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.
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.
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
We went back into Stratford on a sunny Wednesday. the offspring wanted to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, but we’d been before and as entry is quite expensive me and J decided to give it a miss and have a wander round the small town.
After visiting Waterstones (and ending up buying a couple of books – more to add tot he pile 😂), walking a little further down the street we spotted this chapel and a notice enticed us to have a look inside.
It’s the the chapel built for the Guild of the Holy Cross, a medieval religious organisation created in 1269 which existed until it was abolished in 1547. The Guild membership consisted of gentry, wealthy merchants and tradesmen from Stratford – it probably acted like a sort of Freemasons where the members looked after each other while carrying out some charity work as a public relations exercise. According to Wikipedia
The guild reached the peak of its influence in the late 15th century, when it had become the town’s semi-official governing body, and probably included all of the more important townsmen.
The picture at the top of this post shows their Guildhall and the adjacent alms houses. The chapel was built at the end of the Guildhall – you can see the tower in the photo.
The Medieval Guild Chapel is a Grade 1 listed building and the Historic England listing tells us that the chancel was built in the 13th Century, with some alterations done around1450. The nave and tower were added in around 1490 and comprehensively restored in1804. Further restoration and refurbishment in the 1950s.
During the 19th Century Medieval wall-paintings were rediscovered which had been covered over by limewash during the Reformation.
In Medieval times most churches would have had paintings on the walls to educate and, literally, put the fear of God into the congregation. Even those who were able to read would be unlikely to be able to read the words of the scriptures themselves because until the Reformation the Bible was only available in Latin. The clergy and the Feudal Ruling Class didn’t want the Lower Orders to get any ideas about equality from reading the New Testament!
Following the Reformation, when English translations of the bible became available, the paintings, images, statues and the like were banned by a Royal Injunction by Elizabeth I 1559 which required the “removal of all signs of superstition and idolatry from places of worship”. So the paintings were covered over with limewash (Shakespeare’s dad was allegedly involved in this), which actually served to protect the them – although some have been lost, including some scenes from the Legend of the True Cross when the Chapel was re-modelled in the 19th Century.
Today, however, some of the paintings have been uncovered and can be viewed by visitors to the chapel. A team of historical archaeologists and digital heritage specialists from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, have carried out a major study of the paintings and created a digital model.
The large mural painted above the chancel arch (probably at the beginning of the 16th Century) represents the Day of Judgement, otherwise known as the Doom,
This is what the York team think it would have looked like. (The large cross and silhouettes of two figures – one on either side – were not actually part oft eh painting. there was originally a physical cross and two statues there which were painted around. Now they’re gone they’ve left behind their “shadows”
Another large painting on lower west wall – the Allegory of Death is the best-preserved of the Chapel’s wall paintings.
After looking round the chapel we made our way to the river for a stroll before joining the offspring for a drink in the Garrick, the oldest pub (reputably!) in Stratford – in a timber framed building dating back to the 1400’s.
After that we walked towards the river, crossed the bridge then walked along the other side
before crossing back over on the chain ferry.
We then made our way back to the RSC. Popping inside we asked how much it cost to go up the tower. It was free! (with the option of making a donation – which we did).
The tower was added during the renovation and remodelling between 2007 and 2010
and after taking the lift to the top we had some good views over the theatre, the town and the nearby countryside.
Wife and daugher took the lift back down an then went shopping. Son and I descended by the steps (more fun!) and sheltered in the shade while we waited for them. It was then back to the car for the short journey to our accommodation.
After the walk with my son along to Sandsend and back, during the afternoon all four of us headed through Whitby, over to the East Cliff and then up the 199 steps to visit the ruins of the Abbey. Perched on top of the cliffs above the town and next to the old Parish Church, even on a fine day it has rather a “spooky” atmosphere, especially when viewed across the graveyard as in the picture above! No wonder Bram Stoker used this as a location for the early part of Dracula.
We’d all been into the abbey during our previous visit to Whitby, but it was certainly worth another visit – although you can much of the structure from outside the walls without paying the entry fee, we’re all either members of English Heritage or Cadw (the Welsh equivalent) so we got free entry and were able to get a closer view.
The current Abbey wasn’t the first one on the site. The original Anglo Saxon builing was founded St Hild when Whitby was part of the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, way back in the 7th Century when the the town was known as Streaneshalch and is the liklely location of an important gathering of the clergy, known as the Synod of Whitby, which established the dominance of the Roman Church over the Celtic tradition in the kingdom of Northumbria. The Anglo Saxon building was destroyed following the Viking raids in the 9th Century. The site was then deserted for a couple of hundred years until after the Norman invasion when a new Romanesque Benedictine Abbey was founded in 1078. This wasreplaced by the current Gothic structure constructed over a protracted period between the 13th and 15th Centuries. The Abbey was closed by Henry VIII in 1540 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and it gradually fell into ruin – no doubt used as a “quarry” by the locals.
It can a long, tedious drive back home from the North east. I didn’t fancy the chaos of the M62 after a bad, traffic jammed journey the previous Friday, so we decided we’d drive back across the Pennines on the A59 via Harrogate and Skipton. Not a fast route but likely to be more pleasant than the alternative. We also decided to break the journey so stopped at Ripon, somewhere we’ve never visited before. It’s quite a small town, and the major attraction, besides nearby Fountains Abbey, is the Cathedral.
There’s been a church on the site since the 7th Century, originally a wooden structure, which was replaced by a stone building in 672, one of the earliest stone buildings erected in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. It’s been twice destroyed (first by the Vikings and then by the Normans) and rebuilt. It’s been modified many times over the years, resulting in the building we see today. Like many of the old Cathedrals it incorporates several different styles of architecture, mainly Gothic but with some traces of Romanesque style. There’s even a remnant of the first stone church – the crypt.
The west front is a very impressive example of the early English Gothic style, with it’s lancet windows
Entry was free although you are supposed to buy a pass, costing £3, to take photos. I stumped up but there were plenty of people snapping away who clearly hadn’t.
The first thing we noticed on entering the Cathedral was the installation suspended high up in the ceiling
The Cathedral’s website tells us
Since May, 10,000 origami angels have been made by 100 volunteers and 300 school pupils, who have helped to create an inspiring host of angels in the nave of Ripon Cathedral. Each angel represents a dedication made during the COVID-19 pandemic to key workers and loved ones. Our volunteers range from 3 – 90 years old and are located across the region.
The Nave was in a later Perpendicular Gothic style
This is the old 15th Century stone font
I liked the impressive Arts and Crafts style pulpit, made by Henry Wilson in 1913 a.
At the end of the nave, we descended down these narrow stone steps into the crypt
This is the only remaining part of the original stone building and would hold the “holy relics” which are so important in the Catholic Church. It’s a tiny space and was only reopened recently, entry having been stopped during the height of the Covid crisis.
The transept is one of the oldest parts of the main building, with elements of both Gothic and, with the rounded windows, the earlier Romanesque or Norman style.
The highly decorative roode screen leads to the Quire (or Choir – take your pick as to the spelling!). The stone screen is medieval, but the stautes of Kings, bishops and saints are Victorian
There’s a massive stained glass Great East Window – an example of Decorated Gothic – at the end of the Quire, behind the high altar. The glass is Victorian – the original glass was destroyed by Puritans during the Civil War.
Looking back down the Quire (the light made it difficult to get a decent photo
The same workers also carved the misericords at Beverley Minster and Manchester Cathedral.
The massive spaces of the Nave and Quire in cathedrals can be overwhelming and I often find the smaller, more initmate, side chapels the most interesting. The Chapel of the Holy Spirit is on the south side of the quire and has a modern look. The striking screen, meant to resemble lightning bolts, screen was designed by Leslie Durbin, a jeweller who designed the rear of the first pound coins and the Stalingrad Sword that was presented to Stalin by Churchill at the end of the Second World War.
St peter’s Chapel, on the other side of the Quire, has a more traditional look
The altar is made of a reused font, possibly dating back to the medieval period. The painting behind the altar is a reproduction of a work by Reubens.
The Chapel of Justice and Peace is located at the west end of the church, to thee north of the entrance
Behind the altar are words of the poet Wilfred Owen, who spent his last birthday here in 1918, words that speak of tragedy and loss through war.
It’s been a while since I’ve indulged my interst in art and architecture, so it was good to have the opportunity to visit this excellent example of a grand Gothic church. We spent a good hour looking round but had to hit the road. I’ll have to find time to take another look sometime, perhaps combined with a visit to Fountain’s Abbey. I’ve not been there for a while. And I do have coneections with Ripon – my family history research suggests I have a family connection – but I don’t shout that out, it’s hard to accept I might have some Yorkshire genes 😬
It was a rather grim day as we left Portiscale at the end of our holiday, but rather than drive straight home we decided to extent our break stopping off at Blackwell to take a look at the latest exhibition showing there and then driving down to Cartmel. I’d been there during a recent walk, but wanted to have a proper look around.
Cartmel is a small, attractive village on the Furness peninsula which is something of a “honeypot” with a number of touristy shops (although good quality ones) a Michelin 2 star restaurant, three pubs and is also renowned for sticky toffee pudding. Despite the weather, it was very busy with visitors.
We parked up at the Racecourse and made our way towards the centre of the village. We wanted to take a look around the old Priory church which dominates the village which was originally part of a monastery. Like many old churches it evolved over many years and although mainly Gothic in style there are some Norman / Romanesque features.
The tower is particularly interesting – the top half having been constructed diagonally across the original tower. There’s not another one like this in the UK.
(I took this photo during my previous visit when it was hot and sunny and the light was much better for photography)
The priory was founded in 1190 with extensive work curing the next couple of centuries. The oldest parts of the building are the chancel, transepts, the south doorway, and part of the north wall of the nave.
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 the church survived as it was used as the village Parish church. Little else of the monastery remains other than the gatehouse in the village square which is now owned by the National Trust.
We entered via the south door which is inside a much later porch
The semi-circular arch with its decorations is very typical of Norman/Romanesque architecture.
Looking down the Choir from the nave. Classic Gothic pointed arches
in the north aisle
and supporting that eccentric tower
but round Norman style arches with dog-tooth decoration in the Choir
The choir stalls look like they could be Elizabethan or Jacobean
The old font, dating from 1640
A monument to the “Cartmel martyrs” who resisted the destruction of the church during the Dissolution of the monasteries.
Monuments by the sculptor Josefina de Vasconcellos, an English sculptor with a Brazilian father and British mother, who lived in Cumbria much of her working life.
The Cavendish memorial. The tomb of Lord Frederick Cavendish, son of the 7th Duke of Devonshire, who was Chief Secretary to Ireland in Gladstone’s government, and who was assassinated by Fenians in Phoenix Park in Dublin in 1882.
The Cavendishes, a branch of the Duke of Devonshire’s family, are the local big wigs. Nearby Holker Hall is their ancestral home and they own property around Cartmel including the racecourse.
Browsing on the web after the visit, I came across this interesting clip on the BBC website where Nicholas Pevsner visits the Priory and discusses its architecture.
The Grote Kerk church Stands on the Grote Markt in Haarlem. Originally a Catholic cathedral, following the Dutch Reformation it became a Protestant church and is dedicated to Saint Bavo. After our visit to the Molen de Adriaan we wandered though the pleasant streets of the town back to the square and decided pay the modest entry fee and take a look inside
It’s a massive Gothic building, the nave and choir covered by 16th Century wooden vaulting and the first thing that hits you when you walk inside is its height.
It’s hard to convey in a photograph just how high it is. Looking up almost made me feel dizzy!
It’s also very plain and light, the interior being painted white, giving it a quite different feeling to the Gothic Cathedrals I’m used to seeing in the UK. This is a consequence of the Beeldenstorm during the Dutch Reformation. Prior to this the church would have been decorated with paintings, stained glass and statues. However this offended the Protestants for a number of reasons. The images and statues were considered to be blasphemous and idolatry. Rich decoration was also seen as a way for rich donors to flaunt their wealth. For them places of worship should be plain and simple so after the Reformation the decorations and statues were removed from the converted Catholic churches.
The floor of the church is made up of gravestones, including that of the painter Frans Hals.
Another feature of the church is the massive organ at the end of the nave.
Installed in 1738, it covers the whole west wall of the church and is almost 30 metres high. It’s something of a tourist attraction in it’s own right and has been played by Handel and Mozart.
Today, there is some decoration in the church, with fancy chandeliers and illustrated texts on some of the massive columns, and some stained glass – although most of the windows glazed with plain glass.
and the roof above the crossing is also decorated
But overall it remains relatively plain, especially compared to Baroque Catholic and Anglo-Catholic cathedrals and churches.
One of the buildings that took my eye while I was mooching around Glasgow Merchant City last Monday afternoon was what the British Listed Buildings website describes as a
Bizarrely detailed Gothic warehouse,
I think that just about sums it up! It’s relatively restrained in that there isn’t much decoration or embellishment and looks more like a later Art Nouveau or Glasgow School style building than a typical Victorian Gothic wedding cake.
I particularly liked this eyecatching
unusual semi-octagonal door head with heavily moulded octagonal oculus above.
I haven’t been able to find much information on it other than from the British Listed Buildings posting, but that does tell us that it was originally a warehouse, that it was built in 1859, and that the architect was R W Billings
Shrewsbury Abbey is a large Medieval church standing on the opposite side of the English Bridge from the old city centre. As with many old churches it’s been altered and adapted over time and, consequently, displays a mixture of styles – Romanesque, Gothic (the later, Perpendicular style) and Victorian Neo-Gothic.
It was founded as a Benedictine Monastery by Roger de Montgomery in 1083 although there had been a Saxon church on site before the Conquest.
The church which survives today was originally part of a complex of buildings which, other than a few remnants, are long gone – some demolished following the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of King Henry VIII and others by Thomas Telford when he built the main road that runs alongside the Abbey.
After the dissolution of the monasteries there were plans for the church to be designated a Cathedral, but that never came to fruition. It continued to serve as a place of worship, though, as a rather grand Parish Church.
The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, written by Ellis Peters, are inspired by medieval Shrewsbury. Cadfael is a Welsh Benedictine monk at the Abbey in the first half of the 12th century. He was played by Dereck Jacobi in the TV series of the stories, although it was filmed in Hungary rather than Shrewsbury.
The Abbey used to have a shrine to St Winifride, a 7th Century Welsh saint. In the 12th Century Monastaries wanted to have relics which would attract Pilgrims and earn them ncome so the Abbot had the remains of Winifride brought from her place of burial in Gwytherin in North Wales. The shrine was destroyed and the relics can now be found in Shrewsbury’s Roman Catholic cathedral and Holywell in North Wales. However, there’s a window devoted to the saint in the Abbey, installed in 1992, designed by stained glass artist Jane Gray.
There’s also a window by the same artist celebrating the fictional monk, Cadfael.
The Abbey was built in the Romanesque (Norman) style with substantial round pillars supporting rounded arches and a substantial part of the original building still stands in the central section of the Nave.
It was remodelled in the 14th Century when the tower was built. This required replacing the Romanesque arches at the west end of the nave with bays with stronger pointed Gothic arches supported by slender columns.
After the dissolution the west end of the Abbey was closed off and fell into ruin. There was a wall at the end of the Romanesque nave. The west end was rebuilt in a Neo- Gothic style during the Victorian era, designed by John Loughborough Pearson.
A new clerestorey was also created above the Romanesque and Gothic nave.
A war memorial tablets close to the west entry of the church includes the name of the First World War poet Wilfred Owen.
Outside the Abbey, there are still some remnants of the monastery
On the Tuesday of our holiday the weather forecast was for rain during late morning. As we’d already done a couple of decent walks on the previous two days we decided to take it a little easy and have a mooch around Church Stretton.
There are a lot of old buildings in the town, and St Laurence’s church, a Grade I Listed Building, is the oldest with a nave built in the 12th century. The chancel and the upper stage of the tower were built in the 15th century while the south vestry and west aisles were added during the 19th century. This is the church that put the “Church” in Church Stretton!
The oldest part of the church, the nave is Romanesque (Norman). This unused door in the north wall is very typical of the style with its simple rounded arch.
This website provides a good explanation of these pre-Christian symbols found on churches, castles, and other buildings, particularly in Ireland and Great Britain
Sheela Na Gigs are quasi-erotic stone carvings of a female figure usually found on Norman or to be more precise Romanesque churches. They consist of an old woman squatting and pulling apart her vulva, a fairly strange thing to find on a church. The carvings are old and often do not seem to be part of the church but have been taken from a previous older, usually Romanesque, building.
The rest of the church is Gothic – Early English, although the top stage of the tower, which is Perpendicular.
A Gothic door with a pointed arch in the South wall
We had a look inside
The timber roofs in the nave
and the south transept
go back to the 13th Century and are in remarkably good condition.
I liked this metal sculpture in the roof in the tower crossing – dating from about 1970 it depicts St Laurence and his attribute, a gridiron.
Perched high on the top of the East Cliff, standing next to the old Parish Church, dominates the view as you approach Whitby. There’s been an Abbey here since Anglo Saxon times, indeed the presence of the religious community is the reason why the town exists.
The first monastery was founded in 657 AD by the Anglo-Saxon King of Northumbria, Oswy who had converted to Christianity. The original name of the settlement was Streoneshalh, becoming known as Whitby only after the area was occupied by the Danes in the 12th Century – Whitby being derived from “white settlement” in Old Norse.
Ruled by an abbess, Hilde, the Anglo-Saxon monastery was one of a few known examples from the Anglian period of a ‘double house’ for both men and women and was an important religious centre in the Kingdom of Northumbria. In 664 it was the location of the Synod of Whitby, which established the dominance of the Roman Church over the Celtic tradition. Nothing remains of that building today as it was destroyed following the Viking raids in the 9th Century. The site was deserted for a couple of hundred years until after the Norman invasion when a new Benedictine Abbey was founded in 1078. This was a Romanesque (Norman) building; it was replaced by the current Gothic structure constructed over a protracted period between the 13th and 15th Centuries.
The Abbey was closed by Henry VIII in 1540 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and it gradually fell into ruin. Today it is preserved under the stewardship of English Heritage.
We decided to climb the 199 steps from the bottom of the East Cliff on the Sunday, the first full day of our holiday. However on reaching the top we were greeted by this
The Abbey was shrouded in mist which had blown in from the sea and was soon covering much of the town. It looked very eerie and it was easy to understand why it featured in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
We felt there was little point looking around when our view was obscured by the mist, so we decided to leave the visit until later in the week.
Entry is cheap, £8.40 with a Gift Aid donation, £7.60 without, but although there are decent views from outside the walls, we stumped up to get a closer look.
The majority of the structure is in the Early English style of Gothic architecture with distinctive, tall, narrow, pointed lancet windows
richly moulded arches and distinctive ‘clustered’ columns
The west end was built during the latter part of the prolonged period of construction and so reflects the Decorated Gothic style,
as illustrated by these large windows with the remains of elaborate tracery.
There’s a visitor centre which has a display of archaeological material excavated at the site. I found it a little disappointing. But that’s a minor quibble as getting close up to the ruins made the visit more than worthwhile.