Lanercost Priory: Undercroft

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Beneath the refectory (dining room) in the south cloister range at Lanercost Priory is the vaulted undercroft. Originally divided in two, the undercroft was built during the mid 13th century and provided plenty of space for storage of food and drink. The last three bays were known as the warming room, the only place the canons were allowed to keep warm in front of a fire. As with the other monastic buildings at the priory, the undercroft is constructed of dressed sandstone and originally lay beneath the refectory which was a victim of the Dissolution.

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Providing a practical way for masons to identify which pieces of masonry they have produced, the marks of the masons were used both as a way for masons to ensure they were paid for their work and as a quality control. Many such marks (above and below) can be found on numerous stones around the priory.

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The marks of the masons provide us with evidence for the working practices of the highly-skilled and able men who constructed the magnificent stone structures of the past. The marks were put on the stone for entirely practical reasons and in answer to the particular needs of the industry. Most masons only worked on site between the spring and the autumn and work was scaled right down during the winter when it was not possible to build for fear of frost damaging the partially complete structure.

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Archaeological excavations in 1994 recorded eighty seven masons marks with tooling marks evident on most of the masonry wall blocks. The position of the marks on the lower courses of the wall above the foundations suggest that they are related to the first phases of construction of the priory church in circa 1200 A.D. We may not be able to identify, or name, all the masons from their marks but we can use them to deepen our understanding of their work and appreciate more the buildings that they helped to create.

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The undercroft contains replicas of Roman altars and tombstones found near Lanercost over the last 200 years. The above relief sculpture depicts Hercules on the left and Jupiter on the right. A similar relief was found in 1821 at Birdoswald Roman Fort and a more detailed description can be found in my earlier post entitled Gilsland: Birdoswald Relief Carving (July).

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The above altar is dedicated “To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, the First Aelian Cohort of Dacians… willingly and deservedly fulfiled its vow, with (…) rinus, beneficiarius, in charge of the work.” The Province of Dacia was situated in Romania and a beneficiarius was someone who had been seconded for special duties.

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The above altar is “To the god Cocidius the soldiers of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix willingly and deservedly fulfiled their vow in the consulship of Apr… and Ruf…” Cocidius was a native god and is identified with the Roman gods Mars and Silvanus. This altar was dedicated in AD 153. On the left hand side is a jug and on the right is a dish for pouring the libation or offering on to the top of the altar. A wild boar, symbol of the Twentieth Legion, is portrayed on the base of the altar. This altar was found in the foundations of Milecastle 52 at Bankshead.

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The above altar is “To the god Cocidius the soldiers of the Second Legion Augusta willingly and deservedly fulfiled their vow.” This altar was also found in the foundations of Milecastle 52 at Bankshead.

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The above altar is “To the holy god Cocidius, Annius Victor, legionary centurion.” The cult of Cocidius was limited to north Britain and most of the dedications to him come from Hadrian’s Wall or its vicinity.

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Kirkby Stephen: Stobars Hall

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Located in a commanding position over-looking Kirkby Stephen stands the castellated mansion Stobars Hall. With extensive views of the surrounding landscape, this delightful setting was chosen by James Brougham for his mansion in 1829. The mansion was built and designed by Mr William Close of Kirkby Stephen who is described as a joiner, cabinet maker and architect (History, Topography and Directory of Westmorland and Lonsdale North of the Sands in Lancashire, Edition: 1849).

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The building features a late Georgian front with a Tuscan porch (above) and tripartite ground floor windows. The building is constructed of coursed rubble with incised jointing, moulded quoins and features an embattled parapet.

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North Westmorland had few real gentry and some who were described as ‘gentlemen’ were also successful farmers or businessmen. The 1829 Directory describes thirty men in the area who were described as gentlemen or ‘Esq.’ with no occupation stated. James Brougham was one of these men.

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Stobars Hall was later occupied by Captain Martin Irving JP, William Metcalfe in 1851 and by 1871, Matthew Thompson JP who was a local landowner and Deputy Lieutenant of the county.

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The mainly two storey building is of a L shaped plan with embattled towers, chimneys concealed in merlons and 16 pane sash windows to each floor. Many original features still remain throughout the building including doors, cornices and ornately decorated fireplaces (above and below).

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Finely decorated original cornice

A poem taken from The Book of the Chronicles; Or, Winter Evening Tales of Westmorland, Volume 1 adequately portrays the setting:

“Hail Stobars, hail! from thy high hill, We gaze and look, and wonder still: What a landscape greets our eyes, Spread beneath the lofty skies; Loveliest place of all the North, Art did much to bring thee forth; Brougham! thy honour’d Name shall be, Transmitted to posterity; In future ages will be sung- ‘The patron of the Poet Young.”

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Hand painted wildlife scenes adorn interior doors

The reception rooms north of the entrance hall feature re-used 17th & 18th century panelling and some of the hand carved pieces of furniture are incredibly rich in detail. The wonderful cabinet below is inscribed with the initials WME and is dated 1713. The panels are exquisitely embellished with geometrical patterns and flowers.

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The advantageous position of Stobars Hall includes views of Wild Boar Fell, Wharton Hall & Park and the Forest of Mallerstang.

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Stobars Hall is Grade II Listed.

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Gilsland: Genii Cucullati

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On display as part of an exhibition at Birdoswald Roman Fort is the above stone figurine. The small figure is of a god called Genius and is of a type called Genii Cucullati (meaning hooded spirit). Wearing a full length hooded robe, such figures were spirits of place and both stone altar pieces and small votive figures in rock and bronze have been found throughout Roman Britain and Gaul. Genii Cucullati sculptures resemble those of the Greco-Roman deity Telesphorus who was the son and hooded attendant of Asclepius. Like many mythological figures, Asclepius was trained by the wise and gentle Chiron (a centaur and tutor of heroes) and became a heroic physician (Illiad). As the son of Apollo, the god of medicine, Asclepius himself was transformed into a god and his birthplace became Epidaurus, the major centre of his worship in ancient Greece. His son Telesphorus was also depicted cloaked and he was the protector of children and deity of fertility with his powers lying in the realms of sleep and dreams. Small carved cucullati have been found on the continent as grave goods which suggests they were viewed as protectors both during life and after death. Ancestors of the Landvættir (spirits of the land in Norse mythology), the Genii Cucullati derived from popular tradition and were a deity connected with the earth, agriculture and healing. The Genius (guardian spirit of a person) also represented the creative power of a man and was associated with the continued well-being of the family. Slaves swore oaths by the Genius of the head of the family and offerings were made to it on his birthday. The equivalent of the male Genius for women was her Juno. These wonderful sculpted figures represent a multitude of religious connotations and often appear in trios.

Kendal: Levens Hall

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Located in the Kent Valley near Kendal is the estate of Levens Hall. The largest Elizabethan house in Westmorland or Cumberland, Levens Hall is still privately owned and is at the heart of a thriving agricultural estate which provides resources both to maintain the house and to ensure the fabric of rural life remains intact. The earliest parts of the building are the medieval Pele Tower and the Hall which date to between 1250-1300 and were constructed by the de Redman family of Yealand Redmayne. A Charter from William de Lancaster, in circa 1170, gave Norman de Heiland (or Yealand) land at Levens but reserved the fishing, hawking and hunting of buck and doe, boar and sow for himself. Norman de Hieland later became known as de Redman and while there may have been a house at Levens at the time of the Charter to Norman de Redman, the medieval core which forms the centre of the present building is the remains of the Pele Tower and attached Hall range. The de Redman family held Levens until 1578 with Sir Richard III, who died in 1544, the last to live at the estate.

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Possession passed to James Bellingham in circa 1580. Incorporating the fortified tower, Bellingham completely refurbished the old house and added all available comforts. These included a separate dining room and servants hall, drawing rooms and built-in kitchens. All rooms were panelled using local oak or hung with tapestry and brilliant plasterwork gave them colour. The Great Hall stands with its staircase tower and the base of the Pele all facing the river and the ford. Constructed of limestone rubble with sandstone dressings, the north front features an embattled tower with mullioned and transomed windows.

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James Bellingham’s great-grandson Alan was to lose the whole estate through gambling. In 1686 he put his affairs in the hands of trustees and in 1689, they sold his Westmorland lands to his kinsman Colonel James Grahme. Colonel Grahme was Keeper of the Privy Purse and Keeper of the Buckhounds to King James II. Grahme accompanied the King to Rochester on 18th December 1688 during the Glorious Revolution when the King was overthrown by a union of English Parliamentarians with William III of Orange-Nassau (William of Orange). Following the Revolution, Grahme lived at Levens with his wife and added two wings running south and west for kitchens, menservants bedrooms and a Brewhouse. After Grahme’s death in 1730, the Levens estate passed to Henry Bowes Howard.

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South elevation service wing and Howard Tower

The south elevation service wing (above) dates to circa 1700 and features mullion and transom cross windows which are surmounted by a square domed clock-tower with gilded ball finial. The Howard Tower was built in 1820 to connect the Elizabethan part of the house with the later south wing.

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North elevation

The gardens were designed for Colonel Grahme in 1694 by Guillaume Beaumont, a pupil of le Notre at Versailles. Beaumont had been gardener to King James II and worked at Hampton Court Palace gardens. Of his garden and designs, only Levens survives today and the topiary garden is the oldest in the world. The original garden plan includes a rose garden, an orchard, a nuttery, a herb garden, vegetable borders, a beech hedge walk, herbaceous borders and a bowling green.

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Levens Hall is Grade I Listed and the gardens are considered to be of national importance.

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Kendal: Fowler Showman’s Road Locomotive

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The fabulous Road Locomotive above was built in 1920 by John Fowler & Co (Leeds) Ltd as a Showman’s Engine. This engine, No: 15115, is what is known as a class R3, 8hp, compound, spring-mounted, 3 speed Showman’s Road Locomotive. Named Bertha, she was sold on 1st April 1920 to John Wyatt of Stoke on Trent. John used her for 23 years with his travelling amusements first to work on his four abreast galloping horses and later, on the more modern rides.

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In 1943, Bertha was sold with a “swirl”, a contraption with little cars on the ends of long poles free to swirl about as the poles revolve around the centre. The new owner was Mrs Beach of Maidenhead who used the engine for some years before being superseded by a diesel tractor. After lying derelict for a time at Longford in Middlesex, Bertha was purchased for preservation by the Rev. David Atkinson of Gerrard’s Cross.

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Bertha eventually moved to Lt. Com. Baldcock, a well known engine enthusiast in Liphook. After carrying out a considerable amount of preservation work, Lt. Baldcock parted company with Bertha to Messrs. Pegden of Elham in Kent. Renovation work was carried out by these engineers and was completed just in time for the Shottesbrooke Park Fair in 1964. Messers. Pegden sold Bertha to the Bagot family at Levens Hall in 1967 where she has been on display ever since. She is in steam, weather permitting, throughout the open season.

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Temple Sowerby: Acorn Bank House

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Acorn Bank stands on the site of a religious house of the Knights Templar dating to 1228. On their suppression, the estate passed to the Knights of the Hospital of St John who held it from 1323 until the Dissolution. In 1543 it became the property of the Dalston family. Building the house in several phases, parts date from the 16th century and the main block was rebuilt during the mid 17th century. Constructed of sandstone and ashlar, the south front (above) features a symmetrical nine bay facade with a second floor band and a central doorway with segmental pediment. The whole house was given a new facade in the late 17th century and the Georgian sash windows were added in the 1740’s. The estate passed through marriage to the Boazman family from County Durham in the early 19th century.

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Acorn Bank with 180 acres of park and woodland was given to the National Trust in 1950 by Dorothy Una Ratcliffe (Mrs McGrigor Phillips). Dorothy was a Yorkshire writer and traveller who with her second husband, Captain Noel McGrigor Phillips, purchased the property in 1934. They renamed Acorn Bank as Temple Sowerby Manor and set about the restoration of the house which Dorothy filled with her impressive art collection. Noel had been injured at Gallipoli as an officer in the Great War and sadly died in 1943. Dorothy gave Acorn Bank to the National Trust (without its contents, which were dispersed) and moved to Scotland with her third husband. Thereafter, the house was leased to tenants and most recently, the Sue Ryder Foundation used it as a nursing home until 1996. The building, which retains none of its original contents, then returned to the direct management of the Trust.

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Most of the rooms retain 17th and 18th century panelling, fireplaces and cornices and the majority of the doors are original. During the time the house was used as a nursing home, many of the first floor rooms were partitioned into two bedrooms. As the partitions had been carefully erected, they were removed with little damage to the fabric of the walls and ceiling.

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The east staircase features a Venetian window with Doric columns and a single pane of heraldic glass (above). The sandstone stair was a final addition to the house and was added in 1745 by John Dalston, great grandson of the first. The stair is cantilevered and the coat of arms in the window are those of the Clough family, Dorothy Una Ratcliffe was born Dorothy Clough in 1887. At the head of the stairs are paired Ionic columns and original pedimented door cases feature on each of the landings (below).

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The fabulous panelling is original to the Drawing Room (below) and dates from the 1670’s. It has a carved decoration of oak leaves, acorns and vines (the name Acorn Bank dates from at least 1600). Made from a mixture of oak and pine, the panelling has always been painted. Investigation has revealed ten coats in its 350 year history with a stony white being the earliest colour, a duck egg blue dating from the 1930’s and a pale green from the final 1980’s paint scheme.

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The Drawing Room was an addition to the house made by John Dalston in 1670 and features an elaborately carved Robert Adam fireplace and overmantel. A structural survey made in 2013 concluded that although the Parlour floor above is stable, it is quite delicate. Advised to minimise the weight put on it, The Trust limits numbers to 10 people at any one time.

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Acorn Bank is Grade I Listed.

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