Dalton in Furness – a brief history
Dalton-in-Furness is an old settlement mentioned in the Doomsday Book at Daltune. The original town was almost hidden in a narrow valley out of the convenient reach of the sea and ship-borne raiders and for a considerable time in Furness history was the chief town and administrative center of the district.
Dalton Castle stands above the town built to defend the people of Dalton and the approaches to the Furness Abbey. The date when the castle was first built in Dalton is lost in obscurity. It was suggested that a castellum was founded there in A.D. 79 but no evidence has been found to support it. In 1127 Kind Stephen conferred on the Abbot of Furness the power to hold courts and administer justice and as early as 1239 there is reference to a jury in the agreement between William Flemming of Aldingham and the Abbey.
In 1257 the first reference is made to a prison at Dalton, but the present castle, judging from its architectural details, could not have been built at that time. In 1292 the Abbot of Furness claimed the right to erect gallows at Dalton and was also allowed the pillory and ducking stool. No date has been found for the building of the present castle but the invasion of the county by the Scots between 1314 and 1346 may have necessitated the building of a castle at the site which was already the site of the Abbey’s civil administration. The details of the structure, so far as they have been left after the decay and alterations of six hundred years would indicate that the present castle was built sometime between 1315 and 1360. The Castle or Pele tower is similar in construction to many of that period. Built as a rectangle measuring 45ft by 30ft with walls at a maximum of 6ft thick.
It is possible that the present castle was built to replace one destroyed after the last great raid in 1322 under the leadership of Robert the Bruce when much of Furness was devastated.. The records of the rents paid to the Abbey tell the story. Prior to the raid the Church at Dalton was taxed at £8 per year, after the raid it was reduced to £2. The role of the castle although originally intended as defensive appears to have been as court-house and prison. The role of prison lasted until 1774 and the Court Leet was held in the castle until 1925. In 1644 as a result of skirmish between parliamentary and Royalist troops between Dalton and Newton a number of parliamentary prisoners were held in the castle.
The Castle has been repaired and refurbished a number of times. In 1546 at the direction of King Henry VIII the castle was repaired at a cost of £20 using materials from Furness Abbey after it was found that almost all the wood was rotten, the roof needed re-leading and the lime had washed out from the stonework. In 1784 and 1816 some of the windows were built up and no doubt other “modernisation” made. About 1704 it is believed that the wooden floors were again replaced. Further repair and modernisation was made in 1856 when one of the floors was removed and the remaining one raised and the staircase at the north end of the caste was constructed. After the National Trust obtained title of the castle from the Duke of Buccleuch the castle was further restored in 1968/69. Other repairs including a new roof have been carried out over the last few years.
Dalton Castle is property of the National Trust and is open to the public. It is opened by Friends of Dalton Castle on Saturday afternoons from Easter to September.
ADMISSION FREE BUT DONATIONS ARE WELCOME.