Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Furness

Furness AbbeyThe irregularly-shaped district of Lancashire partly cut off from the remainder of the county by an arm of the Irish Sea is known as Furness. It is a wild and rugged region, best known from the famous Furness Abbey and its port of Barrow-in-Furness, one of the most remarkable examples in England of quick city growth. Forty years ago this was an insignificant fishing village; now Barrow has magnificent docks and a fine harbor protected by the natural breakwater of Walney Island, great iron-foundries and the largest jute-manufactory in the world; while it has recently also became a favorite port for iron shipbuilding. About two miles distant, and in a romantic glen called the Valley of Deadly Nightshade, not far from the sea, is one of the finest examples of mediæval church-architecture in England, the ruins of Furness Abbey, founded in the twelfth century by King Stephen and Maud, his queen. It was a splendid abbey, standing high in rank and power, its income in the reign of Edward I. being $90,000 a year, an enormous sum for that early day. The ruins are in fine preservation, and effigies of Stephen and Maud are on each side of the great east window. For twelve reigns the charters of sovereigns and bulls of popes confirmed the abbots of Furness in their extraordinary powers, which extended over the district of Furness, while the situation of the abbey made them military chieftains, and they erected a watch-tower on a high hill, from which signals alarmed the coast on the approach of an enemy. The church is three hundred and four feet long, and from the centre rose a tower, three of the massive supporting pillars of which remain, but the tower has fallen and lies a mass of rubbish; the stained glass from the great east window having been removed to Bowness Church, in Westmorelandshire. The abbey enclosure, covering eighty-five acres, was surrounded by a wall, the ruins of which are now covered with thick foliage. This renowned abbey was surrendered and dismantled in Henry VIII.'s reign; the present hotel near the ruins was formerly the abbot's residence.

The river Ribble, which flows into the Irish Sea through a wide estuary, drains the western slopes of the Pennine Hills, which divide Lancashire from Yorkshire. Up in the north-western portion of Lancashire, near the bases of these hills, is a moist region known as the parish of Mitton, where, as the poet tells us,

"The Hodder, the Calder, Ribble, and rain
All meet together in Mitton domain."

In Mitton parish, amid the woods along the Hodder and on the north side of the valley of the Ribble, stands the splendid domed towers of the baronial edifice of Stonyhurst, now the famous Jesuit College of England, where the sons of the Catholic nobility and gentry are educated. The present building is about three hundred years old, and quaint gardens adjoin it, while quite an extensive park surrounds the college. Not far away are Clytheroe Castle and the beautiful ruins of Whalley Abbey. The Stonyhurst gardens are said to remain substantially as their designer, Sir Nicholas Sherburne, left them. A capacious water-basin is located in the centre, with the leaden statue of Regulus in chains standing in the midst of the water. Summer-houses with tall pointed roofs are at each lower extremity of the garden, while an observatory is upon a commanding elevation. Tall screens of clipped yews, cut square ten feet high and five feet thick, divide the beds upon one side of the gardens, so that as you walk among them you are enveloped in a green yet pleasant solitude. Arched doorways are cut through the yews, and in one place, descending by broad and easy steps, there is a solemn, cool, and twilight walk formed by the overarching yews, the very place for religious meditation. Then, reascending, this sombre walk opens into air and sunshine amid delicious flower-gardens. On the opposite side of the gardens are walls hung with fruit, and plantations of kitchen vegetables. This charming place was fixed upon by the Jesuits for their college in 1794, when driven from Liège by the proscriptions of the French Revolution. The old building and the additions then erected enclose a large quadrangular court. In the front of the college, at the southern angle, is a fine little Gothic church, built fifty years ago. The college refectory is a splendid baronial hall. In the Mitton village-church near by are the tombs of the Sherburne family, the most singular monument being that to Sir Richard and his lady, which the villagers point out as "old Fiddle o' God and his wife"—Fiddle o' God being his customary exclamation when angry, which tradition says was not seldom. The figures are kneeling—he in ruff and jerkin, she in black gown and hood, with tan-leather gloves extending up her arms. These figures, being highly colored, as was the fashion in the olden time, have a ludicrous appearance. We are told that when these monuments came from London they were the talk of the whole country round. A stonemason bragged that he could cut out as good a figure in common stone. Taken at his word, he was put to the test, and carved the effigy of a knight in freestone which so pleased the Sherburne family that they gave him one hundred dollars for it, and it is now set in the wall outside the church, near the monuments.

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