Thursday, 31 October 2013

Furness Ghost Stories - Halloween Special!

In this special blog post we will take a brief look at some of the ghost stories from around the Furness Peninsula. Be sure to read with the lights off!

Furness Abbey - Apparitions and Hooded Figures

Furness Abbey has been linked to many spooky tales since its dissolution in the 16th Century but we will only look at two here.

It was new years eve 1980 when a young man was peddling away on his bike to get home after finishing work at the Abbey Tavern. As he was in a rush to get to a party he decided to go home by cycling past the ruins, usually he would avoid the ruins by heading straight out onto Abbey Road. He quickly got by the ruins only glancing at them once. As he came to the junction he headed off up towards Rating Lane along a dark and poorly lit road. When he reached the ruins of the West Gate, that towers above either side of the road, a strange feeling came over him. He looked up to see the shadow of, what he believed to be, a cowled monk on horse back. The figure held his gaze for a moment until car headlights on Rating Lane broke his stare and he peddled off hard and fast! There have been several sightings of a monk wandering towards this broken archway over the years, who could this mystery monk be?

On many occasions apparitions of monks have been spotted amongst the haunting ruins of Furness Abbey leaving witnesses baffled and frightened.

Image taken from North West Evening Mail newspaper.
Original Image by Roy Chatfield
A photographer has even caught on camera what he believes to be a ghost in the Abbey grounds. The man had taken many images of the Abbey one day but when he developed the images he was shocked to discover one of them had a white hooded figure standing in it, near to the church tower. The photographer swears that no one was there on the day and he didn't see anything through the viewfinder on his camera when he took the picture. The image was also taken on a 8 second exposure which would blur someone who happened to be walking by! You can see the image to the right, what do you think? Is it a monk or is it something else all together?

The Custodian's Cottage/Abbey Mill Cafe - A Ghostly Face and Buried Body

The former Custodian's Cottage next to Furness Abbey, now the Abbey Mill Cafe, also holds some ghostly stories of its own. Many years ago when the cottage erupted in flames local firemen descended on the site to tackle the blaze. While they fought to tame the fire many of the firemen claim to have seen a young girl at the top window of the building. Due to this they were certain that they would find a body in the fire damaged carcass of the building but when they searched the rubble no body was found. Was the face they saw in fact the spirit of a long dead girl who once lived at the Cottage? Who can say! But what is interesting is that once, when a psychic visited the Cottage she could sense something beneath the floor. Today the large main room of the Cottage has a wooden floor but 7+ years ago you had to step down a few steps to reach a concrete floor. When this psychic came she stood on the concrete floor and could sense that, in the far right hand corner of the room, there was a body buried 4 feet under the ground. If you were to measure from the actual ground level outside this would be 6 feet. The interesting thing about this though is that she claimed it was the body of a child! It does make you wonder if this could possibly be the body of the young girl who was seen at the window when the Cottage burnt down!

Dalton-in-Furness - Haunted Pubs and Highways

It is thought that a building has stood in the place now occupied by the Brown Cow Inn in Dalton since the Middle Ages and this has led to several ghostly tales being told. One such story, which has not been noted since the 19th Century, is of haunting chanting being heard coming from the direction of the Abbey. This chanting was often accompanied by the sound of a church bell ringing which led witnesses to believe it was the Monks of the Abbey singing. Another story from the Brown Cow involves witnesses seeing a strange apparition. Back before the interior of the pub was open plan as it is today a man took his drink into one of the small rooms to sit at one of the wooden tables. On entering the room he was rather surprised to find an oddly dressed stranger sitting in a seat near the window, staring out through the glass as if he was looking and waiting for someone or something outside. The figure sat quite still not making a sound. The man who had entered the room greeted the stranger but was met with no reply. Later when the man left, returning to the bar he asked the landlord about the strange fellow in the other room. The landlord informed the man that no one, other than him, had entered the room that night. When the curious landlord accompanied the man back to the room they found no one inside, much to the mans surprise! There was no way that the stranger could have left the room without being seen or heard!

A young man of the name Tom, who lived in Dalton, once worked in the mines at Roanhead. One morning when he was cycling to work by Millwood he saw another man cycling towards him on the other side of the road. The other person was middle aged wearing a grey suit and a brown trilby hat, nothing too unusual for the time. Tom continued to cycle along not thinking much of it. Suddenly, when the two were only a few yards from one another, the other person suddenly steered his bicycle directly at Tom! Tom broke hard and almost fell off his bike swerving away from the other man. When he turned around to give the man what for he was shocked to find the road empty of life. There was nowhere the other man could have gone to hide; he had completely vanished!

Other Stories

Shadowy figures and loud bangs have all been associated by employees at BAE Systems, in Barrow, to the spirit of a worker who had killed himself.

A couple who were traveling through Leece one evening had to slam on the brakes and come to a stop. A large black creature was sat in the middle of the road stopping them from getting past. The creature stood about 2 meters tall and had bright yellow eyes! Eventually the beast stood and walked off the road allowing the couple to drive by. It stood on the grass verge watching as they went.

In 2009 the North West Evening Mail ran a small article about Abbots Wood house, which included a picture from inside the house. On publication though many readers wrote in as they had noticed something in the far right of the interior image. There was the ghostly shape of a woman stood behind a table! Could it be the ghost of a previous occupant? Who can say but with the house no longer standing her home is long gone. Here is the picture for you to view; can you see the ghostly figure?

Image courtesy of the North West Evening Mail
Originally printed in 2009
We hope you have enjoyed this special spooky edition of Furness Hidden Heritage, if you know of any other ghost stories from the Furness area please let us know and we may use them next Halloween! Business as usual with the blog will resume on 12th November so be sure to check back then for a post on the area surrounding Furness Abbey. Until then happy Halloween and sleep well!

Read more Furness ghost stories in our second Halloween special here -

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

An Anti-Aircraft Gun, A Dog Carving and A Doctor - Market Place, Dalton

Dalton, nestled amongst a valley to the south of the Furness peninsula, may be a small town today but once it was the capital of Furness! The town is rich with a long and vivid history much of which can still be seen today, but scratch the surface and there is a wealth of hidden and forgotten heritage waiting to be found. In this post we will take a look at one part of Dalton, Market Place; the ancient heart of the town!

Sitting on a plateau on the edge of the valley is Market Place, the area where Dalton originates. It is here, around the Church, where the town built up from a, possible, prehistoric settlement to the ancient capital of the area.
The earliest evidence of settlement at Dalton was thought to be found where the Church and graveyard is today. Earth works that used to be visible in the Churchyard before 1850 were excavated at the beginning of the 19th Century.

In the past the earth works were believed to be the remains of a Roman fort built in AD 79 by Agricola as he advanced through Britain. A priest and historian, Father Thomas West, was convinced of this and wrote about it in his book 'Antiquities of Furness' published in 1775. But it was later when a local historian and surgeon, William Close (a man we will talk about later), undertook excavations on the earth works that this theory was proven to be wrong. The excavation provided no positive proof of Roman occupation with no artifacts from the time being found. Today, although all evidence of the earth works have been destroyed, it is believed that the features were evidence of an Iron Age settlement. The site certainly is the perfect place for such a settlement being on a plateau with good views all around and a stream not far away for water.

One of the most prominent features that stands proud on Market Place is, of course, Dalton Castle! The Castle is a small fortified piel tower which was erected by the monks of Furness Abbey as a court house and defensive structure. The Castle dates back to the 14th Century and has gone through many changes in its time. We wont get too much into the Castle and its history in this post, as we might be here awhile, but we will do a dedicated post about it in the future!

In front of the Castle is where the town market, which Market Place takes its name, would have been held. It was in 1239 that a Royal Charter was granted to Dalton giving permission for a weekly market. Although a market has taken place here since then the only evidence that can be seen today is of the Victorian market. Stretching in a half moon shape around the square are the marble slabs, known as fish slabs, once used for the market. These table structures were built in 1869 and are made from marble as the stone stays cool, even in the sun, which makes them perfect for displaying meat, fish and cheeses without them getting warm and going off. Interestingly enough if you look closely at the fish slabs you can find a carving of a dog! It is unclear when this carving was done but it certainly isn't a recent piece of graffiti. We would suggest it dates to somewhere around the 19th - early 20th Century. If anyone reading this has further insight into this please let us know!

At the centre of the market square stands the market cross, a feature that has undoubtedly been present in some shape or form since Medieval times. The first cross erected on the site would have no doubt been made from wood but it is hard to say when that was and when it was changed to stone. What can be established though is that in the 1700s and into the 1800s the cross was not the familiar cross we see today but was in fact a St. Andrew's cross. But notice in this image (see right) from the mid to late 1800s that the market cross doesn't appear to have any cross at all. You can see the pillar that would support the cross next to the bottom right window of the large building, but there is no cross. The building seen here in front of the Castle is the offices of solicitor Mr. William Butler, built in 1850/1 and later used as the Town Hall. It was in 1869 that the market cross was changed to be the one we see today.

Earlier we spoke of a Dr. William Close, a man who lived in Dalton for 16 years before his death in 1813 at the age of 38. Close spent his early years on Walney where he lived with his family. Later in life he studied at the University of Edinburgh Medical School and on obtaining his diploma in 1797 he immediately began medical and surgical practice at Dalton. As well as being a Doctor and surgeon Close was a keen historian, archaeologist, musician and artist. He also enjoyed physics and general literature. Close is noted as inventing an 'Engine for raising water by the lateral Communication of Motion' which was used in mines. In 1799, within years of Jenner's discovery of vaccination to prevent smallpox, Close introduced inoculation to the Furness Peninsula. He took up a residence at Rampside and made it so all the children of the lower classes could be inoculated at his expense. Doing this he not only confirmed the efficacy of the newly discovered vaccination but he also freed the area of smallpox within five years! A remarkable man who undertook so much in his short life that he is worth recognition. You can find the house in which he lived on Market Place behind the castle Chinese, marked with a blue plaque.

An interesting fact that many may not know about Market Place is that once, between the Castle and the now Chinese takeaway, there was a field gun and an anti aircraft gun! These guns were captured from the Germans in World War 1 and were brought here as mementos. These guns are no longer here and where exactly they went is hard to say but one can assume they were taken for scrap metal during World War 2.

Market Place in Dalton has a fascinating and rich history dating back thousands of years. There is so much to discover here that we have only just scratched the surface in this blog but we hope we have enlightened you to something you didn't know before. Why not take the time to go for a wander around Market Place and enjoy the visible heritage that still remains?

Interesting Old Images and Drawings of Market Place:

Images of Market Place Today:

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Birkrigg Common, Prehistoric Landscape to Quaker Burial Ground

Set to the East of Urswick village stretches Birkrigg Common, a vast amount of scrubland and limestone outcrops free for the public to explore. Well used by walkers and cyclists the Common has much to offer including an ancient past hidden amongst the bracken. Throughout Neolithic times and into the Bronze Age (roughly 4000BC to around 2500BC) the site of Birkrigg was used for ritual and funeral activity. The remains of some of this activity can still be seen today, some being much more obvious than others.

To help you locate the different features there is a handy aerial plan at the bottom of the page. Much more efficient than trying to list directions!

One of the most evident pieces of ritual activity at Birkrigg is the wonderful stone circle that lies to the far east of the common. The circle consists of a ring ditch with an outer and inner circle of stones. The inner circle is clear to see but the outer circle is a little more sparse, although you can still determine where it was. The stone circle dates back to the Bronze Age period in Britain and was used throughout that time. It was also modified through out its life; the interiors of these concentric circles were paved with cobbles at some point and there were several cremations deposited within its boundaries. Although this stone circle is plain to see there once was another on Birkrigg that is no longer visible, not as a circle of stones anyway.

A ridge runs along the highest point of the common with limestone outcrops lining either side and upon this ridge are the remains of a Bronze Age burial cairn. In Neolithic times a stone circle stood here. The circle was at some point in filled and became a location for the deposition of various items. Later, in the early Bronze Age, it was covered by the cairn that is visible today. Two bodies were buried in this cairn that now looks like nothing more than a small mound (see left).

There are three other burial cairns that can be found along the ridge as well. These cairns aren't quite as noticeable as the one above but they can still be found if you look hard enough. They are of a similar size and shape to the pictured but some are covered in bracken and longer grass.

Across the road you can see a Disc Barrow, another Neolithic Monument. This raised earth platform with an inner ditch would have been used for burials and forms quite an impressive structure. (see right)

Elsewhere on the common there is evidence of more Bronze Age activity. To the North East of Birkrigg there is an area known as Appleby Slacks. Here there is a large circular enclosure, it can just about be seen amongst the bracken with a raised earth perimeter and a sunken interior. During archeological excavations in the past three hut circles have been found with in the enclosure suggesting domestic settlement. Near to the enclosure there is also a Late Bronze Age bowl barrow. When excavated the barrow was found to contain three cremation urns along with several flint objects believed to date to the Late Bronze Age.

There are so many other prehistoric sites dotted around Birkrigg, many difficult to find, but several can easily be seen! If you visit the common you should definitely take the time to visit the stone circle. It may not be the scale of Stonehenge but it is certainly worth a look!

As well as all the prehistoric heritage that covers the common there is also some later history hidden off the beaten track. In a period between 1654 and 1767 a total of 227 people were buried in a plot of land adjacent to the farm on Birkrigg. Enclosed by four limestone walls the land today look like nothing more than a field but it is, in fact, the burial ground of many local Quakers. Amongst the people buried here there is a woman by the name of Margaret Fox. She was born in Dalton-in-Furness in 1614 and later married the Barrister Thomas Fell, this made her the Lady of Swarthmoor Hall. She went on to be a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers. Swarthmoor Hall became a center for Quaker activity and Margaret retained control of the Hall after her husband's death. She went on to marry George Fox, another founding member of the Quakers. Upon her death in 1702 she was buried among Friends at the burial ground on Birkrigg. If you wish to visit the burial ground it can be easily found just off the road before the farm yard on your way to Sea Wood.


Now, just for fun here's a little bit of local folk law. It is believed that sometime in the past a traveling circus came to town. An elephant was part of this circus and while here the elephant unfortunately passed away. It is rumored that one night the circus folk dragged the elephant's body up to Birkrigg and buried it somewhere on the common. If this is true then it means Birkrigg is not only the resting place for Neolithic, Bronze Age and Quaker people but also that of a circus elephant! If it's not true, what on earth did they do with it? If you've heard any other versions of this story please let us know! We would love to hear from you!

Next time you visit Birkrigg Common, be it for a leisurely stroll, a cycle on the open terrain or to play a game with the kids take a moment to think of all the history that the site holds and why not go for an explore to find some of the hidden heritage!

Check back for the next blog entry all about Market Place in Dalton on 29th October!

Aerial plan of sites -

Image courtesy of Google Maps

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Hidden Heritage of Abbots Wood, Barrow

Set above the beautiful ruins of Furness Abbey lies the extensive Abbots Wood!

Abbots wood is a popular destination for locals with several well-trodden paths but look a little closer and the woodland, which takes its name from a Victorian Manor house that once stood proud amongst the trees, gives away some of its secrets.

Abbots Wood house was built sometime in the 1850s-60s for a young Mr. James Ramsden. The grand total of £2000 was spent to build the house and Mr. Ramsden was then allowed to live there at a rent of £205 a year. James Ramsden was a key player in the Furness Railway, which lead to the rapid expansion of Barrow from a small fishing village to the town it is today. Ramsden himself was knighted in 1872 due to his work in the area.

After his death in October 1896 the property had a number of owners and was even used by the military during wartime. It was in the 1960s that the house was eventually demolished due to having fallen into a state of disrepair. But the area was not left dormant as a large concrete structure appeared at the site during the Cold War years to act as a control center incase of a Nuclear war!

Today three lines of sandstone blocks, taken from the demolition rubble, mark the site of Abbots Wood house. Oddly enough these wall structures show nothing of the positioning or scale of the original building! The building would have been further forward and stretched across most of the grassy area seen to the left. You can see the size of the building in the image above.

Apart from these slightly obscure remnants of the former house there are some other interesting features to be discovered around the dense woodland.

Dotted through out the trees to the East of the main path through the woods, just before the stonewalls, there are several iron gateways to be discovered (see right). Some of these gateways are in better condition than others but even when broken they stay as reminders of a more formal time in the woods. The gateways are the remains of the gardens that once sat next to the mansion; these specific arches are believed to be where an orchard once grew. It is certainly hard to imagine an orchard or any kind of formal garden here today as the trees and undergrowth have grown wild destroying any evidence of formal planting. But to wander through the vegetation and discover these fabulous metal structures seemingly growing out of the ground is a fantastic thing. Even now, knowing where they are, it is still something special to find them; it's like discovering a secret garden amongst the trees.

At the far end of the wood some other interesting features can be found that are linked to the manor house. Just before leaving the woods into a large field you walk over a small bridge. This bridge does not cross a river or a stream but instead crosses the old servants passage/trenches. Servants would once have used a large trench to move through the woodland to get to the manor house with out getting in the way of any visitors. The main drive for the manor would have gone over the bridge having come through the large field from a gatehouse at the top of Mill Brow in Dalton.

The trench runs from outside the woods, under the bridge then around the back of the trees to open out at the clearing where the mansion once stood. This created a quick and easy route for servants to get to the house without crossing the main drive. Along the trench there are some gates and steps where the servants could access other areas of the houses grounds. You can easily find a set of steps leaving the trench near to the bridge structure. Presumably this was for servants to get to the driveway to greet visitors.

If you explore the woods you can find so many little reminders of the Victorian past. Along the bottom path through the woods you can find the demolition rubble where the house was bulldozed into a small valley. Else where you can find garden features like a small set of steps with a curved wall, old shed foundations and more.

With all the Victorian history that litters the woods it may be easy to miss some of the earlier history that lies in the area. Not far into the woods on either side of the roadway stands the remains of part of Furness Abbey's precinct wall. The precinct wall was a large sandstone construction that ran around the land surrounding and owned by the Abbey. This cuts straight through Abbots Wood heading down towards the Abbey itself. You can see the wall stretching across a field next to the woods as well. It is interesting to try and imagine how the landscape may have looked when the precinct wall was intact, was the woodland there in Medieval times or was it land that was used by the Abbey? Either way it is great to see these reminders of the Medieval past.

There is so much hidden heritage to be discovered in Abbots Wood from the Medieval walls to the Victorian Servants trench so why not take a trip and have an explore?

Check out a selection of other pictures taken around the woods bellow and look out for the next blog all about Birkrigg Common on 15th October!