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
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.
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
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.
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.