Workington Hall

(See also Workington , Helena Thompson Museum)

Workington Hall-Curwen Hall By H StamperSituated among the trees of Curwen Park, on Workingtons eastern outskirts, are the compelling 14th century stone ruins of Workington Hall. The sad ruins speak of elegant past times. The large quadrangular structure began as a crenellated fortress built around a Pele tower, its license granted by Richard II in 1379 to Sir Gilbert de Culwen. The Hall is named after the Lords of the Manor of Workington, the Curwen family. It was embellished several times over the centuries, especially in the 18th century by John Christian Curwen. But, in 1929, the family vacated the Hall. Neglected, it fell into decay and soon became a ruin. In 1970s the ruins were made safe for visitors.

The Curwen family was descended from Gospatrick, Earl of Northumberland. Their surname originated by agreement with Culwen, a family of Galloway, into which they married. The name was mistakenly spelled Curwen in public records during the reign of Henry VI and stayed that way.

Workington Hall By Barbara BallardThe family moved to Workington in 1250 and played an important role for the king, providing from their ranks 28 High Sheriffs of the County of Cumberland and 18 terms in Parliament. The infamous member of the family, Henry Curwen (1661-1725), was a Jacobite Rebel. He experienced a mysterious death, and his ghost can apparently be seen wandering among the ruins. Rumour has it that his death was partly caused by a French woman dragging him down the stairs before stealing his jewels. While the Hall still stood, strange banging noises on the steps were attributed to his ghost.

Another interesting owner was John Christian Curwen, cousin to the celebrated Fletcher Christian of Bounty fame. John was the guardian and later husband of his other cousin, Isabelle Curwen (b.1765). He purchased Belle Island in Windermere Lake for her, naming it in her honour. The family moved there, and the descendants occupied the island until 1993.

It was at Workington Hall that Mary, Queen of Scots, sought refuge after the defeat of her forces in May 1568, not knowing it would be her last day as a free woman. While staying here, she wrote to Queen Elizabeth the letter is now in the British Museum. The room in which she stayed is open to the elements, a sad reminder of her own tragic life. When she was here she gave the Curwen family an agate cup said to ensure good luck for the family as long as it wasnt broken.

Today Workington Hall is the site of the medieval Curwen fair during which Shakespearean pageants, operas, and plays are staged.

Please Note:
The hall is closed except through application via the Leisure Manager of Allerdale Borough Council, telephone at 01900 326333.

Workington Hall
On A66, eastern outskirts of town of Workington ½ mile southwest of Maryport, 6½ northeast of Whitehaven.

Photos by Barbara Ballard and courtesy of H Stamper The Geograph British Isles Project

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