Piel Castle


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1009097

Date first listed: 04-Dec-1924

Date of most recent amendment: 16-Nov-1992


Ordnance survey map of Piel Castle
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Cumbria

District: Barrow-in-Furness (District Authority)

National Grid Reference: SD 23288 63594


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of stone, in which the principal or sole defence comprises the walls and towers bounding the site. Some form of keep may have stood within the enclosure but this was not significant in defensive terms and served mainly to provide accommodation. Larger sites might have more than one line of walling and there are normally mural towers and gatehouses. Outside the walls a ditch, either waterfilled or dry, crossed by bridges may be found. The first enclosure castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest. However, they developed considerably in form during the 12th century when defensive experience gained during the Crusades was applied to their design. The majority of examples were constructed in the 13th century although a few were built as late as the 14th century. Some represent reconstructions of earlier medieval earthwork castles of the motte and bailey type, although others were new creations. They provided strongly defended residences for the king or leading families and occur in both urban and rural situations. Enclosure castles are widely dispersed throughout England, with a slight concentration in Kent and Sussex supporting a vulnerable coast, and a strong concentration along the Welsh border where some of the best examples were built under Edward I. They are rare nationally with only 126 recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and defence and with respect to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally important.

The monument is a rare example of a castle controlled largely by a monastic order. As such it testifies to the wealth, power and influence of the Savignac and latterly Cistercian monks of Furness Abbey between the 12th - 16th centuries. The castle survives well, displays more than one building phase, and possesses a keep of unusual form.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument is Piel Castle, located at the southern end of Piel Island between Walney Island and the mainland. The castle is built of roughly coursed stone collected from the beach, with its architectural features constructed of red sandstone ashlar quarried in the vicinity of Furness Abbey. The castle guarded the main approaches to the deep-water harbour outside Barrow and includes a keep, gatehouse, inner and outer baileys, inner and outer moat, curtain walls and towers. The keep is extremely unusual, comprising three parallel compartments though the easternmost of these has fallen into the sea and its walls now lie on the beach. It lay within an inner ward, the south and east walls of which have also been eroded by the sea. There are towers at the south-west, north-west and north-east corners of the inner ward, the latter projecting north of the inner curtain wall. Access to the inner ward is by a gatehouse in the west curtain wall. A dry moat some 10m wide by 2.5m deep flanks the north and west sides of the inner curtain. Access from the outer ward to the gatehouse is now by a causeway but was originally provided by a drawbridge. The outer curtain wall survives best close to the north-east corner. On the western and north-western sides the wall does not survive above foundation level, while remains of its southern side lie tumbled on the beach. There are towers at the south-west, north-west and north-east corners. The former has short lengths of curtain wall attached and both this and the north-east tower project slightly beyond the wall. Flanking the north and west sides of the outer curtain is a dry moat up to 13m wide by 3m deep. Within the outer ward, adjacent to the north-east tower, is the foundation of a single freestanding building measuring some 10m by 6m traditionally referred to as the chapel. Its original function, however, is unclear. The original stronghold was erected for the monks of Furness Abbey in King Stephen's reign (1135-54). The castle was besieged by Robert Bruce in 1316, 1317 and 1322. A licence to crenellate was granted in 1327 and construction of the present castle is attributed to Abbot John Cockerham at about this time. In 1403 Abbot John de Bolton is said to have found the cost of the castle's upkeep beyond his means. About 1429 the castle was repaired and restored. In 1487 Lambert Simnel was proclaimed king here by his mercenary troops. The castle had a short period of occupation and was ruinous by 1537. During the mid-19th century the Duke of Buccleuch undertook renovations to the monument including construction of sea defences which slowed the pace of erosion on the southern and eastern sides of the castle. The family gave the island, including the castle, to Barrow Corporation in 1918, and the monument was taken into the guardianship of the Secretary of State the following year. Piel Castle is a Grade I Listed Building. All fences and English Heritage fittings, including railings and notice boards, are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT 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.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 13566

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Farrer, J, Brownbill, W (eds), The Victoria History of the County of Lancashire: Volume II, (1908), 310-12
Whitaker, , History of Richmondshire, (1823)
Newman, R, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc New Ser.' in Excavations and Survey at Piel Castle, near Barrow-in-Furness, , Vol. 87, (1987), 101-16
Leach,P.E., MPP Single Monument Class Description - Enclosure Castles, (1989)
Letter to Robinson K D MPPFW, Hopkins B (Cumbria SMR officer), (1991)

End of official listing