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
Thank you for reading. Scroll down to find the comments box if you would like to share any thoughts or information.
12 thoughts on “The Bardsea Monument, Bardsea, Cumbria”
Once more the Flaneuse has gone a fairway to bring a fantastic folly to the fore.
Morning Gand. Good work, bright and early too!
John Malaiperuman says:
An architectonic folly which celebrates itself . It was a tonic to read your evocative piece this dreary morning.
It’s a joy to behold in a fabulous setting. Thanks for the kind comments and pleased it brought some cheer on this grey day
Another inspirational blog , if only it was so far away ( from Cambridge ) . It would be worth the trek if only one could be sure of clear blue skies and not dull and rainy like today . This can’t be far from Silverdale where Elizabeth Gaskell spent
her holidays and wrote in Lindeth Tower (?)
Hello Judy. Isn’t it miserable. Definitely a morning for coffee and the papers. Lindeth Tower is the other side of the bay, there are lots of follies in the area so watch this space. I have lots of jaunts planned so hopefully there will be a wider geographical spread soon.
J St Brioc Hooper says:
When I read this today, I immediately remembered that the MMT website had an entry on this under “Braddyl Mausoleum” which you may care to browse to compare notes. I do not remember who uploaded the original entry as the Gazetteer was compiled many years ago now.
John (Former Secretary MMT)
Hello John and thanks for getting in touch. I did look at the MMT entry. It is a cenotaph rather than a mausoleum, as the family members are buried in nearby churches (Urswick and Ulverston). I think the entry was based on information that has been superseded by later research, but if you know more I’d be very pleased to hear from you. The Conishead follies are 18C, not 19C as previously believed. I hope to feature two others here before too long.
J St Brioc Hooper says:
Thank you, Karen. There is a new Gazetteer Officer at MMT whom I do not know, but I will see if I can get the entry amended. It could still stay in the Gaz, but stipulating it is a cenotaph rather than a mausoleum. I will forward your blog to the Chairman of the Trust.
Thanks John. The Gaz gives a date of 1830, but I can’t seen any explanation for it. If there’s anything in the MMT files please put them in touch with me.
Not directly to do with follies, but coincidentally, the Conishead Priory (https://manjushri.org) which is part of the New Kandampa Tradition (NKT) are now also owners of Leeds Third White Cloth Hall/Assembly Rooms (b.1777) – a Grade II* Listed Building. It had been boarded up and empty for years after it’s former life as a night club and was in a terrible state. Very much a ‘Building at Risk’, but now on it’s way to reopening as a refurbished Buddhist meditation centre. If it weren’t for such wealthy faith organisations, much of our heritage would disintegrate further if not disappear altogether.
That’s excellent news, thanks for sharing.