Seldom Seen – Piel Island
The Ship Inn

The white lime rendered inn looks like a typical south Lakeland farmhouse with barns & outbuildings. Possibly initially a chandlers, an inn is thought to have been on the site since the 17th century. The current building is 18th & 19th century.

The Inn served pilots competing for boats to guide into Piel Harbour. Visitor books from 1850’s (now in the County Archives) record the names of knights with humorous notes and sketches. The entries show the developing pleasure trade to the island in the 19th century.

The architectural and historic significance of the building is reflected in its grade 2 listing.

In 2006 Barrow Borough Council took the opportunity to fully renovate the Ship Inn. Works included re-roofing the property and providing ensuite accommodation.

The internal fit-out includes works by Art Gene exploring the history and mythology of Piel and the wider Islands of Barrow. Through engraved furniture, ‘Beer Maps’ & the Seldom Seen Collection of Curiosities curated by Art Gene from donations by local people and businesses.

Art Gene’s work builds on and extends a rich vernacular tradition, captures the industrial acheivements, natural wonders and voice of the Islands of Barrow.

Kings & Knights of Piel Island

The landlord is traditionally the King of Piel, a title originating from the time of Lambert Simnel and his attempt to usurp the English throne on Piel Island in 1487. Since 1746 there have been 23 recorded landlords. Each was crowned as the King of Piel in a ceremony that reflects Simnel’s court on the island.

The King is crowned in an ancient, carved chair, wearing regalia of helmet & sword, while alcohol is poured over him through clay pipes. Beware: those who sit in the throne must stand a round of drinks for all present. The throne is used during the coronation of the Kings of Piel & the annual dubbing of new Knights & Baronesses. The privilege afforded to knights is that they may demand food & lodging from the innkeeper should they be shipwrecked on Piel.

Lambert Simnel

Lands on Piel Island in 1487 & claims English Throne

Lambert Simnel was born c.1477. His real name is not known & there are different claims as to his parentage. Most definitely, he was of humble origin. At the age of ten, he was taken as a pupil by an Oxford-trained priest named Roger Simon who apparently decided to become a king-maker & tutored the boy in courtly manners.

Simon noticed a striking resemblance between Lambert & the supposedly murdered sons of Edward IV, so he initially intended to present Simnel as Richard, Duke of York, son of King Edward IV, the younger of the vanished Princes in the Tower. However, when he heard rumours that the Earl of Warwick had died during his imprisonment in the Tower of London, he altered his plans & spread a rumour that Warwick had actually escaped from the Tower and was under his guardianship.

He gained some support from Yorkists, took Simnel to Ireland where there was still support for the Yorkist cause, & presented him to the Earl of Kildare head of the Irish government. Kildare was willing to support the story & invade England to overthrow King Henry.

Simnel’s army (mainly Flemish & Irish troops with some English supporters) landed on Piel Island on 5 June 1487 whereupon Simnel immediately laid claim to the English Throne. His army clashed with the King Henry’s on 16 June at the Battle of Stoke Field & Simnel was defeated. Simon avoided execution due to his priestly status, but was imprisoned for life.

King Henry pardoned young Simnel, probably because he had mostly been a puppet in the hands of adults, & gave him a job in the royal kitchen as a spit-turner. When he grew older, he became a falconer. He died around 1525 but his memory lives on in the tradition of the Kings of Piel.

Key Dates

In the Middle Ages, Piel Island was within the Parish of Dalton-in-Furness; Barrow in Furness at that time was .

Furness Abbey, the second most rich & powerful Cistercian Abbey in the country controlled the local economy and built Piel Castle c1237 as a fortified trading post.

In the Middle Ages Piel was known as Fowdray (or Fouldrey) Island. (from the Old Norse words ‘fouder’ meaning fodder, and ‘ay’ or ‘oy’ meaning island).

Piel’s known history begins; King Stephen gives Piel Island to the Savignac monks.

Later 12th c.
Savignacs become part of the Cistercian order & the island came under the control of Furness Abbey.

Early 13th c.
The Cistercians use Piel as a safe harbour & build a warehouse for the storage of grain, wine and wool. Some was shipped over from Ireland.

Monks granted a licence by King John to land one cargo of “wheat, flour & other provisions” to stave off famine caused by the local harvest failing. Later in the century an unlimited cargo licence was granted & 1258 ships owned by Furness Abbey were placed under royal protection. The monks fortified the island, firstly with a wooden tower surrounded by a ditch with palisades.

Monks begin to build a Motte & Bailey fort. The largest of its kind in North West England. Built as a fortified warehouse to repel pirates and raiders, it would appear to have had a measure of success in keeping the customs men at bay as well.

An accusation was made against the Abbott of Furness for smuggling wool out of the country from “la Peele de Foddray”. The red sandstone ruins of the fort came to be known as the “Pile of Fouldrey”, and are known today as Piel Castle.

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries Piel Island & its Castle, originally built by the Cistercian Monks at nearby Furness Abbey became the property of King Henry VIII.

Furness was a Parliamentarian stronghold during the English Civil War. For this reason the Parliamentarian fleet retreated to Piel Harbour when the Royalists captured Liverpool.

Following the restoration of King Charles II, the Lordship of Furness was given to the Duke of Albemarle including Piel Castle & other parts of Piel Island. After this date activity on Piel Island revolved around shipping and industry. A salt works is recorded as existing on the island from as early as 1662, which was still apparently present in the 1690’s.

18th c.
Piel Island becomes an important trading post & Customs men were permanently stationed on the Island; smuggling was still rife at the time. In the second half of the 18th century the iron ore trade began to develop on the Furness Peninsula and Piel Harbour continued to be important to the economy. As the volume of shipping increased “His Majesty’s Boatmen” were stationed on Piel Island as harbour pilots and customs inspectors. Their cottages still stand; but are now in private ownership. In formal terms, Piel Island was a creek (outstation) of the port of Lancaster, known as Piel Foudray.

A lease for agricultural land situated within the castle ditch was granted to an Edward Postlethwaite, who is described as an innkeeper from the ‘Pile of Fowdrey’. The earliest direct reference to an inn, or ‘publick house’ is in 1800.

19th c.
Piel island was the subject of a poem by romanticist William Wordsworth. The Island fell under the ownership of the Duke of Buccleuch.

The earliest map reference refers to the inn as ‘The Herdhouse’,

The Duke of Buccleuch donated Piel Island to the people of Barrow-in-Furness as a War Memorial following the ravages of WW1.