Drove past our beautiful Furness Abbey today-its looking a bit bedraggled and careworn these days I'm afraid. Following the 2 digs conducted by Oxford Archaeology North and the addition of the huge metal support to hold up the abbey church-due to the oak rafts upon which it is built, sinking and becoming compromised. I notice now another company of archaeologists who have begun work near the sedilia and yet another support has been erected.
The work is essential and is undoubtedly a drain on the resources of English Heritage, but I do wonder why they don't turn this into a selling point. For many years the abbey has been a hidden gem, worthy of far more notice than it is currently afforded and it is apparent that it is never going to have the profile of say, Fountains Abbey. The argument which EH pose is that it is off the beaten track and only attract 10,000 visitors a year-half of whom do not pay because they are residents of Barrow. Many more come and view the abbey over the fence, where with digital cameras they can zoom in on a good portion of the abbey without ever entering. It dismays me however, that when they have invested many thousands of pounds in properties like Dover castle-renovating and creating exactly the internal decor and furniture using bespoke craftsmen, or redeveloping gardens which have become disused or overgrown. Great ideas indeed to encourage an interest in the past and our heritage-but why not a similar approach to our abbey? Maybe because we are not in the south? Or is that too cynical? Yes-we are off the beaten track-so what? Dalton zoo is in the same position yet with sensible and thoughtful marketing David Gill attracts thousands of visitors.
When the report of the digs which have been undertaken are released to the public-should this not herald a fanfare and huge publicity campaign? Visitors would flock to see the interesting finds-some of which may be remarkable and especially as the abbey is under threat from the subsidence issues. However, if the finds are reported quietly, displayed briefly and then hidden away in EH's archives at York then all will be lost! We need as an interested public-particularly locally to lobby them and ensure that this does not happen. OAN are reporting on the finds on 3 March at Lancaster University-unfortunately I am unable to attend due to work commitments but I would encourage anyone to go-it will be amazing.
Some like minded friends are joining me soon to set up a "friends" of Furness Abbey to see if we can help in any way-with some creative thinking and a little leap of faith we could make the abbey a popular and lucrative tourist venue. I will post details soon