Lanercost Priory sits upon the borderlands of England and Scotland which the English did not gain full control over until King Henry II in 1157. He then established a new overlord, Hubert de Vaux whose son Robert founded the Augustinian priory at Lanercost in his father’s memory. The first building was likely to be made of wood but Lanercost was close to Hadrian’s Wall and the great Roman creation made a great source of good building stone, ready cut to shape.
The Priory became a Royal Palace for 5 months in 1306/7 when Edward I, an aging monarch and in ill health and for whom the journey north had taken its toll. Accompanied by a large entourage, the Priory now had to house them all and separate suites of buildings and tents were put up for the accompanying masses and the king and queen themselves. This put a severe strain on the Priory’s resources.
In 1542, after the dissolution of the Monasteries, Thomas Dacre was granted the priory and its lands excluding the parish church and its cemetery. Thomas chose to use the west range of the monastic cloister as his residence and the first floor was converted into a great open hall- now known as Dacre Hall with a new fireplace in its east wall. The south end linked to Dacre tower which the Dacres rebuilt or converted from its medieval origins. Thomas started all this but the work was probably completed by his son Christopher, whose initials and the date 1586 are carved into the fireplace. The last male heir of the Dacres died in 1716 with debts of more than £1800 and this marks the end of the reign of the new Dacres of Lanercost. The Howards now became the Earls of Carlisle, this being granted by Charles II in 1661. Much refurbishment work of the Priory took place in the later part of the 19th century, with discussions re who was responsible being brought to a head by the collapse of the roof at the east end of the church during a storm.
In 1869 Queen Victoria, probably at the instigation of George Howard, who became the 9th Earl of Carlisle in 1889, insisted that the new owners should be legally bound to preserve the priory, ruins and all and George, with his great talents and sensitivity helped Lanercost enjoy its best years since the Dissolution. With his own fine art talents and connections with the Pre-Raphaelites had many fine works of art installed int eh priory itself. He died in 1911 and is buried at Lanercost in the Lady Chapel. Unfortunately his heir, Lady Cecilia Roberts could not afford the upkeep of the ruins and the guardianship of Lanercost Priory went to the Office of Works as a “gift to the nation”. The hall was given to the people of Lanercost in 1952 as their village hall by the then Earl and Lady Carlisle.
The hall would have originally stretched almost the full length of the range and the room was well lit by windows in each side wall. The hall is now split by a stage with a kitchen area behind . The hall itself is impressive but its most interesting feature lies in its tantalising traces of mid-sixteenth century wall paintings – the most important surviving examples in the north – west England. The best of these are on the north wall, where columns support an ornate frieze featuring an angel. the head and wings of a griffin can be seen immediately below the angel.
The hall has recently been the subject of a £450k refurbishment of the roof, lighting, etc plus the preservation of the paintings on the walls, with funding help from a list of contributors which can be seen outside the main entrance to Dacre Hall. The mantle, from Henry VIII’s time which had been in the Bowes Museum was brought back to the Hall and sited in its original place, again with funding from generous contributors and is a fine example of historical wood sculpture. The new kitchen was fitted with the assistance of local company Border Kitchens, who along with Carlisle Council ran a competition for a new kitchen for a village hall and Dacre Hall won 1st place.
The Hall is maintained by a committee of volunteers who actively raise money and seek out funding for projects to maintain the hall as part of a thriving community.