Furness Abbey
Furness Abbey, or St. Mary of Furness is a former Cistercian monastery situated on the outskirts of the English town of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. The abbey dates back to 1123 and was once the second wealthiest and most powerful monastery in the country, behind only Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire.

The History of the Abbey

Early history
Founded in 1123 by Stephen, Count of Blois (close to 900 years ago), it was built originally for the Order of Savigny. Located in the 'Valley of the Deadly Nightshade' between Dalton-in-Furness and Barrow-in-Furness, the abbey is built entirely out of local sandstone. It passed in 1147 to the Cistercians, who gradually enlarged and rebuilt the original ornate church. The majority of the current ruins date from the 12th and 13th centuries. By the 15th century it had been completely re-modelled and had become the second richest and most powerful - as well as one of the grandest - Cistercian Abbeys in England, behind Fountains Abbey. The monks of the abbey were large landowners, and the most powerful body in what was then a remote border territory. In particular, they were heavily influential on the Isle of Man. One of the kings of Mann and the Isles is buried at the abbey, as are many of the Bishops of Sodor and Man. Rushen Abbey on the Isle was built on land owned by the monks. They also owned mines on the island, and built Piel Castle to control trade between the Furness Peninsula and the Isle of Man. Being about 70 miles down the coast from Scotland, the monks occasionally found themselves in between the regularly warring Scots and English. When Robert the Bruce invaded England, the abbot paid to lodge and support him, rather than risk the wealth and power of the abbey. The Abbey was disestablished and destroyed in 1537 during the English Reformation under the order of Henry VIII.

Late history
It now lies in ruins and is a popular tourist attraction, lying on the Cistercian Way " an ancient walk popular with tourists, which used to link the Abbey with the nearby town of Dalton-in-Furness. William Wordsworth visited on a number of occasions and referred to it in his famous 1805 autobiographical poem The Prelude, whilst Turner made numerous etchings of the Abbey. Other notable tourists include the Theodore Roosevelt family. It was the first unguided visit on their European tour. A young Teddy Roosevelt and his siblings played on the ruins, which, in 1869, were not roped off or restricted. At the moment Restoration work is taking place amid fears that part of the abbey could collapse.

Folklore and supernatural activity
There are also many stories and sightings claiming that Furness Abbey is haunted, there are three main ghosts which have been sighted numerous times at this location. Firstly, one of the monks that was brutally murdered in the Reformation is said to be seen climbing one of the staircases in the Abbey. The figure appears to be leaning on the banister as being pulled up the stairs. Another sighting is that of a squire's daughter and her partner. These figures were known for attempting to repair the Abbey ruins after the Reformation, one day her partner took a journey out to sea from which he never returned. It is though that the girl went back to the Abbey every day until her death to take in the site she and her partner once loved, the track she walked is today still known as "My Lady's Walk." There have also been many sightings of a white lady, although due to possible conflicting stories, it is unknown whether the White lady and the ghost of the squire's daughter are the same person or not. Possibly the most famous ghost of Furness Abbey is a headless monk on horseback, who rides underneath the sandstone arch near the Abbey Tavern, this death of this individual is also likely to be attributed to the Reformation.

Furness Abbey is in close proximity to Barrow's main street: Abbey Road, which is named after the Abbey itself. The Abbey also lies right next to the Furness Branch Line; it used to have a station, although the building remains the platform is long gone. Were the Abbey still to have its train station it would be unlikely that it would be used by the majority of trains, and maybe only used by selected ones, this is because no one lives there and it is a tourist attraction. The closest stations are now Roose, Dalton and Barrow Central. There is a small airport on Walney Island, but for international as well as domestic flights ther nearest airports are in Blackpool and Manchester.

  • William Russell, former Bishop of Mann and the Isles

Building Activity

  • removed a media
    about 6 years ago via OpenBuildings.com