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North West Penrith, Cumbria


Over looked by the mountains of the Lake Lake District to the west and the Pennines to the east, Penrith is an attractive red sandstone market town and regional centre. The area has been settled since neolithic times and the Romans recognised its strategic significance on the main north south and east west routes.

By the C9th, Penrith was the capital of Cumbria, a semi-independent state that was part of the Strathclyde region of Scotland, until it was taken by the Normans in 1092. It changed hands several times between England and Scotland and suffered many devastating raids by the Scots. Richard II granted Ralph Neville the Manor of Penrith in 1396. As Warden of the West March, he was responsible for the defence of the area against the Scots and built a castle here.


This later passed to Richard Duke of Gloucester, who later became Richard III. As Sheriff of Cumberland, he was responsible for defence against the Scots and also keeping rival local families under control.

The town retains much of its medieval layout, with wide streets where animals and agricultural produce were sold, along with small yards and alley ways. It has a good range of traditional shops along with the chains and a weekly market.

Penrith Map.jpg

The Market Square is the heart of the town. The Clock Tower or Musgrave Monument was erected in 1861, as a memorial to Philip Musgrave who died aged 26 in Spain.


Cornmarket Runs from Market Square towards the Castle. The Market Hall Bandstand in Cornmarket was built 1983.


There are many attractive narrow alley ways off the main streets, like St Andrew’s Churchyard.


The Library building is here.


Castlegate is lined with C18th terraced houses.


The Parish Church of St Andrew’s in the centre of the town is a stunning Georgian building, although the tower is from an earlier church.


Penrith is a town to be explored on foot. The Explore Penrith self guided walking tour is a good place to start.


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Penrith Castle

Surrounded by attractive parkland near the railway station, Penrith Castle stands on high ground overlooking the town centre. The area changed hands regularly between the English and the Scots and the castle dates from the end of the C14th when Ralph Neville was granted the Manor of Penrith in 1396. As Warden of the West March, he was responsible for the defence of the area against the Scots. He built his castle reusing the banks and ditches of a Roman fort.



His son, Richard was responsible for building the Red Tower and improving the gateway defences. The castle was also used as a refuge by towns people seeking protection from Scottish attacks.

Following the death of Richard Neville, ’The Kingmaker’ and 6th Earl of Warwick in 1471, the castle was granted to Richard Duke of Gloucester, who later became Richard III. He was also Sheriff of Cumberland and responsible for defence against the Scots and also keeping rival local families under control. He transformed the castle into a more comfortable residence. Large windows were inserted in the private apartments. A banqueting Hall was added along with improved kitchens including a brewery.


The castle was no longer used as a permanent residence when Richard became King. Although it was described as in a ruined condition by the mid C16th, it was used briefly during the English Civil War as the headquarters for the Parliamentary Army. The stones have since been reused as building stone.

The ditch around the castle is now crossed by a wooden footbridge, although the foundations of the gatehouse can still be seen.



Little remains of this entrance to the castle or the great hall next to it.


Beyond to the right are the remains of the Red Tower.


This would have overlooked the main gatehouse to the castle.



To the left are the outer walls of the apartment block with their large windows and fireplaces. In the courtyard in front of them is the well.


The kitchen range is at right angles. Only the outer wall survives with the foundations of the different areas.


The ruins are now the property of English Heritage and can be freely accessed when the surrounding park is open from 7.30 to dusk.



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St Andrew’s Church, Penrith

St Andrew’s Church is a splendid red sandstone building in the centre of Penrith.

Christianity arrived in the area in the C7-8th and there is a record of a Norman Church here in 1133. This was later replaced by a larger church with a solid square tower in the C13th. The tower would have been used as a refuge by the townsfolk during Scottish Raids. The upper part of the tower along with the buttresses were added in the C15th by Richard Neville, Duke of Warwick.

By the start of the C18th, the church was in a very poor state of repair and was regarded as old fashioned and unsuitable for C18th worship. The Vicar, Hugh Todd, discounted restoring the old church and raised money from the local population to build a new and splendid building neo-classical Georgina building. The architect is thought to be William Etty of York, who had worked at castle Howard under Nicholas Hawksmoor. The C13th tower was retained, possibly as the 6’ walls would have deterred demolition teams....The foundation stone was laid in 1720 and the building finished and consecrated in 1722at a cost of £2,253 16s 10½d.


In the churchyard in front of the tower is the Celtic Cross war memorial erected in 1919 in memory of those who died in the first world war.


Also in the churchyard are two tall C10th crosses with four elaborately carved hogback grave slabs of a similar date between them. Known as the Giant’s Grave, these stones were thought to have been placed over the burial site of Owain Caesarius, King of Cumbria between 920 and 937AD. The hogback stones were said to represent the boars he killed in nearby Inglewood Forest. The hogbacks were moved from elsewhere in the graveyard in the C17th and placed between the crosses. When the area was excavated, the remains of long bones and a sword were found.





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St Andrew's Church cont...

The inside is as impressive as the outside with a large gallery around three sides, supported by 19 marble columns.




The two brass chandeliers in the nave were given to the town by the Duke of Portland fin recognition of their resistance to Bonnie Prince Charlie and their help in driving him back into Scotland after his failed attempt to gain the throne in 1745. They cost 50 guineas and hold 24 candles which are lit at special services.

The large organ mounted on the south wall above the vestry dates from 1870, replacing an earlier one.


The pulpit is the top section of the three decker pulpit that stood in the middle of the church until the C19th. Next to it is the lectern made of black oak and dating from 1845.


The chancel is small compared to the size of the nave. The east window dates from 1870 and has scenes from the life of Christ and is regarded as one of the finest painted windows in Cumbria.


The murals on either side of the east window were painted by Jacob Thompson in 1845. On the right is the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, where a half kneeling Christ is being supported by an angel.


On the left is a scene of the angels telling the shepherds of the birth of Christ. The shepherds are depictions of local people and the dog is a Westmorland collie.


To the left of the chancel is a small Lady Chapel, created in 1950 to remember the people of Penrith who died in the Second World war.


On the north wall of the nave is the Richard II window, which contains fragments of glass from the old church. The figure at the top holding a staff is an image of Richard II, who granted the Manor of Penrith to Ralph Neville in 1397.


Opposite in the south wall is the Neville Window which also contains pieces of glass rescued from the old church. The heads were originally thought to be those of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York and his wife Cecile Neville (daughter of Ralph Neville). They are now thought to be more likely to be the images of Ralph Neville and his wife Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.


Other windows are C19th including the lovely Faith window.


The Christ Church window in south aisle dates from 1868 and dedicated to the memory of the Rev William Holme Milner, who was instrumental in obtaining funding for the building of nearby Christ Church, after it was decided to build a second Anglican Church to serve the growing population of Penrith. The figure at the top of the window is the Rev Milner holding a model of Christ Church in his hands.


The font at the back of the church is the original font. It was thrown out during the Commonwealth but brought back into the church at the Restoration of the Monarchy when the date 1661 was carved on the bowl. It is balanced on a modern stand.


In the porch beneath the tower is the Victorian font which was used between 1864-2007.


Also in the porch are two tombstones, which were removed from the old church and placed here. The smaller stone in C12th and has lost its lower half.


The taller stone is C14th and has a chalice and may have been that of a priest.


The town fire engine was kept under the tower and the bell ringers were also the town’s firemen.


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