History of Whalley Abbey

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Although Whalley is a place where Christian worship has been offered for well over a thousand years - as the Paulinus legend and the Celtic crosses in the churchyard testify - the monks came at a comparatively late date. The Cistercian monastery at Stanlow in Cheshire was founded in A.D.1170. In 1193 Roger, Baron Halton, the son of the founder of the Abbey, inherited the land titles and dignities of his kinsman Robert deLacy. DeLacy was one of the powerful families that had come with William the Conqueror and had been given large tracts of land in East Lancashire and West Yorkshire. It was through this connection that the monks of Stanlow acquired properties in Lancashire.

Repeated flooding of the Abbey and other natural afflictions made the monks of Stanlow want to move, and a suitable site was found at Whalley. It took some years however for the removal to be effected, and it was not until April 1296 that the Abbot and about 20 monks arrived in Whalley. Initially they moved into the old rectory, pending the building of the great church, but due to various difficulties it was not until 1340 that serious work began. The Abbey Church was completed in 1388 but there was still much building work to be done.

The last Abbot of Whalley, John Paslew, was involved in the rebellion (formed as the Pilgrimage of Grace) against the ecclesiastical policy of King Henry VIII. For this, he and some of his monks were tried on a charge of treason, and Paslew was found guilty and executed in 1537. The Abbey was then treated as though it was Paslew's personal estate and was sequestered by the Crown. The lead was removed from the roof of the Abbey and the property was left largely as it was.

Eight years later the Abbey was sold to Richard Assheton and Thomas Bradyll in 1545. Assheton subsequently bought Bradyll out and moved into the old Abbot's lodgings. In 1588 this was adapted and extended in accordance with the architectural fashions of the period. A further extension was later made in 1694.

In the late 18th century, the Asshetons had two daughters, but no sons. The elder of the two daughters, who was the heiress, married Sir Nathaniel Curzon of Keddleston and went to live in Derbyshire. She lost interest in the Whalley property, which then fell into a state of serious disrepair. In 1836 her grandson, Earl Howe, sold it to a calico painter in Whalley called John Taylor, and in the course of time it passed by will to kinsman John Hargreaves. A scheme of restoration was introduced and the house now bears much evidence of the Gothic revival of the mid 19th century. In 1900 the property was sold to Sir John Clegg of Blackburn.

The house and grounds were again on sale in 1923 when they were bought by the Diocese of Manchester, after an appeal launched by their bishop, William Temple. It was intended that it would be the Diocesan Conference and Retreat House, but three years later the diocese was split and the new Diocese of Blackburn bought it from Manchester.

Since then much work has been done to equip the Abbey as a centre for residential conferences, retreats and courses, as well as providing accommodation for other meetings of boards and councils, training days and social occasions. It is a spiritual power house for the Diocese of Blackburn and a place for all kinds of industrial, educational and cultural activities.

The ruins are open to the public and there is a visitor centre, shop, coffee shop, picnic area and nature trail. Visitors appreciate the extensive ruins of the old monastery and enjoy the beauty and splendour of the well-kept grounds. The Long Walk is generally accepted as one of the beauty spots in Lancashire, and the site comprises about the finest monument to our local Lancashire heritage in existence.

My thanks to Canon Geoffrey Williams, Warden Emeritus, Whalley Abbey , who wrote this brief history and Matthew MacGregor who provided it.

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Created: 27 July 1997
Last Updated: 21 October 2002
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