Tag Archives: pele tower

Highead Castle and Thistlewood Tower

high head castlePele or peel towers are a peculiarity of the Anglo-Scottish borders. They came into existence in a medieval environment, largely during the Scottish Wars of Independence, when the population lived in fear of constant attack. Really and truly none should still be standing as when James VI of Scotland became James I of England he decreed that the borders should henceforth be known as the “Middle Shires” and that pele towers should be torn down. He also executed or deported men with the most notorious border surnames, both English and Scots, to drive his message home.

 

In essence a pele tower is a mini castle that is easily defendable. The large ones have a barmkin or yard enclosed by a wall or palisade of some description. In wealthier towers this would be stone in other locations it would be more of a thorny hedge like structure. The idea was that cattle could shelter in the barmkin whilst people sheltered in the tower that was usually several stories high and many feet thick. The basement room of a tower would be vaulted and used for storage. Often the original access to the living quarters of the tower would be through a hole in the vaulted ceiling via a ladder which could then be drawn up after the defenders.

 

I’ve long been familiar with the pele tower at Hutton-in-the Forest which is the home of Lord and Lady Inglewood. The original tower is now the joint of the two arms of the substantial manor house that grew in later centuries. However, it was during a walk near Ivegill that I encountered the remnants of two more pele towers.

 

Highead Castle can’t be seen from the road and I only glimpsed it through trees – a sort of red sandstone Cumbrian Sleeping Beauty affair. It began life as a pele tower and grew into something rather grander in 1550 when it was purchased by the Richmond family. This in its turn was remodeled during the Eighteenth Century to become a rather lovely Palladian house featuring eleven bays and a pediment not to mention rather a lot of carved ornamentation and Italianate balustrading. As is the way of these things the builders fell upon hard times and by the end of the nineteenth century the castle had changed hands yet again.

 

Unfortunately the castle caught fire in 1956 and was left a wreck. There was a plan to pull it down during the 1980s that came to nothing on account of local protest and since then renovation work has commenced. I hope that it will be a bit like a phoenix and eventually turn into a dwelling again as the ruins that I saw through the trees were rather beautiful.

 

The next pele tower on my walk rejoices in the rather lovely name of Thistlewood Tower. DSCF2764.jpgIt’s a two-storey tower with a vaulted undercroft and like some of the rather grander pele towers it was extended once England and Scotland ceased raiding one another and windows inserted – so technically it ceased being a fortification and turned into a rather grand farm house. In this instance the extension is a seventeenth century one.

 

 

The land around Thistlewood is first mention as being owned by John de Harcla, the brother of Sir Andrew de Harcla, who was executed for treason in Carlisle by Edward II. John suffered the same fate meaning that the land became Crown property by reason of the attainder against John.

 

In 1326 Ralph Dacre received tenure of the land and tower that stood on the site for a period of ten years but the following year it was granted to William L’Engles (there is a little bit of surname difficulty at this point as I think the name should be de Beaulieu) for life.   There then followed a legal wrangle between the new owner and the old tenant. In 1330 Dacre petitioned Parliament that he should be allowed to complete his tenure but clearly by 1358 Thomas de Beaulieu was extending the property to include a chapel and it is Thomas who is most often referenced in the Victorian secondary sources. The tower remained in de Beaulieu hands until the death of William de Beaulieu in 1434.

 

The tower passed once more into the hands of the Dacres where it remained until they finally blotted their copybooks once too often during the reign of Elizabeth I.

 

In 1568 Richard Dacre of Aikton and his family were accused of plotting at Thistlewood and Carlisle to aid Mary Queen of Scots. Richard was up to his neck in the middle of the Rising of the North along with his relation, a cousin of some kind, Leonard Dacre.

 

Leonard Dacre’s, the second son of the Fifth Lord Dacre, wrote a number of letters to Mary Queen of Scots who called him “Dacres with the croked back”. The Rising of the North is often seen as a catholic conspiracy but Leonard’s concerns were rather more prosaic. His nephew, the sixth lord though still a minor, had been killed in an accident in May 1569 with a vaulting horse in Norfolk where he was a ward of the Duke of Norfolk along with his three sisters. Unsurprisingly Thomas Howard, the fourth Duke of Norfolk, ensured that three of his sons married the three sisters and that the estates became part of the Howard empire. On 19th June that same year a court in Greenwich concluded that the title of the Baron Dacre of the North had ceased to exist and that, furthermore, the lands should be divided between the boy’s three sisters. Leonard believed that he should be the seventh Lord Dacre – and that meant getting the family loot as well as the title. Leonard was not amused. It should also be said that many of the border families allied themselves with Dacre because of the power of their name in a quasi-medieval society despite the fact that times were beginning to change – for a start many of them wrote to Cecil complaining about Thomas Howard’s management.

Essentially Leonard tried to play both sides of the game. He protested his loyalty to Elizabeth and in so doing settled old scores, was even commended in December 1569 for his actions against the rebels but he continued to play both sides of the field until he saw which way the wind was blowing. At the point where it became clear that Elizabeth’s forces would prevail he secured Naworth Castle as part of his estate, along with other Dacre strong holdings, and refused admittance to his fellow rebels who sought him out to provide a safe haven.

 

By this point everyone was suspicious of him including Lord Scrope who was the Warden of the West Marches based in Carlisle. On the 19th February 1570 Henry Carey Lord Hunsdon received a note from his cousin Queen Elizabeth I, who was nobody’s fool, ordering him to capture Dacre. On the following morning Hundson and Sir John Forster, the Warden of the Middle March rolled up with a large force of riders outside Naworth. Hunsdon realizing that he wasn’t prepared for a siege decided to press on to Carlisle to meet up with Lord Scope’s forces.

For reasons best known to himself Dacre followed along behind until the royal forces reached the banks of the River Gelt at which point he ordered his men to charge – the affair became known as the Battle of Gelt Bridge. According to sources Dacre had an army of 3000 borderers. He was defeated Hunsdon’s force which was approximately half the size of Dacre’s army.

 

Dacre fled into Scotland and from there to the Low Countries where he received a pension from Philip II of Spain and agitated for an invasion until he died in 1573.

Unsurprisingly the Dacre estates fell to the Crown by attainder, Thistlewood Tower tenanted by Richard Dacre of Aikton among them – meaning that it was once again Crown land.

These days it has been restored and is for sale once again.

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In an aside it would appear that Richard’s son William who was married to the niece of the Bishop Edmund Grindal was also implicated in the rebellion. William was pardoned and settled in St Bees.

Rose Castle next I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Castles, Cumbria, Pele Towers, The Tudors

Naworth Castle and the Dacres

IMG_7662.JPGDespite the name Naworth, which does look rather castle-like, is actually a pele tower meaning that it started out rather smaller than a castle and was intended as a place of retreat during times of Scottish raiding.   It received its planning permission in 1335 from King Edward III.  Essentially by planning permission I mean that Ranulph de Dacre received a licence to crenellate – this means there was a definite permission to build battlements.  We tend to think that it is just the monarch who could give permission for fortifications but England being what it was there are some notable exceptions.  If you wanted to build a castle in the county of the Prince Bishops i.e. Durham you had to apply to them.  The same was true for the powerful earls of Chester and also within the Duchy of Lancaster whose landholdings seem to have had a tentacle like grip from the north down across the Midlands.

So why would you want a licence to crenellate?  Well, if you lived on the borders between England and Scotland as at Naworth you probably wanted a jolly high wall to keep marauding Scots out. The downside of this so far as the monarchy was concerned was that some nobles, once they’d got their fancy walls with battlements, might sit behind them and revolt against the king.  The other reason for possibly wanting a licence to crenellate was more a matter of keeping up appearances.  Castle building was an expensive pastime – thus not only were you wealthy enough to afford all the masonry and labour but you were probably also posh enough to receive permission in the first place.

Anyway, Ranulph de Dacre  gained his licence and promptly built a stone tower and it grew from there.  Once the bother with the Scots was over and done with in the seventeenth century the Dacres found themselves short of a male heir so married into the Howard family and the border tower turned into a mansion.  In between times they managed to get themselves a fiercesome reputation as the “Devil’s Dozen,” one of them even managing to kill his brother.  The battle cry of the Dacres is “A red bull! A red bull!” Apparently the cry filled the Scots at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 with dread. Thomas, Lord Dacre was in command of the reserves.

The Dacres are one of those families who turn up throughout the history books either as loyal servants of the crown or out and out rebels – though sometimes its hard to tell which is which.  One of the family, as might be expected, managed to get himself killed at the Battle of Towton in Easter 1461.

To tell the full story, Thomas Dacre the sixth baron married into the Earl of Westmorland’s family when he got hitched to  Philippa  Neville.  Philippa was the daughter of the earl of Westmorland’s first wife.  This particular branch of the family wasn’t terribly keen on the Nevilles who were descended from the Earl of Westmorland’s family by his second wife who was Joan Beaufort, the daughter of the John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. This can sometimes be a bit confusing but basically the children of the first wife (Philippa) got the title and what was entailed to the estate whilst the children of the second wife (Joan) got all the money and everything that wasn’t entailed -i.e. the lion share.  Inevitably this caused resentment and by the time the Wars of the Roses came around the Nevilles from the two extended families were at each others throats.  Dacre having married into the first brood of Nevilles fought on the Lancastrian side whilst the Nevilles from the second family are synonymous with the white rose of York (until the earl of Warwick threw his toys out of the pram and changed sides).

The sixth baron died in 1458.  His eldest son was also dead by the time of Towton leaving daughters. This had resulted in the splitting of the barony into two parts – the north and south.  Ranulph or Ralph the second son of the sixth baron became Lord Dacre of the North or just to be even more difficult Lord Dacre of Gilsland. He fought on the Lancastrian side at Towton (remember his mother was a Neville descended from the earl of Westmorland’s first wife and therefore hostile to Nevilles descended from the second wife.)  He was to the left of the duke of Somerset’s men along with the earl of Devon.  Dacre was, according to legend, shot by a boy in a tree on the part of the battlefield known as North Acres. He is buried at the Church of All Saints, Saxton.  Even though he fought for the Lancastrian side someone managed to find time to bury him sitting on his horse – and yes, the Victorians checked.

His brother Sir Humphrey Dacre also took part in the battle.  He was attainted for treason but was pardoned in 1468 and more formally in 1471. In a twist of fate he turns out to be the marital great uncle of Henry VIII’s last wife Katherine Parr having married Mabel Parr.

Sadler, John. (2006) Border Fury. London: Longman

 

 

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The Abbot’s Lodging

IMG_1614Abbots of larger monasteries were on a similar social status to a temporal lord – indeed there was every chance that they were the younger sons of the nobility. Their role within local and national society required that they should have quarters fit for entertaining their peers and if Cromwell’s list of misdeeds recorded by his commissioners during their Visitation of 1536 are anything to go by sufficient privacy to entertain numerous ladies of ill-repute.

Sometimes the abbot’s quarters were built into the west range above the cellarium (an undercroft where provisions were stored – think very large pantry). The abbot would have his own chapel, a hall for entertaining and two or three other rooms.

DSC_0044Elsewhere, and as time progressed, the abbot might expect to have his own separate dwelling – sometimes with a private necessarium as at Netley Abbey near Southampton (abbot’s lodging shown at the start of this paragraph). There is no particular rule as to where the lodgings might be. Cistercians tend to put their lodgings to the south of the cloister, though strictly speaking Cistercian abbots had no business being anywhere other than the dormitory with the rest of the monks. As well as a garderobe an abbot’s lodging might reasonably be expected to include a fireplace to warm distinguished guests, in some cases they had their own kitchen and stables. The fireplace shown at the opening at the post can be found at Monk Bretton Priory – the remnants of a Cluniac foundation.  In Kirkstall a rather grand staircase led to the abbot’s lodging and at Fountains there was a monastic prison in the basement complete with three cells and means of restraining prisoners.  At Fountains the abbot’s ‘modest dwelling’ underwent considerable expansion at the beginning of the sixteenth century on the orders of Abbot Huby who added an office and bay windows.

In Carlisle, which had a bishop so the abbot was technically a prior there was a pele tower where the prior and his officers could flee in the event of marauding Scots.DSCF1133

The abbot’s lodging often survived the dissolution of the monasteries in the guise of a manor house.  In York the abbot’s lodging of St Mary’s Abbey was retained by Henry VIII and used during his visit north.  It played host to King Charles I and is now part of the University of York.DSC_0107-6

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Castles, pele towers and bastle houses on the borders.

castleCastle building began with the Normans –  motte and bailey affairs – or in straight forward terms a huge pile of earth topped off with a wooden crown of  wall and keep.  The aim was to dominate the landscape and afford themselves protection (keeping their fingers firmly crossed that no one turned up with the equivalent of an early medieval box of matches).

The key to Cumberland is Carlisle Castle which was begun by William Rufus during the eleventh century.  It’s history reflects the political upheavals of the medieval period as well as the fact that the border between England and Scotland was sometimes apt to shift quite dramatically!

In 1122 Henry I ordered that it should be strengthened with stone.  By the time of his death it was still unfinished and making the most of the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, King David of Scotland moved into Carlisle and finished the building.  He died in Carlisle Castle in 1135.  Carlisle was regained by the English.

Henry II commanded that there should be further strengthening which was just as well because William the Lion of Scotland  attacked Carlisle twice with a large force in an attempt to regain the territory that his brother had lost.

King John stayed in the castle on several different occasions reflecting the fact that having lost his continental possessions he was the first Plantagenet king who really turned his attention to the north and the northern English barons – it wasn’t a happy relationship leading as it did to rebellion and for a time Carlisle ending up in the hands of the Scottish again – the town made no resistance to Alexander III but the castle garrison did.  It fell to the Scottish because miners sapped the south curtain wall.  The Scots also bombarded it with missiles but when John died in 1216 the Scots withdrew.  The fact that the roof of the castle needed repair by the mid thirteenth century demonstrates that the borders did undergo a period of peace.

That all changed with the death of Alexander III.  Edward I visited Carlisle many times, eventually dying at Burgh-By-Sands on his way to yet another campaign against the Scots.  The next two hundred and fifty years were pretty turbulent if you happened to live on the border and this is reflected once again in the Castle’s history.

July 1315 – Robert Bruce besieges Carlisle but it is ably defended by Sir Andrew Harclay who tried to establish peace but got himself hung, drawn and quartered for his efforts.

It was during this period of increased militarization that Hexham Goal was built and also Thirlwall Castle which used dressed stone from a rather large nearby wall… It is situated near the Tyne-Irthing Gap a way used by Scottish raiders so its strategic position is immediately obvious.  Some miles down the road, Aydon Castle turned from being a manor house into a fortified manor with its own barmkin wall.

In fact, those who could fortify their dwellings did so on both sides of the borders.   Peles or peel towers dot the border region and the Eden Valley.  They were not built to stop raiders they were built to keep families and their livestock safe during incursions.  They tend to be rectangular with a barrel-vaulted basement and two further stories above including a roof with a beacon to summon help.  The Vicar at Corbridge had his own pele tower and there’s one in the grounds of Carlisle Cathedral.  In other locations churches included fortified protection for local villagers in their design creating a landscape of romantic looking ruins today but which reflect the difficulties of living on the border until the two kingdoms came under the rule of one monarch.

Bastle Houses are very similar to peels but built on a smaller scale – they tended to be owned by better off tenant farmers. Most of them were built in the Sixteenth Century and lie within 15 miles of the border.

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