History & Heritage Of Northern England – Clitheroe

Clitheroe castle

Image: Clitheroe Castle in Lancashire, seen from the castle keep with the town of Clitheroe in the valley beyond.

The classic Lancashire town sitting on the western edge of the Pennines. Clitheroe sits within the modern borough of Ribble Valley and is overshadowed by the striking landscape dominated by the looming presence of Pendle Hill.

Clitheroe does not really enter recorded history until the Norman period, but there is evidence of minor settlements in the area during the Stone Age and during the Iron Age the area was controlled by minority Celtic clans which were part of the larger Brigantes tribe. There was no noticeable recording of the settlement during the Roman occupation of Britain, although a Roman road did pass through the Ribble Valley and close to the site of modern Clitheroe.

Clitheroe became known as a small settlement during the Anglo-Saxon period, the name is derived from two possible descriptive Anglo-Saxon references to “Clyderhow” and “Cletherwoode” referring to a farm or cluster of dwellings at the “Rocky Hill”. In the late Anglo-Saxon period, the small settlement was governed as part of the ‘Hundred of Blackburnshire’.

After the Norman Conquest in the 11th Century the district fell under the control of a Norman knight, Roger de Poitou, who eventually passed the district to the Norman overlord Robert de Lacy. The Domesday Book does not mention Clitheroe, but the settlement and castle was recorded as being part of the manor of Blackburn.

Later in the medieval period, the small town became the administrative centre for those estates that formed the ‘Honour of Clitheroe’. The key historic feature of what became the town of Clitheroe was established by Robert de Lacy when a timber tower keep was constructed on a small local hill, the keep was the beginning of Clitheroe Castle. Clitheroe Castle was eventually strengthened and expanded to include stone walls and a central castle tower.

During the period of Norman Rule known as ‘The Anarchy’, as rival factions fought for control of the English throne, principally the forces loyal to King Stephen the First, against the barons loyal to Queen Matilda their armies clashed at the Battle of Clitheroe in 1138.

The army fighting for Queen Matilda were Scottish, sent south by King David of Scotland in support of Matilda. The fighting was a brutal example of medieval warfare and the English forces of King Stephen were heavily defeated. The accounts of the period describe the River Ribble as running red with English blood.

A brief period of notoriety arose during the early 17th Century with the infamous Pendle Witch trials. A total of ten local women were arrested from a scattering of cottages and hill farms along the lower slopes of Pendle Hill and were accused of ‘witch-craft’. After torture and show trials at Lancaster, the women were hanged for being proven witches and servants of the Devil. The reality of the situation was very different and the episode has gone down in history as one of the darker periods of the history of eastern Lancashire.

Pendle Hill

During the English Civil War, Clitheroe Castle was claimed by the Royalist forces loyal to King Charles 1st. A local Royalist gentleman officer was appointed as garrison commander of Clitheroe Castle on the orders of Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

Unfortunately the gentleman officer in charge was generally lacking in courage and a sense of military honour and quietly slipped away leaving the small garrison to look after itself. Following the defeat of the Royalist forces in the North at the Battle of Marston Moor, the castle was abandoned in late 1644 and left undefended.

Although privately owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, Clitheroe Castle was allowed to fall into disrepair and was finally sold to the town as a war memorial in the second half of the 20th Century.

Clitheroe really began to develop as a town during the 19th Century as the Industrial Revolution took hold across Pennine Lancashire. Always in the shadow of the larger towns like Blackburn and Preston, Clitheroe is now more focussed on tourism than the textile industry.

Clitheroe is a ‘White town’. Although the data is now dated, the population figures from the 2011 census, are encouraging for any British racial Nationalist.

The population of Clitheroe: White British – 94.9%
Other White – e.g. Irish, East European – approximately 3%
Asian – 2%
Black – 0.1%


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