Monastic Origins

Furness Abbey (a Cistercian order) establishes a small dwelling on site and leased it to charcoal burners for use in iron-smelting.

The Abbey of St Mary of Furness, the ruins of which can be visited near Barrow-in-Furness was founded in 1123 and occupied by the Order of Savigny and then the Cistercians, under whom the Abbey became the second richest monastry in England. The Abbey quickly became the predominant landowner in Low Furness and the Furness Fells.

Both Lawson Park and sister farm Park-a-moor were ‘emparked’ (an early term for establishing a boundary for the purposes of agriculture or industry) by Furness Abbey in 1338, forming part of a small chain of uplands farms. It is likely that the first building on the site remains somewhere amongst the present-day buildings, which show evidence of being added to and developed throughout their 700 year lifespan.

Furness Abbey was by then a centre of business enterprise, controlling a large and well organised estate spread over a wide geographical area.

With the enclosures of these rough fell pastures, the monks of Furness began the conversion of what remained of the natural vegetation on their land to sheep husbandry and enclosed coppice woodlands. Their conversion of large tracts of wooded land around Coniston Water into sheep pasture progressed hand in hand with the production of charcoal for the thriving iron ore industry. This change of use would have greatly altered both the local vegetation and wild animal communities, which at that time would have included the wild boar whose old Norse name, grisse, is the basis for the name Grizedale.
The Cistercians acquired a great wealth and influence here despite what one ancient writer noted:
‘there was neither soil to grow crops nor sun to ripen them’
Their prosperity spread through the whole rural economy. Instead of a mode of life in which a man maintained flocks and herds sufficient only for his own needs, a new system arose in which for the first time large-scale economic exploitation of the uplands was possible.

Both Lawson Park and Park-a-moor and related lands were sold off at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537 under the radical reforms of Henry V111. As the farms relied on the uniquely hardy Herdwick sheep (still ubiquitous in today’s Lake District), farm buildings had to be sold with their livestock, as the breed’s territorial instinct meant they always attempted to return to their heafs (territory):

‘The name Herdwyck was originally applied, in monastic times, not to the breed of sheep but to the type of sheep farm, such as Lawson Park, in which the farm and sheep were let together to a tenant….”

Interestingly, it is said anecdotally that the overly-massive black beams used for construction in the main part of Lawson Park may date from England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada in the 16th century, when ships were broken up and their materials landed around England’s coastline. In fact, the beams’ cuts and marks may more likely be attributed to the re-use and reconfiguration of building materials that would have been inevitable on an impoverished hillfarm.