Dalton Castle – A Brief History
Dalton-in-Furness is an old settlement mentioned in the Doomsday Book at Daltune. The original town was almost hidden in a narrow valley out of the convenient reach of the sea and ship-borne raiders and for a considerable time in Furness history was the chief town and administrative center of the district.
Dalton Castle stands above the town built to defend the people of Dalton and the approaches to the Furness Abbey. The date when the castle was first built in Dalton is lost in obscurity. It was suggested that a castellum was founded there in A.D. 79 but no evidence has been found to support it. In 1127 Kind Stephen conferred on the Abbot of Furness the power to hold courts and administer justice and as early as 1239 there is reference to a jury in the agreement between William Flemming of Aldingham and the Abbey.
In 1257 the first reference is made to a prison at Dalton, but the present castle, judging from its architectural details, could not have been built at that time. In 1292 the Abbot of Furness claimed the right to erect gallows at Dalton and was also allowed the pillory and ducking stool. No date has been found for the building of the present castle but the invasion of the county by the Scots between 1314 and 1346 may have necessitated the building of a castle at the site which was already the site of the Abbey’s civil administration. The details of the structure, so far as they have been left after the decay and alterations of six hundred years would indicate that the present castle was built sometime between 1315 and 1360. The Castle or Pele tower is similar in construction to many of that period. Built as a rectangle measuring 45ft by 30ft with walls at a maximum of 6ft thick.
It is possible that the present castle was built to replace one destroyed after the last great raid in 1322 under the leadership of Robert the Bruce when much of Furness was devastated.. The records of the rents paid to the Abbey tell the story. Prior to the raid the Church at Dalton was taxed at £8 per year, after the raid it was reduced to £2. The role of the castle although originally intended as defensive appears to have been as court-house and prison. The role of prison lasted until 1774 and the Court Leet was held in the castle until 1925. In 1644 as a result of skirmish between parliamentary and Royalist troops between Dalton and Newton a number of parliamentary prisoners were held in the castle.
The Castle has been repaired and refurbished a number of times. In 1546 at the direction of King Henry VIII the castle was repaired at a cost of £20 using materials from Furness Abbey after it was found that almost all the wood was rotten, the roof needed re-leading and the lime had washed out from the stonework. In 1784 and 1816 some of the windows were built up and no doubt other “modernisation” made. About 1704 it is believed that the wooden floors were again replaced. Further repair and modernisation was made in 1856 when one of the floors was removed and the remaining one raised and the staircase at the north end of the caste was constructed. After the National Trust obtained title of the castle from the Duke of Buccleuch the castle was further restored in 1968/69. Other repairs including a new roof have been carried out over the last few years.
INTERIOR OF CASTLE
Entering Dalton Castle through the main door we step into a passage with a staircase at the end. When first built the ground floor had only two rooms, the guard room and a smaller room above the Dungeon, the staircase which we see and the passage wall has been added. The fireplace in the corridor is probably an original fireplace use to heat the guard room. The fireplace is the main room downstairs is a recent addition.
Prior to the passage being built the only way through the guard room was a doorway alongside where the new fireplace was built. Going through the doorway we would have found ourselves at the bottom of the spiral staircase. Opposite the bottom of the staircase there is a narrow passage leading to a dead end. This has been recently excavated and found to be, what has been delicately termed, ‘the rubbish shaft’.
Beneath where the toilets now stand is the dungeon, the present entrance can be seen in the floor of the ladies toilet. No doubt the original entrance would be a grill in the floor, and this floor would be used as a holding area for prisoners waiting to be taken to the court above or the dungeon below. The door we see in the wall at the base of the stairs was added at a later date.
Going up the new staircase we see two windows which were for the first and third floors and the window at the top of the stairs was on the top floor. On the stairs there is a display of carved stone heads. Two of these are from the ruins of Furness Abbey and were found at Schoolwaters when excavations were dug for the new housing estate. One of these figures is the head of a monk and the other is believed to depict the head of Christ. These heads are probably in such good condition due to the fact that they were buried for so long. The third head is believed to be much older and of Celtic origin. It was common place in those days to cut off heads of vanquished enemies and place on the roof of your home. The intention was twofold, to show your prowess and to ward off evil spirits. With the coming of Christianity decapitation of enemies was frowned upon and so heads were carved out of stone to ward off spirits.