Sizergh Castle (pronounced “Caesar”) is about four miles south of Kendal in Cumbria. It can therefore be regarded as being on the edge of the English Lake District. It is a “lived in” castle, but managed by the National Trust so that much of the castle and grounds are open to the general public.
The Strickland family have lived at Sizergh since the 13th century, and played a part in many events in English history, including the Battle of Agincourt and the Wars of the Roses. However, by retaining their loyalty to the Catholic Church they fell from favour in Stuart times and lost much of their fortune.
This family history meant that they were able to build well during their years of prosperity but had to rein back when money became harder to come by. Preservation took precedence over development, so what remains is a property that is largely Elizabethan but in an excellent state of repair, although a limited amount of building continued into Georgian times.
The earliest part of the castle is the 14th century Solar Tower, which is what is known as a “pele tower”, built as a fortified manor house in a lawless area, and on top of which signal fires could be lit to be seen a long way off.
The tower was augmented by Tudor buildings that enclose a courtyard, with two wings being mainly private family rooms. Visitors can view some of the rooms, from various eras, in the pele tower and attached buildings.
One of the best rooms is the Inlaid Chamber, with its excellent wood panelling and a 16th century four-poster bed. The panels and furnishings have not always been here. They were bought by the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) in the 19th century but loaned back to the castle in 1999. This means that the room has had the best preservation treatment that 20th century science could offer, thus giving the visitor the most authentic view possible of a 16th century upper-class bedroom.
The Georgian drawing room is a contrast to the heavier ambiance of the Tudor rooms, with light blue walls, tall wall niches and a collection of Oriental and European ceramics.
As is typical of a family house of this age, the walls are adorned with portraits of Stricklands from down the centuries. Also present are portraits that betray the family’s Catholic and Jacobite sympathies, including the “Old Pretender” as a boy and a bust of the “Young Pretender”.
Sizergh Castle is a site that is worth a visit whatever the weather, because it is interesting both indoors and out. The gardens are exceptionally good, including ornamental and kitchen areas, orchards, a fern garden, a limestone rock garden, ponds and a lake.
Outside the gardens there are paths that one can walk right across the 1600-acre estate of fields and woods. On a fine day there are excellent views back to the castle and to the mountains of the Lake District that rise in the distance.