Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Strickland's Pele Tower and Penrith Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Penrith, Cumbria

We don't have any photos of this monument yet. Why don't you be the first to send us one?

Upload Photo »

Approximate Location Map
Large Map »

If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.


Latitude: 54.662 / 54°39'43"N

Longitude: -2.757 / 2°45'25"W

OS Eastings: 351265.762588

OS Northings: 529923.65457

OS Grid: NY512299

Mapcode National: GBR 9G5J.XK

Mapcode Global: WH81B.M2CV

Entry Name: Strickland's Pele Tower and Penrith Castle

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 11 July 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1010690

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23649

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: Penrith

Built-Up Area: Penrith

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Penrith St Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


The monument includes the sandstone ruins of the 15th century Penrith castle
together with a 14th century pele tower built by Bishop Strickland. It is
located on a low natural eminence to the west of the town centre. The earliest
feature of the site is the square pele tower, known as Strickland's or
Bishop's Tower. This has external dimensions of 10m by 8.8m with walls 2.3m
thick and over 1m high. There is a slit window in its north western side and a
doorway in its south western side giving access into a substantial yard
measuring approximately 36m square internally which is enclosed by a high
barmkin or curtain wall. This wall still stands virtually to its full height
on the south east and much of the south west sides but is considerably reduced
in height elsewhere. The yard would have contained timber buildings associated
with the pele tower. There are two entrances through the curtain; one adjacent
to the pele tower, the other through the north western side. The buildings of
the later castle were constructed within this yard and against the curtain
wall, thereby creating an inner courtyard, and survive as low stone walls.
These internal buildings included a great chamber on the north eastern side; a
chapel, private chamber and great hall on the south eastern side; kitchens on
the south western side; and the White Tower at the western corner. There is a
well adjacent to the southern corner of the courtyard. The castle was later
extended beyond the north west wall of the barmkin and there are foundations
of a garderobe turret, guard chambers flanking a more elaborate entrance, and
remains of the Red Tower at the northern corner. Surrounding the castle on all
sides except the north west where it has been lost, is a dry moat up to 15m
wide and 6m deep. The upcast from the moat forms an adjacent outer bank
measuring a maximum of 9m wide by 2m high on the north east and south east
sides. There are foundations of a bridge abutment and later gatetower giving
access across the moat's north eastern arm.

The earliest documentary evidence for the site dates to 1397 when William
Strickland obtained a licence to strengthen and crenellate his pele tower in
response to the frequent Scottish raids into northern England during the 14th
and 15th centuries. Two years later a further licence was granted to build the
barmkin. In the early 15th century Richard II gave the town and manor of
Penrith to Ralph Nevill, Earl of Westmorland, and the new owner added the Red
Tower, began construction of the internal buildings in stone and enhanced the
defensive nature of the two gateways. In 1471 Richard, Duke of Gloucester,
later Richard III, continued the internal building and added a substantial
outer gateway on the north western side, enlarging the structure into a royal
castle. The moat is thought to have been added towards the end of the 15th
century and was crossed originally by a bridge, possibly a drawbridge, which
was later replaced by a gatetower. By the mid-16th century the castle had
begun to fall into disrepair and was being used as a source of building
material. A survey of the remains in 1565 indicated that only Strickland's or
Bishop's Tower, a chamber between the tower and kitchen, the Red Tower, two
stables, a brewhouse and a bakehouse were habitable. By 1580 the castle was
described as `greatly decayed'. In 1648 Major General Lambert made his
headquarters in the castle for a month when his troops consisting of 3000
horse and foot soldiers were quartered in the town during the Civil War. The
castle was dismantled soon after. It is now in the guardianship of the
Secretary of State and is a Listed Building grade I.

All walls, railings, paths, steps, information boards, and English Heritage
fixtures and fittings are excluded from the scheduling, as is the modern
timber bridge and its footings that give access to the castle but the ground
beneath all these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Pele towers are a type of defensible house particularly characteristic of the
borderlands of England and Scotland. Many lie adjacent to river valleys and on
ground between 200m-350m OD and tend to cluster in groups, reflecting
defensive considerations and the distribution of farmsteads. They are
characterised by their thick drystone walls, external staircases, and the
presence of a barmkin (ie a stout wooden palisade or stone wall) enclosing a
yard which could be used as a place of refuge by people and livestock from
nearby farms and villages. They were being constructed and used from the mid-
14th century until around 1600. Characteristically pele towers are
oblong in plan with external dimensions of about 14m by 7m, and are between
two to four storeys in height and gable ended. Walls are generally thick and
consist of large irregular stone blocks or rubble. Thatch and heather was a
common roof covering. Where a below-ground basement exists it tends to be
vaulted with a small access at the centre of the vault. The ground floor often
contained a doorway and slit windows and was generally used as a store or
stable. The first floor is generally served by a single entrance and was
reached by an external stair. There was usually a fireplace and windows tend
to be small or slits. Internally pele towers contained a single room on each
floor. The need for such secure buildings relates to the unsettled and warlike
conditions which prevailed in the Borders throughout much of the medieval
period. Around 100 pele towers are recorded to have existed between 1500 and
1625, however, this may be a small fraction of the original number
constructed. Some became incorporated into later houses, while at others their
defensive function was enhanced and improved as they were incorporated into
later castles.

Penrith Castle is a good example of a medieval castle which developed within
the barmkin or curtain wall of an earlier pele tower. Its ruins are well
preserved and it provides an important insight into the types of fortification
required in the unsettled northern borderlands during the medieval period.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Curwen, J F, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. Extra Ser.' in Castles and Towers of Cumb, West and Lancs N of the Sands, (1913), 219-23
Curwen, J F, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. Extra Ser.' in Castles and Towers of Cumb, West and Lancs N of the Sands, (1913), 219-23
Huddleston, F, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Penrith Castle, , Vol. XXX, (1930), 13-27
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
Leach,P.E., MPP Single Monument Class Description - Enclosure Castles, (1989)
Schofield,A.J., MPP Single Monument Class Description - Pele Towers, (1989)

Source: Historic England

Other nearby scheduled monuments is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact for any queries related to any individual ancient or schedued monument, planning permission related to scheduled monuments or the scheduling process itself. is a Good Stuff website.