High Head Castle
Alan Hunter of Eden District Council
Planning Dept. describes the rescue of th’s
major building, High Head Castle, Ivegill,
Pen rith.
If all goes according to plan, 1989 should
see work begin on one of the most
significant and ambitious restoration
projects Cumbria, or indeed the North of
England, has ever witnessed. Yet only
three years ago Eden District Council was
required to contest a public inquiry into a
decision to refuse consent for the total
demolition of the building concerned.

Equidistant between Penrith and Carlisle
and situated on the eastern fringe of the
Lake District, High Head Castle and its
setting is one of the most romantic and
dramatic in England.
Largely destroyed by fire in 1956, and now
little more than a shell, it still,
nevertheless, manages to evoke an
unforgetable sense of place. Perilously
perched over 100 ft. above the deeply
incised River lye, with water racing noisily
over flat rocks in a dank and noisy gorge,
the site is now half-buried amidst its 24
acres of overgrown gardens and terraced
grounds. In the summer it becomes an
almost inpenetrable jungle of thistles and
willowherb. Ivy now has a strangle hold
over finely jointed masonry. Moveable
fittings, ironwork and sculpture have,
sadly, been systematically pillaged. The
impression of romantic decay is not too
dissimilar to that of Highgate Cemetery,
London.

Originally the site was occupied by the
Kings Castle in the Forest of Inglewood.
The earliest written record is of 1272. The
chapel in the grounds was built originally
in 1358. The castle, a mediaeval square
pele tower within a curtain wall, was
extended in about 1550 for the Richmond
family. Only its western wing remains,
with its unmistakable straight headed
mullioned windows with round-arched
lights under hood moulds, although
attached to the south-west corner of this
wing is the basement of a square tower
which presents evidence of 14th Century
work.
The mediaeval wing is now visually
subservient to a very ambitious and
sophisticated Palladian rebuild for Henry
Richmond Brougham (pronounced
Broom). Dated 1744-49, itis inthe style of,
and probably to the design of, James
Gibbs, the architect responsible for the
building of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
Centrepieces to the main and side facades,
a Doric hail screen reminiscent of the
Cambridge Senate House, the Venetian
window upstairs over the tripartite
arrangement of door and flanking
windows in a rusticated surround all
appear to have been adaptions of plates in
Gibbs “A Book of Architecture” published
in 1728. It was clearly the finest house of its
date in Cumbna. As long ago as 1911,
when 18th century architecture was not
generally admired, an article in The
Transactions of the Cumberland and
Westmorland Antiquarian and
Archaeological Society described High
Head as “a very instructive example of an
architectural period only sparingly
represented in Cumberland and
Westmorland”.
A long formal avenue leads to a
magnificent 11-bay facade with a
projected pedimented 3-bay centre. It has
a central door with alternate-block
rustication, entablature and pediment.
The large tympanum to the centre has a
mighty triton and mermaid with curling
tails on either side of the Brougham coat-
of-arms. It is built of deep red Lazonby
sandstone on rock of the same colour, and
its Italianate carvings are of the highest
quality. Indeed craftsmen were imported
from Italy for the project which cost 10,000
Hanoverian soverigns, the equivalent of
£50,000,000 today!
Both the mediaeval wing and the principal
house are listed Grade 11*. Adjacent is a
fine stable quadrangle with heavy
rustication, a steep pediment gable and
cupola. It has, of late, suffered some
insensitive conversion to residential use.
The present chapel standing airily on
elevated ground on the edge pf the river
valley dates from 1682.
The proposed restoration will involve
nothing less than the complete rebuilding
of the mansion around a steel skeleton
supporting a new roof and interior. The
architects are Carlisle based Nichol
Armstrong Lowe, responsible for the
programme of works currently in train at
Carlisle Cathedral. Restructuring will be
aided by over 400 photographs of both the
exterior and interior of the building which
survive from the 19th Century and
immediately following the fire of 1956.
The cost of making the building watertight
alone has been put at over Lim.

The driving force behind the project is
Christopher Terry, a keen conservationist,
who has (through the High Head Rescue
Project, a charitable trust) already secured
substantial financial support from English
Heritage (E0.4m), the Nationwide
Building Society (£0.65m), the British
Historic Buildings Trust, The Georgian
Group, and several individual
philanthropists.
Eden District Council and Cumbria
County Council have offered albeit
modest, but necessary, grant aid in order
to fund urgent works to prevent the
collapse of vaulted cellars.
Restoration is only the first hurdle to
overcome in the story of High Head
Castle. Finding a long term use for the
building is the next, and potentially more
difficult. The alternatives which are
currently being actively pursued include a
private residence, luxury apartments,
country house hotel, corporate
headquarters (e.g. Appleby Castle
Ferguson Industrial Holdings),
conference/training centre, school,
nursing home or health farm.
High Head Castle is a little known but
substantial building of the highest
architectural, historic and landscape
importance. Its rescue from complete
destruction, will, if it is successful,
represent one of the boldest projects ever
undertaken in this region. Our fingers are
tightly crossed.
Alan Hunter
Eden District Council
High Head before the fire.
(copyright Country Life)
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