Recently, I paid a visit to Whalley Abbey, near Clitheroe, Lancashire.
The abbey site was founded in 1296 when Cistercian monks moved from Stanlow on the banks of the river Mersey. The abbey church was built between 1330 and 1380, and the abbey was completed in the 1480s.
In 1507, John Paslew became abbot of Whalley and began a programme of improvements to the site, rebuilding the abbot’s lodgings and adding a lady chapel to the church. In October 1536, Nicholas Tempest and other leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace, arrived at Whalley abbey and persuaded Paslew and eight monks to take the rebel oath.
Paslew was arrested in March 1537 and tried for treason for refusing to take the compulsory oath of allegiance to Henry VIII as head of the Church. He was executed at Lancaster on 10 March 1537. A month later, the monks were ejected from Whalley Abbey. The abbey was seized by the Crown and treated essentially as the personal estate of Paslew. A survey of the abbey lands was carried out in July 1537 and the demesne lands committed to John Braddyl, a local landowner. It is likely that the roofs of the religious buildings were removed, and the furnishings and valuables were sold off quickly to transfer profits to the Crown. In June 1553, Braddyl and Richard Assheton of Lever, near Bolton, purchased the site and lands for £2151 3s 9d.
They agreed a settlement whereby Assheton took possession of the buildings and demesne lands, and Braddyl the other lands previously belonging to the abbey. Assheton then began a process of converting the former abbot’s house into a private residence.
The abbey church was demolished 1661-2.
In the late eighteenth century, Mary, daughter of Sir Ralph Assheton and the heiress of Whalley Abbey (1694/5-1776) married Sir Nathaniel Curzon, 4th baronet (1675-1758) of Kedleston, Derbyshire.
Mary’s grandson, Richard Curzon-Howe, 1st Earl Howe (1796-1870) sold the property in 1836 to, among others, John Taylor, and on his death the site descended to Col. John Hargreaves (1839-95), a member of the Accrington Broad Oak Calico Print Works family. In 1900 Whalley Abbey was acquired by Sir John Travis Clegg of Blackburn, and it remained a private residence until 1923 when it bought by the Church of England. The house (now a retreat and conference centre) and the abbey ruins are now owned by the Diocese of Blackburn.
A walk around the house and the abbey ruins brought the chronology of the house into focus, making it possible to see the remains of what was a substantial Cistercian community, and the uses to which parts of the estate were put in the post-Reformation period. Following the suggested tour around the grounds meant that it was possible to get a good sense of the development of the abbey and the construction of the site, as well as how the abbot’s residence was then transformed into a private residence.
I was lucky enough to go on a day when the house was open to the public, which meant that I got the opportunity to see the Great Hall, with its minstrels’ gallery, which was re-panelled in the mid-nineteenth century.
The fireplace, displays the seal of Whalley Abbey with the Virgin and child seated under a canopy, flanked by the emblems of the de Lacy family, who founded the abbey: the de Lacy knot and the lion rampant.
If you get the opportunity to visit the grounds and ruins of the Abbey, it’s well worth it. You can visit their website or follow them on Twitter @WhalleyAbbey. If you happen to be there on one of the rare occasions when the house is open too, even better.
I leave you with some further photos: