From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present
Fountains Abbey
North Yorkshire
54° 6' 42" N 1° 34' 55" W

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Fountains Abbey is located close to Ripon in North Yorkshire. It is a grade I listed Cistercian Abbey which was founded in 1132 and survived until the dissolution in 1539. Now owned by the National Trust it sits in a picturesque valley in the grounds of the Studley Royal Water Gardens.

A dispute at St Marys Abbey in York, a Benedictine house, saw thirteen monks exiled after causing a riot in an unsuccessful attempt at returning to earlier way, the rule of St Benedict from the 6th century. They were taken into the protection of the Archbishop of York who provided them with land to build a new monastery. The land was a small valley called Skeldale with the river Skell running through, it was sheltered and provided enough raw materials to build and maintain a monastery.

Fountains Abbey was founded in 1132 at the valley and in 1133 they applied to join the Cistercian order. It became the second Cistercian abbey built in the north of England and when complete, it rivaled the grandeur of Rievaulx Abbey and became the largest and richest abbey of the north. The early years of the abbey were fraught with severe hardships and almost disbanded but with the timely arrival of a few wealthy individuals helped to secure Fountains Abbey fortunes.

The abbey was built from stone quarried form the valley. As with most abbeys it had many additions and alterations over its 400 year life span.

Fountains Abbey shaped the surrounding area and had many properties else where. It also played a prominent role in political, ecclesiastical and Cistercian affairs. The poor were regularly helped, but the abbey played a prominent role in the famine of 1194-6 that affected most of England and Europe.

The 1290's saw financial problems but the abbey came through and recovered to become even more wealthy. By the mid 13th century the abbey owned lead mines, stone quarries and foundries smelting iron. Horse breading was another profitable business run by the abbey.

The Scots raided the abbey in the early 14th century, harvests failed and the black death took its toll as well as financial mismanagement. The community of lay brothers were reduced and land was leased to tenant farmers. Dairy farming replaced sheep farming in the 15th century. Towards the end of the 15th century recovery was on its way. Early in the 16th century the abbey flourished but it was not to last long.

The dissolution in 1539 saw the considerable assets stripped and the end of abbey life. The buildings stood empty for a while as it was hoped the abbey would become a Cathedral. This was a short lived hope, the abbey was sold to Sir Richard Gresham who the sold it to Stephen Proctor who them built Fountains Hall. The glass from the abbey was removed and found its way to York and Ripon.

After passing through various hands, the abbey finally came to be owned by William Aislabie who landscaped the ruins to become a folly, views from the Water Gardens.

The abbey mill survives almost intact and is the oldest complete Cistercian water mill in the country. Excavations at the abbey have uncovered the remains of the first timber buildings thought to have been erected in 1134.

Today Fountains is owned by the National Trust and is jointly run with English Heritage.