Virtual Historic Site Impressions: Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire

July 28, 2022

     After I visited the Harriet Tubman Historical National Park, I virtually went across the Atlantic Ocean to visit Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, England. I really enjoyed exploring the area and walking through what is left of the abbey. I was surprised to see at least one space that is shielded from the sun because the first impression of Fountains Abbey I had was there is no roof left. It would have been wonderful to see what it may have looked like fully intact. I can imagine it was just as beautiful as it is in its current state. I included a link to the virtual tour I attended in the list below. While I was exploring Fountains Abbey, I took the time to learn the history of this abbey.

The abbey was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York who were fed up with the extravagant and rowdy way that the monks lived in York and so they escaped seeking to live a devout and simple lifestyle. After three years, the monks were admitted to the Cistercian Order which was founded in 1098 by a group of monks in France. The monks at Fountains Abbey were introduced to the Cistercian system of lay brothers (laborers) to give monks more time to dedicate to God instead of spending time farming the land to get by. The Fountains Abbey became so wealthy with the help of the lay brothers through wool production, lead mining, cattle rearing, horse breeding, and stone quarrying. Unfortunately, bad harvests hit the monks hard, and they dealt with raids from Scots throughout the 14th century which led to an economic collapse. Things were made worse by the Black Death which struck the country in 1348. The Abbey remained important despite its financial problems.

    In 1539, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, ordered by Henry VIII, led to the Abbey abruptly closing down, and the abbot, prior, and monks were sent away with pensions. Demolition of the Abbey began in 1540. The estate was sold by the Crown to a merchant named Sir Richard Gresham, and stripped it of anything of value. Furnaces were built in the church to melt the lead from the roof and pipes; the fire was fed by timber from the screens and furnishings. The grounds surrounding the ruins of Fountains Abbey were landscaped during the 18th century. It remained in private hands until the 1960s. The National Trust bought the estate from the West Riding County Council in 1983. The Abbey and grounds are open to the public for tours, and the National Trust recommends spending the whole day on the property to be able to see everything during the visit.

     In addition to the ruins of Fountains Abbey, there is also Studley Royal water garden, which is home to the moon ponds, cascades, statues, follies, and wide views. Then there are Fountains Hall, Fountains Mill (the oldest building in the National Trust), the medieval deer park and St Mary’s Church (open 12-4pm, March to October). If one is looking for something to eat, then there are three different places across the site to choose from: the restaurant at the visitor center, the Studley Royal tea-room, and the Mill Café. The National Trust also has a minibus service in case people are tired after walking the grounds which runs between the three different entrances: the visitor center, Studley Royal, and West Gate. For more information, check out the links in the list below.

Thank you again for your patience as I finish this post!

Links:

http://www.360vista.eu/abbey/

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden/features/fountains-abbey

https://abbey.cistecian.org/history/the-cistercian-order/cistercian-beginnings/

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/fountains-abbey-3467

Biography of Sir Richard Gresham: https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/gresham-sir-richard-1486-1549

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden/features/your-day-at-fountains-abbey

Estate Map: download-the-estate-map.pdf (nt.global.ssl.fastly.net)

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