FURNESS, a district of Lancashire, England, separated from the major portion of the county by Morecambe Bay. It is bounded S.E. by this inlet of the Irish Sea, S.W. by the sea, W. by the Duddon estuary and Cumberland, and N. and E. by Westmorland. Its area is about 250 sq. m. It forms the greater part of the North Lonsdale parliamentary division of Lancashire, and contains the parliamentary borough of Barrow-in-Furness. The surface is almost entirely hilly. The northern half is included in the celebrated Lake District, and contains such eminences as the Old Man of Coniston and Wetherlam. Apart from the Duddon, which forms part of the western boundary, the principal rivers are the Leven and Crake, flowing southward into a common estuary in Morecambe Bay. The Leven drains Windermere and the Crake Coniston Lake. The usage of the term "Lake District," however, tends to limit the name of Furness in common thought to the district south of the Lakes, where several of the place-names are suffixed with that of the district, as Barrow-in-Farness, Dalton-in-Furness, Broughton-in-Furness. Between the Duddon and Morecambe Bay lies Walney Island, 8 m. in length, and in the shallow strait between it and the mainland are several smaller islands. That part of Furness which forms a peninsula between the Leven estuary and Morecambe Bay, and the Duddon estuary, is rich in hematite iron ore, which has been worked from very early times. It was known and smelted by British and Romans, and by the monks of Furness Abbey and Conishead Priory, both in the district. It was owing to the existence of this ore that the town of Barrow grew up in the 19th century; at first as a port from which the ore was exported to South Wales, while later furnaces were established on the spot, and acquired additional importance on the introduction of the Bessemer process, which requires a non-phosphoric ore such as is found here. The hematite is also worked at Ulverston, Askam, Dalton and elsewhere, but the furnaces now depend in part upon ore imported from Spain. The supposed extension of the ore under the sands of the Duddon estuary led to the construction of a sea wall to facilitate the working. The district is served by the main line of the Furness railway, from Carnforth (junction with the London & North-Western railway), passing the pleasant watering-place of Grange, and approximately following the coast by Ulverston, Dalton and Barrow, with branches to Lake Side, Windermere, and to Coniston.
Apart from its industrial importance and scenic attractions, Furness has an especial interest on account of its famous abbey. The ruins of this, beautifully situated in a wooded valley, are extensive, and mainly of fine transitional Norman and Early English date, acquiring additional picturesqueness from the warm colour of the red sandstone of which they are built. The abbey of Furness, otherwise Furdenesia or the further nese (promontory), which was dedicated to St Mary, was founded in 1127 by a small body of monks belonging to the Benedictine order of Savigny. In 1124 they had settled at Tulketh, near Preston, but migrated in 1127 to Furness under the auspices of Stephen, count of Boulogne, afterwards king, at that time lord of the liberty of Furness. In 1148 the brotherhood joined the Cistercian order. Stephen granted to the monks the lordship of Furness, and his charter was confirmed by Henry I., Henry II. and subsequent kings. The abbot's power throughout the lordship was almost absolute; he had a market and fair at Dalton, was free from service to the county and wapentake, and held a sheriff's tourn. By a succession of gifts the abbey became one of the richest in England and was the largest Cistercian foundation in the kingdom. At the Dissolution its revenues amounted to between £750 and £800 a year, exclusive of meadows, pastures, fisheries, mines, mills and salt works, and the wealth of the monks enabled them to practise a regal hospitality. The abbot was one of the twenty Cistercian abbots summoned to the parliament of 1264, but was not cited after 1330, as he did not hold of the king in capite per baroniam. The abbey founded several offshoot houses, one of the most important being Rushen Abbey in the Isle of Man. In 1535 the royal commissioners visited the abbey and reported four of its inmates, including the abbot, for incontinence. In 1536 the abbot was charged with complicity in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and on the 7th of April 1537, under compulsion, surrendered the abbey to the king. A few monks were granted pensions, and the abbot was endowed with the profits of the rectory of Dalton, valued at £33, 6s. 8d. per annum. In 1540 the estates and revenues were annexed by act of parliament to the Duchy of Lancaster. About James I.'s reign the site and territories were alienated to the Prestons of Preston-Patrick, from whom they descended to the dukes of Devonshire.
Conishead Priory, near Ulverston, an Augustinian foundation of the reign of Henry II., has left no remains, but of the priory of Cartmel (1188) the fine church is still in use. It is a cruciform structure of transitional Norman and later dates, its central tower having the upper storey set diagonally upon the lower. The chancel contains some superb Jacobean carved oak screens, with stalls of earlier date.