Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for FURNESS

FURNESS, a territory, two railways, and an ancient abbey, in the north-west of Lancashire. The territory is bounded by Cumberland, Westmoreland, 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" or 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 Westmoreland, bears the name of Upper Furness; is strictly a part of the Lake region; and resembles the rest of that region in mixtures 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 free 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 drew a 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 quondam tenants and subjects, accompanied their downfall. The lordship, with considerable rights, was given by Charles II. to General Monk, the Duke of Albemarle; and passed to the Dukes of Buccleugh.

The Furness railway was originally a line from Barrow and Peel Pier to Dalton and Kirkby mines, mainly for the conveyance of minerals; was afterwards extended to Broughton, and into junction with the Whitehaven and Furness 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 now forms an integral portion 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 Furness and Midland railway was authorised in 1863, and opened in 1867; is 9½ miles long; goes from Carnforth to Wennington, connecting the Ulverston and Lancaster with the Little Northwestern, and is worked by the Midland.

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 night-shade, 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 Cistertians. The abbey was a mother one, having under it seven monasteries in England, one in Ireland, and one in the Isle of Man; and it disputed with Fountains abbey in Yorkshire the claim of being the primal Cistertian institution in England. It possessed the vast powers of the lordship of Furness 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 it 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. The 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 counter-arched. " The church is cruciform, and has a total length of 300 feet. The nave is 160 feet long, and 65½ 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, 338½ 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 60 ½ 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 vestibule 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.

(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a territory, two railways, and an ancient abbey"   (ADL Feature Type: "locations")
Administrative units: Lancashire AncC
Place names: FRUDERNESSE     |     FURNESS     |     FUTHERNESSE
Place: Furness

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