Lowther Castle, which is situated just off the A6 between Shap and Penrith in North Cumbria, was built by Robert Smirke between 1806 and 1811. He also designed St Peter’s Church which is in nearby Askham. The Earls of Lonsdale, which were men of great influence in Cumbria, had extensive land holdings and until 1936 their seat was at Lowther, the place from which the family name is derived.
Sir James Lowther, who was the first Earl of Lonsdale, was an extremely eccentric man who was ruthless in his efforts to buy parliamentary seats. Locally he was known as Wicked Jimmy and more widely as the Tyrant of the North. For several years he failed to pay the salary of his agent John Wordsworth, father of William Wordsworth, despite being said to be the richest man in the Kingdom.
However, the fifth Earl of Lonsdale, famously known as the “Yellow Earl”, Hugh Lowther, a famous socialite, undermined the family fortune by extravagance and the castle was closed in 1937. He is also well known as the first president of the Automobile Association as it was he who influenced the choice of yellow livery still used by the AA today.
The castle’s contents were removed in the late 1940’s and the roof was removed in 1957. During the Second World War the castle was used by a tank regiment. This shell of a castle is still owned by the Lowther Estate Trust, who together with the English Heritage commissioned a team of historians, architects, landscapers and engineers in 2000 to review the status of the castle and it’s extensive grounds.
Together they produced the Lowther Castle and Garden Conservation Plan. The estate formed an informal partnership with the Northwest Development Agency, English Heritage, the Royal Horticultural Society and Cumbria Vision in 2005 to restore this site. This year (2009) the popular music festival will be hosted by Lowther Castle. Please visit the official Lowther Estate website for further information.