The Summer Outing to Appleby 2011

Jill Sykes and Ken Pearce
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

In June 2011 David Johnson planned an interesting day for us of two distinct parts. The morning was around Appleby in Westmorland.

‘We meet at the High Cross’... sounds a little ominous! But this is the tree-lined upper part of Boroughgate by the castle gates, firmly padlocked because of a two-year old planning dispute! Our loss - there is a keep, separate from the Norman castle with boundless views from the top.

We were met by Alice Palmer, a volunteer town guide whom David had arranged to take us round New Appleby, a broad street with burgher plots each side laid out in 1110 by Ranulph de Meschines. Across the river to the east is the earlier settlement of Old Appleby along the main route which became the A6. Now there is a by-pass and the Settle-Carlisle railway up the hill. Alice Palmer, with a friendly conversational manner, took us first to St. Anne’s Hospital, a group of alms houses founded by Lady Anne Clifford in 1651. Through a stone arch (with swallows nesting above!) lies a quiet cobbled and flowered courtyard bounded by single-storey dwellings for old widows of Appleby. A chapel in the north-east corner gave us a haven from the drizzle while we were given a history of the different parts of the town.

Many buildings have used the local red Permian sandstone, The Red House, dated 1717, opposite the hospital, taking up three of the original burgher plots, being a striking example. We stopped again halfway down the hill at The White House, painted pebble-dash with windows and entrance topped with Gothick-style Ogee curves. Our guide pointed out the name of the next building, the Aboard Inn, but was mystified by the name. David, who is an expert on pubs! (to be fair, he has done much research into the history of inns and licensing), pointed out that by a law of 1830 any building that displayed ‘a board’ outside could claim to be a beer house.

The rain stopped. Alice had special permission to take us into the 1596 Moot Hall, built into the street but connected by pavement to the west side. We sat in oak-benched splendour under the panelling and portraits of town and county worthies. The Assize courts met in this room until 1770. Appleby was the county town of Westmorland until the reorganisation of 1974 merged it into Cumbria. We walked to the Gothic-arched Cloisters designed in 1811 by Robert Smirke, which together with the Low Cross, mark the northern, lower end of Boroughgate. The market is licensed to be held between the two crosses.

The sun shone as we went through the Cloisters into the Parish Church of St. Lawrence. Parts of the tower are of the original Norman church built soon after the castle, but the rest of this lovely church was rebuilt after Scottish raids of 1395 and again restored in the 17th century by the indefatigable Lady Anne. The organ at the west end has early Renaissance decoration and came from Carlisle Cathedral. The church has a place among ‘the 1000 best churches of England’, mainly due to the splendid tombs of Lady Anne and her mother, Lady Margaret. The wall by the monuments displays dozens of heraldic shields illustrating the Clifford ancestry.

We thanked Alice Palmer for her expert and enjoyable guidance, then dispersed for lunch after which we regrouped near the school on the east bank of the Eden. David led the way to some unknown destination hidden to view from any road or public right of way. Six miles brought us to a gated track up towards the hills, where our little convoy drew to a halt in front of two ancient and sturdy peel towers. We had arrived at Howgill Castle.

Our hosts, Tom and Olive Clarke, quickly appeared at the door and stepped forward to greet us all. They had bought the castle and 500 acres in 1970. Tom gave a brief account of what he had been able to discover, since then, of the castle’s history.

It appears that the castle was built about 1340, possibly by John of Lancaster, lord of Howgill Manor. It consists of two massive peel towers joined by a three-storey linking suite of chambers. Brunskill (2002) describes the building as a semi-fortified hall house, much altered but possibly unique in having truly defensible towers at both ends of the hall. Westmorland was at that time contested by the kings of Scotland and raiding parties were an ever-present hazard, which explains why the walls are 9 ft thick. There are vaulted cellars, corbelled corridors, narrow winding stairways within the walls, oriental-looking arches, mullioned windows - all in a complicated rabbit warren of a hide-and-seek sort of building. Those among us who are more expert in untangling the history spent a busy couple of hours trying to work out how the building had evolved over the centuries.

In 1438 the castle passed by marriage to the Crackenthorpe family and then to the Sandfords by marriage. It seems that they were responsible for removing the battlements about 1650, possibly as a result of the ending of the Civil War - though Brunskill tells us that Thomas Machell, Rector of Kirkby Thore, had introduced elements of Renaissance architecture at the castle with the help of local mason Edward Addison. In the early 1700s the building passed to the Honeywoods, again by marriage. In 1780 it was bought by the Earl of Thanet (a descendant of Lady Anne Clifford), added to his Appleby Castle estate and for the next 170 years let to a succession of tenant farmers. From 1964 it stood empty until Tom and Olive purchased it to farm the land.

They were the most excellent and modest of hosts, showing us every room, every corner of their fascinatingly complex home from its great fireplaces to its vast worldwide collection of dolls and impressive array of old family photographs.

We finished in their large, barrel-vaulted farmhouse kitchen where tea, coffee and the lightest of cakes crowned their hospitality (Olive had worked in a bakery for some years). It had been a most enjoyable, instructive day, another triumph of David’s determination to ferret out unusual opportunities for members to explore the region’s heritage.

We look forward to next year’s excursion.


  • Brunskill, R.W. (2002). Traditional Buildings of Cumbria. Pub.Cassell.
  • Jenkins, S. (1999). England’s Thousand best churches. Allen Lane, The Penguin Press.

Doorway in Appleby


Doorway in Appleby