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Kirkby Thore Hall – Cumbria

History of the house

Modest medieval manor in red sandstone, in the rugged landscape of Eden Valley

If you forget for a moment electricity and the car, life at the little Kirkby Thore Hall cannot have changed much since the Middle Ages. The story goes that its weather-beaten stones come from Roman ruins in the village… Under its antique framework, generations of country squires have brought up their families here in the service of the Count of Westmorland, in an area fraught by countless conflicts between the English and the Scots. Now a listed site, it has benefited from a skilled and careful restoration. Located in the heart of the Eden Valley, it offers splendid views over the wild landscape which separates the rocky Pennines chain from the Lake District.

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The Old Hall seigneurial room © Kirkby Thore Hall

An outpost of the Roman Empire

The famous Hadrian's Wall (1st-4th c. AD) is only a few roman miles from Kirkby Thore @ Walt Jabsco

The famous Hadrian’s Wall (1st-4th c. AD) is only a few roman miles from Kirkby Thore @ Walt Jabsco

In their conquest of “Britannia”, Roman soldiers conquered the territory of the Brigantes, a region now known as Cumbria, around 84-85 A.D. However, General Julius Agricola failed to capture all of Scotland, whose populations would remain a constant thorn in the side of the Roman colonists. Hadrian’s Wall, about 40 kilometres (24mi) to the north of Kirkby Thore, would constitute the northernmost frontier of the Empire for over 300 years. Considerable archaeological remains of the Roman presence have come to light in the area, in particular a fort on the road between Carlisle and York.

A frontier zone and the site of numerous conflicts

Pendragon_Castle

Many old fortifications still bear witness to border tensions, such as Castle Pendragon © Clive A. Brown

In the Middle Ages, the region became one of the fiefs of the Anglo-Saxon kings of Northumbria. It passed under the aegis of the Scots before being subjugated by the Normans in 1092. Westmorland’s wilderness areas were the battleground of many conflicts between England and Scotland from the 13th to the 16th centuries, bringing pillages, massacres and destruction in their wake. Until the unification of both crowns under King James Stuart in 1603, the inhabitants in this troubled area also fell victim to Border Reivers, lawless armed bands, who used to hold the villages on both sides of the frontier to ransom.

The Wharton family’s manor

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The initials of Thomas Wharton, once owner of the manor © KTH

It is difficult to say for certain when Kirkby Thore Hall, the seigneurial residence which superseded old Whelp castle, was built. The oldest sections probably date back to the 14th century, but written references to the site start cropping up in the archives in the 15th century (see pages 375-381). As the Lord of Kirkby Thore (that’s his name), had no male heir, the residence passed by marriage to John Wharton, during the reign of King Edward IV (1461-1483). The new owner probably carried out some extension work. The Wharton family lived in the manor for over 200 years, amongst other things assuming the role of vicar to old St. Michael’s church (12th century).

The St Michael's Church of Kirkby Thore (and its fortified tower) dates back to the 12th century © Visit Cumbria

St. Michael’s Church of Kirkby Thore and its fortified tower date back to the 12th century © Visit Cumbria

On Lady Anne Clifford’s lands

Lady_Anne_Clifford

Lady Anne Clifford, then aged 30

In the 16th century, the fief was placed under aegis of the Count of Cumberland, George Clifford. Feeling his days on earth were numbered, he decided to leave his lands to his brother in his will. This decision enraged his daughter Anne, aged just fifteen and the legitimate heiress to the title. Anne, who was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth and subsequently a member of James Stuart’s close circle, spent nearly forty years asserting her rights to this vast family property before having her claim upheld. The Countess of Dorset, Pembroke and Montgomery (through her marriages), she spent the remainder of her life maintaining her castles. Her private journal provides insights into the many battles fought by this admirable but inflexible dame.

A genuine welcome

David Tucker Kirkby Thore Hall

David Tucker in front of the manor

You reach Kirkby Thore Hall down a tree-lined path sprinkled with daffodils. The splendid red sandstone facade gives the appearance of being built with recovered stone (which would explain its irregularity), which probably came from the old feudal castle or even ancient Roman buildings.

The main entrance gives onto a vast dining room, furnished with a dark timbered ceiling and an attractive sculptured fireplace. The small adjoining library has a rich collection of novels and tourist guidebooks. Next door is the living room, with various historic mullioned windows. A picturesque winding staircase leads to the seigneurial bedchamber, the Old Hall bedroom, whose massive framework provides an impression of medieval safety. A contemporary stained glass window enhances the double Gothic bay and its king size bed befits the rank of its initial owners. The Orchard bedroom, recently renovated, also highlights various period features.

Christine and David Tucker, who now live in the family house, are pulling out all the stops to keep the spirit of this venerable house alive. The furniture which they have chosen to furnish the bedrooms is of the period. As for the breakfasts they serve, local specialities get top billing!

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The large living room of the manor is quite a beautiful setting for the breakfast tables © Kirkby Thore Hall

intoHistory TipThe impressive burr oak table in the dining room is said to have come from a thousand-year-old tree trunk.

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Facilities

  • 2 bedrooms (the ‘Old Hall’ is especially impressive)
  • En-suite bathroom (bath + shower)
  • TV / Wifi / kettle
  • Full Cumbrian breakfast
  • Local bistro in the village for lunch and dinner
  • Huge dining room with log burning stove, library area and sitting room (exclusively for guests’ use)
  • Front garden area and rear courtyard garden
  • Spoken languages: English and French
  • Private parking
  • Nearest city: Carlisle (40 km / 25 miles)
  • Newcastle airport: 72 km (45 miles)
  • Railway stations: Penrith – 13 km (8 miles) or Appleby – 5km (3 miles)
  • Daily buses to Penrith and Appleby but a car is strongly recommended
  • Non accessible for those with reduced mobility
  • Families and children welcome (family bedroom)
  • Domestic pets are not allowed
  • Non-smoking interior

In the neighbourhood

From the start, you will be captivated by the wonderfully rugged countryside. The view over the Pennine peaks and the fairytale rivers of the Eden Valley are worth a visit in themselves.

Eden_Valley

Cumbria is one of the least populated regions of all England © Graeme Churchard

Bourgham_Castle

Brougham Castle © Paul McGreevy

However, as we are here to appreciate history, a visit to the castles of Lady Anne Clifford is also strongly recommended. Three of these are in ruins, which makes them particularly impressive: Brougham, Pendragon and Brough.

The interiors of Appleby castle, which was the Countess’s final residence, still remain (as do its ghosts). Guided tours are available. So why not add a trip to the town and its market to your excursion?

Appleby_Castle

Castle Appleby is used regularly as a period setting for historical movies © Chris Hills

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The old Fellsman Settle-Carlisle train © Andrews

Some steam trains still run along the Settle-Carlisle railway line. The journey goes through various particularly panoramic valleys, via its 20 viaducts and 14 tunnels.

Kirkby Thore is located about fourteen kilometres (8mi) from the Lake District National Park, with its spellbinding views. There are water sport facilities on its numerous lake and its wilderness areas, forests and peaks are perfect for hiking; discover its villages and rural lifestyle.

Lake_District

The fantastic atmosphere of the Lake District, its wilderness and its mysteries … © Andrew Campbell

Plenty more suggestions to make your trip more enjoyable can also be found on the Kirkby Thore Hall website.

To read, watch or listen to

 

bathroom windowsillTo fully appreciate the period atmosphere of Kirkby Thore Hall, do not hesitate to enhance your stay by reading a few books (nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life). Listening to some period music may also be a good way to transport you back in time… A few suggestions:

Learn and understand

  • Agricola and Germania“, by Tacitus
    This is the account of the military expeditions of his father-in-law, Julius Agricola, told by the historian Tacitus. Governor of Roman Britain and conqueror of the Caledonians, it was his legions which pacified the island and annexed these northern territories of English to the Empire.
  • The Diaries of Lady Anne Clifford
    Aristocratic life in England in the 16th century, as seen by the Countess of Dorset, a member of the royal court. Her diaries help us relive in her words, the burial of Queen Elizabeth, her second marriage to the Count of Pembroke and the drawn out legal battle to regain possession of her rightful lands…

Books to savor during your stay

  • Kenilworth“, by Sir Walter Scott
    This account introduces us to the court of Queen Elizabeth of England when Lady Anne Clifford is a lady-in-waiting. The Earl of Leicester is torn between the genuine love he feels for beautiful Amy Robsart, whom he has married in secret, and the splendour of the Palace where he benefits from the Queen’s favours… an epic drama, worthy of the great romantic novelist Walter Scott, set in the corridors of the Palace, where culture and style go hand in hand with treachery and intrigue…
  • Year of Wonder, a Novel of the Plague“, by Geraldine Brooks
    Inspired by a true story, the account takes place in a village in the heart of England which has quarantined itself as it has been decimated by the great plague. Anna Frith, a young servant girl, devotes herself to helping the sick. However, her hardest struggle is against the superstition and exclusion shown her by the terrified inhabitants. She grows in stature through these trials and finally unlocks the generosity and wisdom of those in the community who have survived. A real tribute to life.
  • The Collected Poems of William Wordsworth” (1805)
    Some romantic verses penned by the sensitive and image-rich pen of one of the “Lakeland” poets inspired by the rugged scenery in the nearby Lake District, at the end of the 18th and the dawn of the 19th A breath of fresh air, on the theme of childhood which determines man’s adult life.
  • A Beatrix Potter Treasury
    Discover Peter Rabbit, Tom Kitten, Jemima Puddleduck and the enchanting world of this celebrated author and illustrator, who was especially fond of this region.

 The perfect setting for a little music

  • Popular Tunes in 17th Century England“, interpreted by Jeremy Barlow and the Broadside Band
    42 dances, tunes and catchy airs which are totally in keeping with the atmosphere of Kirkby Thore Hall.
  • Tales of Cumbria“, by Alexander Clark (2008)
    Short piano pieces by Alexander Clark, a Lake District composer, inspired by various sites in the region. Ideal for the grand piano in the dining room …
Some of the links below will enable you to consult the recommended titles directly on Amazon.com. If you decide to purchase one of these titles via this link, please note that intoHistory will receive a small commission on your transaction, which goes towards covering its running costs.

Guests comments

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Susan

21-02-2015

Beautiful surroundings, fabulous hosts just perfect for a peaceful relaxing break

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Historical authenticity
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14th century Manor House B&B/Guest House 100-150€/room

Delve into history

Kirkby Thore Hall B&B
Christine & David Tucker
Kirkby Thore, Penrith
CA10 1XN CUMBRIA
United Kingdom
+44 1 7683 62989
B&B’s own website

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