Piel Island lies half a mile
(1 km) off the southern tip of the Furness
Peninsula in the administrative
county of Cumbria, though
historically within Lancashire north of the sands.
An aerial view of Piel Island.
It is located at
SD 233637). It is one of the Islands of
Furness in Northern
It is the location of the English Heritage
-owned Piel Castle.
is owned by the people of Barrow-in-Furness, the mainland town across the Piel Channel within
whose administrative boundaries it is to be found.
of Piel is about 50 acres (20 ha). Normally, the only permanent
residents are the landlord of the Ship Inn and his family.
Currently the Ship Inn is empty whilst restoration work takes place
before the new landlord (known as the "King of Piel"
In the Middle Ages
Piel was known as
Fowdray (or Fouldrey) island. This name would seem to be derived
from the Old Norse
meaning fodder, and "ay"
meaning island. The island's known history dates from
the time of King Stephen
1127 gave the island to the Savignac
as part of a land grant for an abbey. When the Savignacs
became part of the Cistercian order later
in the 12th century, the island came
under the control of the Cistercians at nearby Furness Abbey.
In the early 13th
the Cistercians used Piel as a safe harbour and built a
warehouse for the storage of grain, wine and wool. Some of these
commodities were shipped over from Ireland.
1212 the monks were granted a licence by King John
to land one cargo of "wheat,
flour and other provisions"
to stave off a famine caused by
the failure of the local harvest. Later in the century an unlimited
cargo licence was granted and in 1258 ships owned by the abbey were
placed under royal protection.
The monks fortified the island, firstly with a wooden tower
surrounded by a ditch with palisades, and then in 1327 they
commenced the building of a motte and
fort. This structure was, at the time, the largest of
its kind in North West England
It was probably built as a fortified warehouse to repel pirates and
raiders, but it would appear to have had a measure of success in
keeping the customs men at bay as well; smuggling was widespread at
the time and the abbey was known to have been involved. Indeed, in
1423 an accusation was made against the Abbott of Furness that he
smuggled wool out of the country from "la Peele de Foddray". The
ruins of the fort came to be
known as the "Pile of Fouldrey", and are known today as Piel
noteworthy episode in the island's history occurred on 4 June, 1487 when Lambert Simnel and his supporters arrived
Simnel was being passed off as Edward VI
, King of England by John de la Pole, Earl of
in his attempt to regain the throne for the Yorkists
. Simnel and 2,000 German mercenaries
made their way via Piel to do battle for the throne.
eventually defeated at the Battle of Stoke near Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire on 16 June, 1487.
Following the Dissolution
of the Monasteries
in 1537 Piel Island and its castle became
the property of the king. The castle's fortifications were
strengthened at the time of the Spanish
but from then until the Civil War
nothing of note happened on the
island. The area of Furness was a Parliamentarian
stronghold during the
Civil War. For this reason the Parliamentarian fleet
retreated to Piel Harbour when the Royalists captured Liverpool.
Piel Island became an important trading post during the 1700s and
at one point customs men were permanently stationed there;
smuggling was still rife at the time. In the second half of the
the iron ore
trade began to develop on the Furness
Peninsula and the harbour continued to be important to the local
economy. As the volume of shipping increased "His Majesty's
were stationed on Piel as harbour pilots and customs
inspectors. Their cottages still stand, now used as summer
residences by sailors.
In the 19th century
the island was the
subject of a poem by romanticist
Piel Island eventually fell under the ownership of the Duke of Buccleuch
. He donated it to the
people of Barrow-in-Furness in 1920 as a World War I
Modern day Piel Island
separated from neighbouring Roa Island by the Piel Channel, the island is accessible via a
ferryboat which runs from Roa Island pier during summer
weekends. A causeway links the island to Walney Island but is only passable with care at low tide.
Piel Castle is managed by English
and there is free, unlimited access. The castle,
located on the southeast tip of Piel Island, is an impressive ruin
made up largely of stones from the beach. The three-storey keep is
sadly no longer accessible to visitors, as it affords great views
of the island.
The island is a haven for wildlife with many different species of
sea bird to be found. Visitors should take care not to disturb
nesting birds while walking on the beach. A marsh pond in the
centre of the island now attracts many other types of bird.
The Ship Inn
The Ship Inn dates from the late 18th
. Today it provides sustenance for sailors, fishermen
to the island. The
landlord is known as 'The King of Piel', a title originating from
the time of Lambert Simnel and his attempt to usurp the English
throne. 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.
The pub's licence ended in November 2005 and Rod Scarr, who had
been King of Piel for 20 years, left the island in April 2006. The
island thus fell under the control of Barrow Borough Council
opportunity was taken to fully renovate the pub, though work did
not begin until July 2008, 
shortly after the new 'King of Piel', Steven
Chattaway, was crowned. 
Barrow and District
by Fred Barnes, Barrow-in-Furness
Corporation, Barrow-in-Furness (Lancashire) 1968