Tuesday, 17 July 2018

A spire seen across the town - St. James' Church, Barrow

Across the town of Barrow-in-Furness, if you look across the skyline, there is one heritage building that can almost always be seen - the spire of St. James' Church.

This lovely looking church was built, along with many other historic building in Barrow, during the Victorian period and sits in the Hindpool area of the town.

The site for the church was gifted from the Duke of Devonshire - one of the major players in the town at the time. Soon after this the Directors of the Iron and Steelworks, big businesses in the town, provided the money to build the church.

Once money was obtained the architects Edward Paley and Herbert Austin were hired to design the building. The two went on to become famous for their many church designs across Northern England.

The building was constructed using local bricks, in the familiar red hue that one associated with the town, and has contrasting yellow sandstone forming the windows and decorative features. The final construction is large and grandiose but has a beauty of it's own. It's 150ft tower rising up to touch the sky and create a landmark seen across the town.

This is something that was used to the advantage of the Germans during the Second World War.

Incoming bomber planes, destined to hit the shipyard, are said to have used the tower of St. James' as a marker. They would fly towards the tower, turning on reaching it to gain a direct line to the shipyard.

During the German air raids of 1941 the church sadly received damage. Several stained glass windows were destroyed, the organ was damaged and a floor in the spire collapsed onto the bells inside. Unfortunately many of the surrounding buildings were completely destroyed in the air raids but the church managed to stay mostly intact and remained as a symbol of hope for the local townsfolk.

One interesting fact I'd like to leave you with is about the organ just mentioned. This organ is rather special, it started life in 1837 when King William the Fourth commissioned it's construction. The organ was built inside the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace - the royal palace at the time.

Here the organ was played at many royal occasions including at the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg.

Several years later, in 1868, the organ was to be replaced so was sent to Barrow to be installed in St. James Church, where it still stands today.

St. James' Church is a wonderful building on the skyline of Barrow, it stands as a lasting reminder of the towns incredible Victorian past and is well worth a look around if you're ever in the area.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Gleaston Castle from the Air | VIDEO

The romantic ruins of Gleaston Castle are well known in Furness but take to the air and the site takes on a new dimension...

Back in 2013 we took a look at the fascinating, if sometimes unclear, history of Gleaston Castle. Now, some 5 years on, it was time to revisit the site from a different perspective - from the air.

In this short video you can see a variety of aerial shots taking in the splendour of this medieval ruin and the area it sits in:

Video footage Copyright © Furness Hidden Heritage 2018, all rights reserved.

The ruin is sadly in bad repair, as is made evident from the large cracks that can be seen rising up through several of the walls, but it still forms quite the impressive structure. Three of it's four towers are still standing proud, with door ways and windows often still intact.

It can be hard to get a real sense of what this castle once looked like or how it once was used but this video at least gives a new perspective on the ruin and shows just some of its former majesty.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

A ram's head and a chimney - Ramsden Hall, Barrow

What do you think of when you see an image like the one to the right? 

Industry maybe? Mills and factories of the Victorian age perhaps?

Well, if so, you would only be partly right!

This lovely chimney is from the Victorian period, built in the typical red brick of the Furness area, but it is not attached to an industrial mill, nor is it from a large factory. or yard

It is in fact attached to a rather fine building which once housed something of a much more gentile nature, a community bath house, gifted to the town by the first mayor of Barrow, Sir James Ramsden.

Ramsden commissioned and funded the building of this, quite small, public bath house in 1872 and it was constructed in that same year.

On completion the building was given the name 'Ramsden Hall', a reminder of who funded it. Another reminder of this is situated above the main entrance to the hall. Carved into yellow sandstone is an inscription that reads 'Presented to the town by James Ramsden Esq. First Mayor'.

Just below this is another interesting feature of the building, and something I personally have always associated with the building since childhood, a ram's head. This ornate carving forms the centre part of the archway above the main entrance door and is rather wonderful. The ram of course being a symbol for Ramsden.

The chimney, mentioned at the opening of this post, sits to the rear of the building and would have sat directly above a boiler room of some variety. This boiler would have heated water which would be used for bathing, a steam engine most likely being used to do this pumping. The chimney would be used to vent out smoke from coal or wood which would be burnt to heat the water and operate the steam engine - something which would be a common site across the town at the time.

The building sadly did not remain as a bath house for long as in 1886 it was converted into a public hall. It also went on to become an annex of the technical college, which stands next to the hall, before becoming the Citizens Advice Bureau, which it remains to this day.

Ramsden Hall is a wonderfully cute building on the streets of Barrow. Sitting on Abbey road between the former Houses of Parliament Pub and the now Nan-Tate Centre this building is one of a kind. It is the last remaining public bathhouse from the 19th Century left in the town and is a beautiful piece of Victorian architecture, one I hope remains out of harms way for many, many more years to come!

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

A Lost Medieval Priory Beneath a Grand Country House, Conishead Priory

Conishead Priory today is a well visited attraction, home to Buddhist monks and an impressive and “…very important Gothic revival country house with few peers in the north west” (English Heritage). But beneath the grand manor house and its well kept lawns are the foundations of a 12th Century Augustinian Priory.

In 1160 Gamel de Pennington, a local lord living at Pennington Castle, founded a hospital here for the poor of the Ulverston area. Monks from the Order of St. Augustine ran the hospital and lived within it. They also founded a school here to help educated local children. Later, in 1188, the hospital was raised to the status of a Priory and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. A holy relic kept at the site was said to be a girdle, a type of waist tie, of Mary.

The newly appointed priory soon was given new land and rights which, in turn, brought conflict with the nearby Furness Abbey. Furness was an ever growing power house at the time and would be unhappy with a new priory taking land and tithes from areas they could potentially cultivate. Disputes between Conishead and Furness carried on until 1338 when Edward II gave a royal charter to Conishead, which confirmed all earlier grants of land and rights. This brought to an end all disputes, although one does wonder if the monks at Furness were ever completely happy with the Priories existence!

In the mid 1500’s, as part of the ‘Act for the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries’, Conishead was dissolved. The monks were moved on and the lead from the roofs stripped, melted down and sold. The walls were dismantled as well leaving the site all but empty.

If you visit the site today it is hard to see any evidence of this early priory. No ruined walls are left to give an idea of its size or shape, nor any markings on the ground. But, thankfully, there has been some archaeological excavation at the site. This work found the priory church to be beneath the south lawn of the current manor house and to be in the typical cruciform shape with a 100 foot nave and crossing transepts. The domestic buildings of the priory are believed to be beneath the current manor house, inaccessible for research and confirmation of size and shape.

It is a shame that this religious house of old is no longer in existence or that there is no evidence of it left to see. It must have been a peaceful and beautiful place in it’s time and would have been a wonderful place to visit today if still in some form of existence.

After the priories dissolution the estate was given to a man called Lord Mounteagle who built a country house here from what was left of the Priories stone walls. The estate then went on to pass through various hands until eventually coming into the hands of the Braddylls family. They held Conishead for just under two centuries, living in the country house. In 1821 the house was to undergo a drastic change, a change brought about by Colonel Thomas Braddyll - High Sheriff of Lancashire.

The Colonel hired architect Philip Wyatt to rebuild Conishead to a brand new design. From here the current house was demolished and fifteen years later the brand new Conishead manor house was finished and was, and is, stunning. Wyatt had blended different architectural styles to produce a unique and exciting building. The houses distinctive octagonal towers, which stand at the front of the building, are truly impressive at 100 feet tall and make Conishead stand out amongst the surrounding trees and, indeed, amongst other local stately homes and country houses.

Unfortunately for Colonel Braddyll he was, in 1848, declared bankrupt and he lost his newly built Conishead. The site once again passed through various hands until eventually becoming a hydropathical hotel, soon being known as ‘The Paradise of Furness’. The hotel could hold 240 guests and provided a host of different facilities including a huge library, tennis courts, pleasure boating and salt baths.

Fifty years later and the house changed hands again, this time bought by the Durham Miners Welfare Committee. They turned the site into a convalescent home for Durham coal miners who became ill from there work. During the Second World War the site became a military hospital, the largest in the North, and looked after many thousands of patients over the war years.

Today Buddhist monks own and look after the house, which has become the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre. The former walled garden of the country house now holds a beautifully decorative Buddhist temple and the site is a hub for spiritual activity in the area.

Visiting the site today you can get a sense of the tranquillity that the original Augustinian monks would have had being here and that the many families, hotel guests, miners and Buddhists have experienced here over the centuries. The site is well worth a visit for a cup of tea and a slice of cake in the café, a wander around the impressive garden and grounds and a look inside the temple. But while there be sure to take a look at the grand stately home and think of the humble beginning of the site as a medieval hospital turned priory.