The Pele Towers of Cumbria and the Lake District
Of all the English monarchs, Edward I stands out in the troubled history of the Border region – he alone was determined to impose English rule on Scotland, and to this end made Carlisle an important military base, as well as a centre for government. Edward I fought a long and bitter campaign to conquer Scotland, and whilst preparing to subdue his enemy, Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, died on the marshes at Burgh-by-Sands. A Monument reminds us of this.
The Scots resisted these actions, and several marches were made with armies of 30000-40000 men, leaving death and destruction – farms and churches in the Lake District were destroyed, abbeys plundered and burned, people and cattle slaughtered. Determined to resist further invasion, the people of Cumberland and Westmorland built defensive structures known as pele towers, quite unique to the north of England. About 90 were built.
They were small stone buildings with walls from 3 to 10 feet thick, square or oblong in shape. Most were on the outskirts of the Lake District, but a few were within its boundaries. Designed to withstand short sieges, they usually consisted of three storeys – a tunnel-vaulted ground floor which had no windows which was used as a storage area, and which could accommodate animals.
The first floor contained a hall and kitchen, and the top floor was space for living and sleeping. The battlemented roof was normally flat for look-out purposes, and to allow arrows to be fired at raiders, and missiles hurled down on unwanted visitors.
Today many of these towers have had additions or modifications. Some such as Yanwath Hall are part of a working farm. Others such as Muncaster, Dacre and Sizergh are now stately homes. Some have fallen and become ruins, others have been dismantled so the stone could be used to build other buildings. Some towers were built onto churches to act as both pele tower, and bell tower.
Stately homes open to the public
Homes not open to the public
Other Pele Towers
Fortified houses and towers in South Cumbria
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