Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The History of Cockersand Abbey: Part One

Okay, we're back in business...after a fashion. We probably won't be updating every week in the near future, but (with a bit of luck) we'll be updating often enough to warrent a return visit every so often. Anyhow, this posting was originally written for one of the Wyre Archaeology newsletters (an occupation, incidentally, which we’ve now abandoned in favour of this board). As the original article was almost twice the size of one of our usual ‘blogs’ we decided to chop it in half and post the second section next time…so don’t be too alarmed if it appears to suddenly stop without warning.
Now then…where we were we? Oh yes…Cockersand Abbey, demolished by Henry VIII (although, obviously, not personally) during the dissolution leaving only the octagonal Chapter House intact, is always worth a visit, especially when the doors are unlocked and the various humps and bumps that constitute the remains of the buildings have all been marked out and clearly labelled.
In June 2006 that’s exactly what was on offer so, naturally, we decided to take a look.
As you can probably see from the photograph below, it wasn’t exactly the most summery of days.

Before we go any further, let’s have a brief history of the abbey itself. By the time of the
aforementioned dissolution, Cockersand owned most of Preesall, Hackensall, Stalmine, Pilling, Hambleton and Staynall and even land in Stanah, but had originally been founded circa 1180 by a hermit called Hugh Garth.
The first building gave way to a leper hospital and infirmary belonging to Leicester Abbey before being handed over to the ‘White Canons of Croxton’ (so called because of the colour of their robes…which, in case you’re wondering, were white) who founded the priory.
On the sixth of June 1190 Pope Clement III confirmed the priory as a Premonstratensian monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary and within ten years, as John Swarbrick informs us: “…the priory rose by means of benefactions to the degree of an abbey.”
So much for the early history, but what about those snippets of information that never make it to publication? Well, here’s a view (in the photograph below if you hadn’t already figured that out) that you won’t see very often; the carved, central column inside the Chapter House. (That’s the upright structure on the right…the upright structure on the left is Michelle.)

Over the centuries the Chapter House has been used for numerous purposes, ranging from a mausoleum for the Dolton family of Thurnham Hall (when the flagged floor was raised by several feet) to a cow shed. And it appears that most of its visitors since the 1950s have left their mark. Chiselled names (carved with the typical scrawl of vandals) accompanied by dates have turned parts of the column into fretwork. Not the most appropriate use for such an ancient piece of architecture, perhaps, but part of the abbey’s long history nonetheless.
Nowadays the octagonal room has seen better times, its windows bricked up and most of its plasterwork crumbling. However plenty of interesting features remain.

Above, for example, is one of the gargoylic faces carved into the window surrounds. Sadly many of these characters, being originally worked in sandstone, have crumbled away and it’s generally assumed that, at some point during the intervening years, an industrious (although not particularly talented) artist attempted to remould the originals in plaster.
Rumour has it that the faces were caricatures of the abbey’s residents although, judging by the look of them now, they’re more likely to have been based on the lepers who stayed there.
(To be continued...viruses, computer breakdowns and upgrades to the web site willing...)


John said...

Welcome back!

Excellent post, although we don't see the Chapter House in the main photo. And the vandalism, of course, makes one want to cry. I understand that it requires a lot of resources to protect Englands oh so many historical sites, but still... once they are gone, they're gone.

I've got plans to visit West Kennet Long Barrow, and my research indicates that pagans, amongst others, frequently trash the place. And that's after the grave robbers have cleaned it out.

Closer to home... ie. Lancashire, I also hear that the Mosley Height Stone Circle has been completely destroyed.

Might you perhaps have any plans to visit the so called Druid's Temple stone circle near Ulverston? It looks lovely in photos, but I'll probably never get to see it in person.

I hear it's a popular picnic spot, so maybe you guys should check it out before someone decides to convert the stones to picnic tables?

I look forward to part II of your post!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Dave said...

Good to have you back after the enforced break. Looking forward to part 2.

Brian Hughes said...


I'm not even sure where Mosely Height Stone Circle is. (We're incredibly parochial at Wyre Archaeology. So much to do, so much to record...even Little Bispham's at the end of a six year waiting list.) As for Ulverston...wasn't that where Stan Laurel was born? Might be a bit far to cycle in the near future (the old arthritus doesn't allow for journies greater than about five miles) but, on the off chance that we're passing, I'll make a mental note to take the camera.

One other quick word before I shoot off...the word 'Pagans' used in the context of a group of drunken hippies who wouldn't know a megalith from a stalagmite is stretching the term somewhat. From our own researches into Pagan beliefs (and, as far as we can tell, most of the experts are way off the mark...I mean...Stone Henge, a calendar? Even prehistoric people would have been able to create something smaller to work out their birthdays with, surely?) the so called 'Druids and Pagans' of modern times are about as related to our ancestors as earthworms are to geese. A better word to use, rather than Pagans, would be cretins.

'Nuff said.


Brian Hughes said...


Thanks for the encouragement. Sorry it took so long to reply but I've only just found your comment. I don't think I had the settings for the Blogger board right or something.