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Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Abbey from the east
State Party Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Type Cultural
Criteria i, iv
Reference 372
Region** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1986  (10th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Fountains Abbey is near to Aldfield, approximately two miles southwest of Ripon in North Yorkshire, England. It is a ruined Cistercian monastery, founded in 1132. Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and best preserved Cistercian houses in England. It is a Grade I listed building and owned by the National Trust. Along with the adjacent Studley Royal Water Garden, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Fountains Abbey was founded in 1132 following a dispute and riot at St Mary's Abbey in York. Following the riot, thirteen monks were exiled and after unsuccessfully attempting to return to the early 6th century Rule of St Benedict, were taken into the protection of Thurstan, Archbishop of York. He provided them with a site in the valley of the River Skell. The enclosed valley had all the required materials for the creation of a monastery, providing shelter from the weather, stone and timber for building, and a running supply of water.[1] The monks applied to join the Cistercian order in 1132.

The abbey operated for over 400 years, until 1539, when Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The Abbey buildings and over 500 acres (2 km²) of land were then sold by the Crown, on 1 October 1540 [1], to Sir Richard Gresham, the London merchant, father of the founder of the Royal Exchange, Sir Thomas Gresham.[1]

OMD filmed the video for their 1982 single, Maid of Orleans at Fountains Abbey in December 1981.


Interior looking down the nave

Construction of the Abbey began in 1132, with rock quarried locally, although the original monastery buildings received considerable additions and alterations in the later period of the order, causing deviations from the strict Cistercian type. The church stands a short distance to the north of the River Skell, the buildings of the abbey stretching down to and across the stream. The cloister is to the south, with the three-aisled chapter-house and calefactory opening from its eastern walk, and the refectory, with the kitchen and buttery attached, at right angles to its southern walk.

Parallel with the western walk is an immense vaulted substructure, incorrectly styled the cloisters, serving as cellars and store-rooms, and supporting the dormitory of the conversi (lay brothers) above. This building extended across the river. At its southwest corner were the necessaries, also built, as usual, above the swiftly flowing stream. The monks' dormitory was in its usual position above the chapter-house, to the south of the transept.

Peculiarities of arrangement include the position of the kitchen, between the refectory and calefactory, and of the infirmary (unless there is some error in its designation) above the river to the west, adjoining the guest-houses. In addition, there is a greatly lengthened choir, commenced by Abbot John of York, 1203–11, and carried on by his successor, terminating, like Durham Cathedral, in an eastern transept, the work of Abbot John of Kent, 1220–47, and to the tower, added not long before the dissolution by Abbot Huby, 1494–1526, in a very unusual position at the northern end of the north transept.

Among other apartments, for the designation of which see the ground-plan, was a domestic oratory or chapel, 46½ ft by 23 ft, and a kitchen, 50 ft by 38 ft.

St Mary's Church (built c. 1873), designed by William Burges is nearby.

National Trust property

Fountains Abbey is maintained by English Heritage, and owned by the National Trust. It is immediately adjacent to another National Trust property, Studley Royal Park, with which it is jointly marketed. The Trust also owns Fountains Hall, to which there is partial public access.


View of Fountains Abbey looking from east to south.


  1. ^ a b History of the Abbey at the National Trust website, URL accessed 25 August 2008

See also

External links

Coordinates: 54°6′42″N 1°34′55″W / 54.11167°N 1.58194°W / 54.11167; -1.58194


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

FOUNTAINS ABBEY, one of the most celebrated ecclesiastical ruins in England. It lies in the sequestered valley of the river Skell, 3 m. S.W. of the city of Ripon in Yorkshire. The situation is most beautiful. The little Skell descends from the uplands of Pateley Moor to the west a clear swift stream, traversing a valley clothed with woods, conspicuous among which are some ancient yew trees which may have sheltered the monks who first sought retreat here. Steep rocky hills enclose the vale. Mainly on the north side of the stream, in an open glade, rise the picturesque and extensive ruins, the church with its stately tower, and the numerous remnants of domestic buildings which enable the great abbey to be almost completely reconstructed in the mind. The arrangements are typical of a Cistercian house (see Abbey). Building began in earnest about 1135, and was continued steadily until the middle of the 13th century, after which the only important erection was Abbot Huby's tower (c. 1 500). The demesne of Studley Royal (marquess of Ripon) contains the ruins. It is in part laid out in the formal Dutch style, the work of John Aislabie, lord of the manor in the early part of the 18th century. Near the abbey is the picturesque Jacobean mansion of Fountains Hall.

In 1132 the prior and twelve monks of St Mary's abbey, York, being dissatisfied with the easy life they were living, left the monastery and with the assistance of Thurstan, archbishop of York, founded a house in the valley of the Skell, where they adopted the Cistercian rule. While building their monastery the monks are said to have lived at first under an elm and then under seven yew trees called the Seven Sisters. Two years later they were joined by Hugh, dean of St Peter's, York, who brought with him a large sum of money and a valuable collection of books. His example was followed by Serlo, a monk of St Mary's abbey, York, and by Tosti, a canon of York, and others. Henry I. and succeeding sovereigns granted them many privileges. During the reign of Edward I. the monks appear to have again suffered from poverty, partly no doubt owing to the invasion of the Scots, but partly also through their own "misconduct and extravagance." On account of this Edward I. in 1291 appointed John de Berwick custodian of the abbey so that he might pay their debts from the issues of their estates, allowing them enough for their maintenance, and Edward II. in 1319 granted them exemption from taxes. After the Dissolution Henry VIII. sold the manor and site of the monastery to Sir Richard Gresham, and from him after passing through several families it came to the marquess of Ripon.

See Victoria County History, Yorkshire; Dugdale, Monasticon; Surtees Society, Memorials of the Abbey of St Mary of Fountains, collected and edited by J. R. Walbran (1863-78).

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