Stanlow Abbey

Cistercian monks built an Abbey at Stanlow near the modern Port Sunlight.

Wikipedia gives some information at and gives the date of 1178 when it was founded. This conflicts with local dating of Deane Church as being founded in 1111 and the date of the mother church of Eccles. More research is needed.

A forum at makes some interesting reading.

Other links include

The Chester Antiquary

The following is an article from "The Chester Antiquary", the newsletter of the Chester Archaeological Society 2008 Issue 2 (Autumn/Winter)

Stanlaw Abbey

On a peninsula thrusting out into the River Mersey are the lost remains of this Cistercian Abbey. It was founded in 1172 by John Lacy, Baron of Halton and Constable of Chester, as an act of piety before setting off for a Crusade, in which he perished. The topography of the site has changed out of all recognition since then. It is now surrounded by industrial development and is out of bounds to the general public. Originally it was a remote spot, with no proper road access and the River Gowy flowing on both sides of the peninsula. It was only approachable at low tide along a trackway across the marsh from Ince. If you look at an OS map of the 1920s, you will see that there is no main road between Ellesmere Port and Helsby. Construction of the modern road and the M56 involved some very expensive civil engineering. Grazing the salt marsh was the local source of income, but the monastery gradually built up a portfolio of manors in Lancashire, such as Newton, Blackburn, Whalley and Rochdale. The Lacy family became the Earls of Lincoln and was very important in the national political arena. The Lacys were buried in the vaults of the abbey and attracted gifts from others, including pilgrims from other parts of Britain, who were rewarded with generous indulgences.

The Cistercians looked for remote places, which would tax their abilities, but after a century Stanlaw defeated them, mainly due to inundation by the sea, which damaged buildings and took away a large area of the saltmarsh. In 1279, a great storm flooded the abbey and also damaged the Dee Bridge at Chester. In 1287, the great tower was blown down and, in 1289, the abbey was almost destroyed by fire. Support came from the Bishop of Versailles, the Archbishop of Mountroyal and the Bishop of Bangor in special indulgences 'to all who should go to Stanlaw, to pray for the Earls of Lincoln and Constables of Chester there buried.' One of the special problems was that the crypt containing their remains was flooded and the lead coffins displaced.

In 1294, Henry Lacy, the last Earl of Lincoln and builder of Denbigh Castle, assisted them in the transfer to Whalley. This transfer was approved by Pope Nicholas. The contents of the Lacy family vault are recorded as being transferred to Whalley, although in the nineteenth century the sea broke open a vault containing bones and some lead coffins. The Cistercians continued to occupy the site as a grange until the dissolution. After the dissolution, it eventually fell into the hands of the Poole family, who had an estate based on Poole Hall located beneath Bowaters Paper Works.

I have twice visited the site. In 1950, a friend and I were taken by a member of the Society, Arthur Hughes, who supported young people interested in local history. He was on an extended leave from his very senior post in the Indian Civil Service. We were able to visit what is now known as Stanlow Point, which is controlled by the Manchester Ship Canal Company. He knew Stanlow very well because he spent some time there as a child, recuperating from an illness. The ship canal operates a ferry for residents on Stanlow Point and its workers, who maintain the Dock built in the1930s. At that time, Arthur Hughes' friends still lived in the farmhouse, which had some medieval stonework. There was also a substantial entrance to a medieval crypt. Modern police houses and fishing boats were moored in the mouth of the Gowy.

We were given permission to walk the far side of the ship canal and cross the locks at Eastham. This involved negotiating a very long wooden sluice, in a bad state of repair, known as the gantry, which adjusts the level of the ship canal. Further along was the mountain of spoil known as Mount Manisty, which was peppered with hundreds of rabbit holes.

My second visit, in the 1970s, with my industrial archaeology class, was a big disappointment. The farmhouse and the modern houses had been removed and it had become a nature reserve, an impenetrable forest of bramble bushes.

From time to time, the Ellesmere Port and Neston Council contacts the Society on planning issues and recently I had a discussion with them about the status of Stanlaw Abbey. I am pleased to report that it was surveyed by English Heritage in 1994 and I have a copy of the official description of the monument, which confirms what I saw. Sadly, it appears that there is no chance of an archaeological investigation because of security concerns and the fact that it is not threatened by any future industrial expansion.

Roy Coppack