Lanercost Priory, in a tranquil valley of the River Irthing, is a hidden Cumbrian gem. The Augustinian Priory, founded around 1166 by Robert de Vaux, is built mostly from stone scavenged from nearby Hadrian’s Wall. The building, completed in 1220, was home to approximately 15 canons. " Corbrigge is a toun, thei brent it whan thei cam; Tuo hous of religioun, Lanercost and Hexam, Thei chaced the chanons out, their goodes bare away, And robbed all about; the bestis tok to prey."
The palpable peace of this place gives no hint of the violence it once witnessed. Its location, close to the Scottish border, marked it for conflict. Edward I stayed here three times (1280, 1300, 1306) when conducting raids against the Scots. On the last occasion he fell ill and wintered at the abbey. The Scots set fire to the cloister in 1296. Two famous Scots, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, attacked the priory. Raids continued well into the 14th century. Unfortunately, the priory’s bills for repairs required more money than they had available, and land was sold to cover the costs.
A local poet Peter Langcroft, wrote of the devastating Scottish raids on the area:
Lanercost was one of the first priories dissolved by Henry VIII (only a prior and seven canons were resident at the time), who gave the buildings and the land to Sir Thomas, Lord Dacre, the illegitimate son of Lord Dacre of Naworth. He turned part of the Priory into a country mansion, called Dacre Hall, and moved in 1559. Killed at Flodden Field, he was buried on the site.
The male side of the family died out in 1716, and trees and shrubs soon claimed the site for their own. The ruins are approached through an archway, once the gatehouse. Remains of parts of the north and south transepts, choir, sanctuary, cloister, chapter house, and undercroft—mostly complete including mason’s marks—still survive.
The ruined priory church was partly reclaimed in 1740 when the nave and north aisle were roofed to serve as a parish church, still in use today. The church’s west front dates to around 1200. Pointed lancet windows were done in the Gothic style. The patron saint of the priory, Mary Magdalene, is honoured with a statue.
Three stained glass windows in the north aisle are by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Two ornate altar tombs—Sir Thomas Dacre’s is well preserved—and medieval grave slabs are of interest as is a Victorian tomb of Elizabeth Dacre Howard with its stone figure of a tiny baby. In the east window are pieces of 16th century glass from Dacre Hall. Stone coffins and inscribed monuments decorate the cemetery grounds.
The red sandstone ruins of Lanercost Priory and its parish church, set in a wooded valley, are haunting remains of a violent past that is, today, an enjoyable and interesting destination.
Off minor road south of Lanercost, 2 miles northeast of Brampton
Tel. 0 1697 73030
English Heritage property
Open: last week March-end Sept, daily, 10am-6pm; Oct 10am-5pm; Nov-3rd week Feb, weekends, 10am-4pm; 3rd week Feb, daily, 10am-4pm; last week Feb-end March, weekends, 10am-4pm
Parish church not managed by English Heritage
© by Barbara Ballard. Reproduction of this work in whole or in part, including images, and reproduction in electronic media, without documented permission from the author is prohibited.
Photos of arches, undercroft, and Dacre tomb by Barbara Ballard.
Other photos courtesy Graeme Dougal.
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