When I say Appleby, most people will automatically think of the famous horse fair that is held in the town the first week of every June. However, there is another side to Appleby – an historic one.
There was been a settlement near the current town since the 9th Century, when Vikings first arrived in the Eden Valley. However, as you tread the streets today you could be forgiven for thinking you had wondered into a small Cotswold market town – albeit with the distinctive local red sandstone. Gorgeous Georgian and Victorian frontages mix with Jacobean and even medieval buildings, betraying an earlier past. Off the main street in town (the Boroughgate) there are lots of narrow-angled side streets – called wiends – to explore. They were devised to slow down the marauding Scots when border raids were still common, but are now full of delightful cafes and antique shops.
St Lawrence’s Church
A truly ancient building, the parish church was founded shortly after the castle. The oldest part of the present church is the Norman tower, and a lot of the medieval fabric remains – which is a small miracle when you consider the rampaging Scots attacked it in 1388. Nowadays, the church is much more peaceful.
St Lawrence’s also houses the Clifford Chapel. Against the north wall of the chapel is the imposing black marble memorial to Lady Anne Clifford, 14th Baroness Clifford and Dowager Countess of Dorset, Pembroke and Montgomery. She was a significant personality in 17th Century Westmoreland. The memorial bears 24 shields displaying her impressive lineage. However, Lady Anne is not buried here but in a crypt underneath the chapel.
Opposite Lady Anne’s memorial is that of her mother, Lady Margaret Russell, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Bedford. The beautiful alabaster effigy has been attributed to Maximilian Colt, King James I’s Master Carver who also produced the effigy for the tomb of Elizabeth I. When you learn that Lady Margaret was a maid of honour, and close friend, to Elizabeth, attending her on her death bed, this connection makes sense.
Lady Anne Clifford is famous for rebuilding many of the castles and churches in the Eden Valley and she had a hand in rebuilding St Lawrence’s Church as well. Given the prominence of Lady Anne in the local tourist literature (there is even a Lady Anne Clifford trail to follow if you are that way inclined) it was a bit disappointing that the Clifford Chapel was being used as no more than a store room. A real shame.
The other outstanding feature in the church is the large organ, located at the west end of the nave. This is the oldest working organ in England, with the oldest parts dating to circa 1542. At the base of the pipes are gilded and chubby-cheeked cherub heads.
Other features to see in St Lawrence’s Church include a lovely box pew carved with dragons and a 19th Century font in black Frosterley marble.
The Almshouses of St Anne’s Hospital
In 1653, Lady Anne established a set of almhouses in Appleby for ‘twelve sisters and a mother’. There are 13 almshouses set around a courtyard with a tiny chapel in one corner. If you meet the criteria, you can still rent one of the houses here for only £10 a week!
The almshouses are adorned with the many, many heraldic shields of Lady Anne’s family and are well worth a wonder.
At the top of the Boroughgate you will find Appleby Castle. It was originally built by a Norman Baron to guard an important crossing point over the River Eden. The powerful Clifford family took up residence in the 13th Century, and the castle has been much improved and extended since then – including by Lady Anne, of course!
Unfortunately, Appleby Castle is now in private ownership and acts as a luxury hotel. The day I visited, there seemed to be little inclination to cater to the many tourists in the area – everything was locked up and there was a sign saying not to enter the grounds unless you were a hotel resident. Another missed opportunity, but perhaps someone could around this by visiting for lunch?
So, next time you’re ‘t’up North’ give the Lake District a miss and head to the other side of Cumbria – I promise you you won’t be disappointed!