Thought to be standing on Roman remains dating back to 79AD, records show that the Pennington family have been there since at least 1026, although the castle itself was erected later.
The History of Muncaster Castle
Alan de Penitone was granted the lands in 1208, and fifty years later Gamel de Mulcastre built a castle. Like most great buildings, it has been built, refurbished and extended with almost every era following.
In the 1300s a Pele tower was built on Roman foundations, part of this in incorporated in the south-west tower. A coin from the time of Emperor Theodosius (AD380) has been found here, along with a Victorian ring.
In 1464 Sir John Pennington sheltered Henry VI after the battle of Hexham. To commemorate the place where the shepherds had found the King wandering, in 1783 John, Lord Muncaster built the tower known as the Chapels. Legend has it that Holy King Harry left his drinking bowl there to show his gratitude, saying that `as long as it should remain quite whole and unbroken the Penningtons would live and thrive in the place`. This bowl, known as `The Luck of Muncaster` is still intact today.
The Family married successfully in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1783 the 5th Baronet was made the first Baron Muncaster. He started the present library and carried out extensive renovations, as well as planting most of the large Redwood trees.
General Lowther Pennington, his brother, carried on the succession. In his youth Lowther had a reputation as being somewhat of a `hothead`, and when serving in America he killed a man in a duel which had come about over a “foolish quarrel about humming a tune”.
In 1862 his grandson, Gavel Augustus, prior to his death, instructed the very fashionable Anthony Salvin to `update` the house. Salvin covered the courtyard, built originally by the first Lord Muncaster and converted it to the present Drawing Room; its much admired barrel ceiling being the work of two Italian Plasterers. Lady Pennington-Ramsden redecorated it in 1958.
Gamels brother, the fifth and last Lord Muncaster died in 1917, when the estate went to his mothers family, the Ramsdens, a powerful family with a notable part in Yorkshire history. They brought to Muncaster many of their possessions, including the Ramsden family portraits. At that time the estate still extended to 23,000 acres.
Muncaster today is still home to the Pennington- Ramsdens, being handed to Phyllida by her father, Sir William Pennington – Ramsden in 1983. They share it with the public in the summer months, believing “It is important to our family and the house that it should be regarded as an integral part of the life of West Cumberland, and not as an isolated enclave within less privileged surroundings“
The Haunted History of Muncaster Castle
As one might expect from such a grand building with such a long and interesting history, Muncaster reputedly has several ghosts.
The most prominent ghost thought to be at Muncaster is Tom Fool. Aka Tom Skelton, Tom was a jester and believed to have had a powerful influence around Muncaster Castle. He died around 1600 and is said to have been a `michevious` character; when passer`s by stopped to ask for directions he would point them in the direction of the quicksand not towards the fjord…..
Under the orders of Sir Ferdinand Pennington Tom chopped the head off the local carpenter, as punishment for falling in love with Sir Penningtons daughter, Helwise.
The present owners believe Tom still resides at the castle, and most of the ghostly goings on and all of the more sinister activities are attributed to him. Tom is often `felt`.. but never seen.
An archaeologist staying there whilst he investigated the Roman significance of the sites around the castle fled in terror ,unable to return for three days. He believes the activity of his research may have unearthed a new, Roman ghost…however the current owners are keeping an open mind…they suspect it is more the handy work of their old friend Tom Fool…………