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The King and Knights of Piel

One of the most enduring aspects of the Ship Inn is the tradition of the king and knights of Piel. The tradition holds that each new landlord is crowned “King of Piel” in a ceremony of uncertain origin, in which they sit in an ancient chair, wearing a helmet and holding a sword while alcohol is poured over their head. In early versions of the ceremony they also wore oilskins. The early written references to Knights of Piel are in the first visitors’ book which started in 1856. The early evidence for the ceremony is the graffiti carved into the chair. The ceremony is said to be due to the landing of Lambert Simnel in 1487 and is most likely to have begun as a slightly mocking homage to this event. By the 19th Century it had become an important aspect of the islands history to such an extent that responsibility for looking after the helmet and chair fell within the¬†tenancy agreement.


Clearly at this stage the ceremony for knights and the king was the same and over time there have been several variations. References in the visitors’ books describe knights at one point as free members of “the Noble Ancient Castle of Piel”. In 1914 there was an entire cabinet including Prime Minister and Lord Mayor of Piel and a whole royal family is listed. One thread remains in common however – the king and knights of Piel were always expected to be “a free drinker and smoker and lover of the female sex”.

Recorded Landlords of the Ship Inn are Edward Postlethwaite c1746-c1766, James Hool c1839-c1856, John Pennington c1856-c1868, William Pennington c1868-c1879, John Housby c1879-1889, William Walmsley 1889-c1894, Thomas and Elizabeth Ashburner c1894-c1922, G H Nelson? 1920?, Harry Andrews 1922-1927? William Drummond1922-1927?, J F Bewley 1927-1931,Robert McDowell 1931-1947, Mr and Mrs W Hackett 1947-1950, William Dearn 1950-1952, James Howarth 1952-c1955, Mr and Mrs Dan Rooney c1955-1964, Jack Nicholson 1964-1970,M J McKeown 1970-1971, H D Green 1971-1974, Mr and Mrs J T Smith 1974-1978, Ron Warburton 1978-1986, Rod and Karen Scarr 1986-2006, Steve and Sheila Chattaway 2007-2021, Aaron Sanderson 2022-

Source Barrow Borough Council