High above the little village of Bardsea, near Ulverston, stands this curious structure. With stunning views of Conishead Priory and its landscape, and a sweeping vista over Morecambe Bay, the building was well described in 1817 as a ‘Monumental Edifice’.
The three-sided structure was built in the park of Bardsea Hall, which once stood at the foot of the hill on which the monument stands. Bardsea was a seat of the Wilsons, close relations of the Bradylls of Conishead, and the two estates would become united by inheritance in the early 19th century. Conishead Priory had been, as the name suggests, a religious house, but became a private home after the dissolution of the monasteries.
In 1774 Father Thomas West wrote in his Antiquities of Furness, that the best view of Conishead Priory was from ‘the summer-house’ above Bardsea Hall. It is not clear if it was built by Christopher Wilson of Bardsea, or if it was the work of West’s friend Thomas Braddyll (1730-1776), who built a number of other follies at Conishead (watch this space). In the early 1820s the triangular building is named as ‘summer house’ on a map, suggesting it is the structure described by West. Presumably at least one, and possibly all three of the arches were originally open to allow access to the interior, and to appreciate the views: the 360 degree panorama from the summerhouse took in Conishead Priory and park, Morecambe Bay, the hills of Westmorland, and the dramatic moorland dotted with outcrops of limestone on which the building stands.
Sometime before 1843 the summerhouse was transformed into a monument, and at least two of the niches held urns honouring the dead. One urn survives, the inscription eroded by the elements, but enough is legible to know it commemorates members of the Gale and Wilson families of Bardsea. Although sometimes referred to as a mausoleum, it is actually a cenotaph, as the remains of those commemorated are in nearby Urswick church. The 1st edition Ordnance Survey map of 1850 names the structure as the ‘Bardsea Monument’.
The base of another urn survives, and POSUIT (put it here) can be read on one face, but sadly the detail on the other side is barely legible, although some sources suggest it reads ‘WB’, for Wilson Gale Braddyll (1756-1862), which would make sense as he was a direct descendant of the Gales and Wilsons, and Thomas Braddyll’s cousin and heir. It’s not clear if the ‘posuit’ inscription refers to the building, or the urn itself. As befits one of the very best of follies, some mysteries remain.
What is not in question is that this is an exquisite folly. Today it sits in the rough on the edge of Ulverston Golf Club, established in part of the former Bardsea Park in 1909 and developed in the following decades. Reviewing the new course (which was designed by Alexander ‘Sandy’ Herd, winner of the Open Championship in 1902), a golfer was surprised to find ‘a most distinguishing [sic] landmark … towering on the hill top’.
Much of the Bardsea Hall estate was sold in the 19th century, and the house was eventually demolished in 1927. Conishead Priory was sold in the 1850s after a magnificent rebuilding programme, and a failed investment in mining in the north-east, exhausted the funds of Thomas Richmond Braddyll (1776-1862). Following a series of institutional ownerships, it is now the tranquil home of the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre, and a magnificent Buddhist temple now adds to the beauty of the grounds.
The Braddyll Monument can be seen from miles around, but sits on the private land of the golf club.
Conishead Priory welcomes visitors, see https://manjushri.org
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