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.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Remnants of a Lakeland Industry, the Haverthwaite Charcoal Burner's Huts

To the top of Furness and inside the Lake District National Park, just before reaching Windermere, is the quaint village of Haverthwaite, a village best known for its steam railway.

To the south of the village is a large area of woodland known as Haverthwaite Heights. Although now a peaceful, isolated and beautiful area of wildlife this woodland would once have been alive with industry, the industry of charcoal burning.

Charcoal was a product in demand during the Victorian era with many large industries, like steelworks, requiring large amounts of charcoal to burn and produce high heats. Due to this many of the woodlands in the area and across the Lake District would be littered with charcoal burners and the huts they stayed in.

Photo of a charcoal burner's hut  (with charcoal burners)
at Backbarrow a mile or so away.
Charcoal burning takes along time and requires overnight attention so the men who undertook the process would build shelters out of stone and wood often using thatch or turf as a roof. These shelters could then be used as a base while working and somewhere for the men to lay their head down when they had a moment.

The remains of several of such structures can be found dotted across the woodlands on Haverthwaite Heights. These examples were created with a low stone wall as a base which would most likely have then had wooden posts stretching up around the wall to meet in a point creating a tepee structure.This would then be covered with thatch or turf - turf being a better option as it isn't flammable.

Interestingly many of these structures have sizable holes through their walls opposite their entrance. These may well have been for a metal extraction pipe/chimney for a log burner, something to bring a bit of comfort to the otherwise rustic accommodation.

All that now remains of these once well used structures are the low level ruined walls which created the foundation of the wooden structure above. They are a wonder to stumble across and certainly evoke an image in ones mind of days long gone when the men, in their waist coats and flat caps, faces blackened from the charcoal and soot, would emerge from their huts to check their wood burn. Producing masses of charcoal ready to be sold to the steel works or the iron furnaces, working long hours to make ends meet and provide for their families. It certainly can't have been an easy life but I am sure it had many joys.

Several footpaths run through Haverthwaite Heights but I found the best walk was to park up in near by Backbarrow, walk under the railway, through a small tunnel, and head up onto the top of the heights to descend down onto Lanes End, the charcoal burner's huts being found as you make your descent. There is a relatively steep ascent but it is certainly well worth the effort of climbing, not only to find the huts on the way down but for the stunning views from the heights.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Little Mill, Dalton | Snapshot Series

Tucked away in a small wooded area on a footpath between Dalton and Barrow-in-Furness is a hidden remnant of the past, the remains of Little Mill.

Originally built by the monks of Furness Abbey Little Mill would produce flour for the monastery from grain, using a waterwheel to power the mill stones. It was one of many mills the abbey owned and ran across Furness.

A man made mill pond would have been situated above the mill, filled with water diverted out of the near by Poaka Beck. A water shoot would bring water from this pond to the mill and send it cascading over the top of a large wooden waterwheel. This powerful stream of water would turn the wheel which in turn moved all the cogs and mill stones within the mill building, grinding corn into flour. Where exactly the mill pond was situated and where the shoot was placed is unclear but you can still see evidence of where the mill once stood. Several ruinous sandstone walls give an idea of where the mill buildings once were and there is even a mill stone partially buried in the ground near to these walls.

The mill was in use right through to the 19th Century but the building of the nearby railway brought an end to production at the mill. It was lived in for a time but eventually was left to rot and be mostly demolished.

You can find the site of Little Mill along the footpath leading from Goose Green in Dalton to Furness Abbey (part of the old Cistercian Way). You will stumble across the above mill stone, likely a remnant from the mills later activity, sticking out into the path, look towards the trees behind this to discover the mill site.

It is well worth a wander down this lovely old footpath to truly walk in the footsteps of our ancestors and find this hidden part of our local history.

The Snapshot Series is a series of short posts on singular locations, features or artefacts found in the Furness area. Not large enough to warrant a long blog post we will explore these sites in snapshots!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A Medieval Farmstead upon a Furness Fell | VIDEO

Heathwaite Fell, sitting to the north of the Furness peninsula, is a vast and wild place but hidden amongst the bracken and the windswept fields is a hidden gem. A medieval farmstead!

This farmstead is the highlight of a dispersed medieval settlement with it's associated field systems spread across the fell.

The farmstead, which is of more than one period of construction, consists of five interlinked enclosures made from stone walls with a domestic area to the north. A couple of these enclosures have land which has been improved for agricultural cultivation with the rest being un-improved and most likely for animal grazing. There are also a few small rectangular structures within the enclosures. Their function is unclear but I do wonder if they may have been sheep pens for isolating and sheering sheep.

To give you a better understanding of the layout of this farmstead and give you a better view of it we took to the air to film this breathtaking video:

Extending out from the farmstead is a selection of field system made up of banks and walled areas. The largest of these fields being around 5.7 hectare in size with all containing the archeological feature known as ridge and furrow, a feature spoken about in a previous post. These features give evidence to the cultivation of this land for the growing of crops. 

Close to the farmstead there are also three kilns. The one pictured below being on its east side. These kilns are made from thick, circular stone walls with large outer banks and deep central hollows. Two of these kilns, interestingly, have been constructed from former Bronze Age clearance cairns. These cairns were created when Bronze Age man cleared land for cultivation. To do this they removed large amounts of stone and rock from the fells and deposited them in large piles known as cairns. In the medieval period some of these were re-purposed as kilns for creating potash.

Potash was made from bracken or wood and was used to make soaps for the woollen trade - an industry that made vast amounts of money for the local abbey. Potash was created by burning wood or indeed bracken, which makes sense here as bracken covers much of the fell, removing the ash to then dissolve it in boiling water. Following this the solution is evaporated in large pots to leave a white residue, the potash (potassium chloride). 

It is also theorised that these kilns may have been used to dry timber for use in smelting lead ore, it feels more likely though that they were used for potash as sheep were almost certainly reared here and no doubt had their wool shorn here.

This fascinating remnant of our medieval past truly is a hidden gem. It's remote location gives stunning views of both the Lake District fells and the Duddon Estuary, it's low lying remains give a tangible connection to the past and the lumps of and bumps of the ridge and furrow give you a sense of the true grit and determination our ancestors had when cultivating the wild land they lived in.

A road runs near to this wonderful site and a short walk will get you right to it. It is well worth a visit and will open your eyes to our medieval past here in Furness and those men and women tirelessly working the land.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Built by Monks, Dalton Castle

Standing proud overlooking Dalton, the ancient capital of Furness, is the small but impressive pele tower known as Dalton Castle.

The monks of Furness Abbey built the castle in the 14th Century as a manorial courthouse for Furness. This is where the abbot exercised his right to hold courts and administer justice, as authorised in the abbey's foundation charter from 1127. The building held the courtroom, rooms for the lordships business, guardrooms, stores and several dungeon rooms.

The building also acted as a defensive structure against the possibility of Scottish attack. The tower has several statues sat upon its roof, statues of archers and armed men. These were to give the impression that the site was protected and had several men at arms. This would then deter any attackers, or at least that was the theory.

The inside of the castle has changed much over the centuries since its completion in the 1300s but it still retains several of its original features. For example the spiral staircase leading up from the garderobe and several dungeons dug in beneath the floor. Unfortunately other original rooms have been lost to time, especially after a radical alteration in 1856 when the upper floors were removed for a single room and new staircase.

The outside has changed a fair amount also. Several building were built onto the front of the castle over time from shops to a solicitors office, later used as the town hall. All these building have long since gone only leaving faint reminders of their presence with sandstone lines across the walls where the buildings may once have attached.

After the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500s the castle remained as a court for over 300 years, owned by a variety of different people including the crown and three dukes. Eventually the Duke of Buccleuch gave the castle to the National Trust who still own it today. The building is run by the Friends of Dalton Castle with the direction of the National Trust and is open on Saturday afternoons throughout the summer months. Take a look on the NT website for more info.

This quaint little pele tower is a wonderful piece of history standing on the streets of Dalton. It can be seen from many parts of the town, often dominating the skyline and is well worth a visit. It may be small but it holds a huge amount of history and although not open often it will certainly be worth making the effort to see inside.

Once you have you can always pop down the road to see St. Mary's Church or even further to see the Pinfold which we took a look at in a previous post.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Roxy Cinema, Dalton | Snapshot Series

This photo was taken in 1997 and shows the then dilapidated remains of the old Roxy Cinema and bingo hall in Dalton. The building was one of the 'Picture Palace' style cinemas, the name visible at the top of the building in the photo above. These 'Picture Palaces' became popular in the 1930s and were built in many towns across the north west.

A cinema had stood on this site since 1912 when two men, Backhouse and Drinkwater, built the Empire on the site of a former brewery. This was Dalton's first cinema and became a popular place to be.

In 1936 however the interior of the building was demolished, leaving the front mostly intact, and rebuilt in a more contemporary and luxurious style. At this point its name was changed to the Roxy and was re-opened to the town on Christmas Day of that year.

In later life the cinema closed its doors and the building became the Roxy Bingo Hall. It stayed as such until it too closed sometime in the late 80s to early 90s, leaving the building to become more and more dilapidated.

Sadly this building with is wonderful, evocative architecture no longer exists. In the late 90's the Co-operative company bought the building and it's land, demolished it and built a brand new supermarket on the site.

It is a real shame that the old cinema had to go. I can remember when it did - I used to love the old building, it was a real snapshot in time and looked so nice (if a little run down). I often wish they had kept the frontage of the cinema and incorporated it into new building but alas this never happened.

Still I am glad that images exist of this wonderful old building so it can be remembered. The image above was taken by my father before demolition took place and I'm so please we have this image of what was one of my favourite buildings in the town.

The site of the Roxy Cinema as it is today with the Co-operative food shop standing in its place.

The Snapshot Series is a series of short posts on singular locations, features or artefacts found in the Furness area. Not large enough to warrant a long blog post we will explore these sites in snapshots!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Conishead Runes | Snapshot Series

In 1928 a block or red sandstone was discovered at Conishead Priory during an excavation of the medieval priory. This stone was the capital of a pilaster (an architectural element used to give the appearance of a supporting column) which would have once been part of the priory church. There was something different about this stone though, interestingly it had a runic inscription carved into it. Not something you would usually expect from a Medieval monastic site. The runes themselves had been translated as 'Dotbert' or 'Rotbert' (as in Robert) but some have suggested that it may translate as 'Kotbert' meaning Cuthbert, which could be very interesting.

Sadly this fascinating block went missing sometime after its discovery and its whereabouts became unknown. That is until a chance visit to an English Heritage store in 2016 led to its re-discovery!

I, the author of Furness Hidden Heritage, had visited the English Heritage stores in Helmsley to view the artefacts in storage there from Furness Abbey. While being shown around I was intrigued by one particular piece of stone which had a runic inscription upon it. The curators at the store were unsure as to what the inscription said and were under the belief that it was a stone from Furness Abbey. It certainly is in the same red sandstone synonymous with the abbey so it easily fit with all the other artefacts in storage.

Image courtesy of Greenlane Archeology.
I was curious about the stone so took a picture of the inscription for my own records. On leaving the stores I didn't put much more thought into the stone until one day when I was reading up on the priory at Conishead. I had found a report by Greenlane Archaeology, of Ulverston, and in the document there was mention of a unique stone found at Conishead with a runic inscription, a stone that's whereabouts was now unknown. Below the text was a black and white picture of the very same block I had seen in the stores.

My heart jumped and I immediately thought "I know where that is!". Quickly I checked the photograph I had taken of the stone in the stores to confirm my initial thoughts and yes, the runes matched, they were the same stone!

I soon got in contacted with Danny of Greenlane Archaeology to let him know of my discovery. He immediately got in contact with the curators at English Heritage and soon had confirmation that the Conishead Runes indeed sat on a shelf in the Helmsley stores. This marked the re-discovery of this fantastic piece of local history.

The Snapshot Series is a series of short posts on singular locations, features or artefacts found in the Furness area. Not large enough to warrant a long blog post we will explore these sites in snapshots!

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

A beautiful building gutted by fire, the House of Lords pub, Barrow

Sat on Abbey Road, which stretches through the centre of Barrow-in-Furness, stands a beautiful Victorian building. Built in 1870-71 the building served as a working mens club and later went on to become a public house called Lords Tavern or the House of Lords.

Image Courtesy of Google Maps (

The building was designed by architect HA Darbishire. Derbishire served as the architect to the Peabody Trust from 1864 to 1885. The Peabody trust was set up by an American man, George Peabody, who had gained an affection for London. The trusts aim was to, in London, "ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis, and to promote their comfort and happiness".

This charitable goal must have been something Darbishire was passionate about as much of his work, even outside of the trust and the capital, aimed to promote the welfare of others. The designing of a social club for working men, such as that in Barrow, is a natural fit for this philanthropic architect.

The building is exquisite with its large windows, ornate architectural features and cute oval dormer windows projecting out of the steep roof. The whole place looks grand, impressive and slightly gothic. It surely is a fine building on the streets of Barrow.

Sadly, just a few weeks ago, this building was nearly lost to a large, destructive and harrowing fire. The fire ripped through the property destroying the roof, causing walls to collapse and nearly  condemning this edifice, which has stood 146 years.

Luckily this may not be the end for this fine building, it may have life after the fire but only time will tell. 

It is always a saddening affair when something like this happens. Fire is so destructive and in an instant it can nearly destroy a part of our local history. But it does shine a spotlight on the need to look after these wonderful buildings. Not to let them fall in to disrepair or be left empty and abandoned. These buildings were built to be used, built to serve a purpose and it is a crying shame for them to be left to rot and for inevitably something like this to happen.

We are all guilty of ignoring these buildings, we see them every day, they become part of the background, something nice but something we don't take time to think about. But maybe we should all spend a bit more time looking at these old structures, seeing them for their beauty, their design and for what they are - places to be used, to be admired and loved, places to create safe havens for all.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Pinfold, Dalton | Snapshot Series

In the shadow of St. Mary’s Church, sitting on Goose Green in Dalton-in-Furness, is a peculiar little feature known as the pinfold.

The pinfold is a circular enclosure built out of local limestone. It was built sometime in the late 18th – early 19th Century. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact date of construction but it does feature on the Merryweather’s town plan of Dalton in 1825. It is thought though that the structure may well have been present in the 1700s.

In its day this cute little feature would have been filled with any animals found roaming the streets of Dalton. Any stray sheep or cattle would be locked within until the owners came to retrieve them. You can really imagine how it must have been, the grassy patch of land between the walls brought to life with animals roaming, chomping on the grass.

The Snapshot Series is a series of short posts on singular locations, features or artefacts found in the Furness area. Not large enough to warrant a long blog post we will explore these sites in snapshots!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Birkrigg Stone Circle from the Air | VIDEO

Birkrigg stone circle is one of the best known and preserved prehistoric sites of the Furness Peninsula. We took a look at this and the whole of Birkrigg Common in our past blog post Birkrigg Common, Prehistoric Landscape to Quaker Burial Ground but in this post we did something a bit different. We took to the air to view the stone circle in all its glory!

This wonderful video gives you a birds eye view of the ancient site and certainly gives you a different and unique perspective:

Video footage Copyright © Furness Hidden Heritage 2017, all rights reserved.

Luckily the sun was shining on the day this was filmed which helps to bring out all the humps and bumps around the circle. You can clearly see the slight mound just outside the inner circle and you can get a better idea of where the outer circle is and how it is shaped.

You will also notice a large sunken path/ditch beside the circle. It is unclear exactly what this is but it could be as old, if not older, than the circle itself and may have formed a processional way to the site.

Birkrigg Stone Circle is a true gem of the Furness Peninsula and is one of our favourite sites to visit. We hope you enjoyed his special aerial video and it has encouraged you to visit this wonderful site.

Keep an eye out in the future for more videos like this along with more written blog posts.