David W.V. Weston



The purpose of this guide is to provide an account of the architectural history of the exterior and interior of Rose Castle, in such a way as to be helpful to those who conduct groups round the castle, or who go around it on their own.




Rose Castle was the main residence of the bishops of Carlisle from 1230, when King Henry III granted the land to Bishop Walter Mauclerk, until 2009 when it was judged that the building was no longer suitable for that purpose. Carlisle Diocese had been founded by King Henry I in 1133, but initially the bishops lacked a suitable residence until the Rose Castle property was given to them, as part of the gift of the manor of Dalston. It is unclear whether there was a building of any sort on the site when the property was given. If there was, little evidence of its character and precise location has survived. For a hundred years from 1230, almost nothing is known of any buildings erected by successive bishops on the site. But in 1300 the buildings were judged safe enough for King Edward I and Queen Margaret to stay there. However, the bishops’ residence proved inadequate to resist successive Scottish attacks in the years 1314, 1322 and 1337, after the death of the warlike King Edward I. To solve this problem, Bishop John Kirkby in 1336 and Bishop Gilbert Welton in 1355 each obtained royal permission to fortify their residence by means of a ‘licence to crenellate’. As a consequence, at about that time Rose Castle was built on a much greater scale, as a substantial border fortress, able to withstand future attacks by the Scots. It was built in the style of that period, and consisted of massive curtain walls in the form of a built round a central courtyard and surrounded by an outer mantle wall. Less than half of that building has survived, and much of that has changed in appearance. To this, some substantial additions were made in the early nineteenth century.

To understand the castle’s original layout, it is essential to consult Thomas Machell’s plan dating from 1671. Deprived on some of its defensive qualities in the Tudor period by the enlarging of windows, the castle was briefly besieged and quickly captured in the Civil War in 1648 by Parliamentary troops. Much of the castle was then destroyed by fire, but because it was bought by a wealthy parliamentarian, William Heveningham who repaired part of the west range for his own use, it remained habitable during the Commonwealth period. At the Restoration of the monarchy and the Church of England in 1660, it could, therefore, be occupied by the newly appointed bishop, Richard Sterne. He undertook only minimal rebuilding in the four years he was there. His successor, Bishop Edward Rainbow, having failed to persuade his predecessor to pay for rebuilding work, began in the 1670s to undertake repairs and new work to make the surviving parts of the castle fully habitable. His successor, Thomas Smith, completed this initial rebuilding phase, which remained largely unchanged until very major works by Bishop Hugh Percy in the period 1829 to 1831.

ROSE CASTLE – Exterior


Taking the gateway as the obvious starting point for a tour of the castle, it is from here that the oldest part of the medieval castle is first seen. Royal licences to crenellate dated 1336 and 1355, permitted bishops to replace existing building on the site by building a substantial border castle. In accordance with the style of fourteenth century castle, it took the form of curtain walls surrounding the square central courtyard, with a tower at each corner. This structure was in turn surrounded by a protective turreted mantle wall which had its defensive gateway at its north-west corner. This mantle wall was, in turn, circled by a moat which could be crossed at the gateway by a drawbridge. The surviving gateway, parapet, and north-west corner turret give a good idea of the original appearance of the mantle walls. However, the height of remaining sections of the mantle walls and its turrets was reduced in the eighteenth century to take the character of garden walls and have survived in that reduced form. The flattened arch of the gateway dates from the Tudor period, but its original appearance is indicated by the small wicket gate at the side which retains the original more pointed 14th century Gothic shape. The drawbridge outside the gate, recorded as having been repaired in 1488, has long since gone, as also the moat that it would have crossed at that point.

On entering through the gateway into the outer court of the castle, the north range of the castle comes into view. This is the most complete side of the castle to have survived, although its constituent parts are of varying dates. To understand the development of the building, it is best at this stage to ignore the right hand, western, section of this north range, which was refaced in the nineteenth century with smooth red sandstone ashlar blocks.

The rougher stonework to the left is the oldest surviving part of the curtain wall of the castle, but the windows at the base of the wall are eighteenth century additions. The height of this section of ancient wall was raised in 1488 when Bishop Richard Bell, wanting added ceiling-height for his new first-floor chapel, raised the level of the roof and battlements. Evidence of this alteration is the relatively low position on this wall of the arch-patterned corbel-table which decorates the wall two-thirds of the way up. This would originally have been just below the battlements.

To the left of this ancient section of wall is Bell’s Tower which Bishop Richard Bell added in 1488 when he rebuilt the adjacent first-floor chapel, with its added ceiling-height. The tower, traditionally providing accommodation for the bishop's chaplain, is personalised to the Bishop Bell by his monogram or rebus, ‘RB’ and a bell, on the corners below the parapet. This tower retains the one original medieval window, high on its west-facing wall. The other glazed and blocked windows of the tower are of later dates.

The section of medieval wall between Bell’s Tower and the corner tower was lowered in the 1770s, although at the right-hand end, at high level, there still survives a small sequence of the arch-patterned corbel-table, which is likely to have featured around the whole castle. The effect of lowering this wall is that Strickland Tower is left virtually free-standing, giving rise to the incorrect conclusion that it was a free-standing pele tower, whereas it was in fact the north-east corner tower of the castle’s four-sided curtain wall and courtyard. Strickland Tower is named after Bishop William Strickland who was bishop of Carlisle from 1400 to 1419. The tower is almost certainly earlier than that, so it is likely that it acquired its name through some alteration that he made to it. This tower has a basement level, reputed to have been used as a prison, and then two floors above it each consisting of a single chamber. At the top there is a roof-space and access to the parapet and turret. The tower was damaged in the Civil War and then left in a ruined roofless state until the 1760s when Bishop Charles Lyttelton rebuilt its walls to their full height and provided it with a pyramid-shaped roof. Its full restoration did not take place until 1852 when Bishop Hugh Percy commissioned the architect Anthony Salvin to undertake the work, restoring its medieval appearance. In recent times, Strickland’s Tower was made more useful by Bishop Ian Harland who installed electric light and openable windows to improve ventilation. Also, a toilet was put into an adjacent area beneath the outdoor steps adjacent to the east end of the chapel.

Passing through the gap between Strickland Tower and the reduced mantle wall, at the north-east corner of the castle, the view over the terrace, the moat and the 18th century ha-ha opens up, across the valley of the River Caldew which runs beneath the hill on the far side of the valley. On turning the corner, the lawn comes in view, bounded on two sides by the west and north ranges of the castle. Using the 1671 plan of the castle, it is possible to envisage the positions of both the demolished east range, which contained the Great Dining Room, Great Hall, and kitchen at the southern end, and the demolished south range which housed the Long Gallery, bake house and brew-house. A stairway projects from the south side of Strickland Tower. It incorporates a stub of wall that is the only fragment above ground of the east range of the castle. The line of the inner wall of the east range is marked by a stone set in the ground.

The missing section in the north range between Bell’s Tower and Strickland Tower originally contained the bishop’s Council Chamber on the upper floor and the bishop’s parlour called Paradise beneath. The existing section of the north range contains the chapel on the upper floor over the bishop’s study and adjacent secretary’s office. Its architectural style is Regency Gothic imposed by Thomas Rickman for Bishop Hugh Percy in the restoration of 1829-31. This style, favoured by that bishop, replaced the late seventeenth century Classical style adopted by Bishop Edward Rainbow for the restoration by William Thackeray between 1672 and 1675.

The west range of the castle facing the lawn, which is medieval in origin, refaced by the Quaker architect Thomas Rickman for Bishop Hugh Percy. It contains both the State and Private Dining Rooms on the ground floor, the State and Private Drawing Rooms on the first floor, and bedrooms on the second floor. Rickman provided two bay windows on this façade where there had been only one, and removed a central doorway. Evidence of the single bay and removed central doorway can be seen on the 1671 plan and in the drawing of 1824. Both are likely to be sixteenth century in origin.

Beyond the southern end of the west range there is now a small walled garden. The castle covered this space until 1953, in which year the kitchen and staff accommodation in that area were demolished to make the castle more compact and better suited to its continuing role as the residence of the bishop. Bishop Williams had moved out of the castle and into a house in Carlisle in 1942, because of war-time difficulties concerning fuel and staff. After the war and much debate, the decision was made that the bishop should move back to the castle, but only after the demolition of this south end of the building to make it more compact. The new door in this south facade has over it a lintel with the initials ‘TB’ for Bishop Thomas Bloomer and the date 1955, marking the year in which the castle was re-occupied. The new façade to the left is in Tudor style, copied from the adjacent sixteenth century Kite’s Tower. The right side reveals the height and width of the medieval structure of the original west range of the castle.

By passing through the gate from the small walled garden, access is gained to the yard which is bounded on two sides by garages and the former chauffeur’s cottage. These, and the gardener’s cottage beyond, were built by Thomas Rickman for Bishop Percy to serve the practical functions of domestic staff and gardeners, providing facilities for laundry, washhouse, toilets, boiler-room and storage, and with a greenhouse along the length of its south front. Only later was it adapted to provide two staff cottages and two garages.

From the yard, the west front of the castle comes into view. This side of the castle is complicated by the fact that the sixteenth century Kite’s Tower had originally projected from the curtain wall, as Bell’s Tower does on the north side. Now it appears to be recessed as a result of the substantial additions on either side by Thomas Rickman for Bishop Percy. Rickman's block to the right of Kite’s Tower now has, on the ground floor, the small kitchen created in 1989 for the resident domestic chaplain and his family. On the exterior wall of this extension, adjacent to Kite’s Tower, a bell hangs high on the wall, with evidence on the stonework of wear from a rope or chain. This was not a doorbell, which would have sounded indoors, but rather a means of calling outdoor staff to meals. In Rickman's block to the left of Kite’s Tower there is now the castle's main kitchen on the ground floor which was relocated in 1953 from the section of the building demolished to make it more compact for Bishop Thomas Bloomer and his successors.

Kite’s Tower itself was an important and distinctive addition to the castle named after Archbishop John Kite. It is part of a process of Tudor modernisation and upgrading undertaken by him to transform the border fortress into an episcopal palace. John Kite, a close associate of Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey, had been archbishop of Armagh before swapping that appointment to be bishop of Carlisle, when he was also made titular archbishop of Thebes to maintain his archbishop status. The three-storey tower incorporates an external doorway which had been blocked until it was re-opened by Bishop Ian Harland in 1993. Internally, Kite’s Tower was largely untouched by the Rickman renovations. Evidence of alterations to the windows has led to suggestions that Kite’s Tower was the original entrance to the fourteenth century castle. However, the Portcullis Tower and Constable’s Tower at the north-west corner of the castle are more likely to have had that role. Kite’s Tower is more likely to have had a sixteenth century Tudor origin.

The element that forms the north-west corner of Rose Castle is Smith’s Tower. This replaced Portcullis Tower at the north-west corner of the medieval castle and is clearly labelled on Thomas Machell’s 1671 plan. Only some lower courses of its medieval west wall remain. Its upper courses on the west side and the full height of its north side are Bishop Smith’s work, but refaced by in the nineteenth century by Bishop Percy. Bishop Smith’s tower was originally built during his episcopate from 1684 and 1702, in Classical Renaissance style, as illustrated in Bucks’ print of 1739. The oriel window was added by Bishop William Diggle at first-floor level in 1910, to let more light into his bedroom.

Turning the corner at the west end of the north range of the castle, next tower after Smith’s Tower is Percy’s Tower which incorporates the front door of the castle, flanked by the arms of the diocese of Carlisle and the Percy family. The medieval Constable’s Tower had been on this site, but it projected sixteen feet and at almost a right-angle from the main façade. Bishop Rainbow in the 1670s demolished this tower and created a new one projecting only two feet from the castle, as illustrated in Buck’s print of 1739. It was this tower, refaced and made Gothic by Rickman, that became Percy’s Tower.


Ground Floor:

The front door is of Rickman’s design but it is secured on the inside by a lock and key given by Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke, hence the initials AP and the date 1673. The door gives access to the hall which is dominated by Rickman’s grand staircase and landing which incorporate variations of Percy heraldry. The walls of the hall, stairs and landing are covered with portraits of bishops of Carlisle, varying from oil paintings, to engravings and photographs. Six doors lead off the ground-floor of the hall.

The first door on the left in the hall leads to a passageway carved out from the thickness of the medieval wall for Bishop Vernon in 1796, to provide access to the office at the end and to Bell’s Tower, the ground floor of which was similarly carved out. The 1671 plan reveals that there had been a staircase at this point leading up to the first-floor chapel.

The second door from the hall leads to a room that was both the bishop’s study and library, and to the office beyond. The bishop’s study is lined with bookcases and with cupboards beneath and in the two corners. The library consists of an historic collection of about 1,500 volumes from a wide variety of sources, donors and dates, plus modern additions of various kinds.

The third door is an inner door from the hall, giving access to an outer door in the position of a medieval doorway, opening onto the lawn and originally to the courtyard.

The fourth door from the hall leads to the state dining-room and on into the private dining room beyond. These rooms, paired with the state and private drawing rooms on the floor above, form the main spaces for large-scale entertaining. In their present form they bear the stamp of the Thomas Rickman’s Regency Gothic architectural style of about 1830. The detailing of the doors and fireplaces are very architectural and the rooms would probably have been highly coloured originally. As has been noted of the exterior, Rickman has provided a pair of full-height bay windows on the wall where there had formerly been only one. An opening on the right at the far end of the room, leading into a short passage and giving access to the kitchen corridor, reveals the massive thickness of this medieval wall.

The furnishings of this room, as of others in the house, are a mixture of surviving items that were in the castle before the war and those that have been acquired since. At the time when Bishop Bloomer reoccupied the building as the bishop’s residence in 1955, a committee was set up to acquire some appropriate items of furniture for the castle. In the state dining-room the court cupboard dated 1660 is one of the pre-war survivors. The long-case clock had belonged to the eighteenth century Bishop Edmund Law.

The fourth door from the hall gives access to a corridor leading to the main and small kitchens, and to two sets of stairways to upper floors. This part of the house consists mainly of Rickman's additions but also the Tudor Kite’s Tower. The main kitchen, formerly the pantry, was created in 1953 to make the castle more compact. Access to the relatively small cellars is beside the interior door of the kitchen. The cellars contain the boiler and originally had been used for storage and probably for wine. The kitchen at the southern end of the passage, formerly a sewing room, was installed in 1989 for the resident domestic chaplain.

The fifth door from the hall gives access to the office. It had been the office of Bishop Graham Dow’s chaplain, for whom the adjacent kitchenette was created. Before that it was Bishop Harland’s family sitting room, and earlier was called the candidates’ room or interview room. This is the ground floor of Smith’s Tower.



First Floor:

Rickman’s grand hall and stairway lead up past portraits of former bishops to a landing which displays further portraits. A pair of double-doors leads from the landing into the chapel which has been on this site since at least 1488, when it and Bell’s Tower beyond were built by Bishop Richard Bell. Having been destroyed in the Civil War, the chapel was poorly rebuilt at ground-floor level by Bishop Richard Sterne between 1660 and 1664. Bishop Edward Rainbow rebuilt it in 1673 on the first-floor, and a drawing dated 1824 gives a good idea of its appearance. It then had no east window, its south windows were square-headed, and the communion table was surrounded by a turned-wood communion-rail.

Subsequently a tapestry of Moses in the bulrushes was hung behind the altar. All this was changed by Rickman for Bishop Hugh Percy in 1829-31. Rickman introduced a Gothic east window and Gothic tracery to the windows on the south side. The stained glass in the windows, probably designed by Clayton and Bell of London, is later than Rickman’s remodelling, having been installed in the years 1870 to 1873 by Bishop Harvey Goodwin and others. Rickman altered the doors and the ceiling, which he decorated with the diocesan and Percy arms. The linen-fold panelling of the stalls is reputed to have come from Lambeth Palace, which is likely because Bishop Percy’s first wife was a daughter of an archbishop of Canterbury and this style of panelling is used extensively in Lambeth Palace. The pair of candle-sconces on the west wall, bearing the arms of the city of Carlisle and the diocese of Carlisle, were made by the Keswick School of Industrial Art.

A second door from the landing provides access to the State Drawing Room which has the Chinese wall-paper which has become the most frequently mentioned feature of the castle, although by no means unique. It is painted on very thin paper which has been removed and cleaned periodically, most recently in 1988. The wall-paper pattern does not conform to the outline of the doors and fireplaces, so presumably was not painted to order for this room. In fact, its chinoiserie style suggests an earlier date than the Rickman restoration when it is supposed to have been installed. The main features of the room are very much in the Rickman style. A drawing of 1824 shows that Rickman added a second bay window on this front where there had been only one. Beyond the State Drawing Room there is the Private Drawing Room which is now at the southern end of the building since the demolition of the earlier south end in 1953.

The third door from the landing leads from the public area of the castle into what were the private quarters of the bishop and his family. This door gives access to a first-floor landing. To the right lie the bishop’s bedroom, to which Bishop Diggle added the oriel window in 1910, and the private bathroom. The first-floor landing provides access to other bedrooms, bathrooms and toilets. To the left are stairways both up and down, including a mural stairway in the thickness of the medieval wall up into the top storey of Kite’s Tower. The few stairs down to a lower first-floor level provide access either to a corridor into Kite’s Tower and a Rickman extension beyond where there is another stairway, or down further stairs to the ground floor.

Stairs up from the first-floor landing lead to the second floor. Bedrooms looking out over the main lawn are in the medieval west range of the castle. The corridor still has the row of bells by which servants could be called from their second-floor rooms by the bishop and his wife. The rooms looking north towards the gateway are in Percy's Tower and Smith’s Tower. Those looking west are in Rickman’s extensions. The first and second-floor rooms facing west that are within Kite’s Tower still retain something of their Tudor character. A locked door provides access to the roof of Kite’s Tower.

2 February 2017 (revised 24 November 2019). 3,942 words