Feudalism in Furness
New tenants paid a "fine" which was an admission fee of one-penny. They had to do certain jobs e.g. carting 160 loads of peat required by the abbey each year from Angerton Moss, Kirkby.  Walney farmers brought 80 loads, Hawcoat and Newbarns 60 each and Newton 20. Barrow, Cocken and Newbarns were excused this duty. The tenants had to provide an army consisting of men and horses prepared if necessary to serve the king, to fight the Scots, or to defend the harbour of Piel. Farmers at Dalton Orgrave and Marton had a fixed annual rate or tax to the English Kings and the system continued when the monks became landowners in 1127.

The abbey acquired the salmon fishery at Beaumont outside Lancaster.

Five Glorious Arches
First and third (from the left), led to the book cupboards, the second led to the Chapter House. The fourth arched doorway was the entrance to the parlour where necessary conversation took place and the fifth glorious arch was the entrance to a passage  (the slype) leading to a long day room that would have had various uses during the lifetime of the abbey.

St Bernard founded the abbey in 1118 in Burgundy. From 12th-15th century it was one of the more prosperous abbeys in France.  The decline of Fontenay Abbey began in the 16th century. The abbey was converted into a paper mill during the French Revolution.  It is the oldest Cistercian church extant in France.  In 1981 it was declared a World Heritage Centre.

Saint Bernard influenced every aspect of the lives of 12th century Cistercians. He abstained from meat because he thought that by overfeeding the body he would be feeding carnal desires. He strove to eat even bread with moderation in case a heavy stomach hindered him in standing up for prayer. According to Cistercian Statutes white bread should not be made even on great festivals (only coarse bread and wheat). When corn is lacking it may be made with rye. Visitors and the sick were allowed white bread. The Rule forbade the eating of the flesh of four footed animals and lard except for the weak and the sick. In the early days a strict vegetarian diet was adhered to with two meals a day: two cooked vegetables and fruits in season for the main meal while for supper they were given green vegetables and fruits with the remaining portion of coarse bread from the daily ration of a pound.

The only food additives were salt and home-grown spices. Strict regulations were enforced: salt had to be taken with a knife, a drinking cup had to be held with both hands and nuts had to be cracked with the teeth. The first knives were made of flint, then of metal. The fork did not become popular in England until 1611. Spoons were used and were made of horn or wood. Plates were made of wood. Wheat and rye for making flour were cultivated in the fields as well as barley for brewing. A pittance was an extra portion served on feast days or to the sick Food in the abbot’s house and guesthouses was excellent and often lavish.

During Advent and Lent, the monks abstained from animal fat, cheese and eggs and on Fridays in Lent, they fasted on bread and water. “A measure of oats ordained in the Chapter of Citeaux must suffice for monks or any others of our Order for the use of their horses when they come to our abbeys or to houses depending on them". (Cistercian Statutes). Oats were grown extensively in the Furness area. The monks' diet gradually increased in quantity and quality as the middle Ages progressed.  By the 15th century monks were allowed meat on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays except during Lent, Septuagesima and Advent.

The meat could have been beef, pigs' flesh (pork, bacon, pickled pork) or rabbit. During the meal a monk (lector) read aloud the Scriptures from the pulpitum, a raised pulpit built into the frater wall. Conversation was strictly forbidden. The dining room was called the refectory or frater and the cellarer was in over all charge. The quire and lay brothers had their own refectories served by one kitchen.   

Day shoes were not to be of goatskin or of Cordovan but of cowhide.  Those who were out upon a journey could have riding boots if they wished to avoid the mud or to keep away the cold, but they had to be made of cloth not of leather.  

Founding a new monastery
“Twelve monks with an abbot as the thirteenth are to be sent to new monasteries, and they are not to be sent thither until the place has been provided with books, buildings and necessaries – with these books, that is, the Missal, the Rule, the book of Observances, the psalter, the Hymnary, the book of Collects, the Lectionary, the Antiphoner and the Gradual. Of buildings, Church, Frater, Dorter, Guesthouse, and Porter’s Lodge. Also what is necessary for temporal uses, so that they be able at once to live there and obey the Rule.”
(Cistercian Statutes)

Fountains Abbey
Fountains Abbey was founded in 1132. The founders were 13 monks from the Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary at York. In those days the land was "thick set with thorns, lying between the slopes of mountains and among rocks jutting out on both sides.  It was a lonely and forbidding spot. . . . fit rather to be the lair of wild beasts than the home of human beings".
(From an old Chronicle). At the Dissolution, Fountains was the richest Cistercian Abbey in this country

The community entered the refectory and washed their hands at the laver/lavabo, situated in the south alley of the cloister where there would have been a series of long troughs with a piped water supply. There was a pulpit in the west wall where a monk stood and read a passage from the Bible while the monks ate their meals in silence. Sign language was used when requesting food e.g. a request for bread was made by making a circular movement with the thumbs and first two fingers of both hands, fish was asked for by using the hand to imitate the tail of a fish moving through water, while the lips being touched by the little finger making an infant's sucking action, meant a monk would like some milk.

Formerly Fuothernessa 1150, Fudernesium 1127.The name means furthermost promontory OE furora and OE ness. The old route to Furness was over the sands of Morecambe Bay, from Hest Bank, Lancashire to Kent's Bank, the first promontory while the further promontory was reached from Sandgate to Conishead.

Furness Abbey
Stephen, Count of Boulogne and Mortain founded Furness Abbey in 1127; he was the nephew of Henry I and grandson of William the Conqueror. Eleven years later Stephen became King of England (1135-54). In 1124 he gave a site at Tulketh near Preston to monks of the Order of Savigny. In 1127 Stephen transferred the Savigniac monks to Furness.

Furness Abbey Hotel
Following the closing of the abbey a large manor house was built for the Preston family on the site of the original domestic buildings: the almonry, stables, guest houses and the Great Gatehouse.  After the Prestons' time of residence the house remained empty until it was bought by the Furness Railway in 1847 and opened as the splendid Victorian Furness Abbey Hotel. Subsequently the Furness Railway built a station near the abbey that had direct subway connections from the platforms to the hotel for the use of hotel patrons. This hotel covered the land occupied by the present day Abbey Tavern and the Car Park and stood in the grounds of Furness Abbey. Apart from the north wing the hotel was demolished in 1953. The Furness Railway which had been founded in 1846 closed the Furness Abbey station in the 1950s.  

A cycle of Mystery Plays was first adapted by the Reverends W.A Batty, O.G Vigeon and produced by Philip Bromley in 1958.The audience was requested not to walk through the ruins. The east window was Heaven with blue velvet and a huge brass star. The Norman doorway was disguised by a horrifying representation of the mouth of Hell. A donkey was hired, collected from the Railway station and walked to the abbey.  Pigeons to represent doves were collected daily from Marsh Street, Barrow. During the scene of the cleansing of the temple they were released where they made a magnificent sight as they flew over the abbey and back home unless they decided to roost and had to be coaxed out one by one to the annoyance of the owner. In this first presentation of mystery plays organised by the churches, local dramatic and musical societies took part, ordinary folk playing to and for their fellow citizens.
1961 saw the second Furness Mystery Plays performed at Furness Abbey under the direction of Canon W. J. Bucks and again produced by Philip Bromley.
1966 the third set of Mystery Plays took place at the abbey, directed by John L.Towler and produced by Graham Suter.

1988 " The majestic Gothic ruins of Furness Abbey set in the awesome valley of the Deadly Nightshade formed a magnificent backdrop for the Furness Abbey Mystery Plays of 1988". (Publicity leaflet).  Eleven scenes taken from the Old and New Testaments were performed in promenade style by a cast of over two hundred.  David Marcus was the producer, Peter Duncan, a former presenter of television's Blue Peter, played the part of Christ, Stuart Lawrence, who had acted as Christ in the 1958 plays was this time cast as Moses.  HRH Prince Edward was the guest of honour on opening night, and Melvyn Bragg, (now Lord Bragg), attended one of the performances with his family.  

Furness Abbey ruins
The abbey ruins are situated within the Borough of Barrow-in-Furness on the outskirts of the town, one and a half miles north of the town centre and one and a half miles south of Dalton.  At the time of the Dissolution the abbey was worth £850 and was the second richest Cistercian Abbey in the country after Fountains in Yorkshire.  Access to the Furness Abbey Visitor Centre is from the car park opposite the Abbey Tavern Hotel.  

Frater at 
Hailes Abbey
 By Marie Bradley
The mouth
of Hell
The Cross
Frater / Refectory / dining room
Furness Abbey Mystery Plays
From the
Geoff Holme 
Photos of hotel 
from the
Geoff Holme 
Map showing
Neal Hardy