At Kirkby Stephen I am hard on the trail of Sir Andrew de Harcla, First Earl of Carlisle – hero and traitor. I’ve posted elsewhere about his treaty with Robert Bruce that left Edward II so enraged that he had Sir Andrew arrested, stripped of his titles and sent to a traitor’s death on Harraby Hill in 1325 despite the fact that Edward owed his crown to Sir Andrew. Various bits of Sir Andrew’s anatomy were nailed to various city gates but eventually his sister was allowed to gather his remains together and bury him near his childhood home- Hartley Castle- which is just down the road from Kirkby Stephen.
Hartley Castle lies beneath the Eighteenth/Nineteenth Century house that stands on the castle’s outer court. On Sir Andrew’s death all his property was forfeit to the crown. It passed from Harcla or Hartley hands into those of Ralph Neville of Raby. He sold it on to Thomas de Musgrave. The stones from Hartley Castle were used by the Musgraves to build a manor house at Edenhall.
There are two memorials to the Musgraves in Kirkby Stephen Church and until I read the notes in the church I assumed the knightly effigy in the Hartley Chapel belonged to Sir Andrew. It turns out that the knightly chap is Sir Richard de Musgrave- a good century later than the earl (note to self revisit medieval costume)- while the humble red sandstone slab next to the altar belongs to Sir Andrew. It makes sense because this is, after all, the position with most honour attached to it.
The church really is well worth a visit. The Norman church stands on the site of an earlier Saxon church. This in itself sums up Kirkby Stephen. It’s knee-deep in history going back to the Stone Age and Bronze Age. But back to the church. You enter the church precincts through a cloistered area built in 1810. Once inside the church, known as ‘the Cathedral of the Dales,’ as well as the mellow smell of wax and polish there’s plenty of evidence of generations of worshippers. There’re eighteenth century shelves for bread to be given as alms to the poor.
And a Loki stone. There are only two Loki stones in the whole of Europe and one of them is in Kirkby Stephen. Loki was the Norse god of mischief. The other Norse gods chained him up because he was a very naughty god…or words to that effect. Kirkby Stephen’s Loki stone has been Christianised as he comes from the shaft of a tenth century Anglo-Danish cross shaft. Loki has been transformed into the devil in chains.
After all that excitement it was time to brave the rain once again and go in search of tea and scones – all of which, I think you will find, are essential to most acts of historical research.
The sun had come out by the time we’d had a nice cup of tea and I was able to explore the town. It was once on the borders and the inhabitants built it so that the streets were deliberately narrow. They’ve been widened but it is easy to see how the people of Kirkby Stephen set about protecting themselves from the Scots.
There was also a fascinating leaflet in the tourist information office about Kirkby Stephen’s secret tunnels. One of the suggestions made is that there is a tunnel leading to Hartley Castle as part of the defences against the aforementioned Scots- having said that the leaflet also suggests tax avoidance, plague tombs and links with Pendragon Castle which is just down the road. And yes, Pendragon Castle does have links with King Arthur. He gets everywhere.
On a more historically viable basis I discovered that Kirkby Stephen was heavily involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536/7 which was the North’s response to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. James I managed to irritate the citizens of the town when he tried to confiscate some of their land and perhaps unsurprisingly in the light of the previous two facts the town supported Parliament during the English Civil War. They even managed to get themselves involved with a plot against Charles II in 1663. The Kaber Rigg Plot failed and its leaders were hung in Appleby. Who would have thought that such a tranquil little place could have so much fascinating history?