Summer Outing: More pele towers in the Penrith area

7 July 2017 — Leader David S. Johnson
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

In 2006 an outing was made to the Penrith area to see Clifton Hall, Yanwath Hall, Dacre Castle and church and Brougham Hall. On this 2017 occasion we revisited Clifton Hall Farm and Clifton Hall then St Andrew’s Church in Dacre, but continued in the afternoon to visit Johnby Hall (in private ownership) near Greystoke.

David provided excellent weather betweeen the wet days that week. We started at Clifton Hall Farm (not open to the public) to see the now much decayed Roman inscribed tablet, perhaps removed from Brougham fort, but we were provided with a translation. The farm is of a courtyard design with a circular horse gin on one side, made to have a horse pulling a pole in a circle, with a drive shaft into the next room to operate farm machinery. The word gin needed some explanation - relating to engines not alcohol!

Clifton Pele stands nearby, now a roofed shell with fine roof timbers. It is looked after by English Heritage. Its story is told in full in the 2007 Journal. The property earlier extended far beyond the present ground plan as marked out by setts. It is a complex building, much altered over time, still imposing, and probably never meant to be defensive.

St Andrew’s Church in Dacre welcomed us with tea, coffee and tasty cakes and scones. Two of the church members then gave us a tour and description of the interior and exterior which was very well received. There are so many interesting features of this fine old church. In 1984 excavations were made in the churchyard to reveal signs of an Anglo-Saxon monastery and a large drain covered with slabs perhaps taken from a Roman building. Documentary evidence for a monastery supports the ground-work. Four ‘bears’ or lions stand guard outside the church, perhaps marking the boundary corners of the earlier site. One of the beasts certainly has a long tail so is more likely to be a lion than a bear. A crusader lies near the altar. A fine window dedicated to William Whitelaw, a much respected politician, can be seen. See the 2007 Journal for more detail. Some of us had a go at ringing the electronically controlled bells, more easily said than done we found to our surprise.

We proceeded after luch to Johnby Hall in Greystoke (pronounced Greystock). This is the private residence of Henry Howard, who with his wife Anna welcomed us. The core of this stone tower house dates to the late 14th century, built after destruction of the original house by the Scots. In the 1500s the house became the property of the Musgrave family, the main door having an elaborate and perhaps unique panel and inscription over it. In 1696 the house passed to the Hasell family then to the 10th Duke of Norfolk of Greystoke Castle in 1783. It has remained in the Howard family ever since. Many alterations have been made over the years, particularly to the windows. Maud Leybourne-Popham, a family member, made many Arts and Crafts style additions. The house is surrounded by pleasant wild gardens and a 17th century orchard. We were shown the house by Mr Howard, starting in the vaulted ground floor room with a corner stairway into the attached cottage with interesting architectural features. A corridor leads to a spiral stone-step stairway (with a curious lamp fitting) to the hall above with pictures of the Howard ancestors, fine old furniture and artwork done by Aunt Maud. Another spiral stairway to the next level in the opposite corner twists in the opposite direction. We were provided with tea and cakes to finish a most pleasant day.

With thanks to David, who had the task of driving a minibus, and for all his efforts to make the visit go smoothly. These annual outings require a lot of organization, for which members are very grateful.