Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Tale of a Man Called Wimund

There is a man from history, once a monk at Furness Abbey, who became a bishop, a pretender and a warlord. This man was called Wimund.

There are not many accounts of Wimund except for one by a 12th Century historian, William of Newburgh. William was a Yorkshire Augustinian who wrote the History of English Affairs in which he relays the ‘most audacious acts’ of Wimund in Chapter 24 - "Of bishop Wimund, his life unbecoming a bishop, and how he was deprived of his sight".

William had met Wimund several times at Byland Abbey, where the discraced bishop lived in later life, and had heard the stories of ‘his merited misfortunes’.

Wimund was of humble birth, he was no nobal man or anyone of importance. He did, however, pocess the ability to read and write, something most common folk did not. This ability lead him to find employment at the Abbey of St. Mary in Furness, then ran by Savigniac monks, as a copyist. Wimund, with his ‘competent eloquence’ and ‘retentive memory’, made speedy progress at the monastic site and was soon shorn a monk.

Around 1134 Wimund was sent, with a group of other monks, to set up a new community on the Isle of Man. It was in 1134 that King Olaf of the Isle of Man granted land to Furness for the foundation of a daughter house. This daughter house was called Rushen Abbey. The site is now, as many are, in ruins but can still be visited. In the same charter granting the lands for a daughter house King Olaf also gave the abbey control over the election of the new Bishop of Sodor and Man.

Wimund was a tall man, standing head and shoulders above most men of the time and he held an athletic figure. This, along with his power to produce stirring speech, brought him the acclaim of the inhabitants of the Isle of Man, who soon appointed Wimund as their Bishop with the abbey’s consent. Although he was not a popular choice. It didn’t take long for Wimunds ambitions to grow and for him to become hungry for more power.

It was then that Wimund started to convince local supporters that he was the rightful heir to the earldom of Mowbray and that he had been deprived his inheritance by the King of Scotland. These supporters pledged their allegiance to Wimund and swore to help him reclaim his birthright, they soon were engaged on a crusade against the Scottish King. William of Newburgh comments that ‘this fisher of men turned hunter of men’. The band left the Isle of Man and headed for Scotland where they engaged in battle with the Scots and successfully ravaged them. Unfortunately for Wimund another Bishop stood up to him and refused to bow to his will. With the assistance of God the Bishop drove Wimund away hurling an axe at him! This axe wounded Wimund badly, he went into hiding for a time to recover but soon re-emerged to reign more terror onto the Scots.

Soon King David of Scotland granted Wimund the lands of Furness to make him less hostile, an act known as placation. The whole of Cumberland and Westmorland had been given to Scotland in 1536 by King Stephen of England, this included Furness. Wimund paraded his knew lands with his army and this stirred up the locals, who had known him as a monk, to set a trap. Wimund was captured and 'they took and bound him, and as both eyes were wicked, deprived him of both; and, providing against all future excess, they made him an eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of Scotland, not for that of Heaven'. In other terms they blinded and castrated him, taking away his sight and taking away his ability to breed.

Wimund survived this brutal attack and spent the rest of his days living at Byland Abbey in Yorkshire. He never repented for his wrong doings and was always willing to tell his tales to anyone who would listen, often remarking that ‘his enemies should have small cause to rejoice over their work’ and what they had done to him.

Wimund’s tale is an interesting one; it shows how power can easily corrupt even those who have sworn devotion to God and to the church. Alas Wimund’s tale is not the only one of its kind within the country but it is the only one recorded that relates to Furness and it is, certainly, a piece of hidden heritage.

Return here on October 11th for a special post which puts the spotlight on Normans in Furness!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Remnants of World War II, The Strand British Restaurant

September 1st 1939, the World is at war for the second time. Great struggle and upset lies ahead for everyone including those on the home front in Barrow. With one of the biggest shipyards in the country, producing military vessels to aid in the war, Barrow soon became a target for enemy fire. Due to this many remnants of that period of British history remain across the town, from the Military Defences dotted along the coast to the buildings which served the locals still living here. 

In 1940 a new initiative was set up in Britain, an initiative designed to help those on the home front who had lost their homes to bombing, had ran out of ration coupons or who were in desperate need of help. The initiative saw the creation of some 2160 'Community Feeding Centres', later named British Restaurants, across the country which went on to serve food for those who needed it most.
They were created by the Ministry of Food and run by either local government or volunteers as non-profit organisations. Meals which consisted of one serving of meat, game, poultry, fish, eggs, or cheese were sold at a small price to anyone who need them. A vital service which would help thousands of people across Britain.

Here in Furness, or more specifically Barrow, there were at least two of these restaurants. The one we are looking at in this post opened on the Strand in Barrow-in-Furness beneath the large Michaelson Road bridge to Barrow Island. It was called, quite simply, 'The Strand British Restaurant'. It appears that the restaurant was opened inside an already existing building but the large arch way which used to provide entrance was filled in and a smaller, blue door put in its place. The large windows providing light into the building also filled in. This was, no doubt, to protect the building if there was any evening bomb strikes, stopping any light blaring out from within which would make it clearly visible to planes passing overhead. The blocking out of the windows would make the building invisible at night, it's positioning under the bridge also helping with this. It is possible that the building was also used as an air raid shelter for local residents. I have been unable to find any records relating to this building so cannot give an exact date as to its construction or indeed how long it operated for but it is safe to say it would have opened sometime in the early years of the war and could well have continued to operate into the 1950s, as many did.

The old Public Hall, image courtesy of southlakes-uk.co.uk
The Strand British Restaurant wasn't the only one in Barrow though, there was another in the old Public Hall which stood in front of the town hall (where a car park now sits). This was Barrow's main British Restaurant but was called The Civic Restaurant. Much like the strand it would provide food to those in need across the town with seating available inside.

There were also several 'takeaway' restaurants on streets like Devon Street and Euryalus Street, allowing residents to take food away on their own plates.

Sadly the old Public Hall is no longer in existence having been demolished but the Strand British Restaurant is still visible today beneath the high level bridge to Barrow island on Hindpool Road. You can easily spot the old blue door once providing entrance to the restaurant. Look closely and you can still see the old print of the name to the top of the door. This is wonderful to see, the old typography is exquisite and it is fantastic that this still remains, even if a little faded.

Next time you are walking or driving under the bridge do take a look and think about all the people who used to enter through that little blue door to eat and survive!

Come back on the 27th September for another new Furness Hidden Heritage blog post which will tell a tale from the 12th Century!

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A Hidden Manor House and Medieval Tower, Broughton Tower | Life in the Past Series

Set back from the village of Broughton-in-Furness, hidden by trees, stands the interesting and suitably impressive Broughton Tower.

Currently private flats Broughton Tower started life as a 14th Century pele tower, much like those found in towns like Dalton-in-Furness. The tower, much like many others, was erected to defend against the ever growing possibility of Scottish attacks. Something that was a common threat at this time as the Scots were performing constant raids on England. In the picture above you can see the original pele tower, with its typical crenelated Medieval style, in the centre of the large complex of buildings.

Much like the castle at Dalton the tower was most likely used as a manorial court, a place where local disputes and wrong doings could be brought in front of the monorail lord and brought to a conclusion. The tower even as a dungeon which could be used to hold wrong doers before further punishment.

The tower was constructed by the Broughton family, Lords of the Manor of Broughton. They stayed in the town until 1487 when Sir Thomas Broughton was killed in the battle of Stoke. Thomas had allied himself with Bonnie Prince Charlie and fought against the Kings men for him. On his death his seat at Broughton was seized by the crown and given to the 1st Earl of Derby.

Some hundred and seventy years later the 7th Earl of Derby was executed for his allegiance to Charles II. It was then, in 1658, that the tower and the seat was passed to the Sawrey family. They kept ownership of the tower until the 1920s. The Sawreys, during the 18th Century, turned the tower into a manor house. A grand extension was added to the original 14th Century tower creating a much larger and impressive structure, the structure we can see today.

The whole site was turned into flats in recent times, which are now in private ownership. This means that the historic site is off limits for any visitors but you can walk along a public footpath through a nearby field and be rewarded with great views of the structure, including the original 14th Century tower.

The manor house and original tower are a real piece of hidden heritage, tucked away out of sight behind the small town of Broughton, and is a real treat to stumble across!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

An Enchanting Medieval Fortification, Piel Castle | Life in the Past Series

Across the water from Roa Island near Barrow is the peaceful island of Piel and standing upon it are the enchanting ruins of Piel Castle, a once extensive and imposing building.

The Abbot of Furness built Piel Castle on the southeastern point of Piel Island during the 14th Century. This was built as Edward III had granted Furness Abbey a license to crenellate on the island in 1327. There would have been an earlier fortification on the island but it is difficult to determine to what size and style as the current castle is most likely built where it would have been. The early castle was no doubt made from wood also which would leave little evidence today.

The Castle was built to guard the deep-water harbour at the southern tip of the Furness Peninsula against Scottish raiders and, most likely, pirates! A lot of trade took place through the harbour so any raids or piratical attack could have caused major problems for the Abbey and local tradesmen.

The castle was seized into the king's hands in 1403 as the Abbot, John de Bolton, had been accused of a lack of maintenance. It did later return to the abbey's ownership in 1411. Sadly by the time of the dissolution of the monasteries the castle was in a state of decay and was too ruinous to be used. It was then left unused and slowly fell into even more of a ruinous state, with parts of the curtain walls becoming victim to erosion and the building becoming the picturesque ruins we can see today.

The site consists of a large keep, inner and outer baileys as well as a towered curtain wall. An impressive building in its time and an impressive ruin today! The ruins are under the care of English Heritage and are free to look around and on certain occasions a stairway to the top of the castle keep is opened to the public.

The castle is certainly worth a visit as is the island itself, Piel.

The island is beautiful and picturesque with not only the castle but several small houses, wildlife in abundance, a camp site, a 18th Century pub and even a king!

Whoever is landlord of the pub becomes the King of Piel. This is a tradition that is said to date back to the time of Lambert Simnel when he attempted to usurp the English throne. Simnel and his army landed on Piel in 1487 on their way to battle the King. Whether it does date back to this time is anyones guess but still any new landlord is crowned as King of Piel at an unusual ceremony. The soon to be king is seated on an ancient wooden thrown, wearing a helmet, holding a sword while beer is poured over his head. Odd for certain but quite a spectacle. Once crowned the king can even appoint knights! Usually local fisherman or even anyone who buys a whole round for everyone in the pub.

William Wordsworth wrote a poem in 1806 about Piel Castle. He had visited Piel in 1794 and his wife owned a picture of the castle painted by their friend and Wordsworth’s patron Sir George Beaumont. The poem is called 'Elegiac Stanzas Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm, Painted by Sir George Beaumont' and is a lament on the death of his brother at sea, but also for his own youth and imagination. You can read this poem in full here.

The island and castle has an interesting and vivid history with traditions still upheld today and is perfect for a day trip in the summer months, catching the boat across the channel to Piel's shores.