As things stand, the partly 13th century pile of Rose Castle near Dalston, is set to be offered for sale after the departure of the Bishop of Carlisle and his associated offices to Keswick.
The commissioners’ assets committee meets next week and up to now had been expected to make a decision in principle to sell the Grade 1 listed building after talks with English Heritage. The CofE has been much-vexed by the question of what to do with many similar vast mansions which would probably have left Jesus aghast, but have gradually accumulated all the attractions which come with centuries of history.
The Archbishop of York makes good practical use of his one, Bishopthorpe Palace, whose assets include a rowing boat to use in the cellar when the adjacent river Ouse floods. Carlisle is a smaller diocese with many demands on its resources, and the commissioners say that Rose Castle needs repairs estimated at some £1.7 million on top of an annual maintenance budget of £150,000.
Local opinion, however, is very pro-castle, and one of Carlisle’s former bishops, Rt Rev Graham Dow, produced a report suggesting that church use could continue viably if the two towers were converted into large homes for sale or rent, supplemented by three smaller flats. A bonus of this would be the storage of church archives in a safe and, for researchers, very agreeable place, while the grounds have potential for public opening.
There’s oodles of enjoyable history – Wordsworth and Coleridge found the castle ‘all but perfect – cottage comfort and ancestral dignity’, and its occupants included the delightful-sounding Bishop Rainbow who spent 20 happy years there between 1664 and 1684. And even with the home conversions, there’d still be room for a cafe.
The campaigning group Friends of Rose Castle is co-ordinating heavyweight appeals for a rethink by the commissioners, or at the least, a delay while more thought is given to the castle’s future. Life is never dull for Whittam-Smith, a clergyman’s son who has only just emerged from the hornets’ nest task of adjudicating on the alleged plagiarism row over suspended Indie columnist Johann Hari.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010