Shap Abbey and Robert Clifford


DSCN0997Shap Abbey was originally founded in about 1191 by Thomas who was the son of Gospatric at a place called Preston Patrick. For some reason that history does not provide the site was unsuitable for the White Canons who  came to dwell there. Perhaps the Kendale Valley wasn’t remote enough for them. In any event the Premonstratensians relocated in about 1200 to the remote and wild land beside the River Lowther at a place called “Hepp’ or ‘Heap’ so called because of a pile of nearby megaliths. Shap Abbey was duly dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene.

The Premonstratensians were founded by St Norbert in Germany.  The Premonstratensians lived frugal lives in isolated places following the example of the early desert fathers.  As regular canons they were all ordained priests who lived together in a monastic community.


During the thirteenth century, according to Butler & Given-Wilson, there were twenty canons there and, as with every other monastic community, Shap was dependent upon the generosity of its patrons and benefactors. For instance Shap manor was previously held by the Curwens of Workington and then subsequently by Shap Abbey.  Curwen records that Thomas de Workington gave to the canons land, pasture and the Rectory of Shap as well as the church of Bampton; Johanna de Veteripont gave them nine acres while other members of the de Veteripont family gave the vill of Reagill where they had a grange and chapel the Hospital of St. Nicholas near Appleby to maintain three lepers, also a parcel of land in Knock Shalcock.  Another benefactor was Robert Clifford, First Lord Clifford of Westmorland.   Summerson notes that Clifford, who was buried at Shap following his death at Bannockburn in 1314, had founded a chantry at Shap for his parents. Roger Clifford had died in 1282 in Wales whilst Isabella Vieuxpont – from whom Robert inherited many of his northern territories- died in 1291 and was buried at Shap (H Clifford, The House of Clifford (Andover, 1987), pp 51–2).  Shap was to become the burial place for many generations of the Clifford family including the Shepherd Lord (the 10th Lord Clifford) who died in 1523.

A chantry was usually a chapel within a church dedicated to a particular benefactor or benefactor’s family. It is where prayers and masses for the benefactors’ souls were said to help them get out of Purgatory faster than might otherwise be expected. There is no indication in the archeology, as it has currently been explored, as to the location of the Clifford Chantry. Equally there is no mention made of the chantry in the documents relating to the dissolution of the abbey. Having said that Keld Chapel which is thought to have been a separate chantry chapel belonging to Shap Abbey also goes unmentioned in the documents of the time.


John F Curwen, ‘Parishes (West Ward): St Michael, Shap’, in The Later Records Relating To North Westmorland Or the Barony of Appleby (Kendal, 1932), pp. 358-376 [accessed 1 January 2015].

Ann Cromwell and Dr Gibson

gibson_smallBrowsing through an old book with yellowed  whispering pages, I came across this little link between Cumbria and Oliver Cromwell. It’s tenuous  but it appealed to me simply because so little seems to be known about either of the characters involved and because reading between the lines there is a tale of a family torn asunder as a result of the English Civil war and its aftermath and also of infant mortality.

Dr Thomas Gibson was born at Bampton, near Shap.  He graduated from the University of Leiden in 1675 became the Physician General of Cromwell’s Army and went on to write The Anatomy of Human Bodies which drew extensively on other sources but which remained in print for many editions.  Little is known about his early life or indeed the death of his first wife.

Ann was Dorothy and Richard Cromwell’s sixth daughter – Oliver’s grand-daughter.  She died in 1727, aged 69.  Only her eldest sister Elizabeth was as long-lived amongst the girls in the family.  The other lasses died in infancy.  Ann, then, was born in 1659 while her father was  Lord Protector- it was a short-lived venture for him and led to his exile on the restoration of the Stuart monarchy.  His wife and family remained at home.  Richard’s letters to his daughter are written under cover of an alternative name always RC or CR and speak at his grief of not being with his family.

She was widowed early, and throughout the rest of her life she lived with her sister Elizabeth in respectable Presbyterian seclusion under the watchful eye of her husband’s nephew who became the Bishop of London.  The Bishop bequeathed £200 to Bampton Church.