In the picturesque countryside of the county of Cumbria, not far outside the town of Penrith, is Lowther Castle, a stunning landmark from the 19th century…
This beautiful country home has been the home of the Earl of Lonsdale since its construction, between 1806 and 1814. The incumbent Earl has always been a member of the Lowther Family, starting with William Lowther (1757 – 1844, Tory Politician), who, along with his wife, Augusta Lowther (died 1838) became the 1st Earl and Countess of Lonsdale. Robert Smirke (1780 – 1867, English architect) built the building for William, replacing Lowther Hall, which had been rebuilt in the 17th century by John Lowther (1655 – 1700).
(The title of Earl of Lonsdale had previously existed as William was the 3rd cousin once removed of James Lowther, the original 1st Earl of Lonsdale (1736 – 1802) and the title died out as he had no proper ancestors. William recreated the title and became the new 1st Earl)
It was first called a Castle when the present incarnation was finished in 1814, thanks to its stunning appearance. It remained the home of the Lowther family through the following centuries, including:
William Lowther – 2nd Earl (1787 – 1872)
Henry Lowther – 3rd Earl (1818 – 1878) and sadly he only owned the property for 4 years as he died of pneumonia at the age of 58.
St George Lowther – 4th Earl (1855 – 1882) and also died of pneumonia, but after just 3 years in charge of the estate, at the tender age of 26.
Hugh Cecil Lowther – 5th Earl (1857 – 1944) who was forced to move out of the Castle in 1937 due to his extravagant spending habits, and he could no longer afford to upkeep the property.
Lancelot Lowther – 6th Earl (1867 – 1953) although he didn’t actually live here. The debts were left behind from his brother Hugh, and a lot of the treasures in the property were sold off at auction in 1947. Lancelot died 6 years later and the Castle passed to James, his grandson. During this time World War II broke out (1939 – 1945) and a tank regiment occupied the Castle for training purposes.
James Hugh William Lowther – 7th Earl (1922 – 2006) who again didn’t reside in the Castle. The roof was removed from the building in 1957, and still hasn’t been replaced as you can see from the above picture.
Hugh Clayton Lowther – 8th Earl (Born 1949) Hugh is the current Earl, and was the man who sold the mountain Blencathra in the Lake District in 2014.
William James Lowther – 9th Earl (Heir Presumptive) (Born 1957). William, Hugh’s son is the presumed heir of the title Earl of Lonsdale, and will become the 9th Earl.
The property remains a shell, after James was forced to demolish most of it, after an offer to give it to the local authorities was rejected. There were once stunning gardens around the Castle but their upkeep ceased in 1935, and they have long since gone for other developments. Today the area is owned by the Lowther Estate, who along with English Heritage are undertaking a restoration of the Gardens, which is slowly taking shape and is open to the public. Another restoration on the building itself is also underway, as the walls and towers are being rebuilt, and the old stables area is now a cafe, shop and museum, which we had a look at during our visit.
This is the old stables yard, which is located to the left of the main Castle building, with the entrance to the garden through the arch at the right of the picture. Its a large area, with the cafe directly opposite as you enter. The rest of the courtyard buildings house the shop and the museum, and has all been beautifully restored. It gives you a good idea of what the Castle itself must have looked like when it was whole.
One last part of the original structure survives, in the form of the outer walls of the estate round at the front of the Castle. What looks like the original entrance gate is opposite the main part of the Castle, and attached to it on either side are the Castle outer walls. The Gate and the Walls date from the Castles completion in 1814, as they are described in a book about England written at the time.
The walls are in turn connected to small fortifications, and I think that the walls were more for show than any practical usage, going off their size, and the fact that I have found some older pictures showing them at their present height. They are a great feature however and add to the medieval aesthetics of the site.
Its quite eery seeing the hollow shell of the main Castle building, and the empty ground walls. It’s easy to imagine what it must have been like at it’s prime, and it’s a real shame that it’s ended up in this state. Even so, its an incredible place to visit, and its certainly worth the trip. The Castle is located close to Junction 40 (Penrith) of the M6 Motorway from Birmingham to Gretna. You can find out more about upcoming events at the Castle by visiting their official website here.