There is evidence of human occupation on Piel island spanning at least the last 3000 years. Piel Island was probably visited by the Celts and later by the Romans during their conquest of Britain.
The island came under the ownership of Furness Abbey and as the Abbey started to grow it fulfilled their need for a safe harbour.
The current motte and bailey “castle” with its defence ditches was built in the early part of the 14th century. It was probably intended to be used 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, it also kept the King’s customs men at a distance. It is widely known at the time that the Abbey was active in the smuggling business!
Piel’s notoriety during the 15th Century continued when Colonel Martin Swartz and his German mercenaries landed on the island on June 4th 1487 as part of an attempt by Lambert Simnel to seize the English Crown. Simnel set off across Furness for London. He was defeated by the King’s forces as the Battle of Stoke on June 16th and when he did finally arrive in London it was as a prisoner of Henry VII..
The entire island was given over to the town of Barrow-in-Furness in 1920 as a memorial to those who lost their lives during the First World War. The guardianship of the castle was transferred to English Heritage.
The Ship Inn on the island dates from the late 18th century. Today it provides sustenance for sailors, fishermen and day-trippers to the island. The landlord is known as ‘The King of Piel’.
A tradition associated with the pub is known as the ‘Knighthood of Piel’. Local fishermen have handed this down over the centuries. In a room of the inn is a large oak chair and anyone who sits in it is made a ‘Knight of Piel’. The ceremonial knighting is carried out by the King of Piel or a fellow knight. The present-day cost of becoming a knight is to buy a round of drinks for all those present. However, the privilege afforded to knights is that they may demand food and lodging off the innkeeper should they be shipwrecked on Piel. I’m hoping I don’t have to claim that right!
Here’s some stunning drone footage of Piel Island. Enjoy…..