New Abbey: Sweetheart Abbey

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The ingenious wheel window in the south transept

Located on the eastern edge of the village of New Abbey stands an impressive shrine to human and divine love. The ruin of Sweetheart Abbey sits between the grey granite bulk of Criffel and the waters of the Solway Firth. Lord John Balliol of Barnard Castle died in 1268 and his grieving widow, Lady Dervorgilla of Galloway, had his heart embalmed and put into an ivory casket. Dervorgilla undertook many charitable acts which included establishing the Cistercian abbey of Sweetheart, not far from her home at Buittle Castle. When she died in 1289 her body and her husband’s heart were buried there.

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View from the west front towards the presbytery

Established in 1273, the abbey was a daughter house of Dundrennan Abbey near kirkcudbright and was devoted to the worship of God. While builders were still working on the abbey church, the Wars of Independence erupted and after 50 years of bloodshed, the monastery was in a poor state of repair. The new lord of Galloway, Archibald Douglas ‘the Grim’, had the abbey repaired but thereafter little is heard of the abbey until its demise following the Protestant Reformation of 1560. Despite the prolonged wars with England, much of the abbey survives almost entire providing a lasting testament to the monastic ideal that was of such pivotal importance in the medieval age.

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The crossing tower

The site of the abbey was perfect for the Cistercian way of life with shelter provided by rising ground to the west with fertile land drained into a slow winding burn, Abbey Pow, and a neighbouring loch provided water for drinking, flushing toilets and powering corn mills. A little over a mile from the abbey was a safe natural harbour for ships bringing in building materials and other provisions and carrying away the produce of the monastery’s granges (estate centres).

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View along the nave to the west front

The abbey church at Sweetheart, in common with all Cistercian churches, was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. It was planned in the shape of a cross and divided up into different areas including the presbytery, monks’ choir, transepts and nave. A pulpitum (timber screen) to the west of the central crossing divided the long church into two with the presbytery and monks’ choir to the east and the nave to the west. The west front and upper part of the nave were only built in the later 14th century as a result of the Wars of Independence interrupting the building schedule.

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The wheel window in the west front

The abbey would have been designed by a master mason appointed by the abbot. The builders lived in temporary wooden huts as did the monks themselves until their new home was ready. The land was cleared of granite boulders which were used to build the precinct wall, the domestic buildings and the cores of the church walls. The red sandstone for the church and for the window and door surrounds in the cloister buildings was brought from nearby quarries. Oak for the roof and fir trees for scaffolding may have been imported by sea. Although the building has beautiful stone tracery in the windows, Cistercian austerity is evident in the planning of the building. There is no triforium and the tower over the crossing was deliberately kept low in deference to a ban in 1157 on bell towers. The battlements and gables above the tower were added much later.

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Stone boss bearing the Douglas arms in the vaulting of the south transept chapel

The stone tracery in the presbytery windows demonstrates the influence of the style of Gothic architecture which developed in France in the 1230’s. The presbytery, in the east end, was the most sacred part of the church where the high altar was situated. In the vaulted ceiling of the south transept chapel (above) is a stone boss bearing two croziers in saltire together with a heart and three stars (the Douglas arms). This is evidence that the abbey church was repaired by the Douglas family after the Wars of Independence. The nave is six bays long and aisled down both sides. The phased construction of the abbey church is visible not only in the clerestory, where the two eastern windows are of a different design from the other ‘eyebrow’ windows (below), but also in the arcade where the moulded capitals on top of the two eastern pillars have simple mouldings while the four western ones have carved foliage.

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‘Eyebrow’ windows along the top of the nave

The monks who built Sweetheart Abbey were Cistercians. The order was founded in 1098 at Citeaux, near Dijon in France, by monks desiring to return to a purer observance of the monastic rule compiled by Benedict of Nursia for his monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy in around 540. The Cistercians, or ‘white monks’ as they were known from the colour of their habit, first arrived in Scotland from Rievaulx settling in Melrose in the eastern borders in 1136. Sweetheart Abbey was the last of 12 Cistercian monasteries set up in Scotland.

 

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Dalemain House

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Situated 1km to the south of the village of Stainton is the large country house estate of Dalemain. Meaning ‘Manor in the Valley’, there has been a settlement on the site since Saxon times. The first recorded mention is of a fortified pele tower in the reign of Henry II, one of a line of towers built to protect the country against the marauding Scots Reivers. A manor hall was added in the 14th century with a second tower and in the 16th century, two wings were added housing the kitchen and living quarters on either side of the main building. The impressive Georgian front was completed in 1744 and built to enclose the old house within a central courtyard. Originally, the medieval hall would have been a barn like building open to the beams in the roof where trusses are supported by arched braces that rise from corbels.

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The earliest parts of the building are constructed of calciferous sandstone rubble with pink sandstone rubble extensions and flush quoins. The two storey building features a nine bay facade with sandstone ashlar chimney stacks and an open balustraded parapet. The facade has central panelled doors with a pedimented doorcase supported by fluted Ionic pilasters (above).

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The Courtyard

The courtyard was evolved over the centuries from a medieval hamlet, built for defensive reasons, immediately surrounding the pele tower. As times became less turbulent, a more recognisable set of farm buildings took shape including one of the largest loft barns in the north of England.

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Wild flower spiral garden

When Sir Edward Hasell bought Dalemain, the garden principally provided plants for culinary and medicinal purposes. By the 1680’s, work was being carried out to create a more fashionable garden. A terrace wall was built in 1688 creating a wide grass walk with a sundial as a central feature. Work progressed throughout the 18th century creating landscaped parkland.

Dalemain House is Grade I Listed.

Clifton Hall Tower

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The Tower of Clifton Hall dates from about 1500 and is all that remains of a substantial medieval manor house which was begun in about 1400. The hall was constructed by the Engayne family and was demolished in the early 19th century to make way for the existing farmhouse. Gilbert Engayne had been granted the manor, village and lands of Clifton some time before 1173. One of his descendants, Elianor Engayne, married into the Wybergh family and it was during her lifetime that the first manor house was built on this site. Following the death of Elianor, the sole Engayne heiress, in 1412 the house passed to her son from her first marriage to William Wybergh and became the property of the Wybergh family. The late medieval tower wing was occupied continuously from the late 15th century until the early 19th century and retains considerable medieval fabric and many original architectural features.

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Characteristic of the borderlands of England and Scotland, tower houses are a type of defensible house that were important centres of medieval life. Fortified towers were often added to manor houses during the troubled and unsettled northern Border regions throughout the medieval period. Not only built for defence, they were fashionable additions to the houses of ambitious local gentry like the Wyberghs and provided comfortable accommodation for the family.

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Constructed of red sandstone, the ground floor of the tower is divided into three rooms which later functioned as service rooms and a kitchen. Originally a single large room that functioned as a parlour, the ground floor would have been well furnished with a wooden decorated ceiling and painted plaster walls. The room was converted in about 1600 to serve the new hall built to the south of the tower with three new doors inserted into the south wall. The principle chamber, or solar, was a comfortable living room for the family and was originally entered at first floor level from both the old hall and an external staircase to the south.

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Ground floor 18th century fireplace

Shortly afterwards the family got into financial difficulties and in 1640, Thomas Wybergh was forced to mortgage the lands surrounding the manor. In 1652, during the Civil War, the next Thomas Wybergh had his remaining estates forcibly sold owing to his support for the Royalists. Only the manor house itself now remained in the possession of the family. Further trouble arose during the Jacobite uprising when William Wybergh was kidnapped by Scottish soldiers in 1715. The building was occupied and plundered in 1745 shortly before the Battle of Clifton Moor which was the last military engagement on English soil.

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The Upper Chamber

Access to the upper floors is by a newel or circular stair situated in the south west corner of the tower. The Upper Chamber (above) was the most private and secluded space in the house accessible only from the principle chamber on the first floor. Still retaining an original fireplace, the Upper Chamber has been subdivided in more recent centuries with the addition of 18th century windows in the east wall. When the house was altered in 1600, the two upper chambers were retained with one of them perhaps used for dining.

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The hall was demolished in the early 19th century with the tower remaining in use as a farm building until renovation during the late 1970’s. The tower was placed in the guardianship of the Secretary of State in 1973.

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The present roof is a 17th century replacement

The present roof (above) is a 17th century replacement of an earlier roof and was raised at the same time that the tower’s crenellated parapets and south west corner were built. Clifton Hall Tower is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

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Remaining fabric of the old hall

Dalemain House: The Great Barn

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In the courtyard at Dalemain House is a 16th century Great Barn. Built in the 1500’s, the large loft barn is constructed of mixed sandstone and rubble walls with flush quoins. The two storey building features parallel stable ranges, casement windows and slit vents on two levels.

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Flat headed under loft doorways of the Great Barn

The height of the roof was raised in 1685 and the upper floor of the building is now home to a Fell Pony Museum.

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The Fell Pony Museum

The museum features an extraordinary collection of agricultural implements which chart the history of a bygone country life. Much of the equipment and tools have only become outdated over the last seventy years as a result of mechanisation.

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Exposed roof timbers in the museum

The breed of ponies that have worked and travelled through the history of the Lake District have been known for over a century as ‘the Fell’. Native to the north of England, the breed are mostly found in the old counties of Westmorland and Cumberland and are known locally as galloways.

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The cloisters under the Great Barn in the courtyard

Sylvia McCosh (born a Hasell of Dalemain) was involved in the revival of the breed during the post war years and she bred many prize winning Fell ponies that were exported all over the world. Some of her prizes and equipment are on display as part of the collection within the museum.

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The enclosed castellated courtyard

The Great Barn and Stables are Grade II Listed.

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Left stable range with segmental arched doorways

Dacre Castle

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Located on a spur of high ground between Dacre Beck to the south and a small ravine to the north is Dacre Castle. The castle stands on the eastern side of a moated sub-rectangular island and was built soon after the licence to crenellate was granted to William de Dacre by Edward II in 1307. Moated sites were built throughout the Medieval period with the provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical military defence. The fortified tower house is constructed of mixed sandstone with battlemented parapets concealing the roof. The east tower was built by Humphrey de Dacre some time before 1485. The castle remained in the Dacre family until after the death of Lord Dacre, Earl of Sussex, who lived an extravagant life at Court having married an illegitimate daughter of Charles II. The castle and extensive lands were purchased in 1715 from his Trustees by Sir Christopher Musgrave when he transferred the Dacre lands to his son in law Edward Hasell. Since this time the castle has remained part of the Dalemain Estates.

Dacre Castle is Grade I Listed and the ground beneath is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Temple Sowerby: Acorn Bank Mill

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There has been a mill on the site of Acorn Bank Watermill for hundreds of years although the current building dates from the late 18th century. The mill was the manorial mill of the Acorn Bank Estate, also known as Temple Sowerby Manor for a while, and the miller was a tenant. The earliest mention of a mill is in 1323 when the estate passed from the Knights Templar to the Knights Hospitaller and at the time the mill gave an annual income of £4. The machinery suggests that substantial changes were made around 1840 when a French Burr millstone was installed. The original building is constructed of coursed squared rubble with quoins and although primarily a corn mill, the mill has also been used to provide power to the estate gypsum mines. The mill ceased to work in the 1940’s and gradually fell into a state of ruin.

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Restoration began in the late 1980’s and the Watermill was little more than a ruin. Many of the walls have had to be dismantled and completely rebuilt yet much of the machinery survived and has been retained. The mill is now partially restored and has been open to the public since 1996. Flour was ground again for the first time in September 2011. The water supply for the mill starts at a weir and sluice on Crowdundle Beck – about a quarter of a mile upstream of the mill. The weir directs water into the millrace and the sluice allows the miller to control the amount of water that flows to the mill. The race has a very shallow fall while Crowdundle Beck drops more rapidly. By the time the millrace reaches the mill, the water in it is about four metres above the river level and high enough to pass over the wheels.

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Upper Mill Machinery

Acorn Bank Watermill is unusual in that it has two sets of mill machinery driven by separate waterwheels. The upper set of machinery (above) is virtually complete with two pairs of millstones for grinding grain and making flour. This set of mill machinery is driven from the uppermost of three waterwheels. The large vertical cogwheel is on the same shaft as the waterwheel. This cogwheel is the pitwheel and it turns the smaller gear, the wallower, on the vertical shaft. The great spur wheel is the large gear above the wallower and this could be made to drive either or both of the millstones via the small ‘stonenuts’ to each side of the great spur.

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Lower Mill Machinery

The lower set of mill machinery (above) is no longer complete but was once almost identical to the upper set. The large cogwheels were probably removed when the waterwheel was adapted to provide power to a local mine. The lower set of mill machinery, like the upper set, has two pairs of millstones and was driven from the middle of three waterwheels.

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The Drying Kiln

The drying kiln (above) was used to dry the oats before they were milled. A floor of perforated tiles existed above a fire and the oats were spread over the tiles which were dried from the heat of the fire. Suspended above the kiln fire was a baffle plate which spread the heat more evenly and prevented a hot-spot on the floor above. The perforated tiles of the drying floor were supported on cross beams of stone and slate and later, iron. The earliest tiles were made of roughly fired clay with holes punched through. The oats were spread over the floor to a depth of a few inches and were turned regularly to prevent the lower grain burning and to ensure an even drying. The miller would be able to tell when the grain was dry enough by biting it. Once dry, the grain was swept off the drying floor to be milled.

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There were once three waterwheels at Acorn Bank. The top and middle wheels drove corn milling machinery while the bottom drove a saw bench. The middle wheel was adapted to provide power for a nearby gypsum mine. There were two types of wheel in use at the mill. The upper wheel is a pitchback meaning that the water falls onto the top of the wheel at the back and the middle and bottom wheels were overshot meaning that the water falls onto the wheel at the top. In both cases, the water fills buckets and its weight turns the wheel. The bottom wheel was situated below the mill building.

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Acorn Bank Mill is Grade II Listed.

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Nithsdale: New Abbey War Memorial

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On the A710 next to Sweetheart Abbey stands New Abbey War Memorial. Dedicated to the memory of those lost in the Great War (1914-1918), the monument is of rough surfaced granite and set upon a stepped plinth. An ornamental sword adorns the cross shaft and the memorial lists thirty six names of those who lost their lives.

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