Last edited 13 Jan 2021

Peel tower

The peel tower at the north end of the village of Clifton (near Penrith) is a remnant of the old Clifton Hall. It serves as a reminder of the days of Scots raids from over the border, which is approximately 30 miles away.

A peel tower or pele tower (not to be confused with the commemorative Peel Monument in Bury, Greater Manchester) is a freestanding structure built for defence. From about 1450 to 1600, these small houses or keeps were constructed in strategic locations in the UK, mainly as protection in Northern England and Scotland against the invasion of Edward I.

These small, square (or oblong) stone buildings had thick walls, which were meant to protect the occupants from sieges. Comprising three storeys, they included a storage area or garderobe for supplies and animals (on the ground floor), a hall and kitchen (on the first floor) and living, sleeping and strategic observation quarters (on the top floor). The roof was normally flat and could be used for protective purposes.

In all, approximately 90 peels were built. They were primarily constructed along the borders; many were built in the Tweed valley. Under a 1455 Act of Parliament, these specific peels (Fruid, Hawkshaw, Oliver, Polmood, Kingledoors, Mossfennan, Wrae, Quarter, Stanhope, Drumelzier, Tinnies, Dreva, Stobo, Dawyck, Easter Happrew, Lyne, Barnes, Caverhill, Neidpath, Peebles, Horsburgh, Nether Horsburgh, Cardrona, Kirna, and Elibank) had to have defensive features at the ready, including an iron basket and a smoke or fire signal.

In addition to their strategic function, peel towers were sometimes used as dwellings for lairds and landlords. They also served as temporary protective residences for townspeople when raiding parties threatened their villages. Some peels were incorporated into churches (as belltowers) or converted into castles. One in North Yorkshire was converted for a television programme into Hellifield Peel Castle bed and breakfast.

--Heidi Schwartz

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