Furness Abbey Savignac and Cistercian monasteries: precinct wall, great gatehouse, 'chapel outside the gates', south west gateway and earthworks.
List Entry Summary
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Name: Furness Abbey Savignac and Cistercian monasteries: precinct wall, great gatehouse, 'chapel outside the gates', south west gateway and earthworks.
List entry Number: 1010014
The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District Type: District Authority
National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.
Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.
Date first scheduled: 13-Jan-1915
Date of most recent amendment: 11-Nov-1992
Legacy System Information
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System: RSM
This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.
List entry Description
Summary of Monument
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both
religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious
communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks,
canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of
religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated
from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England.
These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to
tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide
variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a
result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout,
although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for
the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into
the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship,
learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some
orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were
established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest
of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish
churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 75
of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St
Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or "white monks",
on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic
orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual
labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas
where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were
often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen,
dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers
eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were
especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on
sheep farming. The Cistercians made a major contribution to many facets of
medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.
Furness Abbey is a rare example of a house of the Savignac order which was subsequently amalgamated with the Cistercian order. The Savignac order was one of the reformed orders which developed in France in the early 12th century as a reaction against the corruption and excesses which characterised established orders. The founding house at Savigny in France was established between 1109-12. Their order was based on the rule of St Benedict but included greater simplicity of life and seclusion from the secular world. The order of Savigny established 13 houses in England and Wales before being absorbed into the Cistercian order in 1147. Their monasteries were founded on lands so infertile or exposed that the communities were unable to survive. Several moved sites before eventually becoming Cistercian houses. Once absorbed into the Cistercian order Furness became one of the earliest Cistercian houses in the north of England. At the height of its prosperity in the early 16th century it was the second richest Cistercian monastery in England, a fact reflected in the magnificent upstanding remains. The main monastic buildings, including the abbey church, survive well and retain important architectural evidence of both Savignac and Cistercian orders and the changing wealth of the community. The monument is largely unencumbered by modern development and extensive remains survive throughout the former precinct, both as upstanding features and buried remains. This allows the development and workings of the whole precinct to be studied and provides a rare and important opportunity for detailed analysis of the monastic economy.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Furness Abbey is located in the Vale of Nightshade, between Barrow-in-Furness
and Dalton, and lies on either side of Mill Beck. The monument includes the
upstanding and buried remains of a monastery associated with the Savignac
order dating 1127-47, and the considerably more extensive upstanding and
buried remains of a monastery of the Cistercian order into which the Savignac
brethren were absorbed in 1147. Well preserved standing remains demonstrate
the usual layout of a Cistercian monastery but not the standard orientation.
Traditionally, monastic buildings were laid out so that the church ran
east-west and formed the north range of a four-sided complex known as the
cloister. Domestic buildings such as the kitchens would then form the south
range, buildings such as the parlour, chapterhouse and abbot's lodging would
form the east range, and the lay-brothers' quarters would form the west range.
At Furness, however, to enable the best use of the water supply provided by
Mill Beck and springs, it was found necessary to abandon the usual orientation
and align the church on what is virtually a north-east/south-west axis, thus
the church formed what amounted to the north-east range. For convenience the
buildings are described as if normally orientated east-west. It should also
be noted that the nature of the valley in which the monastery was built
dictated that the outer court lay to the north of the abbey instead of the
west as is more usual.
The earliest standing remains at Furness are those of the south wall of the
nave which date to the original Savignac church of 1127-47. The abbey was
rebuilt and extended on a grand scale from the latter half of the 12th
century. The nave was rebuilt or completed and included a stone screen
designed to separate the main body of the church from the western part which
was for use of the lay brethren. The crossing, where the four arms of the
church met, also belongs to the late 12th century. In the 15th century an
attempt was made to add a central tower to the church but the project was
abandoned after it was found that the piers could not support the added weight
despite being reinforced. At the west end of the nave is the belfry tower
built about 1500. Lack of space in the valley bottom led to the unusual step
of constructing the tower partially inside the existing church thereby taking
up the space of the westernmost bay of the nave. The tower has boldly
projecting buttresses with fine niches, which have elaborately gabled canopies
for bases of statues. The north transept is of the same date as the crossing
but its windows are of the 15th century. It has an eastern aisle of three
bays which retain their altar-platforms, bases of the altar partitions and two
piscinae or stone basins for washing the Communion or Mass vessels. The
transept arcade is of typical Cistercian simplicity and has above it the only
triforium or arcaded wall passage remaining in the abbey. In the north-west
corner of the transept is a vice or spiral staircase, and east of it is a
large and fine doorway of about 1170 leading to the outer court. The
presbytery, or part of the church lying east of the choir where the high altar
is placed, belongs almost entirely to the middle or late 15th century, though
blocked arches in the north and south walls belong to the earliest building.
It contains the base of the high altar and a sedilia, or set of seats for the
clergy, recognised as amongst the most magnificent in the country. The south
transept belongs to the same period as the north and likewise had its eastern
aisle remodelled in the 15th century, but more drastically by the conversion
of its northern bay into a sacristy. A doorway leads from the nave into the
cloister, the four-sided enclosure with a covered walk or alley along each
side. This has lost its internal arcades and most of the buildings which
enclosed it on the south and west. The cloister is rectangular, instead of
the more usual square, because of the addition to it of space occupied by the
earliest refectory or dining room. The north walk of the cloister, against
the church, was used as a place of study, and retains its stone bench. On the
east wall are a series of five round-headed arches which constitute one of the
glories of the abbey. The first and third of these flank the entrance to
the chapter house - the room in which the brethren met daily for monastic
business - and lead to small, square, barrel-vaulted chambers used as book
cupboards. The second of the arches leads through a vestibule into the
chapter house which dates to the second quarter of the 13th century. It was a
fine aisled room of four bays. The walls have twin lancet windows with
elaborate medallions between their heads. The whole has a graceful simplicity
typical of the best work of that period. Immediately south of the chapter
house, through the fourth and fifth arches, are the parlour and slype or
passageway. Further south again runs a vaulted undercroft of twelve bays, the
largest of its kind in England. The dorter or dormitory ran over the whole
of this range. To the east are the remains of the reredorter or latrines
which stood over a stream.
Further south are foundations of a small 15th century rectangular building
having three latrines, also built over the stream and thought to have been a
guest house. Little remains above ground of the south range of the cloister,
though its foundations have been outlined in the turf. These include a
warming house and no fewer than four refectories; the first running east-west,
was replaced in the late 12th century by one built at right angles to the
former. This in turn was superseded by a much larger structure in the mid 13th
century that was itself replaced by a smaller building towards the end of the
abbey's life when the number of brethren had declined. The west range of the
cloister has also largely disappeared although, as with the south range, parts
of the foundations are visible. It had two aisles of fifteen bays and was
probably one of the first buildings constructed here by the Cistercians.
The southern end of the ground floor contained the kitchen and refectory of
the lay brothers and the first floor their dormitory. Further to the south
was the lay brother's infirmary and reredorter, both now invisible above
ground; these were connected with the church by a pentice or covered way
along the west face of the west range. On the higher ground near the road
stand the walls of a small rectangular building of uncertain function, dated
c.1500. Beyond the southern range of the cloister is the foundation of the
monks' infirmary built in the early 14th century. It consisted of a hall
measuring 38m by 14m. A passage led from the north wall to the warming house.
To the east of the infirmary is a buttery and chapel, both retaining their
original vaults of a span of 7.6m. The chapel is lit by unusual triangular-
headed windows and has a stone wall-bench and a fine piscina. East of the
buttery, and connected by a passage, are the foundations of an octagonal
kitchen with troughs, hearths and a chute for refuse. East of the kitchen,
across the beck, are a complex set of ruins. The first building erected here
was a mid 13th century infirmary. Much of its eastern wall remains and
contains a large central fireplace, on either side of which are two bays each
having twin lancet windows. This building was later adapted to form the
abbot's house, the eastern end of which was built into the solid rock of the
hillside, whilst the western end projected on massive piers. Later buildings
were added on the north and south, the former having a well and sluice. The
abbey drainage system was extensive and carefully planned; a little-damaged
section of it runs under the eastern side of the infirmary, while from the
abbot's house the course of the beck northwards can be followed for some 200m.
To the north-west of the abbey lie the foundations of the late 12th century
great gatehouse. Abbey Approach passes through what was originally an arched
passage from the main door of the gatehouse to the outer court of the
In the outer precinct were a variety of domestic buildings such as the
almonry - that is the department of the monastery concerned with distribution
of charity (alms) to the poor - stables and guest houses, of which only
foundations of the latter are visible, together with the remains of a long
narrow building of post-Reformation date. The monks' cemetery lay east of the
church and several tombstones and coffins remain in their original position.
The wall that separated the cemetery from the outer court runs from the
cemetery gate to a position just in front of the north transept doorway, where
a porch is originally thought to have stood. Further north, beyond the great
gatehouse, is a large arch spanning the road, with a small arch adjoining it
on the east. These are post-Reformation reconstructions using medieval fabric
and stand on the site of the abbey's outer gate. Immediately to the east is
the roofless late 13th/early 14th century `chapel outside the gates'. In the
south wall is the triple sedilia, credence or side table, and piscina.
Within the precinct wall are other features associated with the abbey. Below
the infirmary a small cottage incorporates the remains of a mill. A
second mill, the New Mill, was constructed late 15th/early 16th century
and was located adjacent to the precinct wall south-east of the abbey. The
valley in which the abbey stands shows considerable evidence of
quarrying for building material. South of the abbey are numerous low
earthworks including an infilled mill-pond.
The north wall of the `chapel outside the gates' is part of the 12th century
precinct wall. This wall is visible virtually in its entirety and runs around
the valley enclosing the monastic precinct - an area of some 30 hectares. It
survives in varying conditions ranging from its full height to foundations
only. A small gateway of the 14th century gives entrance through the precinct
wall to the south-west side of the monastery.
Furness Abbey was founded in 1124 by Stephen, then Count of Boulogne and
Mortain and later King of England. He gave a site at Tulketh, in Preston, to
monks of the order of Savigny. Three years later Stephen transferred the
brethren to Furness. In 1147 it was decided to amalgamate the order of
Savigny with the Cistercian order. As Furness had been founded before the
first Cistercian house in England - Waverley Abbey - there issued a difficult
point of precedence between these two, the question finally being settled in
the latter's favour. Despite being located in what was a disputed border
region between England and Scotland, and suffering from the subsequent
disorder of the 12th century, the abbey's realm of influence increased
gradually through gift and purchase. By the opening of the 13th century
important property had been acquired deep in the Lake District and also in
Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. The development of a harbour at Piel, just off
the Furness coast, facilitated access to possessions in Ireland and the Isle
of Man. Sheep farming was steadily developed and local deposits of iron
systematically exploited. Within the abbey itself building on a large scale
reflected the increasing number of brethren accommodated. Granges, such as
one at Hawkshead, were set up from which outlying estates were managed.
Legal privileges given to the abbey were steadily augmented so that Furness
became unusually independent. However, border warfare erupted again in the
early 14th century leading the abbot of Furness to pay ransom to Robert Bruce
to prevent plunder.
In 1536, as a prelude to its dissolution, a large number of local men were
encouraged to rise in protest against the suppression of smaller monasteries
by some of the Furness monks. The abbot, Roger Peel, being unable to cope
with the turbulent times, fled, and the following year, under pressure from
the king, the brethren of Furness gave up their monastery and possessions to
the crown. In 1539 the site of the abbey and some of its lands were granted
to the king's minister, Thomas Cromwell, but two years later they passed to a
member of a leading local family, Sir Thomas Curwen, and from him to his son-
in-law John Preston. In 1671 a new mansion was built within what had been the
outer precinct for the then owner, Sir Thomas Preston. In the 18th century
the abbey passed from the Prestons to the Lowthers and finally to the
The 17th century mansion, which had latterly degenerated into a mere
farmhouse, took on a new lease of life when it was rebuilt as a hotel to serve
the Furness Railway opened in 1847. In 1923 Lord Richard Cavendish placed the
ruins in the guardianship of the Office of Works.
The abbey and precinct wall are Grade I listed buildings. Several other
buildings and features within the monument area are also listed. These are
the ruins of the former chapel adjoining the gateway into the abbey grounds
(the Capella extra portas and attached walls); the medieval gateway adjoining
this chapel, the remains of the West Gate to the abbey, which are also all
Grade I listed. Abbey House is Grade II* listed. The Abbey Tavern, South
Lodge, Abbotswood, Nos 1 and 2 West Gate Cottages, the North Lodge (to Abbey
House), West Lodge (to Abbey House) and Dunlop House are Grade II listed.
Several features are excluded from the scheduling. These include all
buildings within the area of the monument, including all the listed buildings
noted above with the exception of the precinct wall, the abbey ruins and the
`Capella extra portas' and adjacent medieval gateway, which are included. All
modern field and property boundaries are excluded as are all English Heritage
fixtures and fittings such as the ticket office and museum; the fittings and
fixtures of the car parks including the public conveniences; all service
pipes; the railway line (which remains in use), its embankment and trackbed
and tunnel, the surfaces of all paths, roads, driveways and carparks, all
lamp-posts and telegraph poles, although the ground beneath all these
features, is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
Books and journals
Dickinson, J C, Furness Abbey, (1965), 11
Dickinson, J C, Furness Abbey, (1965), 1-24
RCHME, , Furness Abbey
Kelly, P V, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. New Ser.' in A Bridge of Monastic date and other finds at Furness Abbey, , Vol. XXVI, (1927), 262
FMW, AM 107 Furness Abbey Precinct Wall,
Pers Comm to SMR by P Barker, Cumbria SMR, Furness Abbey/Furness Abbey Precinct Wall,
To Robinson, K D MPPFW, Wood, J (Site excavator), (1991)
National Grid Reference: SD 21894 71708
The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1010014 .pdf
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End of official listing