Lowther Castle and Gardens
Heather Ballantyne

20 members of Orton and Tebay Local history Society met at Lowther Castle for an evening at Lowther Castle and Gardens. Our guide was Joseph Jackson who met us in the walled courtyard to start the tour on a warm and sunny evening.

The Lowthers are one of the oldest knighted families in England, Sir Hugh de Lowther being the first, in the time of Edward I, and was granted land at Lowther. Every successive head of the Lowther family through the Middle Ages was knighted and served in parliament and as peers for 600 years. They were keen sportsmen and enjoyed horses, shooting and boxing. They gave their name to the prize Lonsdale Belt for boxing.

The 1st Viscount of Lonsdale, John, re-built Lowther Hall and was responsible for the extensive gardens that you can see the outlines of today. He had the original Lowther village re-built and moved so that it was no longer within the view of the castle. James, 1st Earl of Lonsdale was one of the richest men in England because of his inheritance. He used his money for political influence and was known as “wicked Jimmy”. The 5th Earl of Lonsdale, Hugh, was the most famous and was known as the “Yellow Earl” because of his love of yellow. He is the reason why the AA use yellow on their signs and all of his cars were yellow. It was during his occupation that the castle had its biggest profile with visitors such as Queen Victoria, Kaiser Bill, and Wordsworth, as well as prime ministers, spending time at Lowther.

Lowther Castle also played its parts in the two world wars. In 1914 Lord Lonsdale formed the Lonsdale Pals. Over 1300 men volunteered and by 1915 they were sent to France. The men were mostly farmers and shop keepers and they spent the next few months fighting in the trenches. In 1916 they lost over 500 men and surviving members were deployed to other battalions. The Lonsdale Battalion was no more and their colours rest in Lowther Church.

In 1941 Lowther Castle was requisitioned by the War Office to development top secret anti-tank weapons. Apparently evidence of this can still bee seen in the grounds as well as on the turrets at the front of the building. It was at this time that Sir Winston Churchill was a visitor to Lowther Castle

This impressive looking building was designed by Robert Smirke and built between 1806 and 1814 and cost 70,000. The front of the building is castellated but the back looks more like a Cathedral and originally had stained glass windows.

The back of Lowther Castle with the new gardens


Central Tower
The whole is a Gothic revival with its central tower the main supporting structure with similar design principles to the flying buttresses used in many Cathedrals. This is really a country mansion on a grand scale. Unbelievably it had underfloor heating generated with boilers pushing hot steam through large pipes round the ground floor of the house.

Orangery Floor with Heating Pipes

Hugh Lowther was the last occupant of Lowther Castle and when he died in 1944 his son Lancelot inherited the building, estates and debts. Lancelot had to sell many of the treasures to settle the bills and inheritance tax. When Lancelot died in 1953 he was succeeded by his grandson James. James did not want the building and wanted to concentrate on the farms and estates. He offered the building to local authorities but no one wanted it. It had stood empty for many years and the grounds had been damaged by the army occupation. Eventually James had the roof removed so that taxes did not have to be paid on it and this majestic building was left as a ruin.

Today the building is being made safe and stabilised with money from the Heritage Lottery Fund so that people can come and learn its history and enjoy its magnificent surroundings.

A very interesting and enjoyable evening in beautiful surroundings.