Dating from 1154 during the reigns of King Stephen and Henry II, Dovenby Hall was the principal residence in Dovenby village. It lies 2.5 miles north-west of Cockermouth, surrounded by parks and woodland. The estate extends over 115 acres and the Hall was built in three stages: Peel Tower, Front and Arch and Rear Extension. Only approximate dates are known for each part of the extension.
The Peal Tower
The oldest part of the building, the Peel Tower, dates from early Norman times and was built in the twelfth century from stones taken from the Roman road that ran through the village from Maryport to Papcastle. Peel towers were small fortified keeps that were built along the English and Scottish borders, intended as watch towers where signal fires could be lit by the garrison to warn of approaching danger. If the village was attacked, the animals would be driven into the bottom of the tower and the people would occupy the top. Arrow slits were provided for men to fire on attackers. There is only one arrow slit remaining and that can be seen inside the Hall. There is an unusual staircase leading to the roof of the tower. Its age is unknown but the timber used is certainly ancient. It has a steep flight of 10 steps called paddle steps, designed to support only one foot.
The Front Arch
This part of the Hall approximately dates back to the sixteenth century and was built by the Lamplugh family, who first came to Dovenby in 1400. The two lodges (North and South) are to the same design as the outbuildings and stores. These two lodges marked the two rear entrances into the Hall. There was no lodge at the main gates, and today only the South Lodge remains.
The Rear Extension
The final part of the extension is at the rear of the Hall. It was built by Richard Lamplugh of Ribton after his marriage to Mary Molyne and is believed to date from the late seventeenth century. This part of the Hall contained the kitchen and staff quarters and a couple of living rooms for the family.
One of the rooms in the rear of the Hall is panelled with oak. This work was done during the Dykes’ occupation (1791 onwards) and their family motto is carved on the fireplace - Prius frangitur quam flectitur - meaning ‘You may sooner break than bend me’. This beautiful room was used by the Dykes during the winter when they found the drawing room too large to heat. They also used the second floor of the tower as a dining room.
The Hall has many coats of arms set in stone, and the oldest is one that bears the Lamplugh and Kirkbride Arms; the marriage of those families having taken place about about 1398 in the time of Richard II. Another, rather beautiful shield is that of the Lamplugh coat quarters - Barwise, Preston, Fenwick and Lucy. The Lamplugh coat of arms, a simple cross, dominates all the shields.
The Gambler's Stone
One of the Dykes was a great card player and he gambled the Estate on a single stake on a single card game. After a tense game of Putt, he eventually won on the very last deal and retained Dovenby Hall. In remembrance, he had sculptured the figure of a card deuce - part of which is on the north-facing wall at Dovenby.
The Old Cross
In the Dovenby Manor Book dated 1690, reference is made to ‘the Old Thaum Cross on the moor’. The Old Cross formerly stood on the common which is now named Stone Cross Wood. Mrs Mary Dykes uncovered it in about 1830 and had it brought near to the hall. There was a tradition that markets were held around the cross during times of plague. The farmers from Dovenby Village would leave their produce by the cross to be collected by the Cockermouth town’s people who were suffering from the plague, thus avoiding direct contact. On the enclosure of the common in about 1930, Mrs Dykes, as lady of the manor, moved the cross to a place more suitable for its security and preservation.
The Mulberry Tree
On the lawn near the south-facing wall stands a magnificent mulberry tree grown from a cutting taken by the Dykes from a tree at their previous home at Warthole. It is said that Thomas Dykes, a devoted Royalist, hid in the tree when Cromwell’s men came for him. Every morning his wife or daughter would bring him food. He took some doves into the tree with him and whenever the soldiers came near he released a couple to distract them. However, he eventually fell into the hands of Cromwell and was imprisoned in Cockermouth Castle. Offered his freedom if he would follow Cromwell, he replied in Latin: “Prius frangitur quam flectitur” - the words later adopted as the family motto.
In a wood at Dovenby called Lake Walk, beside Bride’s Beck, is a stone monument fenced off by railings. It stands in memory of Anne Francis Gunson who died in 1837 aged fifteen. She was the youngest of the three daughters of J Gunson Esq of Ingwell. Her eldest sister, Anne Eliza, married into the Dykes family of Dovenby Hall in 1844.
Although the story behind this monument is not clear, it is believed that Anne Francis, an invalid, spent a great deal of time in the woods and the site where the monument was later erected had become her favourite place in the woods. Mr and Mrs Frechville Dykes bought this monument to Dovenby from Ingwell in 1860 as a reminder of their dear child. Anne is believed to be the ghost that haunts the Hall.
The Industrial Dovenby
Around the turn of the nineteenth century, Alice coal pit, owned by Steel and Co., was located at the bottom of Dovenby village. The labour force came from Dovenby, Broughton and Dearham, and the money generated by the pit helped to maintain Dovenby Hall, as Colonel Dykes received a royalty for every ton of coal extracted. The Dovenby railway took the coal to Maryport and Workington; Dovenby Hall had its own private station, complete with tickets and a ticket master. Although the railway line is no longer there today, the old station building still remains. The mine and railway closed around 1930, but the course of the railway can be followed through the countryside near the Hall and so can the footpaths that the miners took.
The End of Dovenby Hall and the Beginning of Dovenby Hall Hospital
In 1930, Dovenby Hall was purchased by the Joint Committee for Carlisle, Cumberland and Westmorland from Colonel Ballantine Dyke. He moved to Broughton in Furness and the Hall was turned into a mental institution. Over the years the hospital was slowly expanded and eventually had accommodation for 400 patients, but closed in early 1997 and the Hall, designated a historical building, was put up for sale by the health authority.
The Future of Dovenby Hall
The Hall and all its grounds were purchased in January 1998 by M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson and underwent extensive refurbishment and development to accommodate the new headquarters for M-Sport Ltd, and to become home to Ford's World Championship rally team.