Whalley Abbey - History and Facts | History Hit

Whalley Abbey

Lily Johnson

08 Jun 2021

About Whalley Abbey

Whalley Abbey in Lancashire is a ruined 14th century Cistercian abbey, whose picturesque ruins today provide an intriguing look into Britain’s monastic past.

Whalley Abbey history

Whalley Abbey was founded in 1296 by the monks of Stanlaw, who had fled their flood-prone site on the River Mersey near Ellesmere Port.

As Whalley was part of their patron Henry de Lacy’s lands in the area, including Clitheroe Castle, the monks set about building a brand new monastic complex which took almost the entire 14th century to complete.

Whalley Abbey initially prospered due to its resources of stone, coal, iron, sheep and cattle in the area, however in the 16th century it was ruined under Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.

During the dissolutions, the last abbot of Whalley, John Paslew, was executed alongside two of his monks in 1537 when he refused to take the compulsory oath of allegiance to the king, and for his supposed role in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a popular uprising that had taken place the previous year.

The abbey was then sold to Richard Assheton of Lever in 1553, who demolished the church but transformed the remainder of the buildings into a lavish manor house.

Whalley Abbey today

Today Whalley Abbey affords visitors a glimpse into medieval England from the minute they walk through the picturesque Gatehouse. The manor house, now known as Conference House, is a fascinating culmination of architectural styles, with medieval, Tudor, Victorian, and modern influences all visible – a handy display board to the east of the house points out each of these!

The foundations of the abbey church may be explored, containing the only remaining choir pits in Britain, while nearby lie the gravestones of some of the de Lacy family.

The cloisters contain some of the best preserved areas of the abbey, with ornate carvings still visible around the vast doorways and the remains of bookshelves and the lavatorium, or washroom, still visible.

A vast two-storey roofed building that was once the lay brothers’ dormitory sits to the west of the site, while nearby is a tranquil garden complete with a lily pond and countless plants and flowers. At the edge of the garden there are beautiful views over the River Calder and towards the huge Whalley Viaduct – a perfect photo opportunity!

Getting to Whalley Abbey

Whalley Abbey is located in Whalley in Lancashire, and can be reached via the A59 or A671. Whalley train station is a 10-minute walk to the site, with a number of bus services also stopping at the station.