front in Barrow. With one of the biggest shipyards in the country, producing military vessels to aid in the war, Barrow soon became a target for enemy fire. Due to this many remnants of that period of British history remain across the town, from the Military Defences dotted along the coast to the buildings which served the locals still living here. 

In 1940 a new initiative was set up in Britain, an initiative designed to help those on the home front who had lost their homes to bombing, had ran out of ration coupons or who were in desperate need of help. The initiative saw the creation of some 2160 'Community Feeding Centres', later named British Restaurants, across the country which went on to serve food for those who needed it most.
They were created by the Ministry of Food and run by either local government or volunteers as non-profit organisations. Meals which consisted of one serving of meat, game, poultry, fish, eggs, or cheese were sold at a small price to anyone who need them. A vital service which would help thousands of people across Britain.

Here in Furness, or more specifically Barrow, there were at least two of these restaurants. The one we are looking at in this post opened on the Strand in Barrow-in-Furness beneath the large Michaelson Road bridge to Barrow Island. It was called, quite simply, 'The Strand British Restaurant'. It appears that the restaurant was opened inside an already existing building but the large arch way which used to provide entrance was filled in and a smaller, blue door put in its place. The large windows providing light into the building also filled in. This was, no doubt, to protect the building if there was any evening bomb strikes, stopping any light blaring out from within which would make it clearly visible to planes passing overhead. The blocking out of the windows would make the building invisible at night, it's positioning under the bridge also helping with this. It is possible that the building was also used as an air raid shelter for local residents. I have been unable to find any records relating to this building so cannot give an exact date as to its construction or indeed how long it operated for but it is safe to say it would have opened sometime in the early years of the war and could well have continued to operate into the 1950s, as many did.

The old Public Hall, image courtesy of southlakes-uk.co.uk
The Strand British Restaurant wasn't the only one in Barrow though, there was another in the old Public Hall which stood in front of the town hall (where a car park now sits). This was Barrow's main British Restaurant but was called The Civic Restaurant. Much like the strand it would provide food to those in need across the town with seating available inside.

There were also several 'takeaway' restaurants on streets like Devon Street and Euryalus Street, allowing residents to take food away on their own plates.

Sadly the old Public Hall is no longer in existence having been demolished but the Strand British Restaurant is still visible today beneath the high level bridge to Barrow island on Hindpool Road. You can easily spot the old blue door once providing entrance to the restaurant. Look closely and you can still see the old print of the name to the top of the door. This is wonderful to see, the old typography is exquisite and it is fantastic that this still remains, even if a little faded.

Next time you are walking or driving under the bridge do take a look and think about all the people who used to enter through that little blue door to eat and survive!

Come back on the 27th September for another new Furness Hidden Heritage blog post which will tell a tale from the 12th Century!