The Castles of Lancashire

The Castles of Lancashire

Lancashire cannot compare with the White Rose County for the number and majesty of its castles, although it does have some very interesting examples. Until recently, Lancaster Castle, owned by the Queen as Duke of Lancaster, was unique in the British Isles and almost certainly in Europe itself, insomuch as it performed one of its original functions, viz. as a prison.

Another royal holding survives only in street names and paintings, and that is Liverpool Castle. Imagine the Liverpool World Heritage Site river frontage with a medieval castle at its core. Clitheroe boasts the smallest keep in England; the castellated Lathom House withstood one of the most famous sieges of the English Civil War; and Piel Castle was the landing place for Lambert Simnel, pretender to the throne in 1487.

Liverpool Castle in 1689.

Although the Normans introduced castles into Britain, the first, erected in Herefordshire, actually predates the Conquest of 1066 by a few years. These structures were motte and bailey castles, as shown on the Bayeux Tapestry. The castles consisted of man-made mounds (or mottes), usually supplanted with a wooden palisade or tower; and raised defended earthworks in the form of a bailey.

North of the Sands

An artist’s impression of a motte and bailey castle.

One such motte and bailey castle is found at Aldingham, overlooking Morecambe Bay. This was constructed by Michael le Fleming in about 1100, possibly on an early site begun by Roger de Poitoiu. Another earthwork may be seen at Pennington. A public footpath traverses the site. The Pennington family moved from here in the 1240s and founded Muncaster Castle in neighbouring Cumberland.

Pele, towers are commonly known in Scotland as tower houses. They were effectively fortified residences when times were lawless and feature prominently throughout the English Border Counties of Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland and Westmorland; and to a lesser degree in Lancashire.

On the Furness and Cartmel Peninsulas there are several, including the 14th Century Broughton Tower built by the de Brocton family and still lived in, though the added wings of 1882 provided more comfort. Hampsfield Tower survived until the 1810s when an overzealous tenant tore it down; however, the adjoining hall built by the Thornburghs survives. Dalton Castle is the most famous of the pele towers in Furness. Owned by the National Trust, Dalton was built by the Abbott of Furness Abbey after Scottish raids of 1312 and 1314. It was used as the residence of a steward, a strong tower and storehouse. It later became a prison and an armoury, and is a remarkable survival.

Wraysholme Tower is a late 15th Century pele tower with an adjoining hall (the latter now replaced by a farmhouse) built by the Harrington family. Somewhat reduced, the pele tower continues in use as a farm building. Coniston Hall was a double pele tower, of which only the hall and the lesser pele tower remain. Erected by the Fleming family in the 16th Century, the hall has been in continual use, most recently as a sailing club.

Lancashire North of the Sands boasts two larger castles. Gleaston Castle has some well-preserved towers and curtain walling. It was begun in 1325 by John de Harrington, Lord of Muchland and Aldingham and was probably never completed. It was occupied until the 1690s, was mentioned in ‘Leland’s Itinerary’ of 1540, and was drawn by the famous Buck Brothers. Although not accessible, it can be clearly seen from public rights of way.

Piel Castle is a substantial ruin set at the south eastern tip of Piel Island. It is owned by the State and can be visited via boat from Roe Island in the Summer months. The castle was built in 1327, shortly after Dalton Castle, by the same person – Abbott John Cockerham. It is likely that he was in fact fortifying an existing structure to be used as a refuge by monks in times of trouble, and to monitor the traffic sailing to and from Furness Abbey’s holdings in the Isle of Man and Ireland. The castle, which is visible from all around Morecambe Bay, features the remains of a fine keep and two baileys.

South of the Sands

The earliest castles, again, are motte and baileys, with examples at Penwortham (built by Roger de Poitou) and West Derby, but there is no better day out than to Lunesdale. Lancashire County Council produce an excellent leaflet which covers Arkholme, Halton, Hornby, Melling and Whittington castles. Hornby, also known as Castle Stede, lies by the Lyon Bridge over the River Lune, and its strategic importance is illustrated by the site being chosen for a Second World War pillbox. Castle Stede was the forerunner of Hornby Castle, a castellated mansion which retains medieval architecture, some of which dates back to the Thirteenth Century. The pele tower was begun by the De Montbegon or Longueviller family in the Fourteenth Century, and further added to by Sir Edward Stanley in the early 1500s.

Further pele towers are represented by Ashton Hall, Borwick Hall, Radcliffe Tower and Turton Tower Now a golf clubhouse, Ashton Hall is a beautiful building comprising of a pele tower built by the Lawrence family in the Fourteenth Century, and added to by Lord Ashton in 1856. Borwick Hall’s pele tower was built in the Fifteenth Century by the Borwick family, with an attached house and splendid gatehouse constructed between 1590 and 1650 by Westmerean Robert Bindloss.

The ruins of Radcliffe Tower are all that remains of a pele tower built from 1403 by James Radcliffe which had a timber framed hall attached to it, reputedly one of the finest in the County. Sadly, none of the latter survives. Turton Tower is a splendid building which is owned by Lancashire County Council and is well worth a visit. The pele tower here was constructed around 1420 and the building was added to by the Orrel family in Tudor times.

The finest caste in the County is to be found in the County Town. Lancaster Castle began life as a motte and bailey castle constructed on the site of a Roman Fort. A working prison until 2011 and still home to a County Court, the castle is open to the public. Of the many highlights, the John of Gaunt gateway (actually built by Henry IV in 1402) is one of the finest entries to any castle in the British Isles, and the Lungess Tower or Norman keep is an imposing structure. There are also two emotive memorials: one in the form of a plaque to the Catholic Martyrs of Lancaster, to be found on the parapet of the John of Gaunt gateway; and the other in the dungeon where some of the Pendle Witches were imprisoned – this takes the form of manacles embedded in the walls.

Clitheroe Castle was founded by Roger de Poitou and is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. Although only a part of the curtain wall survives and none of the ‘outbuildings’, the keep (erected in the Twelfth Century by a member of the De Lacy family) stands prominently above the town, even if it is believed to be the smallest Norman keep in England. The castle was partially dismantled by Parliamentary forces in 1648 but out of its ashes grew Castle House in the Eighteenth Century, now a fine local museum.

Only scant remains are left of Bury Castle, a fortified moated manor house begun by Sir Thomas Pilkington in 1469; and Fifteenth Century Thurland Castle, commenced by Sir Thomas Tunstall in 1402, and mainly rebuilt in Victorian times. Liverpool possessed a Royal castle, and a fortified ‘Tower’ built by Sir John Stanley, Earl of Derby, sometime after 1406. Sadly, neither remain but the name ‘Tower Buildings’ survives and part of the rock cut ditch or moat of Liverpool Castle may be traced. Liverpool Castle was built circa 1235 by William de Ferrers and consisted of four corner towers and curtain wall, with gatehouse and drawbridge, surrounding a courtyard of several buildings. It was gradually demolished in the early Eighteenth Century, whilst the Tower survived until 1819.

Another loss for the County is Lathom House. This was built in the late Fifteenth Century, possibly on the site of an earlier stronghold, by Sir Thomas Stanley and appears to have been a most formidable residence. It survived a two-year siege by Parliamentary forces in the Civil War but as a result, all its fortifications were demolished. Greenhalgh Castle was also built by Sir Thomas after 1490 and at least here Parliamentary forces left some of it standing after another lengthy siege. Part of a tower indicates this was one of four that stood at the corners of a fortified courtyard. Although on private land it can be clearly seen from the road and Lancaster Canal.

Greenhalgh Castle photographed in 1927.