Brougham Castle’s well-preserved and extensive ruins sit in a tranquil and pastoral spot beside the River Eamont, contrasting with its history as one of northern England’s important strongholds. This notable landmark began its life about 1214 when Robert de Vieuxpont, King John’s agent, acquired the site. He set about fortifying the place against Scottish invasion by constructing a stone keep and service buildings. Today’s castle incorporates the features of several centuries.
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Edward I spent the night of July 22, 1300 here while on one of his forays against the Scots. Robert Clifford, of the well known Clifford family, had acquired the Castle by then, and he added an inner and outer gatehouse, a top storey to the keep, a tower and stone curtain walls to strengthen defences against the marauding Scots. Up to 100 fighting men were garrisoned in the castle, but the Scots still managed to capture and sack it.
Edward IV granted the castle to the Nevilles, but the Clifford family eventually recovered it from Henry VII. Neglected by the Cliffords, it began its road to decay as early as 1558. Even the visits of two kings, James I in the early 1600’s and Charles I in 1629, failed to stop its decline.
Lady Anne Clifford, a strong-willed, independent woman, inherited Brougham along with other castles and land. She spent enormous sums on their restoration. Proud of her restoration achievements, she erected a slab to commemorate them in Brougham’s outer gatehouse. It quotes Isaiah: ‘... rise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in’. She died at the castle in 1676.
Her grandson, who inherited her castles and lands, took stone from Brougham Castle in 1714 to use in construction work at Appleby Castle, thus hastening Brougham’s decline. The castle’s picturesque decay certainly caught the eye of Wordsworth, who wrote in ‘The Prelude’ how he clambered among the ruins:
...That river and those mouldering towers
Have seen us side by side, when, having clomb
The darksome windings of a broken stair,
And crept along a ridge of fractured wall,
Not without trembling, we in safety looked
Forth, through some Gothic window’s open space,
And gathered with one mind a rich reward
From the far-stretching landscape...
Start your tour at the castle’s exhibition centre to learn more about its history, (a collection of tombstones of the area’s Briton citizens occupies part of the castle exhibition centre) then approach the castle through the door of the 13th century two-storey gatehouse. Look for the stone carved “Thys Made Roger” above the gatehouse (originally over the hall entrance).
The massive keep dominates the site and is the earliest part of the castle still standing. Climbing the spiral stairs to the upper storeys is possible, but the floors are no longer there. It can be quite slippery in wet weather. Keep an eye out for decorative corbels and the remains of column capitals. An inscribed Roman tombstone is built into the wall, showing how builders took advantage of earlier masonry. A fireplace with a fine arch, a boss carved with two human heads and a seven-ribbed vault can be spotted in the oratory on the third floor.
Brougham’s red sandstone ruins, on the site of a former Roman fort, are an impressive and powerful reminder of the past.
1 ˝ miles southeast of Penrith on minor road off A66
Tel. 0 1768 862 488
Open: April-end Sep, daily, 10am-6pm; Oct, daily, 10am-4pm; Nov-end March, weekends only, 10am-4pm
English Heritage property
Photos © by Barbara Ballard and courtesy Graeme Dougal