Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Whatever Happened to Cockersand Abbey? (Part Two)

In case you’ve forgotten (which you probably have, and I honestly can’t blame you) we were just about to enlighten our reader/s (at the end of the last section of this article) as to why our old friend Bob Parkinson reckons that the cross in Thurnham Churchyard originated in the canons’ cemetery at Cockersand Abbey.
So, Bob’s theory then follows the cross’s line of succession from the dissolution, the time at which Cockersand’s lands and buildings were bought virtually lock, stock and barrel by John Kitehyn for the princely sum of seven hundred and nine pounds, eight shillings and six pence.
Later, John’s daughter married Robert Dalton of Thurnham Hall and the cross: “… presumably then became the property of the Dalton family and it may have been moved when a church was built at Thurnham.
Bob’s reasoning behind the original location for the cross runs: “My opinion is based on the excavations which were carried out at the Abbey in 1923-1924, where the report and plan of the excavation states that a shallow well-like depression was found in the canons’ cemetery. I consider this could be the original site of the cross.
As it happens, we have in our possession a photograph taken of the excavations mentioned above, which we’ve reproduced as a drawing below. (It’s an old photograph, well out of copyright…as indeed any pre-1940 photographs are…but we don’t like treading on toes, and it was a long weekend, so I drew it up just to avoid any trouble.)

This was back in the days when archaeologists wore suits and waistcoats to work, rather than wellies, jeans and anoraks. Very smart lot, they were…not like the slovenly buggers we get nowadays who can’t even be bothered investing in a decent trench-coat, let alone trimming their beards and polishing their fob watches.
Sorry…where was I?
Oh yes, two documents that survive to this day, both dating to 1536 (the year of the abbey’s first attempted repossession), are the ‘Survey of Possessions of Cockersand Abbey’ and the ‘Inventory of Goods and Chattels at Cockersand Abbey’. Unfortunately the start of the latter scroll is now missing. Both could well be described as catalogues for potential purchasers.
The Survey of Possessions records that there were six bells in the steeple (their whereabouts nowadays, of course, are unknown), four ‘in accord’ and two ‘out of accord’, or ‘out of tune’ if you prefer.
Mention is also made of lead on the steeple (last suspected location, some backyard or other in Fleetwood, no doubt), the Lady Chapel (for the ladies…), King John’s Hall (not as impressive as it sounds, to be honest, being it a lowly cottage with a ‘thak’ or thatched roof, one end of which had pathetically caved in), the dormitory (for dormice), one ‘payne’ (or side) of the cloister, the high garner (something to do with the top shelf of the herb cabinet I think) and a structure known as ‘thentree’ (otherwise pronounced, in Over Wyre speak, as ‘the entry’) situated between the church and the Lady Chapel.
The Inventory lists a number of smaller items that were up for grabs. These included a chalice and silver-gilt paten weighing fourteen ounces (destined for scrap by the sounds of it), a suit of red damask (don’t ask because I don’t know…what mediaeval monks got up to in their own cells is no concern of mine), a ‘foxe’ suit of ‘braunched’ silk with crimson velvet crosses (I’ve no idea what braunched silk is, but the suit was apparently ‘foxy’ so it must have been good), the abbot’s seat (presumably his throne and not his actual rear end…although by this stage of affairs they were probably selling anything), two large brass candelabras, a wooden lectern, thirty choir stalls (fourteen of which, local legend would have it, are now preserved in Saint Mary’s at Lancaster), nine windows in the chancel (at the bargain price of four pennies a foot) and even an illustrated gravestone that had originally belonged to one of Cockersand’s late abbots (it’d look good with a waterspout sticking out of the top of it in Charlie Dimmock’s garden, would that).
The windows in the Lady Chapel weren’t quite so pricey as those in the chancel, being sold at only two pennies per foot, although the paving tiles, which must have been embellished in some fashion or made of gold or something, were considerably more costly at twenty pennies.
The list goes on, but special mention, perhaps, should be made of a copper-gilt crosier-staff. Legend claims that this particular artefact was stashed away in a secret location until such time as the political situation was deemed safe enough for it to be removed from its secret location and put back on display to the world, the aforementioned secret location being kept secret and secretly handed down through successive generations of its secret guardians.
Or something like that.
The ‘Processional Cross’ (illustrated below) eventually turned up on the Dalton Estate (we’re saying nowt), had the figure on its left arm replaced because it was missing, was cleaned and polished thoroughly, and was eventually handed over to Thurnham church, where it remained until being loaned to the County Museum (not sure which one…probably Lancaster) some years ago.
True to form, it appears, the museum never gave it back.

As Bob recalls: “It does seem a shame that the cross is no longer used. In my younger days I carried the cross at Thurnham Church in services, processions and funerals.
One other item that seems to have found its way to Thurnham Hall, and was believed to have belonged to Cockersand Abbey, was a carved wooden chest, described in John Swarbrick’s transaction…the one that we mentioned last week with the long winded title that we don’t want to repeat.
As he informs us: “At Thurnham Hall I have seen a large, richly carved sixteenth-century chest, which may have been the work of a Flemish carver. It is stated on a comparatively modern inscribed metal plate to have been the property of the canons of Cockersand Abbey, and it is said to have contained the old charters and title deeds.
Whether the chest is still in residence at Thurnham Hall nowadays or not we’ve been unable to ascertain. Anybody reading this who happens to know one way or another…answers to the usual address please…or in the comments box below, we’re not fussy.
Whatever, John Swarbrick furnishes us with the following description: “At one end of this chest is a representation of a figure holding a small church with a steeple, which it is suggested might be the old Abbey church.
As fascinating an article as it is, we’re going to differ with this last interpretation, as you might expect of us.
Recently we came across a couple of old photographs of said chest, detailing several of the panels, all of which illustrate biblical stories. For example, one panel, which, at first glance, we mistakenly thought was the Madonna and Child, and at second mistakenly, once again, interpreted as some big bosomed Dr Who assistant bouncing a very large jelly baby in her lap, is actually an illustration of the infant Moses being lifted from his wicker basket amongst the bulrushes.
It’s an Old Testament story…go and read it if you don’t know what it is.
As always, we’ve illustrated the panel mentioned in John Swarbrick’s article – the panel with the bloke holding the church that he reckoned was part of Cockersand Abbey that is – below.

The first thing that struck us about the figure in question was what appears to be a large, pointed tail hanging over his shoulder. Well, it is, isn’t it? Go on, tell me you can’t see! It’s either that or he’s cuddling a giant squid.
We could be wrong, of course, but it seems likely to us, under the circumstances, that this is a representation of the devil; Old Beelzebub, Lucifer, Satan, Spring Heeled Jack, Russell Brand, or whatever other pseudonym he’s currently going under.
That being the case, the illustration/carving would almost certainly relate to the third temptation of Christ (go and look it up in the New Testament you ignoramuses), in which Jesus is escorted by Satan/Lucifer/Brand/Aspel et al, to the Temple of Jerusalem and advised to take a flying leap from the steeple. (I’ve had similar requests from a number of people myself, although it’s usual the end of North Pier rather than the Temple of Jerusalem.)
Therefore, we write with conviction (and a certain amount of self-congratulatory pomposity) that the idea of the carving representing the ‘abbey church’ is most definitely wrong.
Whatever the case, several more bits and pieces from Cockersand Abbey are said to have survived the dissolution, the largest of these (once again, according to local legend) being the vestry at St. Helen’s in Churchtown.

Just to be awkward, we’ve illustrated the vestry above.
Whether the legend is true or not, the vestry is an obvious addition to the main church building, one that appears to have been browbeaten into its present location.
There are probably other odds and bobs associated with Cockersand Abbey still around, and, as always, if you know of any yourself we’d be delighted to hear from you. For now though, I’ve prattled on enough, so it’s time to end this article and have my breakfast.


Unknown said...

Well, well... there's a lot here worth commenting on, innit?

First off, there was a bit of a surprise at the fact that King John's hall was a bit of a shack, but then again, considering when it was built, then yeah, it may have been considered a hall at some time.

I'm also a bit surprised that they'd be selling off an old gravestone, whether decorated or not! I mean, respect for the dead, or what? There's just so many things wrong with that, but as you mentioned, it looks like they were selling off anything that could be carted away. I wouldn't be surprised to see a kitchen sink on that list, or even the gravel from the driveway!

Since I've got to run, I will comment on one item further. That does, indeed, look like a devil's tail in that figure, if the Artist's interpretation can be trusted, and no further embellishment was added. If so, wouldn't there as well be horns on his head, or any other give-aways?

I'm not up on art and symbolism of that period, so maybe the tail would suffice?

In the same image, who is the nancy prancing around the column to the left? Where does he fit in?

must run, but thanks much for the enlightenment,

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


The nancy prancing around the column -- now him I don't know. He's clearly Roman, and he appears to have trodden on his bell, which was probably painful. Not being a biblical expert, however, I'm lost with that one. (Suggestions to the usual address please.)

As for the devil's of his curls does seem a bit bigger than the others. Could be...probably not, but who knows what quantifies horns in the mind of a flem?

Jayne said... wasn't the Madonna with zee big boobies as Rene was after...?

Yes, def Devilish that tail.

Brian Hughes said...


The fallen Madonna with the big had to watch out for slippery horse pats in those biblical stables.

Unknown said...

I must agree that it's a bit of a shame that the processional Cross isn't being used today. Would provide a bit of history as well as be performing it's original function.

Then again, the church would probably just stick it in their own museum. Or am I just being cynical. :0)

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


The church is a museum in its own right.