Cartmel Priory Gatehouse
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
This 14th century gatehouse is all that remains of an Augustinian priory, founded in 1188 by William Marshall, lord of Cartmel (later Earl of Pembroke). None of the abbey's domestic buildings survive except for the striking gatehouse, which stands in solitary splendour leading from the square to the priory church.
The church was one of the few to survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries, a distinction it owed to Marshall, who stipulated that an altar should be provided within the church for the people of Cartmel.
When the rest of the priory was dismantled in 1537, the south aisle of the church was preserved to act as the new parish church. The rest of the church was left to moulder until the 17th century, when George Preston of Holker Hall re-roofed it and gave it a new screen and canopies for the superb 15th century choir stalls.
The gatehouse was probably built around 1330-40, partly as a ceremonial entrance from the market square to the priory enclave, but just as importantly as a defensive presence in this troubled area. Devastating raids by Robert the Bruce in 1315 and 1322 probably provided the impetus for the priory to build a defensive gatehouse to protect their site.
The gateway arch had a porter's chamber on one side and a guardhouse chamber on the other with a 'great room' over the central arch. This Great Room was originally used as a monastic court. The porter would dispense alms to to the poor, and presumably the guards would watch for trouble. In this area of northern England trouble was a constant possibility, with armed bands raiding north and south of the Scottish border on a regular basis.
But how did the gatehouse survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when so many monastic buildings were destroyed? The answer lies in its role as a courthouse for dispensing local justice. Not only was monastic justice dispensed in the Great Room, but the lord of Cartmel held his manorial court in the gatehouse, so the building was useful.
After the Reformation the gatehouse was used as a lockup, then as a school. One side of the gatehouse was used as a shop, and in 1923 a small museum was opened inside it. In 1946 it was given to the National Trust, and for several decades the gatehouse was open to the public.
The Trust seem to have washed their hands of the building lately and it closed to the public for several years. At last note it was occasionally opened to the public on a few special days throughout the year. Even if the chambers built into the gatehouse are not open, you can still pass through the arch to access the priory church (I highly recommend a visit!) and view the gatehouse from the outside.
About Cartmel Priory Gatehouse
Address: The Square, Cavendish Street, Cartmel, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria, England, LA11 6QB
Attraction Type: Abbey
Location: In the centre of Cartmel, on the market square
National Trust - see also: National Trust memberships (official website link)
OS: SD378 787
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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