Although it is now known as Muncaster Castle, the thirteenth century residence built by the Pennington family was actually a Pele Tower and Hall House. It was extensively rebuilt in the Tudor era and again in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although still occupied by the Penningtons, the castle is open to the public.
Muncaster Castle overlooks the River Esk and is less than one mile from its confluence with the Rivers Mite and Irt at the natural harbour of Ravenglass. No later than 1185, the manor was held by Benedict de Pennington whose caput was at Pennington Castle in Furness. It passed to his son, Alan, circa-1186 and then in 1234 was inherited by Benedict’s grandson, William. It was probably William who commenced construction of some form of hall or high-status residence at Muncaster before moving his family seat there from Pennington Castle in 1242. It is probable the move was a desire by the family to be better connected with the wider world, particularly Ireland where they had numerous estates. Whilst Pennington Castle was a well defended site, it was far inland and away from the major lines of communication. By contrast, Muncaster offered easy access to the coast and the Irish Sea. The initial structure built at Muncaster was probably unfortified. However, following the 1316 and 1322 raids into the region by Robert the Bruce, work started on a Pele Tower.
The four storey Pele Tower served both as a place of refuge and as a statement of the wealth of the Pennington family. It was connected to the existing hall and built from rubble sourced from the ruins of nearby ruins of Ravenglass Roman Fort. Sandstone ashlar was used for the corners and detailing. The fortification briefly hosted Henry VI following his defeat at the Battle of Hexham (1464).
During the Tudor era the tower underwent substantial modifications to improve habitability and the hall was also rebuilt at this time. The Penningtons continued to prosper and were made Baronets in 1676 and Barons in 1783. Their rise in status was reflected in Muncaster Castle which was largely rebuilt in 1783 although the Pele Tower was left intact. This new structure was then substantially re-modelled between 1862 and 1866 under the direction of the architect Anthony Salvin.
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Muncaster Castle is a major tourist attraction. The vast bulk of the structure dates from the nineteenth century although the medieval Pele Tower survives intact. The site incorporates a superb Birds of Prey centre with daily displays.
Muncaster Castle. The medieval pele tower is the structure on the right. In the centre is the Hall Range which was built in the Tudor era and replaced an earlier (unfortified) hall attached to the Pele Tower. The hall was completed, refaced and large windows inserted by Anthony Salvin as part of his rebuilding of the entire castle between 1862 and 1866.
Pele Tower. The medieval Pele Tower at Muncaster was built circa-1325 and is typical of the type of fortifications built by the gentry at this time. It was extensively modified in the Tudor period and underwent further re-styling during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Eskdale Valley. The castle was built on a ridge of high ground giving it a commanding view over the Eskdale valley.
Birds of Prey. The castle hosts a fabulous birds of prey centre with regular displays.