History of Penrith

Romans, Rheged and Scottish raiders have all played a part in Penrith’s history but if you want to go further back in time head for a couple of spots one mile (1.6km) south of the town near Eamont Bridge.

In a field by the mini-roundabout on the A6 (where there’s a turn right for Tirril and Ullswater) is King Arthur’s Round Table, a site - possibly used for worship or for gatherings - dating back some 4,000 years.

Nearby Mayburgh Henge may have had a similar use. It’s much bigger than King Arthur’s Round Table and must have involved a vast amount of work when it was constructed.

A circular embankment, made of earth and pebbles and over 10ft (three metres) in height, almost entirely encloses a big space in which stands a solitary stone.

The henge is signposted by the Eden Millennium Monument (a 50 ton block of Shap granite dedicated in 2000 during the Eden Millennium Festival) on the B5320, just after the junction with the A6.

East of the town is where the Romans built a fort called Brocavum, the same site used later for Brougham Castle. West of Penrith is the visitor attraction of Rheged which takes its name from a post-Roman kingdom that straddled north west England and southern Scotland.

In the 14th and 15th centuries Penrith was often targeted by raiders from Scotland so locals took the precaution of lighting fires at The Beacon - above the town - to warn neighbouring communities of any danger. Walk up Fell Lane, take a footpath to the red sandstone monument (erected in 1719) and you can see what a good vantage point it must have been.

The tower of St Andrew’s Church in Penrith was also built to help protect the locals from Scottish raiders. In the churchyard is the Giant’s Grave, consisting of pre-Norman crosses and four hogsback grave markers.

In the 1470s Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, was appointed Sheriff of Cumberland, responsible for maintaining law and order along the western end of the Anglo-Scottish border.

One of his bases was Penrith Castle which dates back to the late 14th century. More development - a gatehouse, a tower and new living quarters - came when it was in the hands of Richard. Dockray Hall, a pub in Penrith, also belonged to the future king.


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