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Furness, Cumberland

Historical Description

Furness, a territory, two railways, and an ancient abbey, in the north-west of Lancashire. The territory is bounded by Cumberland, Westmorland, Windermere Lake, the river Leven, Morecambe Bay, and the Irish Sea. The name was anciently written Frudernesse and Futhernesse, but appears first in the Latinized form of Fudernesia in the foundation charter of the abbey. The first part of it may either have been a personal name or a corruption of the word " further," and the second part seems to designate the "ness" oa* peninsula round the abbey's site. That peninsula, from the point of Peel Pier, and between the estuaries of the Leven and the Duddon, northward to a tract of uplands, bears the-name of Lower Furness, and comprises first a flat seaboard,-and next a diversity of valley, swell, and hill. The upland tract thence to the boundaries with Cumberland and Westmorland bears the name of Upper Fumess, is strictly a part of the Lake region, and resembles the rest of that region in the combination of lake and mountain, and in scenes of beauty and romance. The mountains here, but especially the central ones extending east and west from Donnerdale Vale to< Esthwaite Water, and culminating in the Old Man of Coniston, are also called the Furness Fells. The entire territory was overrun by the Romans, and it retains many vestiges of their works or presence. The northern part of it was for some time included in the dominion of the Scots,. and the southern part was overrun and devastated by them in 1138. The whole was given by King Stephen in the-manner of a lordship to Furness Abbey, and was governed by the monks in a very lordly way till the Reformation. They maintained over it at once ecclesiastical, civil, criminal, military, and proprietorial jurisdiction. They held the patronage of all its churches except one; they appointed sheriff, coroner, constable, and all other civil officers; they levied mulcts and awarded punishments according to their own will; they maintained a force of 850 infantry and 400' cavalry, and obliged the landowners to contribute an additional force on extraordinary occasions; they had fre& markets, an excellent harbour, and extensive iron mines; they formed works on the coast and throughout the interior for promoting commerce and supporting their power; they also drewra large revenue from possessions and rights beyond the territory itself, and they are computed to have had at one time an annual revenue equal to about £17,000 of our present money. They lost everything in one crash at the-Reformation, and a riotous rejoicing among their quondara tenants and subjects accompanied their downfall. The lordship, with considerable rights, was given by Charles IL to General Monk, the Duke of Albemarle, and passed to the Dukes of Buccleuch.

The Furness railway was originally a line from Barrow and Peel Pier to Dalton and Kirby mines, mainly for the conveyance of minerals; was afterwards extended to Broughtoa. and into junction with the Whitehaven and Fumess line at Foxfield; was subsequently extended eastward from Dalton. to Ulverston, into junction there with the Ulverston and— Lancaster line; was connected at Broughton in 1859 with a branch north-eastward to Coniston Lake, and later by a branch line with Windermere. It now forms an integral part of a continuous and ramified system of coast railway, connecting on the one hand with the northern systems by way of Whitehaven, and on the other hand with the southern systems by way of Lancaster. The Fnrness and Midland railway was authorised in 1863 and opened in 1867, is 9½ miles long, goes from Carnforth toWennington, connecting the-Ulverston and Lancaster with the Little North-Western, and is worked by the Midland. In Sept. 1892 a subsidence-took place on this railway, which interfered considerably with. The traffic. Merchandise and mineral traffic had to be sent round via Penrith and Whitehaven, while passengers from the Isle of Man and Barrow for the South, and vice versa, had to be taken by means of conveyances from one train to another, a distance of about a mile.

Furness Abbey stands in a deep, narrow, sequestered vale, adjacent to the Furness railway, 1½ mile S of Dalton, has. a station on the railway and a hotel, and is both a highly interesting object to antiquaries and artists, and a great attraction to general tourists. The station is a neat structure, and the hotel was formed out of the abbot's house, and possesses architectural features, wood carvings, and marble-sculptures which challenge attention. The vale once abounded in deadly nightshade, the " lethal bekan " of old writers, and thence was formerly called Bekansgill, and is now called the Vale of Nightshade. The abbey was founded in 1128. The monks who colonized it settled three years previously at Tulket on the Ribble, near Preston, and they were at first Benedictines, but afterwards became Cistercians. The abbey was a mother one, having undent seven monasteries ip E n glanceone in Ireland, and one in the Isle of Man, and it disputed with Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire the claim of being the primal Cistercian institution in England. It possessed the vast powers of the lordship of Fumess, in virtue not only of a grant by King Stephen, but of ratifications by twelve subsequent kings; it obtained special favours from two popes, and acquired much of its enormous property, piece by piece, in donation or bequest, from many wealthy families. The number of its inmates at the time of the dissolution, exclusive of all retainers, was thirty-three monks and about one hundred novices and underlings. The buildings were rifled, and severely damaged at the Reformation, and they now exist in but a fragmentary state. A wall still standing, and called the "great enclosure," goes round the precincts, and includes an area of 65 acres. Another wall, called the " strait enclosure," went round the buildings at near distance, but has disappeared. The½ buildings, when entire, occupied nearly the whole breadth of the narrow vale, and an arched tunnel, beneath or past them, conveyed its little stream. " The extant ruins comprise the walls of the church, the chapter-house, the refectory, and the guest-hall, besides a number of fragments, and have still such magnitude and grouping as to present a very grand appearance. They consist of bright red sandstone, and are picturesquely festooned with ivy, fern, and other plants. They are of widely various dates, including successive erections or renovations under the changing fortunes of the abbey, and they exhibit much diversity of style, predominatingly Norman or Early English, but ranging from the Later Saxon to the Later English. Their prevailing character is inornate, showing little tracery or sculpture, but this, especially in the lesser features, has marked exceptions. The walls are strongly built as to both masonry and cement, and in many places are counterarched." The church is cruciform, and has a total length of about 300 feet. The nave is 160 long and 65¼ wide, the choir is 122 feet long and 28 wide, the transept is 130 feet long and 21 wide, exclusive of chapels, each of which is 16 feet deep, and the side-walls, all round, have been about 54 feet high. A central tower stood on four magnificent arches, and seems to have risen to a great height, but only the eastern arch of it is standing. A tower stood also at the west end of the nave, and likewise seems to have been very high, but only the stump of it, to the height of 60 feet, remains. The cloister court was entered from the south side of the nave, and is a quadrangular area 338¼ feet by 102½, now almost vacant. The chapter-house is entered, from the east side of this court, by one of three very rich Norman porches, which are still standing, and it measures 60¼ feet by 45, and was a very splendid apartment. The refectory also was entered from the cloister court, and had twelve octagonal pillars, dividing it into two aisles. The guest-hall was 130 feet long, 50 wide, and 40 high, but only the east wall of it is standing. A building adjoins it, supposed to have been its vestible and chapel, now the only one of the edifices still retaining its vaultings, and this shows a great variety of arching, in strong contrast to the uniformity which prevails in each portion of the other buildings. These ruins are the subject of one of the most beautiful poems of Professor Wilson, and are now the property of the Duke of Devonshire, who has taken judicious measures for their preservation.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Cumberland is available to browse.


Online maps of Furness are available from a number of sites: