origins are lost in the mists of time but clearly the close proximity
of Birkrigg and the ‘Druids Circle’ very much suggests
‘bard’ within the druidic tradition, as does its possible
derivation from ‘Berth-sig’, a British name for a ‘place
of thickets’. There are several ancient settlements in the
wider area and evidence of early quarrying, etc. and of course as
a ‘way in’ for travellers across the Bay on foot and/or
by boat from many parts of the world, Bardsea holds a strategic
trading position, exploited as we know by the Romans to export iron
ore and other materials (and possibly to import merchandise and
supplies to the local 'fort'. This was its particular significance right
up to the coming of the railways in about 1850.
‘Little Bardsea’ seems always to have ‘punched
above its weight’ in its local influence and the influence
of its significant families.
Before the Norman Conquest Bardsea was in the earldom of Tostig,
the half brother of King Harold, and he held the whole of what was
Lancashire north of the Ribble . It appears as ‘Barrretsiege’
in the Domesday Book of 1085, one of the manors of Hougun and the
name of the ‘de Bardsey’ family makes an early and significant
entry via Ranulph de Bardsey who was one of those who witnessed
the grant of land by Goddard de Boyvill to Ewan, first Abbot of
Furness in 1127. Roger de Bardsey made a testamentary grant to Furness
Abbey of part of his land (between that of Adam of Bardsey and a
valley called ‘Gile’ in Bardsea. His son, William released
a disputed acre of land to the Prior of St. John of Jerusalem in
1202; this has been suggested as the site of the later Bardsea Hall.
The house of the hospital of St. John stood on this land, a house
endowed by the Bardseys long before the priory of Conishead or for
that matter, Furness Abbey, was founded.
The Bardsea Charter was written and published in 1282, witnessed
by among others, William de Fornes, Alan de Toures, Richard Flemyng,
Alexander de Baryntwant, Knights, and William Flemyng, Prior of
Interestingly, the family names ‘Fleming’ and particularly
‘Towers’ are still significant in South Cumbria today.
The monasteries at Furness Abbey ( Cistercians) and at Conishead
(Augustinians) had a profound impact on life in the area (as did,
we believe, the earlier Celtic monastic community centred on Urswick,
2 miles or so inland) and they were responsible for agricultural
developments and land clearing, the improved fishing industry and
were also important traders and craftsmen. The community’s
life and health depended upon the monks and here the sick and destitute
found sanctuary, the hungry fed and accommodation was available
for those who had leprosy. They also provided law and order.
Life revolved around these centres of learning and culture for
about 400 years although as they became richer they became more
corrupt and ‘worldly’, they neglected many things. By
1537 they had gone, each monk being given 40 shillings and sent
out into the world!
It was not all ‘a bed of roses’ before then either,
because William de Bardsey, monk of Furness, had been murdered at
Aldingham in 1288.
We know that Christopher Bardsey (who boasted that his family had
held the manor for over 700 years) was in possession in 1508 because
then he was in dispute with the Abbot of Furness. He was an under
steward of ‘myche lands’ in Furness to the Earl of Derby.
He was buried at Conishead Priory in about 1529. His son, William,
was put out to say the least when William Sandys of Esthwaite, who
was Receiver General of the Lordship of Furness after the Dissolution
of the Monasteries, was growing rich at his expense. William Sandys
was ‘very riotously and wilfully murdered’ on 10th September,
1558. Christopher’s sons were implicated and Nicholas fled
to Scotland until certain of the Queen’s pardon! Nicholas
was not buried as he requested ‘in my parishe Churche of Urswick’
but at Aldingham on July 11th, 1586. Nicholas was the last of the
Bardseys because he had no male issue.
Bardsey manor passed to the Anderton’s by the marriage of
Nicholas’ elder daughter, Dorothy, to James Anderton who obtained
Stewardship of the Royal Manor of Muchland with the keepership of
Seawood Park and the custody of Gleaston Castle for life. He was
a Justice of the Peace of the County in the time of James 1.
At heart the Andertons were adherents of the old religion, James
obviously having appeared to accept the Worship Constitution of
the Church of England in order to obtain and stay in high office.
His younger son and heir, James and his wife, were compelled to
remain in obscurity because of their religious beliefs till the
war between King and Parliament broke out in 1642. He died in 1658
having been imprisoned at Preston in 1643 as a supporter of the
King; he lost three of his sons in the Civil War. His estates were
sequestered by Cromwell and sold. James’ third son, also James,
recovered the estate at enormous cost.
The Anderton family retired to Bardsey Hall in 1683, intestate
and insolvent, James having died in London. Christopher, his brother,
followed (he was made a Justice in 1687 by James the Second. He
was the last male Anderton; his sister Mary inherited the estate
which she sold to Lord Molyneaux after her sister, Dorothy, died,
but he got into debt and on his death Bardsey Estate was sold to
one Sam Kilner for £4,500. He died intestate and insolvent
in 1730 and his father, John Kilner, attempted to purchase it but
stood aside to allow Christopher Wilson, Esq. to buy Bardsey. Having
made his fortune as a Captain in the East India Company’s
service he could well afford the cost and purchased the manor in
1732. He had married Margaret, daughter of John Bradyll of Conishead
Priory in January 1727. History records that Christopher Wilson
was born in 1689, died in 1773 and was buried beneath the chancel
of Urswick church where a tablet fixed to the wall is inscribed
with his name, the name of his widow and also their daughter Sarah
and John Gale her husband. Local patronage reflects the fact that
Christopher Wilson became a significant benefactor and patron at
Urswick, as did the Gale family subsequently. It was to Christopher
Wilson that a faculty was granted in 1759 to erect a gallery pew
(since referred to as the ‘Gale’pew) at Urswick, and
additional works were undertaken at the time.
It could have been so different because although patronage of Urswick
‘came with the territory’, initially Wilson attended
Aldingham church until he fell out with the Rector.
Wilson Gale, son of Sarah and John above, adopted the name and
arms of Braddyll by Royal Sign Manuel and became the owner of Conishead
Priory after Thomas Braddyll, his cousin, died without issue in
1776. Wilson Braddyll was Groom of the Bedchamber to HRH King George
the Third, a Colonel in the 3rd Royal Lancashire Regiment and a
member of Parliament for Carlisle and Lancaster. He had extravagant
tastes and left debts which his son, Colonel Thomas Richmond Gale
Braddyll had to settle. In 1821 he began to rebuild Conishead Priory
but could not complete it himself because he ran out of money and
was forced to sell much property, including Conishead Priory in
1851. He was made bankrupt.
Colonel Braddyll had given the land on which Bardsea Church was
to be built, his son laid the foundation stone in 1843 but unfortunately
the site was not conveyed before building commenced and it fell
into the hands of Braddyll’s creditors. It was, according
to Bulmer, purchased at auction in London by Mr Thomas Petty of
Well House. The church was opened by license on Sunday August 13th
1848. It was consecrated by the Bishop of Chester on September 5th
1853. Thomas Edmund Petty, incidentally, was an ordained priest
and it was he who saw to the completion of the building and its
furnishing. He became the first curate-in-charge. The School was
erected in 1852 and endowed by Mrs.Petty.
To complete the picture of Bardsea Hall, sufficient to say that
William Gale, son of General Henry Richmond Gale (who fought in
the American War of Independence) was able to buy back the Hall
and added to it. His son, Henry Richmond Hoghton Gale served in
the Crimea, retired from the army with the rank of Captain in 1861
and married Emma, daughter of Thomas Sneyd of Sidbury Manor in Devon
in 1862. His orbituary indicates the extent of his involvements
both as land owner and JP, his commitment as a ‘churchman’
and his active service during World War One. It also records that
he and his family left England after that War and settled in British
Columbia. The Hall was sold to a Mr. Chapman from Grange.
has long since been demolished and the park is now a golf course;
a triangular ‘folly’ remains on the hill with its sides
facing the original homes of the three branches of the family: The
Wilsons of Bardsea Hall, the Braddylls of Conishead Priory and the
Gales of Whitehaven.
Whilst the First World War significantly changed the structure
of society and saw the end of many of the ‘landed gentry’
the Industrial Revolution and the need for iron ore had ensured
the continuation of Bardsea first as an important port for exporting
ore to Wales in particular, and a venue for seaboard visitors (hence
the ‘Ship Inn’) at Bardsea. The advent of the Furness
(Railway) Line put and end to that and its way of life. A brief
comment in the ‘Guide to Grange’ for 1848 sums it all
‘and a steamer at the pier and the multifarious vehicles
for conveying passengers- the unprepossessing ‘bus’,
the inelegant tub car, and the more picturesque donkey shanty cart,
gave to Bardsea a life and a busy look which we understand are now