The Countess’s Pillar, Westmorland

Jean Wilson recounts the fascinating tale behind the stone pillar erected by Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke, on a roadside in Cumbria.

There is a small, railed enclosure where the drive from Brougham Castle meets the road from Penrith to Appleby. Inside stand an octagonal pillar and a low table, both made of local stone. The pillar supports a square capital, on three sides of which are sundials, on the fourth a pair of heraldic shields. The inscription reads:

This Pillar was Erected Anno 1656 By ye R. Honoble Anne Countess Dowager of Pembrook &c Daughter & Sole Heire of ye Rt Honoble George Earl of Cumberland &c For a Memorial of her last Parting in this place with her good & Pious Mother ye Rt Honoble Margaret Countes Dowager of Cumberland ye 2d of April 1616. In Memory whereof she also left an Annuity of Four pounds to be distributed to ye poor within this parish of Brougham every 2nd day of April for ever upon ye stone table here hard by Laus Deo.

As the Bishop of Carlisle noted when he preached her funeral some thirty years later, this little shrine was one of the first of the many building projects Lady Anne undertook when she gained control of the Clifford lands which she had fought for since her father’s death in 1605:

Indeed, one of the first things... which she built, was (what Jacob had first done) a Pillar. She built a Pillar, a Monument which stands in the High-way, at the place where her endeared Mother and she last parted, and took their final farewel. And as Jacob did, she poured oyl upon this pillar, the oyl of Charity, pouring down then, and yearly since...; and withall to be as a precious ointment to perfume her pious Mother’s Memory, that her good name, and their mutual clearness of Affection, might be engraven, and remembered by their Posterity and the Poor to all generations.

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