Brough Castle (Cumbria, North England)
Updated: May 18
A dreary weekday morning at Brough Castle, near the Scottish Border and with the weather to prove it!
Brough Castle was constructed on the site of an old Roman fort called Verterae. After the Norman Conquest the border between north-England and Scotland was a heavily contested area, and in 1092 William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror and crowned William II, built Brough Castle within the remains of the Roman fort to take advantage of the existing defensive earthworks.
The castle was a motte and bailey design. The original keep had stone foundations but was built of timber, and the rest of the fort was likely a timber palisaded bailey. The surrounding village of Church Brough was created alongside this new castle, a planned settlement for Normans colonising areas of the region. Evidence of early stone fortifications can be seen in herringbone masonry, a typical trait of Norman stonework.
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In 1173 William the Lion, King of Scotland, invaded the north of England as part of the Great Revolt against Henry II. After failing to take Wark and Carlisle, the army successfully managed to take Appleby before attempting to take Brough. The castle was garrisoned by six knights who put up a strong resistance, but William’s forces took the outer defenses and threaten to execute the occupants. Besieged within the keep, a surrender was forced when the building was torched and set alight.
The castle was held by William the Lion until the following year, when Henry’s forces defeated him at the battle of Alnwick.
After this a stone keep was constructed in the 1180s, initially by Theobold de Valoignes and then by Hugh de Morville. By 1202 the entire castle had been fully converted to stone by Thomas de Wyrkington on the orders of King John.
King John granted the lordship of Westmoreland, the historic county that nowadays is essentially Cumbria, to Robert de Vieuxpont in 1203. He enlarged the castle, and in 1206 he was even entrusted with Eleanor, the captive niece of King John, who he held in custody. When he died in 1228 the castle was passed to his very young son, whose guardian in his minority Hubert de Burgh was left to run the estates. Brough Castle to fall into disrepair.
After John Vieuxpont’s death during the Second Baron’s War, between 1264 and 1267, his lands were split between his two daughters Isabel and Idonea. Isabel inherited Brough Castle and other eastern estates. Henry III gave guardianship of some of these lands to Roger de Clifford, who then consolidated and acquired all the estates by marrying Isabel.
In 1303 Brough’s defences were improved, with the eastern wall rebuilt, a new hall constructed, and a new circular tower (aptly called Clifford’s Tower even today) built to house his private apartments.
By 1333 the Cliffords controlled the entire Eden Valley, with castles at Appleby, Brougham, Pendragon, and Brough.
In the 1380s the castle was further modified by the fifth baron, Roger de Clifford. The defenses were improved, the south wall rebuilt, the living accommodation reconstructed, Clifford’s Tower converted to bedrooms, and the old hall converted into a solar. The bailey was also cobbled around this point in time.
In the 1450s the gatehouse was reinforced. During the War of the Roses the Cliffords supported the Lancastrian cause. After Yorkist King Edward IV ascended to the throne in 1461 the Clifford estates were confiscated as a consequence of this support. The 10th Lord Clifford spent 25 years in hiding until Henry Tudor’s victory at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, after which the Clifford family was restored their honour and estates.
In 1521 the castle was devastated after a Christmas feast, in a fire that left only the stone walls standing.
After standing a ruin for many years the castle was restored in the 17th Century by Lady Anne Clifford, a major landowner who restored several Clifford Castles. Brough was restored between 1659 and 1661. As part of this restoration Anne had new windows, a ground floor entrance to the keep, and new service accommodation constructed. She renamed the keep as ‘The Roman Tower’, in her belief that the original stone keep had been built by the Romans.
In 1666 another fire struck the castle, leaving it ruined and totally uninhabitable. The bailey was used as a law court and the castle was never restored again.
In 1695 the castle was stripped to support the reconstruction of Appleby Castle, and in 1714 and 1763 the furnishings were sold. Stone was plundered and used in nearby buildings including Brough Mill. The corner of the keep partially collapsed around 1800.
After further structural issues and another collapse in 1920 the castle’s then owner, Lord Hothfield, gave the building to the Office of Works. The castle was stabilised and then passed into the care of English Heritage. Today the castle is still managed by English Heritage and free to access.
Pictures taken September 2019