First Stop – Penrith Castle
So the first stop on the way up to the Isle of Lewis was Penrith. The only thing that was open late enough/early enough during our brief stop off overnight was Penrith castle. Which is not a complaint, it is a beautiful castle ruin, and it plays and important part in the history of England and Scotland.
Defending the Border
Penrith Castle was in the 1400s by Ralph Neville, who played a key role in the defence of the border against the Scottish as Warden of the Western March. Ralph Neville (1364–1425) was granted the manor of Penrith in 1396 and started the construction soon after.
On the site of an Old Roman Fort
Contrary to what might be expected the castle was not built on the highest point in the area (some 170 meters away), instead it is likely to built on the site of an old Roman Fort. Some of the earthworks surrounding the fort are thought to date to this period.
A strong and powerful position
The castle demonstrated Neville’s powerful position over Cumbria, his son Richard, 5th Earl of Salisbury, made it his headquarters to the original castle. His son, Richard 16th Earl of Warrick, 5th Earl of Salisbury (also known as the Kingmaker) would go on to play an important part in the War of the Roses.
House fit for a king
Following the death of Richard Neville ‘the Kingmaker’ in 1471, the castle was given to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III. Richard resided at the castle between 1471-85, and held the position of Sherriff of Cumberland, responsible for keeping the local families under control (as well as those pesky Scots). Large windows, probably to light private apartments, were inserted in a raised external wall. A new gatehouse and a tower were also constructed at this time.
From Kingly House to Ruin
After Richard became king, the castle became a crown property, but it was not used again as a permanent residence. Surveys from the mid-16th century describe the castle as partly decayed.
After brief use during the Civil War in 1648 as the headquarters for the Parliamentarian general John Lambert, the castle was further dismantled. It is now part of a public path.
And Ending Note
Most of the information contained within this article came from the information boards at the site of the castle and from http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/penrith-castle/history/. There was probably a lot more information from the museum, but unfortunately it was not open at the time of my visit to Penrith. It is also very important note, that there is likely to be more information about sites local to you available in local museum or county archives/libraries, than can be found on the internet. They are likely to have old publications, surveys. excavation reports etc… That have not been uploaded to the inter or transcribed as of yet. Another good source are local history/archaeological societies who often publish about areas of local interest. So please make use of these resources, or they could disappear.