Furness Abbey - History and Facts | History Hit

Furness Abbey

Barrow-in-Furness, England, United Kingdom

Furness Abbey is a partially ruined 12th century monastery which now operates as a tourist attraction and museum.

Lily Johnson

28 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Furness Abbey

Furness Abbey is a ruined 12th century monastery in Cumbria, that today stands as a testament to the sheer scale of monastic communities in medieval England. Now run by English Heritage, Furness provides an atmospheric walk through 900 years of history.

Furness Abbey history

Founded in 1124 by the future King Stephen, the construction of Furness Abbey began 3 years later and would be expanded over the following century. During this period Furness grew to become one of the most important and richest abbeys in the country, creating a number of off-shoot or ‘daughter’ abbeys in the region, including Byland, Calder, and Swineshead.

Furness Abbey’s location near the Scottish border often left it vulnerable to attack however, particularly during the conflict of the Scottish Wars of Independence. During the Great Raid of 1322, in which Robert the Bruce wreaked havoc on the north of England, the abbot paid a ransom to his soldiers, successfully sparing the monastery and its monks.

However, as with many monasteries of the time, it was during the reign of Henry VIII that Furness Abbey would fall into decline. His Dissolution of the Monasteries saw it closed as a monastery, and the monks were forced to leave.

Over the next 300 years the abbey passed between the ownership of several different local nobles, but was largely ignored and abandoned. The lead roof was sold and much of the masonry plundered, leaving Furness Abbey in a ruinous state.

Furness Abbey today

Today Furness Abbey is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public, with its picturesque remains a popular tourist attraction. The ruins include much of the ornately decorated chapter house, the east end and west tower of the church, elements of the infirmary and kitchen, and the cloister buildings.

There is also an interesting museum at the site that tells the history of the abbey and the monks who lived there, where artefacts found at Furness Abbey over the years are on display. These include a host of intriguing stone carvings and effigies.

The surrounding grassy areas make the perfect picnic spot, against the dramatic backdrop of the abbey that was once one of England’s most prestigious religious centres.

Getting to Furness Abbey

Furness Abbey is located 1.5 miles north of Barrow-in-Furness off the A590, with parking available at the site. The nearest train stations are Dalton and Roose, and Barrow-in-Furness – both 2 miles away. The Stagecoach in Cumbria 6 and X6 services alight on Abbey Road, a 15-minute walk to the site.

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