|Colin says: Looking over Haws Bed to Piel Island |
One of the most colourful places around Walney Isle is Fouldrey Island - also know as Piel Island - taking itís name from the 'castle' (warehouse) which was built by monks of Furness Abbey in the 14th century to protect their valuable imports and exports. the castle and its island have been witness to some of the greatest events in history.
Piel Island was probably visited by the Celts, and certainly by the Romans, during their conquest of Britain. the first recorded name for the island came from the Scandinavian settlers to the area. the name 'Foundry' or 'Fotheray' is thought to come from the old Norse words "foder or fouder" (meaning fodder) and "ay or oy", meaning island. Foudrey may therefore reasonably be thought to have been used as a foddering place for the settlersí grazing animals. However some people believe the name is Old English, claiming that the island was recorded as being named 'Fotherey' around 1327 and 'Foderaye' in 1537 - believed to be from the Old English word 'fugol' & 'eg' meaning 'island of birds'.
In 1127 the island was given to the Savignac monks as part of their land grant for an abbey form King Stephen. After the Savignacs and Cistercians merged in the middle of the century; Furness Abbey started to grow and the need for a safe harbour for their trade became apparent. Foudrey seemed to be the ideal answer as it was easily defended, was close to the Abbey, and was large enough on which to build a warehouse for their cargoes.
In 1212 King John granted the Abbey a license to land one cargo of wheat, flour and other provisions in order to stave off a famine caused by the failure of local crops. Thus the first wooden tower was built on the island. An unlimited cargo license was eventually granted in 1232, and in 1258, the Abbey's own ships came under royal protection.
The current motte and bailey "castle" with its defence ditches was built in the early part of the fourteenth century and was the largest in the area. It was was never intended to be a "castle" as such, but rather as a fortified warehouse to keep cargoes safe from pirates and other raiders. the Abbey soon discovered that it did not just keep the pirates out, the "Pile of Fotheray" also kept the Kingís customs men at a distance. It was widely known at the time that the Abbey was actively smuggling - high tariffs on many items causing a lucrative trade in contraband to flourish as it did.
Although Piel was held by King Henry IV for a short period, the island continued to be a focal point for the smuggling trade in Furness until 1487. On June 4th of that year, Lambert Simnel, a merchantís son, under the guidance of the Earl of Lincoln, landed at Piel. Simnel claimed that he was Earl of Warwick and therefore, was, the rightful King of England. With his army of German and Irish mercenaries, Simnel set off across Furness to march on London. He did finally arrive in London, but only as the prisoner of Henry VII after being defeated by the Kingís forces at the Battle of Stoke on June 1 6th. After the invasion, the re-fortification of Piel was discussed, but life soon returned to its normal routine of trading and smuggling.
It was the dissolution of the monasteries that caused the next great change, as the island passed from the Abbey to the King. Some effort to upgrade the castle occurred when the Spanish Armada was threatening to invade, but with its defeat, the "Piel of Fouldrey" eventually sunk into relative obscurity.
In the next century however, Piel saw the Parliamentarian fleet anchored just off its coast after the Royalists captured Liverpool. With Furness being a Parliamentarian stronghold, Piel Habour was the safest place for the fleet to anchor.
Revenue Officers first came officially to Piel in 1669 as smuggling once again increased. a report from 1727 indicated that the King's Men men were very capable as it stated that the "fraudulent trade" was almost destroyed. Also at this time, the merchants using Piel Habour petitioned the King complaining that they had to ride across two dangerous sands in order to fetch the Customs House Officer from Lancaster. they claimed to have enough trade to warrant their own Customs House. their petition was granted and eventually there were three officers and the Revenue agent at Piel. Records from the time show that as many as 250 ships were anchored in Piel Harbour at any one time.
The island and harbour continued in use as shipping and the iron industry grew in Furness. Houses for pilots and a public house were built on Piel in the late eighteenth century. the Pilots houses are now used as holiday homes by modern day sailors and the Ship Inn still caters for the hungry and thirsty.
The landlord of the Ship Inn is traditionally still know as the "King of Piel". the title comes from the time of Lambert Simnel when he declared himself king. This tradition has also given rise to the "Knights of Piel". In the Ship Inn is an old oaken chair - and anyone who sits in it becomes a Knight of Piel. the Knighthood ceremony must be performed by the King or another Knight. the new Knight must then carry out his duties which include buying everyone a drink, being a moderate smoker, an ardent lover of the opposite sex and of good character. One of the rights of a Knight of Piel is that if he finds himself shipwrecked on it's shore he may go to the Inn and demand a nightís free lodging and as much as he can eat and drink.
The haunting remains of Piel still hold a fascination for the many people who see the island floating in the distance. It retains its sense of remoteness although it is just half a mile by sea from Roa Island, and two miles (on foot, at low tide) from Walney. Camping facilities are also available on the island and can be arranged with the Ship Inn.
William Wordsworth had this to say about Piel island:
I was thy neighbour once, thou rugged Piel
Four summer weeks I dwelt in sight of thee
I saw thee every day: and all the while
Thy Form was sleeping on a glassy sea
So pure the sky, so quiet was the air
So like, so very like, was day to day
Whene'er I looked, thy image still was there
It trembled, but it never passed away
A four week sojourn doesn't exactly make Wordsworth an expert - but his opinion is probably just as valid as anyone else's.