Calder Abbey, at Calderbridge in Cumbria, was a Savigniac monastery founded in 1134 by Ranulph de Gernon. The Abbey was home to twelve monks from Furness Abbey under the abbot Gerold.
Only four years later, in the midst of the political instability following the death of Henry I, David King of Scots sent Scottish raiders under William Fitz Duncan to raid the northern English counties. Calder Abbey was one of the victims. The Scots raided the Abbey and drove out the monks. This, and the poor endowment, led the monks to abandon the site, and they sought sanctuary at Furness Abbey.
A second attempt at colonisation of the Abbey was made from Furness in about 1142 under Abbot Hardred, and this time they had the protection of Fitz Duncan. The Sauvigniac order became Cisterian in 1148 when the two orders were amalgamated, and Calder likewise was obliged to follow.
By 1180 a stone church had been built of which the west door is the main survivor today. Most of the rest of building was rebuilt in 1220 in the early English style by Thomas de Multon of Egremont. At the Dissolution, the only recorded relic in the monastery’s possession was that of a girdle claimed to have belonged to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The girdle was supposed to be efficacious to women in childbirth.
At the Dissolution Henry VIII gave the abbey to Sir Thomas Leigh, who pulled off the roof and sold it and anything else he could and reduced the church to a ruin. Ownership passed through many secular hands, in which it still remains.
Much of the cloister buildings remain either incorporated into Calder Abbey House, now a largely early-nineteenth century structure that is still a private residence, or in adjoining ruins, such as the chapter house. It is now a picturesque ruin, no doubt retained by early residents of the newly formed mansion as an ornamental feature.
Little on record has been found about the history of the abbey church or precincts. J. Denton was of opinion that the abbey ‘was not perfected till Thomas de Multon finished the works and established a greater convent of monks there.’ In 1361 Bishop Welton issued a licence with indulgence to a monk of that house to collect alms in his diocese for the fabric of the monastery.
It cannot be said that Calder was ever a rich house. In 1292 its temporalities were valued at £32 a year, and in 1535 the gross revenues of the abbey amounted only to £64 3s. 9d., which, after deducting certain outgoings, was reduced to the clear annual income of £50 9s. 3d.
The Abbots of Calder do not often appear in the public life of the country. They occasionally come into notice when applying for royal protection to go beyond the sea on the business of their house or to attend the general chapters of the Cistercian Order. In the fourteenth century they were sometimes employed in the collection of ecclesiastical subsidies.
- The Abbey and grounds are private, and not open to the public.