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Furness Abbey on the Furness Peninsula

Furness Abbey, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria.
The ruins of Furness Abbey.

Furness Abbey
Nearest Town: Barrow in Furness.
Location: SD 218718, Sheet 96.

Welcome to the EDGE Guide to Furness Abbey. Founded by the Savigny monks of Normandy in 1127 by 1150 Furness Abbey was in the hands of the Cistercians who were better established in the area.

Furness was older than the Cistercian centre at Waverley Abbey and there was some dispute as to which was to take precedence. Waverley took the honour.

Furness Abbey even in its now ruined state is an impressive building and shows the wealth and importance of the Cistercians in the area. The Abbey had extensive interests in land - locally and also in the Lake District, the County of Yorkshire, Ireland and the Isle of Man.

The connections with Ireland and the Isle of Man developed when the harbour of PieI was built.

Iron was found in the area and this, together with wool and meat from sheep farming and ample supplies of timber, did much to increase the Cistercian's wealth and the Abbey's well-being.

Furness Abbey. Ruined during the Dissolution by King Henry VIII.

During this time of increased prosperity the Abbey began to increase its influence by developing other monasteries and convents in Cumbria, Yorkshire, Ireland and the Isle of Man, all in the early 1200's.

Raids by the Scots had caused little trouble until 1316 when the Abbey suffered badly as did the rest of Cumbria.

It is possible that this raid or another equally brutal foray led by Robert Bruce in 1322 gave the impetus to build Dalton Castle not far to the north, in order to provide some defence for the Furness Peninsular and the Abbey.

The raid of 1322 and the sacking of Holme Cultrum monastery decided the Abbot of Furness to attempt to placate Robert Bruce and a ransom (protection money) was paid. This attempt at appeasement didn't work. The Abbey's land and property were pillaged and burnt and Scottish raids continued sporadically until about 1346.

Furness Abbey. Barrow in Furness.

Piel Island in the middle of the entrance to Barrow Harbour had been the property of the Abbot and in 1411 the castle there was returned to the Abbey and rebuilt.

At the Dissolution in 1537 the Abbey was taken over by the Crown. The lead was removed from the roof and the buildings plundered for stone.

Over the next 400 years the Abbey's remains past through the ownership of several different families.

At some point a large manor house was built which enjoyed a period of prosperity as an hotel when the railway to Barrow-in-Furness passed close by. It is now a restaurant but is not in its original state having been largely redeveloped in the 1950's.

Furness Abbey has been in the care of English Heritage and its predecessor since 1923. There is a small museum and shop.

Map of Cumbria and the Lake District.