Originally fortified in the Reign of King Stephen (1135-54). A licence to crenellate was granted in 1327 to the Abbot and Convent of Furness and the visible remains probably date from that period. Dismantled 1403 and partly rebuilt circa 1429, The castle was ruinous by 1537. It was renovated in the mid C19. The monument is an enclosure castle consisting of a keep, gatehouse, inner and outer baileys, an inner and outer moat, curtain walls and towers. Excavations and survey in 1983-4 produced very few remains of medieval occupation, but showed that there was more than one building phase. Cobble rubble with red sandstone dressings. Incomplete 3-storey keep now of 2 long cells with north gatehouse; east side collapsed. Inner defence on 2 sides has gatehouse to west and corner towers. Less complete outer bailey with section of wall and freestanding towers linked by mound and ditch. Keep: chamfered plinth; offset diagonal buttresses and mid-point buttresses; pointed, 2-light windows originally with quatrefoils. Vaulted gatehouse has moulded, pointed arch with clinging figure carved on keystone; hexagonal clasping buttresses. Internal spiral stair to left is lit by slits each side of the buttress; wall bows out at another spiral stair on right return. Projection at south-east corner has different floor levels. Vaulted look-outs at corners of parapet. Inner defence: 2-storey west gatehouse with pointed arches and 2 flights of steps against wall to north; north-west tower is 5-sided. Furness Abbey engaged in much trade through Piel Harbour and fortified this site soon after the Scottish invasions of 1316 and 1322. The castle provided a secure warehouse for contraband goods including Flemish wool. Henry IV briefly took possession but not before the abbots had the roof stripped to ensure the King did not install revenue men. In 1487 Lambert Simnel and an army of mercenaries landed at Piel intending to dethrone Henry VII; their march ended in defeat at the Battle of Stoke. (Derived from PastScape and Listed Building Report)
The monument is a rare example of a castle controlled largely by a monastic order. As such it testifies to the wealth, power and influence of the Savignac and latterly Cistercian monks of Furness Abbey between the 12th - 16th centuries. The castle survives well, displays more than one building phase, and possesses a keep of unusual form.
The monument is Piel Castle, located at the southern end of Piel Island between Walney Island and the mainland. The castle is built of roughly coursed stone collected from the beach, with its architectural features constructed of red sandstone ashlar quarried in the vicinity of Furness Abbey. The castle guarded the main approaches to the deep-water harbour outside Barrow and includes a keep, gatehouse, inner and outer baileys, inner and outer moat, curtain walls and towers. The keep is extremely unusual, comprising three parallel compartments though the easternmost of these has fallen into the sea and its walls now lie on the beach. It lay within an inner ward, the south and east walls of which have also been eroded by the sea. There are towers at the south-west, north-west and north-east corners of the inner ward, the latter projecting north of the inner curtain wall. Access to the inner ward is by a gatehouse in the west curtain wall. A dry moat some 10m wide by 2.5m deep flanks the north and west sides of the inner curtain. Access from the outer ward to the gatehouse is now by a causeway but was originally provided by a drawbridge. The outer curtain wall survives best close to the north-east corner. On the western and north-western sides the wall does not survive above foundation level, while remains of its southern side lie tumbled on the beach. There are towers at the south-west, north-west and north-east corners. The former has short lengths of curtain wall attached and both this and the north-east tower project slightly beyond the wall. Flanking the north and west sides of the outer curtain is a dry moat up to 13m wide by 3m deep. Within the outer ward, adjacent to the north-east tower, is the foundation of a single freestanding building measuring some 10m by 6m traditionally referred to as the chapel. Its original function, however, is unclear. The original stronghold was erected for the monks of Furness Abbey in King Stephen's reign (1135-54). The castle was besieged by Robert Bruce in 1316, 1317 and 1322. A licence to crenellate was granted in 1327 and construction of the present castle is attributed to Abbot John Cockerham at about this time. In 1403 Abbot John de Bolton is said to have found the cost of the castle's upkeep beyond his means. About 1429 the castle was repaired and restored. In 1487 Lambert Simnel was proclaimed king here by his mercenary troops. The castle had a short period of occupation and was ruinous by 1537. During the mid-19th century the Duke of Buccleuch undertook renovations to the monument including construction of sea defences which slowed the pace of erosion on the southern and eastern sides of the castle. The family gave the island, including the castle, to Barrow Corporation in 1918, and the monument was taken into the guardianship of the Secretary of State the following year. (Scheduling Report)
The value of the building to the Abbey may have been multifold. A high status symbol of the importance of the Abbey to passing ships; an centre for the administration and tax collection of an estate and of the trade to the Abbey's estates in Ireland and the Isle of Man; a retreat for the Abbot and monks where sea-fish and water fowl would have been an luxurious improvement on the normal monastic diet of freshwater fish. However as a strongly built building at a tactically useful position controlling coastal shipping it would have been a target for military action and then require fortification and garrisoning with the associated cost. In this case it may well be that the licence to crenellate of 1327 was granted in association with producing some serious defensive features of the existing buildings, although it should be noted that generally licence to crenellate were granted to building with only token defensive features.