Pendragon Castle. Courtesy of Kyle Blue
Pendragon Castle, a fortified tower-house, dates to the late 12th century and is situated in Mallerstang. According to legend, the original castle was built by Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur, in the 5th century. It is rumoured to have been the site of Uther’s death (along with 100 of his men) when a well was poisoned by the Saxons. It is said that Uther unsuccessfully tried to divert the river to provide the castle’s moat, and this is recalled in a well-known local couplet: “Let Uther Pendragon do what he can/ Eden will run where Eden ran”. The site does have a moat, which is thought to have always been dry. However, there is currently no evidence to support the legend that there was a castle here before the 11th/12th century. Archaeological evidence suggests that Pendragon is one of the earliest Norman castles in Cumbria, possibly erected by Sir Hugh de Morville. Sir Hugh was Lord of Westmorland and is infamous as one of the knights who murdered Sir Thomas Becket in 1170.
There have been a number of building phases. It received a licence to crenellate in 1309. (During the medieval period a licence to crenellate granted the holder permission to fortify his property; this was usually granted by the king.) Pendragon was reputedly slighted during a raid by the Scots in 1341. It was “rebuilt” in the 1360s (with the addition of a garderobe/south-west tower). It then fell out of use, until Lady Anne Clifford restored it in 1660-2, returning it to its former glory. In addition, a Brewhouse, bakery, stables and coach house were added to the site. However, it is likely that this range predated the 1660s and that ‘built’ meant rebuilt.
Lady Anne was the only surviving child of the 3rd Earl of Cumberland. However, the Earl’s brother inherited his vast estate. Lady Anne spent decades fighting for her right to inherit, which she eventually did in 1643. With the Civil War raging, she came north in 1649 and spent the next 26 years (until her death at 86 years of age) restoring and enhancing the churches and castles on her lands, including Pendragon. Lady Anne’s approach was particularly unusual for the period as the purpose of her repairs was to rebuild the castle in its original style, or as close as possible, using only local labour and materials. (There is now a 100 mile walk between Skipton and Penrith called the Lady Anne Way, which is inspired by Lady Anne’s travels between her various castles. There is a statue of Lady Anne Clifford outside the TIC in Kirkby Stephen.)
Following her death, it was partially dismantled by her successors due to the high upkeep costs of several castles. As a result, the castle gradually deteriorated into a ruinous state. By the twentieth century the land had claimed Pendragon Castle, with the site and ruins (constructed from limestone and sandstone) overgrown with vegetation. The castle and its curtilage were bought by Raven Frankland in the 1960s. At this time, parts of the complex were unearthed and some consolidation works took place, including the clearance of external tumbled stonework which helped to give a much clearer visual impression. This uncovered the North entrance, with spiral stairs to either side of the passage, which was closed by a portcullis – the slot is visible in the masonry. Today, Pendragon Castle survives as a ruin.
In the adjacent field is a sow kiln – these date from the Anglo-Saxon period (from 450AD) and remained in use until the 19th century. Their form differs from the more typical free-standing masonry structures. The earthwork consists of a curving bank which is penannular in shape with an opening at the front (this would have been closed by large stones when the sow kiln was in use). The earthwork is comparatively large, designed for a major building project connected to Pendragon Castle, with the kiln producing quicklime for lime mortar and also likely lime plaster, lime render, limewash. During the excavation, the kiln at Pendragon was found to be of a simple construction and crude form, essentially comprising a bowl dug into the hillside, with the up-cast material then built up around it, forming an earthwork comprising a simple structure with an earth and rubble bank. Taking the widest date ranges from the radiocarbon dating results, they suggest the kiln was in use between the second quarter of the 11th century and the mid-later 12th century, and possibly the first half of the 13th century. But the differences are small and the ranges overlap. They may actually reflect use and re-use events within a few decades of each other. The date ranges rule out a number of the site’s building phases. Resulting in the kiln most likely relating to the initial construction of the castle and episodes of building in the 11th or 12th century. It may in fact support the idea of an earlier pre-1200 small tower house or castellet preceding the present structure.
Pendragon Castle sits within an interesting medieval landscape. There were in fact three manorial halls within a couple of miles of each other: Pendragon Castle, Lammerside Castle (mid-14th century) and Wharton Hall (rebuilt 13th century pele tower). The fortunes of the different estates were constantly changing during this period and local rivalries resurfaced at many points. One of these rivalries led to the abandonment of Lammerside, and it was incorporated into the estate of Wharton following a campaign of intimidation in the 1540s and 1550s led by Baron Wharton.
There are the remains of a Deer Park that dates from the 16th century of about 800 acres with Wharton Hall roughly at its centre. Although originally stocked with deer, it was used for agricultural grazing by 1741.
Mallerstang also includes significant elements of the Clifford’s hunting landscape. This includes a number of pillow mounds (known as ‘Giants Graves’, they are medieval rabbit warrens). There is also large evidence of arable agriculture with terracing and ridge and furrow. There are also landscape features of this period that are unrecorded.
Johnson, D.S., with contributions by Blenkinship, B., Bradley, J., Hicks, J., Mitcham, D. and Worthington, T., Archaeological Investigation of a Sow Kiln at Pendragon Castle, Mallerstang, Cumbria (2020), Unpublished report for Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership.
Historic England, https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1144890
- W. Hoyle, ‘Art. X – Thomas first Lord Wharton’s parks at Ravenstonedale and Wharton’, in Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 2, vol 95 (1995)
Mark Blackett-Ord, ‘Art. XI. – Lord Wharton’s deer park walls’, in Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 2, vol 86 (1986)