‘Dockray Hall in Penrith is being sold for £500,000…’
So read the story in the News and Star a few days ago.
‘comprises two bars, with separate, snug dining areas, all traditional in style, with large open fireplaces, beamed ceilings, and original panelling on the walls.
‘There are ladies’ and gents’ toilets, a kitchen/prep area, a dry store, a cold room, a beer cellar, and extensive staff and private quarters.
There are two things to note about Dockray Hall. First, as a pub it bore the name The Gloucester Arms (and previously The Golden Lion).
And second, Richard III is supposed to have stayed there, when he was Duke of Gloucester. Sort of. Or not.
It had me digging out an old, undated booklet on the history of Dockray Hall, written by a Mr John Jackson BA, on behalf of the pub’s then owners, Duttons Blackburn Brewery.
How old is Dockray Hall?
A guide to Penrith Listed Buildings describes the Gloucester Arms (as it was at the time) as:
Circa 1470 but now mainly late C16.
John Jackson calls it:
‘a representative example of an Elizabethan town residence (circa 1580) of the North of England’.
1580 isn’t a guess – above one porch is coat of arms with the initials IW (the I would be a J) and three greyhounds (which look more like dachshunds!). And with it is the date.
Probably (says John Jackson) this means that John de Whelpdale (one of the founders of Queen Elizabeth Grammar School) was the person who restored/rebuilt the original building, and extended it, to make the pub as it is today.
Clearly, Richard III never set foot in the Elizabethan building! And his coat of arms is over the main door of the Elizabethan frontage, so doesn’t prove he ever stayed in the old building. It just means the story is a very old one – and that the arms were a canny bit of marketing.
A Victorian addition
John Jackson doesn’t offer a date for the Gloucester coat of arms being added. But naming a pub after Richard when a Tudor was on the throne seems a little risky (if you valued your head), so it can’t have been when the Elizabethan part was built. According to 19th century directories, the pub was called the Golden Lion in 1829 and 1852. News articles mention the Golden Lion in 1854
– but 1854 also has a death notice for ‘Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Loy, late of Dockray Hall Inn’.
It was still Dockray Hall in December 1858, when the midden stead was emptied and six or seven empty purses found, presumed to have been thrown there by pickpockets at Martinmas.
Thomas Thompson died at Dockray Hall in April 1861. Mrs Thompson provided breakfast for the staff of the Carlisle Journal, on their annual trip to Ullswater, in July 1862. But in March 1863, an auction listing says the auction will be held at Mrs Thompson’s ‘house’, the Gloucester Arms.
That ties down the name change to somewhere between July 1862 and March 1863. Presumably accompanied by renovations.
Adding the coat of arms would have been a nice touch, especially with John de Whelpdale’s authentic arms over the porch nearby.
The Dockray family
Dockray Hall is in the square called Great Dockray, and round the corner from the charming little street called Little Dockray. The ‘y’ is dropped in pronunciation: Dockra, not ray.
The family likely took their name from Dockray, near Aira Force, taking the spelling as Dockwra.
At some point, one branch of the family built a house in Penrith and called it Dockwra Hall.
‘Ready next Tuesday, sire’
The story goes that Richard III – then the Duke of Gloucester – visited Penrith in 1471. Penrith castle was being altered and upgraded, but wasn’t ready for a royal visitor. So he stayed elsewhere in the town – at Dockra Hall. It would have been a great honour for the family to have the king’s younger brother as a house guest, but for Richard, not so much, as they and their home would have been far below his station.
At what point the Dockra family left Penrith seems unknown. But we do know John de Whelpdale bought the place from someone and did it up and extended it in 1580.
The de Whelpdale family kept it for a century, before it was sold, in 1684, to a Thomas Webster. It was sold again in 1719, to William Rowell, and then passed to his granddaughter, a Mrs Seaman. Whose three daughters inherited it from her and sold it Jeremiah Savage in 1787.
Old Dockray Hall
When John Jackson was writing his little guide, he describes the various features in each part of the building: the old hall, the Tudor extension, and a later extension at the back. Of the old hall, he says it was:
‘until quite recently being used as a separate cottage’.
He also describes The Gloucester Room – claimed to be where Richard slept. But he points out even the arms of the de Whelpdales in there have to be copies. For while they represent the union of a de Whelpdale woman to a Carleton man, they are back to front.
The supposed tunnel from the castle
Popular tradition has it that not only did Richard stay at Dockray Hall – there was a secret tunnel running from Penrith Castle to the pub.
A letter in the Penrith Observer of April 12, 1949, addresses a previous article about the Gloucester Arms. The writer, the Rev C M L Bouch, of Clifton, takes issue with ‘Cloggyr’ over several points. Including the tunnel.
‘For what conceivable reasons should (our medieval forbears) have built all these alleged underground passages – veritable death-traps many of them might become..’
Mr Bouch’s view is that the reputed tunnels were either water conduits or drains. And he also questions why the brother of the king would have stayed in a small, unfortified house – potentially at great risk from attack by his enemies, or Scottish raiders.
John Jackson concludes that a lot of questions remain to be answered. But:
‘It is good to see that the old charm and character and also the antiquity of the place have been carefully preserved in alterations which have been made to provide the amenities of a good modern inn’
Let’s hope whoever buys Dockray Hall is able to ensure modern visitors can also enjoy its charm, and the old legend that goes with it.