The pillar marks the place where Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset, bade farewell to her mother, Margaret, on 2 April 1616, at the gateway to Brougham Castle. Soon afterwards Margaret died and, in her memory, Lady Anne erected this pillar in 1656. She was particularly close to her mother, who was her only support during a long inheritance battle.
The pillar also has an inscription recording the erection of the pillar in 1656, and describing the wishes of Lady Anne for money to be given to the poor of the parish in remembrance of her mother. A flat stone, where these alms were distributed on the anniversary of their final meeting, is nearby.
William Wordsworth composed a poem to The Countess' Pillar
May this bright flower of Charity display
Its bloom, unfolding at the appointed day;
Flower than the loveliest of the vernal prime
Lovelier, transplanted from heaven's purest clime!
"Charity never faileth:" on that creed,
More than on written testament or deed,
The pious Lady built with hope sublime.
Alms on this stone to be dealt out, 'for ever!'
"Laus Deo." Many a Stranger passing by
Has with that Parting mixed a filial sigh,
Blest its humane Memorials fond endeavour;
And, fastening on those lines an eye tear-glazed,
Has ended, though no Clerk, with "God be praised!"
Thomas Pennant mentions the Pillar in A Tour from Downing to Alston Moor, 1773
"... the famous column, call'd the Countess Pillar, the best and most beautiful piece of its kind in Britain. It is a fine column of free-stone, finely wrought, and enchas'd, and in some places painted. There is an obelisk on the top, several coats of arms, and other ornaments in proper places all over it, with dials also on every side, and a brass-plate with the following inscription upon it:"