Whalley Abbey

Has been described as a Possible Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameWhalley Abbey
Alternative NamesWhalleye
Historic CountryLancashire
Modern AuthorityLancashire
1974 AuthorityLancashire
Civil ParishWhalley

The site of Whalley Abbey, a Cistercian abbey founded in 1296 and dissolved in 1536. It was constructed in response to the monks at the abbey of Stanlow in Cheshire, who were suffering flooding from the River Mersey during the latter part of the 13th century. The upstanding remains include the north-east gateway, the north wall with round bastions, the ruins of the east and south ranges of the cloister, the abbot's lodging, the late 13th century Peter of Chester's Chapel, the north-west gateway and the foundations of the nave. The church was partly excavated and along with the octagonal chapter house, the plan shows through the turf. The 14th century gatehouse is now in the care of English Heritage. The remains demonstrate the usual layout of a Cistercian abbey but not the standard orientation. Traditionally monastic buildings were laid out so that the church ran east-west and formed the north range. At Whalley however, to enable the best use of the water supply it was necessary to align the church on a north-north-west/south-south-east alignment. The oldest part of the abbey is the north-west gateway built from 1320. Building of the church began ten years later and was completed in 1380. The cloister, abbot's lodgings and infirmary were completed by the 1440s. There are also the remains of the abbot's lodgings, built by Abbot Paslew in the 16th century. The ruined walls overlying the eastern end of the abbot's lodgings and the abbey's infirmary are the remains of the long gallery. This was built after the Dissolution by the Assheton family as part of their new manor house. Other sections of this manor house are now used as a conference centre. The porter's lodge is now a ticket office, and to the east, in the location of the 17th century buildings associated with the Assheton mansion would have been the abbey stables. From the 18th century the abbey passed through various families until 1923 when the house and grounds were bought by the church


The two-storey gatehouse is the oldest of the abbey buildings, constructed between 1296 and 1310 when the new monastery was being established. It has a vaulted ceiling, and halfway along is a cross-wall, with two doorways, one for wheeled vehicles and horses, the other, smaller, one for pedestrians. 

The upper floor comprised a large and airy room, with three three-light traceried windows on each side (best viewed from the grassed enclosure on the north side), which was probably used as a chapel for guests and visitors to the abbey. On the south side of the building was a guesthouse (now demolished) for visitors – in 1536 it had nine bedrooms, with fourteen feather beds – and on the north side were lodgings for the vicar of Whalley. (English Heritage Portico page)

Gatehouse Comments

It is difficult to associate any part of the Abbey with the licence to crenellate of 1348. However, the arrival of the Black Death the following year may have disrupted building work and, regardless, the value of the licence was the message of royal support and blessing. Monasteries, as major land owners, could become the focus for popular discontent and were sometimes attacked but their large precincts could never have been defended in normal circumstances and the elaborate gatehouses served more as a symbolic representation of a conflicting needs to be cut off from the wider secular world and their duties and dues from that world. As such the Gatehouse was often the office of the Almoner, who gave alms to the poor, and sometime the manorial court where rents and tithes were paid. However at Whalley it may be the Gatehouse was used for another charitable function, that of giving shelter, although in this case the shelter given was to wealthy visitors rather than the poor. The licence to crenellate gave royal support and acknowledgement of these secular issues.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSD730361
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All rights reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All rights reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All rights reserved

Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.

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  • Lancashire County Council, 2006, Lancashire Historic Town Survey Whalley online copy
  • Crosby, Alan, 2002, 'Whalley Abbey Gatehouse' in Yates, Sarah (ed), Heritage Unlocked; Guide to free sites in the North West (London: English Heritage) p. 60-1
  • Knowles, David and Hadcock, R. Neville, 1953, Medieval religious houses in England and Wales (Longmans) p. 118
  • Farrer, Wm, and Brownbill, J. (eds), 1908, 'Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Whalley' VCH Lancashire Vol. 2 p. 131-9 online transcription
  • Gardner, W., 1908, 'Ancient Earthworks:- Lancashire South of the Sands' in Farrer, William and Brownbill, J. (eds), VCH Lancashire Vol. 2 p. 551-2 online copy
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 217, 415 online copy


  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 271
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1908, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 2 p. 21 online copy


  • Coulson, C., 1982, 'Hierarchism in Conventual Crenellation: An Essay in the Sociology and Metaphysics of Medieval Fortification' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 26 p. 69-100 see online copy
  • Hall, A. Howard, 1954-5, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne upon Tyne Vol. 1 p. 298-9
  • 1936, Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society Vol. 51 p. 119-121

Guide Books

  • Ashmore, O., 2003 (6edn), A Guide to Whalley Abbey (Blackburn Diocesan Board)
  • Ashmore, O., 1962, A Guide to Whalley Abbey

Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1905, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III (1348-50) Vol. 8 p. 124 online copy


  • Historic England, 2015, Heritage at Risk North West Register 2015 (London: Historic England) p. 64, 65 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2014, Heritage at Risk Register 2014 North West (London: English Heritage) p. 65 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2013, Heritage at Risk Register 2013 North West (London: English Heritage) p. 63, 64 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2012, Heritage at Risk Register 2012 North West (London: English Heritage) p. 72 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2011, Heritage at Risk Register 2011 North West (London: English Heritage) p. 63 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2010, Heritage at Risk Register 2010 North West (London: English Heritage) p. 57 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2009, Heritage at Risk Register 2009 North West (London: English Heritage) p. 61 online copy
  • Lancashire County Council and Egerton Lea Consultancy, 2006, Lancashire Historic Town Survey Programme: Whalley; Historic Town Assessment Report (Lancashire County Council) online copy