Brougham Castle

Head out to the outskirts of Penrith and you’ll find Brougham Castle, a medieval castle based on the site of the Roman fort of Brocavum. Very shortly after the land was acquired by Robert de Vieuxpoint in 1214, the castle was built to defend England from the Scots, and also at times from other members of the English nobility. The River Eamont which runs beside the castle used to mark the border between England and Scotland, before the boundary was moved further north by William Rufus in 1092.



Brough Castle, just down the road near Kirkby Stephen, is in many ways the non-identical twin of Brougham. Both castles were built on the sites of old Roman forts, owned by the same two families over the years, and sold on at pretty much the same time. Brough warrants its own post really, so I’ll come back to that at a later date! For now, back to Brougham…

As mentioned, the land on which Brougham Castle sits was bought by Robert de Vieuxpoint in 1214. He built the stone keep and a few outbuildings, which were surrounded by a timber palisade. The keep is the oldest part of the castle which can still be seen today. Interestingly, if you look purely at the style of the building, it would be dated to 1175. According to the documentation though, it cannot have been constructed before the early 1220s, so either Robert de Vieuxpoint was a bit old-fashioned, or the masons were still living in the past!



The structure remained broadly the same until around 1300, when the palisade was replaced by a stone curtain wall by Robert Clifford. Robert Clifford made an awful lot of changes to Brougham as it happens. Not only did he add the curtain wall, but also the three-part gatehouse, the Tower of League and a handful of other stone service buildings, such as lodgings for the garrison and a kitchen.



There have been two recorded royal visits to Brougham in its time. The first was an overnight stay by Edward I on 22nd July 1300. With all the commotion the Scots were causing in the North, Edward was a frequent visitor to his strongholds in the border region. Robert Clifford’s additions therefore served the dual purpose of defence, and impressing/accommodating the King and his court. As it happens, Edward only stayed the one night, which was probably more of a relief to Robert; royal visits had the habit of being quite pricey!

Robert Clifford wasn’t the first Clifford to manage Brougham and he certainly wasn’t the last. Roger Clifford was the first of the family to get his hands on the castle when he married the eldest daughter of Robert de Vieuxpoint (not the same one that built the castle I hasten to add). Annoyingly, in medieval times, most men seemingly had only about five names to choose from when naming their children, so it’s a bit tricky to distinguish between generations. To illustrate my point, Roger Clifford married Isabella de Vieuxpoint. They had a child called Robert. He then went on to have two sons; the first was called Roger, and the second was called Robert. This Robert had two sons too; the eldest he named Robert and the youngest he called Roger. Do you see the confusion?

The third Robert in this saga made a lot of repairs to the castle, and also built a new hall beside the keep. Above the door of the hall, a stone was carved with the words ‘Thys Made Roger‘. This stone has now been moved to above the arch of the outer gatehouse, but the words can still be seen fairly clearly considering its age.


Clifford was, and still is, a relatively well-known family name in the north-west of England. This is mostly down to Lady Anne Clifford. She is such a fascinating woman and accomplished so much in an era that was still very much made for men over women.¬†She was born in 1590 to George Clifford, 5th Earl of Cumberland and Lady Margaret Russell in Skipton, Yorkshire. Having eventually come into her inheritance at the ripe old age of 59, she revered her proud ancestry and so set about restoring the castles under her ownership to their former glory. She deserves her own post in all honesty, and I’m surely not doing her achievements any justice here. She died at Brougham Castle on 22nd March 1676 at the age of 86, which in that time was quite amazing.

After her death, Brougham began to fall into a bit of disrepair, and is now mostly a ruin. It is still possible to climb up three floors of the keep though! Nowadays, the castle is in the safe hands of English Heritage who work hard to preserve what they can of its history, and that of many other properties across the country.



Admittedly, I didn’t spend an awful lot of time at Brougham (maybe about an hour in all), but this gives visitors plenty of time to visit other castles in the area, such as Brough Castle which I’m visiting very soon and shall surely write about; keep a look out for it!

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