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Calder Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Ponsonby, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.4441 / 54°26'38"N

Longitude: -3.4642 / 3°27'51"W

OS Eastings: 305146.213767

OS Northings: 506395.876005

OS Grid: NY051063

Mapcode National: GBR 4K71.TP

Mapcode Global: WH5ZP.RKLG

Entry Name: Calder Abbey

Scheduled Date: 10 April 1915

Last Amended: 6 May 2015

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1007166

English Heritage Legacy ID: CU 307

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: Ponsonby

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Beckermet St Bridget

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


The upstanding remains, earthworks and buried remains of a medieval Cistercian abbey.

Source: Historic England


The upstanding remains, earthworks and buried remains of a Cistercian abbey, known as Calder Abbey. It is situated on gently sloping ground at the foot of the Calder River valley, 1km north-east of Calder Bridge.

The monastic precinct at Calder Abbey is considered to have covered about 30 acres. There are no known traces of a precinct boundary, although the west gatehouse remains upstanding. Beyond the gatehouse are the monastic church and cloister and further east (in the field now called ‘Abbey Mews’) were several other buildings, now surviving as buried remains; the Infirmary, agricultural buildings and mill, as well as the upstanding remains of a corn-drying kiln. The abbey water-supply was obtained by a stone-lined leat from the river to the north-east, which remains intact for a large part of its course.

The ground plan of the claustral complex consisted of a large abbey church at the north and domestic buildings surrounding a cloister immediately south of the nave. In a clockwise direction these comprised: an east range with a book cupboard, chapter house, slype (covered passage), parlour and monks’ dorter (dormitory); a south range with a warming house, monks frater (refectory), kitchen and probably a reredorter (communal latrine); and a west range with a cellar. To the east of the east range of the cloister was an infirmary hall.

The monastic church, which is about 45m long and 25m wide across the transepts, survives as upstanding and buried remains. It is cruciform in plan with an aisled nave, a crossing tower, north and south transepts each with two chapels, and a rectangular chancel. This was a typical Cistercian layout except for the unusual provision of the crossing tower. The church is now roofless but the upstanding remains include part of the west front, the north arcade, crossing tower, the north and south transept, and the west end of the chancel. In common with the rest of the claustral complex, it is built of coursed and dressed red sandstone with a rubble stone core. The north part of the west front remains upstanding to nearly 4m high and includes the west doorway into the nave. It was built in about 1175 and has a round-headed arch of three orders springing from water-leaf capitals on colonnettes. The nave is five bays long with foundations of the pulpitum (chancel screen) in the second bay from the crossing. Only the north arcade, built between 1215 and 1240, remains upstanding. The north and south aisle walls are no longer visible but will survive as below-ground foundations. The north arcade is formed of five pointed, chamfered arches carried on alternating octagonal and quatrefoil piers with water-holding bases. The third pier from the west is distinguished by zig-zag leaf decoration, which is also seen on a hoodmould at nearby Egremont Castle.

Further north the crossing tower remains upstanding to about 2m above the level of the arches. The arches are twice chamfered with canted responds at the north and south and semi-circular responds resting on brackets at the east and west. The scar of a steeply pitched roof can be seen on the west side of the tower. Further successive scars indicate downsizing over time. The north transept retains the (now blocked) arch of the north chapel arcade, springings of a vaulted ceiling, and an early C13 north doorway; a pointed arch of two moulded orders.

The chancel is cut short at the west reveals of a pair of tall transomed lancet windows. Partial excavation has recorded the footings of the walls beyond. At the west end, near the crossing tower, are four effigies; three C14 recumbent knights in armour and an abbot under an ogee canopy. In the south wall are three sedilia (seats for the clergy) and a pointed doorway leading to the south transept chapel. These are gathered into one composition under trefoil-headed arches.

The south transept has two bays of pointed arches, supported on a central quatrefoil pier, leading into two chapels at the east. Above these arches is a triforium arcade formed of chamfered and pointed arches with large quatrefoils in the spandrels. In the east and west wall of each bay is a set of two lancet windows, and above the latter is a further set of tall trefoil-headed lights. A pointed doorway 2.7m above floor level in the south wall marks the position of the timber night-stair giving access to the dorter and a newel stair in the tower.

Abutting the south transept is the chapter house. It is approached from the cloister through a pointed doorway of three moulded orders, set between two similar openings containing Y-tracery. That at the north provides access to a small rib-vaulted book cupboard. The chapterhouse was formed of three rib-vaulted bays although only the eastern vault remains intact. In the east wall is a late C13 window with some remains of geometrical tracery. Immediately south of the chapterhouse is a slype and an undercroft. Above them was the dorter (dormitory), lit by a row of lancet windows. It was linked to the monk’s night-stair by a passage across the chapterhouse.

The south range originally incorporated the warming house, kitchen, frater, and probably the reredorter. However the remains of this range are now largely incorporated into Calder Abbey House (Grade I listed), which is excluded from the scheduling.

The cloister originally incorporated an open courtyard surrounded by an ambulatory (covered walkway), and the west range provided the monks cellarium (cellar). These buildings are no longer standing but will survive as below-ground foundations. Attached to the north-east angle of the church was a barn that was added in the C16 or C17 and will also survive as below-ground remains. It is shown on the 1788 abbey estate plan.

Immediately south-west of the cloister are the buried remains of another building, recorded as earthworks during a measured survey in 1985-6. It is partly covered by building stone from the abbey.

Immediately to the east of the chancel of the abbey church, in the field now known as Abbey Mews, are the buried remains of the cemetery.

The monastic infirmary survives as below-ground remains immediately south-east of the claustral complex, within Abbey Mews. Partial excavation has indicated that it is L-shaped in plan with a main range, approximately 37m long and 9m wide, and a projecting south wing. The walls are constructed of freestone masonry and rubble to nearly 1m wide, which indicates that they were dwarf walls carrying a timber superstructure. A doorway is situated at the east end and internally the building is partitioned by cross-walls.

The west gatehouse, a C14 building that was converted to agricultural use in the C17 or C18, remains upstanding and is Grade II* listed. It is two storeys high and built of coursed and dressed red sandstone with a gabled slate roof. In the east and west elevations are pointed wagon arches of two chamfered orders. The west arch springs from chamfered imposts but the east arch, now blocked by coursed rubble, is continuously moulded. In the north wall are three small splayed windows, now blocked, to the ground floor and an inserted doorway. At first floor level there are C17 two-light mullioned windows in each side. Internally there are two king post roof trusses and a C20 timber gallery at the west end. The former byre range (now a house) attached to the north, the boundary walls at the east and west, and the lean-to at the east, are all excluded from the scheduling. The timber doorways in the east and west elevations of the gatehouse and the C20 timber gallery fitted internally are also excluded but the ground beneath them is included.

About 115m north-east of the church is a (Grade II* listed) building that is traditionally known as the ‘Monk’s Oven’, although it probably served as a corn-drying kiln. It is shown on the 1788 abbey estate plan. The building is constructed of coursed rubble but much of the exterior stonework has been robbed out leaving an earth-covered mound. At the south is a moulded round-headed arched doorway with large, prominent, voussoirs. Internally it is nearly 4m in diameter and about 1.5m high with a tightly-packed stone rubble floor and domed roof. Adjacent to the oven are the buried remains of a mill that was fed by the stone-lined leat that runs north-east to south-west to the cloistral complex. Approximately 22m south-east of the ‘Monk’s Oven’ are the buried remains of a building with a circular foundation, probably a dovecote.

About 50m WNW of the ‘Monk’s Oven’ are earthworks of possible building foundations, indicating a long rectangular range orientated east-west with internal (north-south) partition walls. It appears as cropmarks on aerial photographs taken in February 1981.

Immediately north-east of the ‘Monk’s Oven’ is a C19 turbine house; a rectangular building with a crow-stepped gabled roof, which is excluded from the scheduling.

Approximately 145m east of the church are the earthworks of a medieval fishpond recorded by measured survey in 1985-6. It is orientated north to south and forms a broadly rectangular depression about 37m long by 15m wide. A bank, about 1m high and 5m wide, delimits the west side.

The monument excludes all modern fences and fence posts, gates and gate posts, railings, garden ornaments, telegraph poles and oil tanks but the ground beneath these features is included. Calder Abbey House and the C19 turbine house to the north-east are completely excluded.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Calder Abbey is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Survival: a substantial proportion of standing medieval fabric survives, including considerable architectural detail of the claustral complex, together with earthworks and below-ground archaeological deposits;
* Rarity: the ‘Monk’s Oven’ is considered to be a rare survival of a medieval corn drying kiln and is among the best preserved in the country;
* Potential: a large proportion of the site is undisturbed and unexcavated, including much of the claustral complex, and will therefore hold a high degree of potential for further archaeological investigation;
* Documentation: Calder Abbey is relatively well documented in historical and archaeological terms, which provide a valuable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the site.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Cumberland and Westmorland, (1970), 213-217
Thorley, J, 'The Estates of Calder Abbey' in Transactions of Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological and Antiquarian Society, , Vol. 4, (2004), 133-162
Loftie, A, 'Explorations at Calder Abbey' in Transactions of Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological and Antiquarian Society, , Vol. 6, (1883), 368-72
Loftie, A, 'Calder Abbey' in Transactions of Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological and Antiquarian Society, , Vol. 8, (1886), 467-504
Fair, M, 'Calder Abbey' in Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, , Vol. 53, (1954), 81-97
Cumbria County Council HER, Measured Survey Plan of Calder Abbey for Cumbria Historic Parks and Gardens Register Review (1985-86)
English Heritage Archive, Aerial Photographs of Calder Abbey taken 10 Feb 1981, Ref: NY0506_1 CLU1637_30
Gilchrist, R, English Heritage MPP Monument Class Description: Post-Conquest Monasteries for Men, (1989)
Oil Painting entitled 'Prospect of Calder Abbey' by Matthias Read, circa 1730, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria
Whitehaven Archive and Local Studies Centre, May 1788 Survey and Plan of Calder Abbey and Stephney estates of Joseph Tiffin Senhouse, Surveyor R Lawson, Ref:YDX37/5 and YDX37/2/1

Source: Historic England

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