Joseph Mallord William Turner

St Bees: St Bega’s Priory and Pow Beck Bridge


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 116 × 185 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CX 35

Catalogue entry

For St Bees, see folio 34 of the sketchbook (D07576). The former priory originally founded by St Bega was partly ruined in Turner’s day and is seen here roofless; it was restored by William Butterfield later in the century. The bridge crosses Pow Beck and as Turner notes, bears the arms of Edmund Grindal, a native of St Bees who became Archbishop of Canterbury. Like St Bees School, the bridge was probably his gift to the town. The carved stone that Turner saw is now kept at the school and a modern replacement has been substituted on the bridge.
Turner may have been told of his patron Lord Egremont’s ancestral connection with the priory. According to legend the future St Bega, a shipwrecked Irish nun, asked the then Lord Egremont for land to build a monastery and was offered it only if it was covered in snow the next day, Midsummer’s Day. When the miracle duly occurred, she was granted her wish. St Bees School was soon to cause contention for Turner’s other Cumbrian patron, Lord Lonsdale, when the headmaster accused him of illegal mining under school land.

David Blayney Brown
August 2009

Read full Catalogue entry


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