Muncaster Castle is a privately owned castle overlooking the Esk river, about a mile south of the west-coastal town of Ravenglass in Cumbria, England.

Built on foundations dating to the Roman era, the site was originally selected by the Romans as the place from which to guard the Esk River ("Muncaster" contains the Latin word castra, meaning "encampment", or "fort"). It is currently owned by the Pennington family, who have lived at Muncaster for at least 800 years, the land being granted to Alan de Penitone in 1208. The oldest parts of the castle include the Great Hall and the 14th century pele tower, a type of watch-tower fortification unique to the English-Scottish border region. The castle was extended and enlarged on a number of occasions over the course of the centuries. Recent historical research (in the early 2000s) has uncovered records which indicate that in 1678 the castle had 14 chimneys; while a document relating to payment of Window Tax in 1746 recorded at that date it had 103 windows and 55 rooms and corridors. However, by the time of the ownership of Sir Joseph Pennington in the 1770s, the castle had fallen into serious decay. His son, Sir John Pennington, arriving to live at the castle after his wedding in 1778, wrote with despair of how a part of the building collapsed even as he was inspecting it. The preservation of the castle to this day is due to the efforts of Sir John Pennington to rebuild and restore it; surviving records indicate that this cost him some six thousand pounds, an enormous sum of money for the late 18th century. The recent historical research project mentioned on the Castle's official website has also revealed that the castle's north tower (which complements the pele tower to provide a symmetry to the castle's appearance) was constructed in the 1830s. Some previous literature on the north tower mistakenly attributes its construction to the architect Anthony Salvin, who was engaged to refurbish the castle by the fourth Lord Muncaster in 1862. The castle contains a wealth of architectural features and artefacts from a wide span of English history, including a rare portrait of king Henry VI, an Elizabethan banqueting table, and also an impressive library containing approximately 6,000 books. In August 2005, some archaeological investigation was conducted in the castle grounds and an Architectural Heritage Report was produced. It is planned to conduct a full architectural survey in the future, to examine the different phases of the building's construction.

The ghosts
Muncaster Castle has also acquired a reputation for being one of the most haunted houses in Britain. However, this has only been the case since the 1990s, partly due to the investigations of Jason Braithwaite of Birmingham University into whether the alleged hauntings are down to environmental factors such as magnetic disturbances, and partly due to the drastic rebranding of the Muncaster Castle estates to appeal to tourists for more than merely its acclaimed gardens at the turn into the 21st Century. This was in order to ensure that it remained in Pennington hands (the financial situation was acute enough at one stage for them to admit in a BBC documentary called Castle Ghosts of the British Isles, that the estate was in danger of being sold as they could not afford much needed repairs to the roof). Prior to the 21st Century, most ghost books that bothered to list Muncaster mentioned only two ghosts, that of Henry VI (who was sheltered at Muncaster after his defeat at the battle of Hexham) and the head carrying ghost of an apprentice carpenter who was decapitated whilst sleeping in the old stable block by jester Thomas Skelton (Tom The Fool) at the orders of Sir Ferdinand Pennington because of his love affair with his daughter Helwise. However, visitors to the castle have long been informed by guides that as well as the above, the ghost of Skelton and the vengeful ghost in white of Mary Bragg - a foul-mouthed local girl who was murdered by being hanged from the Main Gate by drunken youths in the 19th Century after they'd kidnapped her for a joke: those responsible were never brought to justice. There were even tales that a lion shot by the last Lord Muncaster in Kenya, and whose skull is kept in the castle, was sometimes heard prowling (& gently growling) around at nightfall. Guests may book a tour of the castle and an all-night vigil in a haunted bedroom known as the Tapestry Room, where guest reports of paranormal phenomena include: hearing footsteps, seeing the door open of its own accord, hearing a crying child (allegedly Margaret Susan Pennington, who died of screaming fits in the 19th Century) and/or a singing woman, having their digital cameras turn off and on inexplicably, feeling themselves patted, experiencing changes of room temperature, chest pains, and even being inexplicably tossed out of the bed. Jason Braithwaite, a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist from the University of Birmingham has been studying the phenomena at the castle for some 15 years, and has suggested one possible explanation as being "strange and anomalous magnetic fields" in the areas of the hauntings, which might affect certain people with a tendency towards "more erratic" brain function, such as those who suffer from migraine headaches or epilepsy, for example. Muncaster Castle estate in the early 20th century was around 23,000 acres (93 km²) in size. Today, the castle is surrounded by 77 acres (310,000 m 2) of woodland gardens in a park of some 1,800 acres (7.3 km²). The gardens contain many rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas, and the castle's Plant Centre offers the largest collection of rhododendrons in the north of England. The castle is not only the residence of the current owners, Peter Frost Pennington & family, but in common with many such ancient estates in the British Isles it operates as a function centre and a site where civil weddings may be held, has bookable accommodation for 24 guests, and is also the location of the headquarters of the World Owl Trust, a registered UK charity dedicated to the preservation of owls and their habitats. The estate is situated in sparsely populated and scenic countryside, between the Irish Sea and Hardknott Pass, near England's tallest mountain, Scafell Pike.

The Luck of Muncaster
After the battle of Towton in 1461, tradition has it,Henry VI fled to Muncaster Castle where Sir John Pennington sheltered him. Henry gave Sir John a glass drinking bowl with a prayer that they might prosper for as long as the glass remained unbroken. The glass is known as 'The Luck of Muncaster' and remains unbroken to this day.

Tom the Fool
Tom the Fool (real name Tom Skelton) was a jester in the castle at the end of the 16th Century - reputedly the last court jester in English history. A friend of William Shakespeare, he was by all accounts a dark character responsible for a number of deaths during his time at Muncaster, not merely the murder of the carpenter at Sir Ferdinand Pennington's orders. One of his ideas of a "joke" was directing anyone asking him for directions to Ravenglass towards the hidden quicksand and bog marsh by the River Esk rather than the ford - some realised in time, many did not and were never seen again. Present owners of Muncaster, Phyllada and Patrick Gordon-Duff-Pennington, believe Tom still keeps a watchful eye on the castle, and occasionally gets up to more sinister mischief. Most of the ghostly goings on are attributed to this fiendish fool, but with several other ghosts at Muncaster any of them could be responsible. His portrait still hangs in the Castle, which contains his Will. Skelton died around 1600, according to legend in the very marshes where he'd sent so many to their deaths when trying to return to the castle whilst drunk. The castle still has a special day called 'Tom Fool's day', which is a family fun day with various attractions.

Building Activity

  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via Annotator
  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via