In the surrounding grounds of Furness Abbey are a number of historical curiosities from both the Medieval era and from Victorian times when the remnants of the monastery became a tourist attraction. All can be visited for free as they are outside of the modern English Heritage fence, but no trip to the area would be complete without going in amongst the ruins of Furness Abbey. for which an entrance fee is charged.
The Gatehouse Chapel
In the car park of the abbey stands the remains of the gatehouse chapel. Due to the towering nature of the monastery ruins it is somewhat overlooked by visitors. It is a sizeable and significant building in its own right, dating from the 1300s. It would have been used by people who were not able to worship in the abbey church. The interior has remnants of an altar, a triple-arched sedilia (stone seats for the clergy), piscina (a basin for washing the communion vessels) and credence (a small shelf where wine and bread are placed).
Adjoining the chapel is a gothic arch wide enough for a carriage to pass through and a smaller pedestrian arch alongside it. This dates from the 1500s and stands on the site of the original outer gate of the abbey precinct.
One of the Abbey’s Corn Mills?
Parts of the building in the picture below date back to the Medieval period, and it is contemporary with the abbey. It is thought by some to be rare surviving remains of one of the monastery’s corn mills, although this is not a consensus view. Other sources claim it is the remnant of the Lay Stewards Hall, once part of a much bigger building. With the advent of tourism, the building became the Custodian’s House in the 1800s. Tragically, in 1996, a serious arson attack badly damaged it. However, its original cruck frame remains intact inside today, somewhat blackened, and can be viewed when visiting. This has been dated to the 1400s. All buildings need a use, and this one is now an excellent cafe just a short walk from the abbey. The link to the cafe’s website is in the access section below.
Bow Bridge is a diminutive Medieval bridge, above the monastery site. It was originally built to link the abbey to another one of its corn mills, named New Mill. The bridge is over 500 years old and was constructed to cross the stream known as Mill Beck. During the time of the abbey it would have been in constant use, with goods such as malt, corn and salt being carried over it to the monastery. Originally the bridge would have had stone parapets on either side, ensuring traffic did not fall into the water below.
The Custodian’s Hut
Next to the the metal perimeter fence is the Custodian’s Hut. Complete with its own fireplace and chimney, it dates from Victorian times. Here the caretaker of the site would sit, with guides and maps at hand to direct the visitor to see the most interesting aspects of the ruins.
Furness Abbey Hotel
The coming of the railways gave a huge boost to Lake District tourism. The Furness Railway Company opened a train station in 1846 and visitors could stay at the Furness Abbey Hotel, a converted manor house once owned by the Preston family. The hotel was successful for many years, but finally closed in 1938. During the Second World War, the building was requisitioned by the army to serve as a gun control centre for Barrow. A 1941 German air raid badly damaged it, along with the abbey train station. The hotel was demolished in 1953, and all that now remains from this era is the station’s refreshment room and booking office. This became a bar and restaurant known as the Abbey Tavern, which stopped being used some years ago. This grade II listed building has been boarded up for a long time but has been recently sold, although what will be done with it remains uncertain.
Site visited in 2019 by A. and S. Bowden. This page written 2023.
All the curiosities can be seen for free as they are outside the modern fence of Furness Abbey. The ruined monastery is spectacular and worth viewing close up, so consider buying a ticket and going into the grounds as well. See our page on it here.
Abbey Mill coffee shop is just a short walk from the abbey car park. Follow the pavement by the perimeter fence to reach it on foot. Visit the website here.
At this site
Nearby, just a drive away
Heritage Unlocked: Guide to free sites in the North West, Sarah Yates (2003), English Heritage
Furness Abbey and Piel Castle, Edited by Louise Wilson (2018), English Heritage. Available to buy from the abbey or online at the abbey website.
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