As the renovation work on the former Ship Inn got underway in 2007 Sean and Jayne Cussack allowed expert Philip Cracknell, BA AIFA from Greysouthern free rein to carry out a Historic Building Survey on the Castle Bar building at No. 14, Market Place.
His study included the early pictorial map drawn up for Henry Percy, the ninth Earl of Northumberland, who owned various properties in Cockermouth, dating from around 1600, which shows the buildings of Market Place in the heart of the town. Mr Cracknell states in his report: “While there was no requirement for an historic building survey with regard to the planning application, it was considered that the building was of some historical and archaeological importance and warranted a survey.
The present owner of the building, Mr. Sean Cusack, kindly allowed the author free access to the building during the programme of works in late 2007 and early 2008.
The exact date for the foundation of Cockermouth is not known, but the Borough Charter of c. 1210 shows that the town was in existence for some years before the earliest reference to its castle in 1221 or the grant of a market in 1227. Moreover, the charter of c. 1210 is a confirmation of privilege conferred on the free men of the town some time in the past, implying that the original foundation occurred at an earlier date. Evidence that an urban community was in existence at Cockermouth by c. 1200 comes from the contemporary grants of land in the town to two monastic houses.
The degree of burgage plot subdivision, which had taken place by c. 1270, suggests that the demand for burgage plots had been high and that the town was flourishing. The survey of c. 1270 lists in the borough two water corn mills, a fulling mill, a dye works, eight corn measures, the market tolls and three smithies.
The existence of a dye works and fulling mill suggests that there was an important woollen industry based on the surrounding sheep pastures.
The historic background showed that despite the Plague and political upheavals Cockermouth was granted a Market Charter in 1227 and steadily grew in stature as a town. In 1578, at the date of the Percy Survey, there were 108 burgages listed, although many would have been divided and there may have been as many as 200 properties with street frontage. By 1587 the number of burgages had risen to 135.
The report shows that the Castle Bar, along with several other buildings on the north-eastern side of Market Place, have façades of eighteenth or nineteenth century date which conceal substantially unaltered buildings dating to at least the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.
Parts of the Castle Bar certainly date from the sixteenth century, if not earlier, and it was probably originally the house of a relatively rich merchant. The property was known as the Ship Hotel from at least 1811 and then as the Ship Inn during the later twentieth century.
Sean & Jayne Cusack