The masonry remains of a ruined twelfth century castle offering excellent views of the town below. The mound of Castle Howe is accessible nearby. The site of the Roman Fort is accessible but only slight traces earthworks are visible.
NO OFFICIAL SITE
Notes: The castle is in central Kendal. Ample car parking in the town centre.
Castle Howe The original Norman earthwork is now the site of a monument to the Glorious Revolution of 1688/9.
Watercrook Roman Fort The site of the Roman Fort which was built to the south of the later Norman castles. Positioned within a loop in the River Kent this offered both enhanced defence and, more importantly, access for ships re-supplying the fort.
The Romans and the Normans both built fortifications at or near Kendal although on each occasion a new location was chosen. The structure seen today, Kendal Castle dating from the late twelfth century, saw no military action but acted as the administrative hub for the district.
HISTORY OF KENDAL CASTLE
The Romans established a fort at Watercrook near Kendal in the latter part of the first century AD. Known as Alavana it was a turf and timber structure built - like the nearby forts at Ambleside and Hardknott - to support efforts to encircle insurgents within the Lake District. Rebuilt in stone in around AD 130, during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, it was then briefly abandoned as the frontier was moved north to the Antonine Wall, before being re-occupied upon return to Hadrian's Wall circa-AD 138. The fort was seemingly abandoned around AD 270.
Following the Norman Conquest, the first castle was established at Kendal. William II granted the Barony of Kentdale - an area incorporating large swathes of land from Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire - to Ivo de Taillebois who built an earth and timber motte-and-bailey castle (now known as Castle Howe) late in the eleventh century.
In 1189 Richard I (the Lionheart) granted Kendal the right to hold a market. This new form of income for the Baron of Kendal - by then Gilbert fitz Reinfrid, Sheriff of Lancaster - may have prompted construction of the new castle which is dated between 1183-1241. It is likely the new fortification was built before 1215 for at this time Kendal was confiscated by King John in retaliation for Gilbert’s support to the rebel cause in the first Baron’s War. The site was eventually returned Gilbert’s son, William, in 1241.
The new Kendal Castle was designed to impress; built in stone from the start it had six towers connected by a curtain wall and was further protected by a dry moat. The original earth and timber Castle Howe, which by the thirteenth century would have been regarded as particularly cramped, was probably abandoned once construction on the new fortification was complete.
The Barony of Kendal, including the castle, passed by marriage into the hands of the Parr family in the late fourteenth century. The Parrs had become wealthy from the wool and cloth trades. By the late fifteenth century the family was a notably presence at court and in 1543 Catherine Parr married Henry VIII as his sixth and final wife. The castle however had been largely abandoned by the mid-sixteenth century, in favour of more comfortable lodgings in the town, and suggestions that Catherine was born at the castle are inaccurate.
In 1578 a Government official was dispatched to value the decaying remains; he found little of worth with the most of the valuable building materials already having been robbed. It passed through numerous owners before being brought in 1897 by the Kendal Corporation who converted it into a public park.
The site of Castle Howe was left undeveloped until 1788 when a monument was erected on top of the mound to celebrate 100 years since the overthrow of the Catholic James II (VII of Scotland) in the Glorious Revolution. The monument was designed by a Kendal local - the architect Francis Webster. Like Kendal Castle itself, the motte of the original Norman fortification is now part of a park.