Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Buried Swords and Hoards, the Vikings in Furness

The Vikings, those Norse men and women who rampaged across Europe invading countries, raping and pillaging as they went. Arriving in their long boats with their huge axes and swords to reek havoc on the unsuspecting shores on which they landed...right? Well, not quite!

Vikings is a loose term that describes Norse seafarers who traded, and indeed often raided, across north Europe from their homeland of Scandinavia. Often depicted as terrifying warriors who killed and ravaged wherever they went the Vikings were in fact a relatively peaceful bunch. They generally spent time trading with and settling in areas of Europe. Of course violence would often occur but they were not the blood thirsty race which is often depicted. They were no more violent and bloodthirsty than the later English kings of the middle ages or indeed the Celts and Romans before.

There is huge amounts of evidence of the Viking occupation across England from the remains of their capital city, Jorvik in York to the vast amount of hoards and artifacts discovered from the time. When it comes to Vikings in Furness though evidence gets a little bit sparse and discovering their occupation a little bit tricky!

One of the main things that shows some Viking influence in the area is the name of 'Furness' itself. It is believed that the name derives from the Viking 'Far Ness', ness being Norse for headland. This most likely in reference to the area as seen from the south of Morcambe bay.

There are also many place names in the area which derive from the Vikings and the old Norse language. Scales, Sowerby, Soutergate, Roa, Hawcoat, Bigger and even Barrow all have Norse origins. Places like the Haggs in Dalton also come from Old Norse.

Some of the more physical evidence of Vikings in the area are small in number but do certainly paint a picture:

The Rampside Swords

Around 1854-5 a gravedigger at Rampside Church, named William Jackson, was digging a new grave. While doing so he came across what was a well corroded but very obvious sword. It was about 12 inches long with a 3 inch guard as well as a handle. Sadly it had no pommel but was believed to be of Viking origin.

Later, in 1909, another sword was discovered buried beneath the ground. Jacob Helm and his son Thomas were digging a grave in the churchyard when they made the discovery. It lay about 2 feet 6 inches beneath the surface and had about 6 inches of the blade still intact, although about half missing. It bears a guard, handle and part of a pommel (see image) and is of typical Viking design. Interestingly this sword, in difference to most other swords of the time, only has one edge.

Both these finds suggest Viking settlement here in Furness with accompanying burials. The question however is whether these burials took place in the early Viking age or later when Christianity started to take hold. It is believed that the owner of the second Rampside sword may well have been a converted Norse man and was buried in consecrated ground around an early christian church.

The Furness Hoard

Image courtesy of the Dock Museum.
In 2011 a local metal detectorist made a fascinating discovery in the hills near Stainton, a Viking Hoard!

Buried beneath the soil next to a large limestone rock (quite the marker) was a large selection of silver coins, ingots and arm rings all from the Viking Age, 92 pieces altogether.

The coins are from varying dates ranging from around 947, and the reign of Eric Bloodaxe, to around 955 and the reign of Eadwig.

In it's time the hoard was likely worth around 50 sheep, which was a high sum. This could give reason as to why it was buried.

Although no-one can ever be sure why it was buried, and what happened to the owner, there certainly are some theories. One theory is that this was the personal bank account, as it were, of a local person. The money buried under a marker so the owner knew where it was when needed but it was kept safe from thieves. This could have weight as the hoard was buried close to an ancient area of settlement, maybe a local would dig up the hoard every now and then to add more coins to it. The Viking equivalent of a savings account! Personally this is my favored theory although we will no doubt never know the truth.

The hoard is often described as the "missing link" as it sheds new light on Viking habitation in the area and is an extremely important find.

If you want to see the hoard yourself then you can! It is on display in the Dock Museum, Barrow. It is well worth taking a look at and pondering how it came to be buried beneath the earth and forgotten about all those years ago!

Lead Weights

Metal detectorists have been responsible for a couple of other interesting Viking finds in the area too.

Two lead weights have been found across Furness, the most recent being beautifully decorated (see image) and found near Dalton-in-Furness. Lead weights like this were used to weigh out goods before sale and show that there was certainly Viking trade happening in the area.

The other weight found is decorated in a celtic knott work design with gold finish. Another fine example and another piece in the puzzle.

Both weights are on display, with the hoard, inside the Dock Museum.

Carved Stone

There have been several Viking stone carvings found in the area including a tympanum, a semi circular shaped surface which would sit over an entrance, found at Pennington Church, which was adorned with runic inscription dating to the Viking age and the segment of a cross found at Urswick Church. This fragment (pictured) was found in the grounds of the church and is a small section of a Viking cross and could indicate early Viking religious activity.

This fragment is still retained inside Urswick Church but is not on display to visitors.

There have been other, smaller finds, over the years also from a hollow copper alloy head found near Furness Abbey, believed to be an early religious decoration which would adorn a chair, to various Spindle whorls, the weighted bases of wool spinning tools.

All of these finds, although few in number, start to paint a picture of the Vikings in Furness. The evidence of their place names surviving through time to influence our modern world, the small finds which give evidence of their trade in the area and their lost and forgotten hoard which shows the Viking way of life had spread to the area. Whether the owners of these items were actually of Norse decent may never be known but whoever they were they certainly had adopted the Viking way of life.

So, were the Vikings ever in Furness? You can be certain they were! Let us hope though that in time more work is carried out and new evidence is discovered which will fill in the gaps and complete the puzzle of the Norse men in Furness...

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Making Iron from Ore, Newland Furnace

On the outskirts of Ulverston there is a small village by the name of Newland, it is a quaint little place with some lovely cottages surrounded by fields, a typical country village. But at the heart of the village is something with a much more industrial past, Newland Furnace!

This remnant of the areas industrial past was built in 1747 as a charcoal fired and water powered iron furnace. Charcoal was used as the fuel to create the fire and heat needed to melt the iron ore while the water would power a large water wheel which operated large bellows. These bellows would be brought up to let air into them then pushed down to release the air through a small exit into the bottom of the furnace. This would feed the fire with oxegen to get it hotter and hotter.

During its working life the furnace was producing 28 tonnes of iron each week, an incredible amount, and to produce that amount it required an even greater amount of charcoal. 56 tonnes to be precise. This meant they required a large barn to store the charcoal and you can see this in the picture to the right. This is always the interesting thing about these industrial sites, they often supported other industries in the area. Here they would have been a life line for the local charcoal burning industry, such large quantities being required each week would have provided healthy work for the men in the woods with their burns. It does make you wonder how fruitful that charcoal industry was once these types of furnace closed.

Newland was owned by Richard Ford but had been bought on his behalf by his sister Agnes Bordley. In 1735 Ford had entered an agreement with a Thomas Rigg who owned and ran Nibthwaite furnace alongside Ford. The agreement was that neither could set up a new furnace within 10 miles of Nibthwaite, unfortunately Newland was within 10 miles. Due to this Ford had his sister purchase the site on his behalf, this meant he had not broken the agreement and could open his own furnace, which he did, and the rest is history!

The furnace was once one of eight of its kind in this area smelting iron using charcoal. Something which in later years became obsolite with the rapid use of coke, which produced a much higher heat at quicker rates. This meant that many charcoal firing furnaces either shut down or converted to coke. Newland Furnace however managed to keep operating with charcoal for almost a century after many others had converted or closed. Sadly though in 1891 Newland shut for good and became a relic of a past age of charcoal iron smelting.

By the mid 1980s much of the site was un-used and quite a state when a selection of people were brought in to make the building safe. Many of these people took great interest in the site and decided, in 1998, to set up a trust to renovate the building, this was the start of the Newland Furnace Trust. Since then they have rebuilt the top of the furnace chamber, excavated the interior of the blowing chamber, re-boarded the floor of the large top room and generally looked after and renovated the site. In the image here you can see the inside of the furnace chamber and the clear line where the new bricks have been added ontop of the old ones. The old being blackened from the many years of charcoal fires raging around them. The work the group have done has been amazing and shows a real love for the furnace and will stand it in good stead to last well into the future.

The site is accessible from the outside and there are a few information boards to help you better under stand the building. On certain occasions the furnace does open on days like the Heritage Open Days for everyone to see inside, speak to members of the trust and learn more about this facinating building, so do keep an eye out!

Do come back on the 22nd when, instead of taking a look at one site, we will be looking at the whole of the Furness area in the Viking Age!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Furness Ghost Stories pt2 - Halloween Special!

In our 2013 Halloween Special we took a look at several spooky tales from the Furness Peninsula, now, three years later, we will take another look into the mysterious side of this beautiful area with even more ghost stories! So turn the lights off and let's get started...



Plumpton Hall just outside of Ulverston is a lovely 17th Century manor house but it is believed that a manor would have been here since the 1500s. With such a long history there are of course some ghost stories surrounding the property. One of the most notable is that of the Haunted Lantern, which I will speak of shortly, but first lets take a look at the spooky, yet sadly defunct, story of the Plumpton Dobby!

The Whitehaven News printed an article in 1899 which told of 'A Genuine Ghost: Caught on Christmas Eve' at Plumpton Hall. The tales of a haunted room had long been know at Plumpton, a room where the horrible sounds of chains clanking, shrieks and groans which would scare even the most hardy of folk. The room was so famous that many were desperate to spend a night in the room. The ghost was said to be so terrifying that the owner of the farm only charged a small rent from the tenant. One year though two servants from a near by farm were walking home on Christmas Eve when they spotted the fabled ghost; white from head to toe with a grinning human skull, groaning loudly. Un-deterred the two pursued the ghost. They followed it through some woodland until suddenly the ghost disappeared. Curious? The two ran forward to where the ghost had been to discover a hole. Inside the hole was a head shaped turnip lantern with a candle with in it, chains and a white sheet with, not so surprisingly, the farmer of Plumpton Hall wrapped up inside it. After all that the Plumpton Dobby was in fact the farmer trying to, no doubt, make a bob or two by creating a terrifying ghost!


Another interesting tale from Plumpton is that the hall possesses a haunted brass lamp which will always find its way home should it be removed from the building.

The brass lamp was said to have washed up on shore from the wreck of a ship from the Spanish Armada (although experts have now said that it is much more recent in date). For many a year the lantern has hung in the hall and often lit to help guide travellers across the sands. It has also been the centre of some mystical behaviour and if ever it is removed from the hall it always finds its way home and is discovered hanging back in it's rightful place, even when extreme lengths are gone to to remove it; like the time it was sealed inside a barrel and thrown out to sea.

Who knows what is going on with the lamp and why it is so determined to remain in the hall! Is it paranormal or is it just a fanciful tale? I'll let you be the judge of that.



Many years ago now myself, my brother and some friends had the opportunity to stay the night in the Old Police Station and Courthouse in Dalton. At the time the site was being renovated into a cafe and apartments and the place was, especially at night, quite spooky!

We were set to sleep in a small room to the front of the building but during the night we went for a wander around in the pitch black. Eventually we ventured into the Police Inspectors house, which is attached to the station, and were situated in a large room on the first floor. Whilst in the room some loud and strange noises started to emanate from the floor above us. Prolonged scraping noises were clear to hear, it sounded like someone dragging heavy furniture across the floor, or something more sinister. All in the room were, quite reasonably, scared and panicked about this. We were the only ones in the building at the time, what on earth could be making this sound!? It carried on for a while until seeming to stop. We built up some courage and, slowly, moved up the stairs to the room which the noise had come from.

As we entered we were met with a large empty room. No one was in there, nothing was there which would obviously explain the sound and everything was a little eerie. To this day we don't know what caused that strange and scary sound. All we do know though is that when the station was still in use the wife of one of the Police Inspectors had tragically fallen on a set of stairs while taking food to the prisoners. This fall killed the woman and some may say that her spirit still haunts the station. As we were in what was once her house who's to say that the noise we heard wasn't from her long dead spirit?




It was the 14th of September 2014 when two women were walking near the abbey, they stopped for a moment to enjoy a view across the ancient ruins towards the abbot's house when they noticed something a little strange. There was some movement in the woodland behind the abbot's house, they looked closely and there was a hooded figure, "Oh god, it's a monk!" one of the ladies gasps. The figure wore white robes with a black scapula and hood, the typical look of a Cistercian monk. The figure stood for a moment before walking a little to the right and stopping again, it looked out over the abbey before moveing away into the bushes.

The ladies weren't to worried at this point as they thought it was probably one of the Iron Shepherds, a local living history group, but they still decided to go and have a look where they had seen the hooded vision. They rushed up the hill and into the woods. When they arrived there was nothing,, no sign of anyone, the woods was eerily empty save two ladies with toddlers on the road ahead. Slightly puzzled they went in search of the Iron Shepherds but they were nowhere to be found, and as they later found out hadn't even been in the area that day.

The ladies went to see where the figure had been, as they arrive though they start to feel cold and the hairs stand up on the back of their necks, nothing was around. They decided to leave a tissue on the fence where they had seen the monk and wandered back down to the roadside where they had originially been stood. As they looked up once again they are met with a completely different scene, the whole area looks different from before as if they had been looking at a completely different place or, indeed, time!

To this day the ladies do not know what they witnessed that afternoon but it certainly is something that will remain with them always.


In the Autumn of 1934 a young butchers boy was cycling through Abbots Wood towards the road having made a delivery. Suddenly he heard a strange noise and the temperature dramatically dropped. He skidded, came to a halt and hopped off his bike. Looking up the boy was confronted with a mysterious figure, a figure in long robes, a monk! Petrified he scrambled back onto his bike and raced off down the hill to get away.

The boy maintained this story for the rest of his life until his passing at the age of 81. The incident must have been truly terrifying!



This tale is from a little further up into the Furness Fells at Claife Heights on the west side of Windermere but relates to the monastic site of Furness.

Many years ago now a ferryman, quite new to the job, was shored up on the east side of Windermere at Ferry Nab awaiting passengers to take over the mere. It was a dark and stormey night with not many people to aid when cries from across the lake started to echo over the water; "Boat! Boat!". The ferry man was quick to head out, if slightly reluctant, and rowed off over the water to the west. He was gone for sometime. Awaiting passengers started to gather on the east shore when the ferry man returned. All awaiting were surprised to see that he had no passengers. When he finally made it back to shore the ferry man was so terrified he couldn't speak and had gone mad. He could not say what had happened whilst he was at Claife but the incident must have frightened him so as a few days later he passed away.

Following this faitful night more cries of "Boat! Boat!" were heard but no ferryman was brave enough or foolish enough to listen and all stayed moored on the east. Eventually the cries got to much and were loosing the ferrymen business so a monk from Lady Holme Island was called to exorcise whatever spirit lay to the west. The monk duely responded and performed an exorcism, he banished the Claife Crier, as the spirit had become known, to a quarry in the area, now known as Claife Crier Quarry, ‘until men should walk dryshod across the lake’.

The Crier is believed to be that of a Monk from Furness Abbey who's job was to save the souls of deborched women in the area. He fell for one of his clients, a lady of Claife, and one day followed her back to her home at the heights, she then regected him. The monk was so distraught that he cried and wailed until eventually dropping dead. His spirit then lingered and continued to cry out eventually calling out for "Boat! Boat!".

Although apparently exorcised the Claife Crier is still said to be roaming the heights and has often been heard crying out across the lake to this day as the night draws in...

I hope you have enjoyed this spooky special and haven't been too scared. If you want to read some more ghostly stories from Furness then do take a look at our 2013 Halloween Special and until next time, sleep well!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Earthworks of a Former Stronghold, Pennington Castle Hill

Perched on the hills above Pennington is an interesting and little explored heritage site, Pennington Castle Hill.

This castle is not your typical castle, it has no ruinous stonewalls, it has no obvious remains, instead it has a series of earth works that give evidence of the structure that once stood here.

There is little known about this site with little archaeological work happening here. What is known is that this was the original seat of the Pennington family, now in residence at Muncaster Castle near Ravenglass. This site was the pre-cursor to Muncaster and was where the family lived until around 1242 when they moved to their new home. Although they did hold onto this site until about 1318.

Pennington Castle Hill today is evident from a series of earth works. It has a semi-circular ditch and rampart creating a defendable structure where a building would have sat. Whether there was a stone built castle on the site is unclear but there doesn’t seem to be visible evidence of one. It seems likely that there was a wooden structure here instead. This was common after the Norman invasion of Britain.

Wooden castles, known as motte and bailey castles, were erected quickly across much of the island. It is plausible that Pennington may well have been a motte and bailey, although evidence of a bailey isn't clear. It is also possible that it could be a fortification known as a ringwork. A ringwork is a defencive structure built in a round or oval shape with a ditch and rampart as defence. Basically a motte and bailey without the motte. These structures started to appear in England towards the end of the 11th Century after the Norman conquest. Many such fortifications, as well as motte and baileys, were later replaced with stone built structures and it seems logical that the Pennington family decided not to replace their castle here with stone as they planned to move. When they moved to Muncaster they built a new stone castle, similar, if larger, to the pele tower seen at Dalton-in-Furness. Having done this the wooden defence at Pennington would become somewhat redundant, although it most likely stayed intact until 1318 when the Pennington's finally gave up the stronghold.

Panorama of Castle Hill Earthworks from atop the rampart

This long abandoned fortification commands stunning views across the Furness Peninsula, sitting on the edge of the Furness fells overlooking the southern and eastern plains. This gives it the perfect location for a fortification where the Pennington family could live and lord over their state. The family would have looked after the carucate of Pennegetun (Pennington), which for a time was taxed £5 6s. 8d. this shows that it was a relatively wealthy state in the area.

Pennington Castle Hill is a lovely place to visit but it does leave you somewhat pondering its history and what it could and would have been. A public footpath runs through the field that holds the site and it is well worth a wander, just make sure you wear some decent wellies or boots; it gets a little muddy in places!

Do come back October 31st for a special Halloween post and again on November 8th for new post on something a little more industrial!