Countess Pillar near Penrith

Situated by the side of the busy A66 just outside Penrith in Cumbria, is a stone tower known as the Countess Pillar.

Standing around 4m tall and  on a small hill beside the busy road, this memorial will go un-noticed by many passing motorists heading towards the M6.

The Countess Pillar is situated on the side of the old A66 with the new road to the left

The Pillar is situated on the side of the main road to Penrith, the A66.

The Countess Pillar marks the place nearby where Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset, bade farewell to her mother Margaret on 2 April 1616, at the gateway to Brougham Castle.

Brougham Castle is around 1km from the site of the Pillar.

Lady Anne Clifford

Lady Anne Clifford was born on the 30 January 1590 at Skipton Castle in Yorkshire.  She was the only surviving child of George Clifford, the 3rd Earl of Cumberland.

When her father died, on the 30 October 1605,  his estate went to her uncle but Anne, only 15 at the time,  believed this land was rightly hers.

Highly intelligent and determined, she refused to compromise over the dispute, which she won in 1643 after 29 years. Legally did not win her case but came by the Estate by outliving any male heirs.  The titles were formally passed to her in 1646, right in the middle of the English Civil War.

Lady Anne Clifford married twice, her first husband being the Earl of Dorset, and her second the Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery.

The Clifford family had owned land in Westmorland, now part of Cumbria, and large parts of Yorkshire since the 13th century, including the nearby castles of Appleby and Brougham.

It is said by some commentators that she ruled these areas like a queen and indeed was very well connected in social circles.

Lady Anne Clifford died on the 22 March 1676 in the same room where her father was born at Brougham Castle. She was buried close to her mother in the North Clifford Chapel at St. Lawrence’s church at Appleby-in-Westmorland.

The Countess Pillar

Surrounded by iron railings the Countess Pillar has an octagonal stone shaft with a cube shaped stone on top.  Three of the four faces feature sundials whilst the fourth features an inscription.

The inscription at the top of the Countess Pillar

The inscription at the top of the Countess Pillar

It reads:

This Pillar was Erected Anno 1656 By ye R. Honoble Anne Countess Dowager of Pembrook & Daughter & Sole Heire of ye Rt Honoble George Earl of Cumberland &c For a Memorial of her last Parting in this place with her good & Pious Mother ye Rt Honoble Margaret Countes Dowager of Cumberland ye 2d of April 1616. In Memory whereof she also left an Annuity of Four pounds to be distributed to ye poor within this parish of Brougham every 2nd day of April for ever upon ye stone table here hard by Laus Deo

Interestingly a date placed on one of the faces at the top of the monument reads 1654. This was the date when the pillar was erected by the side of the old A66.

The Alms table with the Countess Pillar behind

The Alms table with the Countess Pillar standing behind.

Two years later and on the 40th anniversary of the parting, Lady Anne Clifford started the ritual of distributing bread and money to the poor of Brougham.  A plaque on the side of the monument indicates that £4 be the sum that is to be distributed.

A service is held at the foot of the Countess Pillar at 12 noon on the 2nd April each year to distribute the money. This service is known as the annual dole.

The Alms table, or dolestone, and the Pillar are Grade II listed.

Bench mark point

A Cut mark obscures an earlier stone masons mark

A Cut mark obscures an earlier stone masons mark

Carved in to many of the stones used to construct the monument are masons marks.  One of the most prominent marks however is a cut mark, used for map making.

Interestingly the cut mark obscures one of the earlier stone masons marks.  Research shows that the masons mark was that of Jonathon Gledall.

Further information

BBC Radio 4 – Woman’s Hour – Lady Anne Clifford

The Diaries of Lady Anne Clifford


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