7 July 2016
Fountain Abbey, is such an amazing place it gets a page all to itself. the photos here are from our first trip mainly but also from the second trip with Sue who also wanted to see it, Ross and I were happy for another visit. We used the courtesy bus this time, and leaving Ross in the café drinking a few beers, Sue and I ventured off. I was the tour guide remembering all I had been told on our previous visit, how it had been set up by a breakaway group of monks who were fed up with the way the monks of the day were living and wanted to go back to the more austere ways. How they nearly died out in the first year and then a rich noble man joined them buying up more land and the water mill from which they made a living. The abbey when thrived housing up to 650 friars and lay brothers (were the word Labourers comes from as the lay brothers did all the work). The Abbey was abandoned when Henry VIII broke from the church. The Abbot and the Friars left to go to the continent. Henry got the land but it slowly fell in to ruins and was bought by a local family who used some of the abbey stones to build a new house, they made wonderful gardens and the Abbey became the “folly” down the road from the house.
After lunch we went to St Mary's Church.
The religious fervour of the Victorians is displayed in the richly decorated high Anglican church of St Mary’s a religious masterpiece of architect William Burges.
The richly decorated Victorian Gothic church was commissioned in 1870 by the first Marquess and Marchioness of Ripon to commemorate the Marchioness’ brother who had been allegedly murdered in Greece.
The Marquess of Ripon spent a fortune on it and it is a beautiful church to this day with a gold door to the rector’s rooms. The Marquee became a Catholic during the building of the church but finished it for his wife.
I have over a hundred Photos so I have made a few galleries to highlight the different areas. The grounds contains the Abbey, a church, lots of land, and the Studley Royal water Gardens and lots more.
From humble beginnings the magnificent abbey was established by devout monks seeking a simpler existence. The atmospheric ruins that remain are a window into a way of life which shaped the medieval world.
When the socially ambitious John Aislabie inherited Studley Royal, he set about creating an elegant water garden of mirror-like ponds, statues and follies, incorporating the romantic ruins into his design.
Green lawns stretch down to the riverside, a perfect spot for a picnic. Riverside paths lead to the deer park, home to Red, Fallow and Sika deer and ancient trees; limes, oaks, and sweet chestnuts.
One-of-a-kind, this special place is now recognised as a World Heritage Site.
The Abbey’s Beginnings
The abbey was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York. They'd grown fed up of the extravagant and rowdy way that the monks lived in York and so they escaped seeking to live a devout and simple lifestyle elsewhere. This was how they came to Fountains.
By the time three years had passed the monks had become settled into their new way of life and had been admitted to the austere Cistercian Order and with that came an important development – the introduction of the Cistercian system of lay brothers.
Introduction of the lay brothers
The lay brothers (what we would now call labourer) relieved the monks from routine jobs, giving them more time to dedicate to God rather than farming the land to get by. It was because of the help of the lay brothers that Fountains became so wealthy through wool production, lead mining, cattle rearing, horse breeding and stone quarrying.
""Idleness is the enemy of the soul. For this reason the brethren should be occupied at certain times in manual labour and at other times in sacred reading."
- From St Benedicts Rule
It wasn’t all plain sailing
Bad harvests hit the monks hard and they also had to deal with raids from the Scots throughout the 14th-century, which led to economic collapse. This was only made worse by the Black Death which struck the country in 1348.
Despite its financial problems, the Abbey remained important. The abbacy of Marmaduke Huby (1495 - 1526) marked a period of revival and the great tower built by Huby symbolises his hope for the Abbey’s future.
The Abbey was abruptly closed down in 1539 in the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by Henry VIII, and the abbot, prior and monks were sent away with pensions.
Fountains Abbey today
The estate was sold by the Crown to a merchant, Sir Richard Gresham. It remained in private hands until the 1960s, including William and John Aislabie who designed Studley Royal water garden.
Studley Royal water garden is the result of a breath-taking vision from John Aislabie and his son William. These tranquil but playful gardens continue to delight all these years later. Recognised as a site of cultural importance, they were granted World Heritage Status in 1986 for everybody to enjoy.
In the early 18th-century John Aislabie had great plans to impress visitors to his Yorkshire estate and so turned the wild and wooded valley of the river Skell into one of England’s most spectacular Georgian water gardens.
John Aislabie inherited the Studley Royal estate in 1693. He was a socially and politically ambitious man and became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1718. Disaster struck his career in 1720 due to his part in the South Sea Bubble financial scandal and he was expelled from Parliament. It was then that John returned to Yorkshire and devoted himself to creating this ground-breaking garden.
Inspired by the work of the great French landscape gardeners, the two gifted amateurs created the Water Garden with its formal, geometric design and extraordinary vistas; including the much photographed Temple of Piety. Classical statues, follies and garden buildings are carefully positioned within the landscape to discover and enjoy.
In 1767 William Aislabie purchased the Abbey ruins to complete the garden and create the ultimate vista. The climax of the garden is known as “The Surprise View” or “Anne Boleyn’s Seat”. “Surprise View” is an apt name as it gives an astonishing view of the Abbey ruins in the distance and was designed to cause a sharp intake of breath when visitors to the garden came across it.
Amazingly the garden you see today is little changed from the one that would have impressed Aislabie's visitors 200 years ago.
The Porter's Lodge sits on the edge of the west green overlooking the Abbey. Important visitors to the Abbey would have passed through the gatehouse and local poor people would have gathered outside the gates waiting for free food from the monks (alms for the poor).