Kirkby Lonsdale

It is not certain that Kirkby Lonsdale ever had a castle, but due to confusion between this site and Kirkby Kendal a short piece has been produced to highlight the differences. 

The words Kirkby and Lonsdale are used to differentiate this place from the relatively nearby Kirkby Stephen and Kirkby Kendal.  The word Kirkby itself is thought to signify ‘the church settlement' and this strongly suggests that this settlement with church was of pre-Viking origin.  The early history of this district is probably similar to that described under Cumberland.  In 1066 Kirkby Lonsdale was recorded as being held by Torfin as one of his 12 manors in Austwick.  It had passed into the king's hands by 1086.  There is therefore the possibility that this king may have been responsible for having the line of the River Lune fortified with various mottes in the second half of his reign.  These ran northeast on either side of the river from Lancaster to Tebay castle.  The bulk of these mottes lie south of Kirkby Lonsdale and consist of Whittington, Arkholme, Melling, Hornby and Halton.  Only Sedbergh and then Tebay lie north of Kirkby, while Burton in Lonsdale lies some distance southeast of Kirkby, possibly acting as a backstop.  All of these are motte fortresses and only Melling and Whittington lack baileys, probably through their having been built over.

Sometime, probably within 5 years of Domesday, Kirkby Lonsdale was given to Ivo Tailbois (d.1094/97).  Ivo was a powerful figure in the North and before his death he granted to St Mary's abbey of York the services of half his lordship of Kirkby Stephen (Cherkaby Stephan) with the church and tithes, land in Wytuna and the churches of Kendal (Kircabi in Kendale/Cherkaby Kendale), Eversham and Kirkby Lonsdale (Cherkeby Lonnesdala) as well as the lands which pertained to them, namely the vill of Hutton, the church of Beetham (Bethome), the land called Haverbrack (Halfrebek) and the churches of Burton [in Kentdale] and Clapham (Clepeam, Yorkshire).  With this, control of the land passed out of his hands, with St Mary's holding ¾ of the modern township of Kirkby Lonsdale, the remaining portion, based on Deansbiggin, being held from the barony of Kendal.

The main manor of Kirkby Lonsdale seems to have belonged to the Crown, for on 20 September 1227, King Henry III (1216-72) granted Parson John Kirkby of Kirkebi in Lounesdale and his successors a yearly fair ‘on the land of that church' and a weekly Thursday market.  The point of control was emphasised again in 1230 when an assize of 8 knights ‘not being of the fee or affinity of William Lancaster (d.1246)' was called for by the Crown to judge whether John Kirkby's holdings belonged to the fee of William Lancaster of which William's ancestors were seised as of their lay fee in the time of King Richard (1189-99) or whether they belonged to Richard Copland.  John was a descendant of the Ketel who held the land from at least 1130 onwards and this land eventually descended to the Coplands.  A quarter of Kirkby Lonsdale was held by Alan Copeland from William Lindsay, lord of a moiety of Kendal in 1282.  It would therefore appear that St Mary's held ¾ of Kirkby Lonsdale direct from the Crown, while the other quarter was held by tenants of the lord of Kendal.  No mention was ever made of a capital messuage or a castle here.

The ‘castle' stands at an obvious fording place above a tight bend in the River Lune on the west bank some ¾ of a mile upriver of the Devil's Bridge, while Kirkby Lonsdale church stands at the northern end of the old Saxon? settlement.  Some 500' north of this stands a slumped mound immediately above the river bluff.  Known as Cockpit Hill, the mound stands about 20' high and has a basal diameter of some 130'.  The whole is highly irregular and collapsed, possibly having its east side dug partially away.  A ditch surrounds the mound on all side except the east, where it may have been washed away by the river which obviously changes course in it's floor plane - the recently forming oxbow lake being ample evidence of this.  Landscaping and paths have further damaged the structure, while a pit seems to have been dug in its summit.  Maybe this was a cockpit, which gives the mound its name. 

There is little trace of a bailey, but one may have lain to the south of the mound.  Looking south from the mound towards the church a ploughed out bank with ditch can be seen.  This increases the probability that this is the site of a denuded motte and bailey castle built when the River Lune marked a possible boundary between the recently conquered kingdom of Norman England and unpacified forces in Cumberland.


Copyright©2023 Paul Martin Remfry