The monks of Tulketh Abbey were of the Savignaic group, part of the reformed Benedictine order. Their arrival at Tulketh occurred not many years after the order was founded. They were originally given lands in the remote Savigny Forest near Avranches in France, living in the old remains of a castle. They founded their monastery in 1112 and King Henry I of England, who owned land in this area of France, confirmed their charter that same year.
In 1123, the abbot of Savigny sent a colony of monks to England. Twelve monks set out (thought to be an auspicious number as it was same number as Jesus’s disciples). Accompanying them was their leader, Ewan d’Avranches, who was to be their abbot. Ewan had lived for many years with ‘Blessed’ Vitalis, the order’s founder, at Savigny.
The monks had been invited to Tulketh by Stephen of Blois, the future king of England. He was keen for the Savignaic monks to set up their first monastery in England on his land. Stephen had large estates in Lancashire given to him by King Henry I.
Local historian Alice Leach speculates on the route they would have taken on their journey from France to Lancashire. She surmises that they would have stayed at Benedictine houses en route. The closest one to Savigny was Bec. From there, they would have sailed from Harfleur to Hastings, where they probably stayed at Battle Abbey. The route could then have included the abbeys of Canterbury, Westminster, Ely, Peterborough, Burton upon Trent, Tutbury and then finally on to Preston.
The monks arrived at their new home on 4th July 1124. Some historical sources indicate that they made use of some pre-existing buildings which were probably part of Tulketh Castle, a Norman motte and bailey. Here they founded Tulketh Abbey, but it was a short-lived affair, lasting just three years.
It is probable that the land around Tulketh proved unsuitable as it was so marshy. The monks already owned land that Stephen had given them in Furness, along with the churches of Urswick and Dalton. In comparison to Tulketh, the peninsula of Furness may have seemed a better location.
On July 7th 1127, the monks transferred to Furness and Stephen took back ownership of Tulketh. The route they took probably saw them travelling up to Hest Bank. They then would have crossed Morecambe Bay, via the sands, to reach Cartmel. From there they would have headed to Leven Sands and then onto Furness to reach their new site at Beckansgill, in the Vale of Nightshade. For more on their very successful Abbey of Furness, which became one of the richest monasteries in England, see our page here.
Finding the Site of the Tulketh Abbey Today
Tulketh Abbey and Tulketh Castle were probably on the same site. There are clues from various historical sources as to where this was. The antiquarian John Leland, who lived in the time of King Henry VIII, wrote “Stephen, Count of Boulogne, afterwards King of England, gave to the Abbot Gaufrid of Savania a villa, called Tulket, in the province of Amounderness, upon the banks of the River Ribble to build an abbey of his order…”. A priest called Father West referring to Tulketh Abbey wrote in his 1774 book Antiquities of Furness “They contented themselves with making use of such buildings as were erected before coming thither”.
The 1849 OS Map shows the grounds of Tulketh Hall and marks on the site both the location of the abbey and the castle motte. In the map above, the monastery is on the left in a wooded area, the castle mound is on the right. If the castle site was reused by the monks, it is probable that they used buildings in the flat lower bailey area, rather than any on top of the motte.
Note the two wells above and below the monastery on the map. One of these was discovered in the 1800s and found to be 60 feet deep. It may well have been the water source for the monastery.
The later 1895 OS map just marks the abbey site. We can see from this map that the hall grounds were bounded by the roads of Tulketh Crescent, Rossall Street, Francis Street, and Hesketh Street. The hall (or part of it) is still marked on the map just to the right of the abbey site. The Industrial School was built just a few years later next to the hall. The school’s buildings still stand, now used by the James Mercer Group. The hall was demolished in 1959.
To view the site of the Tulketh Abbey, park on Tulketh Crescent or Francis Street. Look through the railings towards the large red brick building. The abbey was probably somewhere beneath the open asphalt area.
To read about Tulketh Castle, see our page here
For more on Furness Abbey, see our page here
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2020
Park on Tulketh Crescent or Francis Street. There are views into the open area of the Mercer group buildings and the abbey would lie probably under here.
On the same site
Penwortham’s Lost Medieval Monastery
Lost Leper Hospital of St Mary Magdalene
A History of Furness Abbey, Alice Leach (1987), Furness Heritage Press
Preston History website- prestonhistory.com. Page on Tulketh Hall. This page was invaluable for tracking down some of the more difficult to find references.
Furness Abbey and Piel Castle, Stuart Harrison and Jason Wood, (1998, latest imprint 2018), English Heritage
Furness Abbey: Romance, Scholarship and Culture, C. Dade-Robertson (2000) Centre for North-West Regional Studies, University of Lancaster
Lancashire Castles and Towers, Leslie Irving Gibson (1977), Dalesman Books
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