FURNESS ABBEY, CUMBRIA

Grid Ref: SD 218 715
Date: 24 July 2011

 

 

Furness Abbey
Furness Abbey from South East in morning light

Barrow in Furness is not a place en route to anywhere except the Irish Sea. You have to make a special trip and it is well off the beaten track. I was fortunate to arrive at Furness Abbey as the first visitor of the day and was able to take pictures free of other sightseers. The abbey is now in the care of English Heritage. More historical information is given on a Furness Abbey website supported by Barrow-in-Furness Civic and Local History Society. It is written by Alison Leach and some of the information below is abstracted from this site.

Following the death of Henry I in 1135, England entered a period of civil war, often referred to as The Anarchy, in which the throne was contested between Henry I's daughter, Matlida, the widow of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V, and her cousin, Stephen of Blois, Count of Boulogne and Mortain. Stephen was the son of William the Conqueror's daughter Adela of Normandy and the Count of Blois. Matilda's second husband was Geoffrey of Anjou and they had a son Henry in 1133. When Stephen lost his sole heir, he agreed with Matilda that her son, Henry, would succeed him and he reigned as Henry II from 1154 to 1189, founding the dynasty of Angevin (from Anjou) kings. Furness Abbey was founded by Stephen in 1124 on a differrent site, at Tulketh near Preston, then moved in 1127. It was a daughter monastery of that in Savigny in Mortain in Northern France, which had been founded in 1105. Stephen arranged with Abbot Geoffrey of Savigny to establish a daughter house in England.

After 1147 the Savignacs in England became part of the Cistercian Order. Over the next 400 years the abbey gradually acquired 55,000 acres making it the second richest in England. Most of the building work was undertaken in the 12th and 13th centuries. The abbey suffered from the Scottish border raids of 1316 and 1322. Given its wealth and remoteness, the abbey operated with great independence and even built a castle on Piel Island to control the route from Furness to the Isle of Man, where they owned land and founded Rushden Abbey. It was finally dissolved on 9 April 1537.

English Heritage is now engaged in rescue work as some of the masonry was originally laid on top of oak logs and they have begun to deteriorate leading the abbey to sink.

 

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Additional Sources

Wikipedia article on Furness Abbey

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