Whalley Abbey

Last week, in need of some new boots, I was in Whalley, a small, but attractive, village in the Ribble Valley on the way to Clitheroe. While I was there, I decided to pop in to have a look at the ruins of the old Abbey.

Whalley Abbey was the second richest of Lancashire’s monasteries, and was founded in 1296, by Cistercian monks (known as the “white monks”, due to their undyed habits)
who moved here from their previous site at Stanlow , on the banks of the River Mersey near Chester, which (not surprisingly as it was on a flood plain) was prone to flooding and there had also been a fire. Stanlow is now best known as being the location of an oil refinery, previously owned by Shell, although they sold it off to the Indian owned company Essar Energy in 2011. Reading up on the abbey for this post I discovered that Stanlow was actually known as Stanlaw until Victorian times when a mis transcription on a map resulted in the name change.

The Abbey is a ruin now – it was demolished after the Dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII – but there are plenty of remains on the site, including monastic buildings and the foundations of the Abbey church which were revealed during the site’s excavation in the 1930’s. The ruins of the abbey are a Grade I listed building, and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Entrance to the grounds
Looking over the Abbey church foundations
Another view over the church ruins including the choir pits. These were resonating chambers which would amplify the singing and chanting of the monks
Monastic buildings including the cloisters main dormitory and  rere-dorter (toilet block)
Remains of the walls of the Cloisters
This substantial building was the lay brothers dormitory, which, today, is owned by the Catholic Church and used as a church hall. It survived as it was used as a cow shed! It’s a short distance from the main site, next to the English Martyrs Church.  

A short walk down a minor road there’s the substantial two-storey Gatehouse, the oldest of the abbey buildings, which was constructed between 1296 and 1310. Today, it’s under the stewardship of English Heritage (it can be visited free of charge) 

Most monasteries were demarcated by gatehouses that prevented access by any except authorised visitors, allowed the gatekeeper to keep a close watch on traffic and provided basic defence in times of military and political insecurity. At Whalley, as at other monasteries, there was a steady stream of beggars and poor travellers seeking food or help, which the monks could not readily deny. Thus, the gatehouse was also the place where alms were dispensed and food and drink given to the poor.

English heritage website

Following dissolution, the monastery site was sold to one Richard Assheton who had a house built on the site, which subsequently has passed through several hands, and has been extended and modified over the years. Today it’s owned by the Diocese of Blackburn who have converted the house to a residential education centre

8 thoughts on “Whalley Abbey

  1. A friend of mine swears by that boot shop in Whalley. I shall have to give it a visit. Very interesting history of the abbey.

    • A little hidden and out of the way, with Whalley being off the main road – it’s one of those places you whizz past without noticing but, “worth a diversion” as the Michelin guides say!

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