30 July 2016
The site of Lowther Castle was the ancestral home of the Lowther family, which took its name from the River Lowther running through their lands. Around 1390 Sir High Lowther built a fortified tower with a beacon on top to warn of the approach of invading Scottish armies. Sir John Lowther rebuilt the tower as a country house in 1630 and this was demolished and replaced by a new mansion in 1691 by John Lowther (1655-1700), 1st Viscount Lonsdale. The mansion was partly destroyed by a fire in 1718 and was in turn demolished in 1805 and replaced by the present castle. This was built between 1806 and 1814 by William Lowther (1757-1844), 1st Earl of Lonsdale (second creation), and was designed by London architect Robert Smirke (1780-1867), who also designed the British Museum.
Hugh Cecil Lowther (1857-1944), 5th Earl of Lonsdale, was known as the Yellow Earl on account of his predilection for the background colour of the family’s coat of arms. He was the first president of the Automobile Association, which is why the badge of the organisation is yellow. He was also a keen supporter of boxing and the Lonsdale belts were named after him. The Yellow Earl was friends with Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, who came to visit the castle in 1895 and again in 1902. Hugh’s extravagant lifestyle resulted in mounting debt and by 1935, no longer able to afford its upkeep, he moved out of the castle and the property was locked up.
During World War II the Bristish Army requisitioned Lowther Castle and concreted over extensive parts of the gardens for tank manoeuvres. After being returned to the family, the National Trust declined to take on the property and in order to avoid tax the roof of the castle was removed in 1957. Much of the garden was planted with conifers and the site was used as a commercial chicken farm.
Having been acquired by the charity Lowther Castle and Garden Trust, the ruins of the castle and 130 acres of grounds were opened to the public in 2012. The gardens are in the process of being restored and it is anticipated that the restoration project could take around 20 years to complete.