Drawing 114: Calder Abbey

Direction of view: E

Notes: Calder Abbey is accessed via a narrow lane just off the Cold Fell road out of Calder Bridge to Ennerdale. The site is on private land, and barely visible from public viewpoints, especially due to a screening hedge of leylandii, which completely obscures the scene as drawn by Wainwright.

This picture does not appear in any of Wainwright’s other published works, but the photograph from which this sketch was drawn is in the County Archives at Kendal, reference WDAW/4/1/1/2/16; Wainwright’s drawing is very accurate to this photo. 

Comments: The abbey was founded in 1134. In “Arts & Crafts Houses of the Lake District”, this is described as “one of the most romantic sites in Cumbria”.  My picture was taken when Anne Setright and I visited on 21st June 2013.  Approaching down the private drive, we encountered a lady, who was initially discouraging of our approach, but after some conversation allowed us to look at the Abbey.  She then invited us to go with her to see the adjoining house (the existence of which we had been unaware until this point, as it is screened by trees).

The house is physically linked to the Abbey via an Arts & Crafts house built by G. F. Armitage in 1906 for Thomas Harrison Rymer, the son of a Manchester solicitor, and although rather too imposing externally, is a delight internally, with excellent craftsmanship apparent in the staircases, wood panelling and stained glass.  Rymer is credited with saving the abbey from destruction, as loads of stone were being removed for use elsewhere.  The house had apparently been bought sight unseen by a distant relative of the lady who showed it to us, who was living on site and acting as a caretaker.  An enormous sitting room with inglenook fireplace was reminiscent of Blackwell at Windermere.  The house is dilapidated internally and externally, and would need a great deal of work to restore its former glory.

The Abbey ruins are in a similar condition to that shown by AW, though with rather more young trees growing out of the masonry, and we were told that the tower was unstable and dangerous.

Peter Messenger’s photo shows the state of Calder Abbey in the late 1970s.