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Cockermouth Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Cockermouth.
In the historic county of Cumberland.
Modern Authority of Cumbria.
1974 county of Cumbria.
Medieval County of Cumberland.

OS Map Grid Reference: NY12233085
Latitude 54.66516° Longitude -3.36216°

Cockermouth Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


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. (Scheduling Report)

The site is on a promonotory between the Rivers Cocker and Derwent, and there has been a castle since before 1221. The Hall, 1360, Flag Tower 1387, Gatehouse rebuilt circa 1400. Full curtain walls and 2 wards. Masonry in good order externally. An important building in a fine setting. (Listed Building Report)

Most authorities have assumed that the recorded timber precursor castle, of c. 1150, to this castle was at this site but occasionally a mound a little to the west, Cockermouth Tute Hill (NY124307), is suggested as the original castle, although this is unlikely to be the case.
Cockermouth is one of a number of northern castles with a single round tower which has a reputation for being a 'ladies' tower. (c.f. Castle Barnard, Brough, Middleham).
The castle is on the Heritage at Risk Register and a landslip into the River Eden in December 2015 put the north wall of the castle at further risk of being undermined. Steps have been taken to stabilise the river bank although there is still (in September 2016) some concern over the stability of the north wall.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of, the described site.
This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:53

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