Penrith’s historic legacy has arisen from its crucial position on a strategic junction of north-south and east-west routes that persists to this day. Over the centuries the town became a focus for invasion and, too often, destruction.
In 1223 Penrith was granted a market. This status and the town’s position on trade routes within a rich, fertile valley became the source of its commercial prosperity over subsequent centuries. A group of enterprising merchants grew up, one of whom, Gerard Lowther (a forebear of the Earls of Lonsdale), in the 16th century, built the house that is now known as the ‘Two Lions’, next to the old market place of Great Dockray.
It is likely that the ‘Two Lions’ was erected initially as a fortified house on the site of an earlier structure and, like all long-standing houses, it changed ownership and was modified over time. In the 1650s, when civil marriages were introduced by England’s puritan government, it may, as the home of the merchant Thomas Langhorne, have acted for a while as a kind of register office. Whilst in 1792 the ‘Two Lion’s could still be described as a ‘capital mansion’, in subsequent decades, with a brisk trade and transport developing, Penrith needed inns and public houses, of which the Lowther mansion became one in the 19th century. Today, if a building could speak, the ‘Two Lions’ is crying out to be restored as one of Penrith’s oldest and most important buildings.
Of particular note, and in need of conservation, are embellished ceilings in what had been the dining room, where ceiling bosses bear the date 1585, and in a bedroom where the ceiling has the letters ‘GLL’ for Gerard and Lucie Lowther, with the date 1586. The fireplace is dated 1585 and there is an imposing external door of indeterminate age.
The ‘Two Lions’, empty and neglected as it presently is, presents Penrith with wonderful opportunities for restoration and use for a variety of purposes: tourism, education and a celebration of our heritage. The building is owned by Eden District Council and leased to Sainsbury’s as part of the New Squares development.
At a meeting in September about 30 people came together to hear about possibilities for the future of the ‘Two Lions’ and to share ideas about how the building might be used. A core of about 10 people, The Two Lions Group, each with different talents ranging from history to architecture, is leading this process.
The Two Lions Group would love to hear from the public, with further ideas for the sympathetic and productive use of the building, and their recollections. Local residents may have memories and photographs of events – perhaps receptions and celebrations – that recall its recent history as a pub. If you can contribute ideas or memories, please telephone 01768 899773 or email firstname.lastname@example.org