Fortified towers and houses in South and East Cumbria
Throughout the history of the British Isles, the North West of the country has been a fortified and much disputed area.
The Romans used the North West areas as staging points for mustering their forces for incursions into Scotland, and as a fortified frontier in the North, and defence frontier for the more peaceable South. Hadrian’s Wall served both these purposes, defensive and offensive.
In the 5th century, the Romans left Cumbria and the British Isles to their own devices, allowing Saxon invaders to move into the power vacuum. The Celts were therefore driven from their traditional lands and into the highlands and mountainous areas of both Northern England and Scotland.
Between the 7th and the 10th centuries, the border between England and Scotland moved north and south, as successive armies from both sides of the borders claimed, and then lost land. Cumbria became Scottish, and then was reclaimed by the English on a number of occasions, resulting in battle weary populations who found themselves caught in the cross fire. These cross border disputes continued right into the 14th century, when many rich land owners, barons, lords and wealthy citizens, fortified their houses against attack from both the Scottish raiders, and the royal armies of the English kings.
It was during this time, that Cumbria became almost a separate entity from the rest of the country – neither English, nor Scottish – rather a political pawn played by both sides. Whilst the rest of the British Isles took advantage of the civil administration that governed the country, Cumbria wallowed in a military limbo, unable to take advantage of economic and cultural developments of the time. It wasn’t until the union of the crowns of England and Scotland in 1603, that the need for fortified dwellings declined, and the minute number of defensive sites built after this time is testament to the changing fortunes of the county of Cumbria.
The defensive sites contained within Cumbria (South Lakeland, Eden, Allerdale et al) are therefore numerous, consisting of peel towers, tower houses, fortified halls, fortified houses and a wide range of bastles, castles and fortified villages. These dwellings number in their hundreds, and are spread across a wide area. They come in all shapes and sizes, and most, if not all, would have been capable of withstanding small scale sieges or attacks by pillaging Scots and the English. Some of these sites are easily identifiable as defensive structures, for example, the towers at Arnside, Wraysholme, Hazelslack and Burneside to mention but a few. Others are harder to identify as they’ve been changed so much over the years, or have been included in working farms. For example, Hollin Hall Pele tower near Crook, Collin Field fortified house in Kendal, Helsfell fortified House near Kendal, Nether Hall near Witherslack and Selside Hall near Selside. These latter sites are all still occupied and appear at first glance to be just grand houses, belying their defensive history. Other sites still have been long lost to natural degradation, or even deliberate destruction, for example, Cappelside Hall near Beetham, Nether Levens near Levens, Lammerside Castle\Pele\Tower, Heversham Hall Pele tower, and many other ruinous sites.
The sheer number of sites throughout the South Lakes area alone is immense, and as more and more of these buildings come to light, so the nature of the violent past that Cumbria endured over the centuries is illustrated.
Article by Matthew Emmott – March 2003
Some of South and East Cumbria’s fortified houses, castles, towers, etc
- South Cumbria
- Burneside Hall
- Wraysholme Tower
- Arnside Tower
- Hazelslack tower
- Dalton Castle
- Levens Hall
- Sizergh Castle
- Kendal Castle
- Kentmere Hall
- Killington Hall
- Ingmire Hall
- Millom Castle
- Cappelside Hall
- East Cumbria
- Wharton Hall
- Lammerside Castle
- Smardale Hall
- Milburn – fortified village
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