Cockermouth Castle: medieval enclosure castle and site of earlier motte and bailey castle
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Allerdale (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- NY 12226 30867
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
Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprise a conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade, and a stone or timber tower. An embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the bailey, adjoins the motte. They acted as garrison forts during military operations, as strongholds, as aristocratic residences, and as centres of local or royal administration. Motte and bailey castles generally occupy strategic positions dominating the immediate locality and are thus the most visually impressive monuments of the early post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape. They are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Despite partial 17th century destruction designed to prevent the castle's refortification after the Civil War, Cockermouth Castle survives reasonably well and still retains significant remains of upstanding medieval fabric. It is a rare example in Cumbria of a medieval enclosure castle which developed from an earlier motte and bailey castle and as such provides a significant insight into the constantly changing design and defensive strategies used in medieval castles.
The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of Cockermouth
enclosure castle together with the site of its motte and bailey precursor.
It is strategically located on the western edge of a ridge overlooking the
confluence of the Rivers Derwent and Cocker, and the town of Cockermouth.
The first castle to be built on the site was a motte and bailey constructed by
William de Fortibus II in the mid-12th century at the extreme western edge of
the ridge. The motte was an earthen mound raised some 2m above the height of
the bailey which lay to its east. On the summit of the motte there would have
been a central building or a number of smaller buildings constructed against a
surrounding wooden palisade. The bailey would have contained barracks,
stables, barns, workshops, and storehouses placed against the timber boundary
fence. There was possibly a defensive ditch between the motte and bailey and
another fronting the bailey. Around 1225, William de Fortibus III replaced the
timber castle with a stone triangular castle on the same site. Remains of this
early stone castle survive in the basement of the west tower and the lower
courses of the south and north curtain walls. During the mid to late
14th century the castle was strengthened by Thomas de Lucy; the upper parts of
the north and south curtain wall, the west tower, and the bell tower are all
of this date.
Internally there are surviving low stone walls of the Great Hall, the Lord's
Chamber and the Lady's Chamber which probably replaced earlier timber
buildings. The entrance to this castle still exists adjacent to the bell tower
where a door jamb remains. An outer bailey which was slightly smaller than the
present one existed, and buried remains of a circular tower at its south east
angle are known to exist close to the later flag tower. During the latter
years of the 14th century major rebuilding work was undertaken by Maud de Lucy
and her first husband the Earl of Angus, and completed by Henry Percy.
Much of this work survives today and includes the kitchen tower and other
rooms, collectively known as the `Percy Wing', which were built above the
ditch of the earlier castle, with the ditch itself being used for cellars and
the Mirk Kirk, traditionally the chapel. Two large fireplaces are still
visible in the south wall of the kitchen. The inner gatehouse, flanked by
guardrooms below which are dungeons, gives access from the outer bailey and a
new ditch, now infilled, was dug in front of this extension. The walls of the
outer bailey were extended to their present size and a new defensive ditch,
now infilled, was dug outside the east curtain wall. An outer gatehouse and
barbican were constructed at the north east angle and still provide access to
the castle. At the south east angle the flag tower was built and used for the
holding of manorial courts and audits.
Documentary sources dated to 1568 and 1578 indicate that the castle was in a
state of decay during the latter half of the 16th century. In August and
September 1648 a garrison of Parliamentary soldiers were besieged in the
castle by Royalist troops. Little damage was done to the castle during this
siege but in the following year the ditch outside the inner gatehouse was
infilled, the roofs of many of the internal buildings were removed along with
the upper parts of the curtain walls, and some looting occurred. In 1676 there
were only four bedrooms, a dining room and a kitchen in use, together with
stables and cellars, a bakehouse and a courthouse. Four years later the castle
passed from the Percy family to Charles Seymore, Duke of Somerset. In 1750 it
passed to the Wyndham family, now Lord Egremont, in whose hands it remains.
Until the beginning of the 19th century the castle was rarely visited by
its owners. In 1802-5 Lord Egremont decided to live at the castle every July
and August, and built some residential rooms along the north wall of the outer
bailey and a stable block along the south wall. By 1850 further building
completed the residential wing between the outer gatehouse and the kitchen
tower and an office block had been built along the east wall of the outer
bailey. In 1904 further offices were added along the east wall between the
outer gatehouse and the flag tower.
The following buildings are Listed Grade I; the uninhabited parts of the
castle, the residential wing on the north side of the outer bailey, the outer
gatehouse, the range of buildings along the east side of the outer bailey, the
range of buildings on the south side of the outer bailey, the flag tower and a
pump. The following are Listed Grade II; the Bowling Green House, and the
garden walls of the castle.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are all the post-
medieval buildings and walls within the outer bailey, the pump, all the modern
steps, the surface of all access drives, paths, cobbled, gravelled and tarmac
areas, and the boundary wall at the foot of the ridge on which the castle is
located; the ground beneath all these features, however, is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Guide to Cockermouth Castle5
Bradbury, J B, Cockermouth In Pictures -3: The Castle, (1983)
Bradbury, J B, Cockermouth In Pictures -3: The Castle, (1983), 3
Curwen, J F, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. Extra Ser.' in Castles and Towers of Cumb, West and Lancs N of the Sands, , Vol. 13, (1913), 127-133
Curwen, J F, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. Extra Ser.' in Castles and Towers of Cumb, West and Lancs N of the Sands, , Vol. 13, (1913), 127-33
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
Leach,P.E., MPP Single Monument Class Description - Enclosure Castles, (1989)
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing