Fountains Abbey North Yorkshire, England

Founded by Cistercian monks in 1132, this is the largest monastic ruin in Britain and part of a World Heritage Site. It has many interesting things to see in a beautiful natural setting.

Nave Looking East
David Joyal

Facts & Stats

Best Known As
Fountains Abbey
Full Name
Fountains Abbey
54.109685° N, 1.581495° W  (map)

Contact Info


Listed Building Description


9/38 Fountains Abbey, with ancillary buildings


Abbey Church, with precinct buildings, river walling and 2 bridges. Founded 1132, main building phases 1170-1247 and late C15 - early C16, by monks of the Cistercian Order. Freestone, with a dark fossiliferous limestone known as Nidderdale marble, and magnesian limestone.

Abbey Church: west Galilee Chapel, nave with north and south aisles, choir, transepts, north tower, presbytery and Chapel of the Nine Altars to east. Cloister south of nave: has on east side Chapter House, with monks dormitory to first floor; west side - a storehouse and lay brothers refectory, their dormitory above; south side - monks refectory flanked by warming house and kitchen. Buildings to south-east of the cloister include the Abbots house and the monks infirmary with its service buildings. To south-west, the lay brothers' reredorter and infirmary. The 2 infirmaries stand over tunnels carrying the canalised River Skell. The infirmary bridge crosses the river between the lay brothers' infirmary and the East and West Guest-houses. The mill bridge is further upstream linking the outer court with the Abbey Mill (qv).

Built in Romanesque and Early English style, Fountains is the best preserved of English abbeys and is the finest picturesque ruin. Among the architectural splendours are: the deeply-recessed elaborately-moulded, round-arched west door to the church and other late C12 doorways; the trefoil-headed recesses, now without attached columns, which line the nave and the chapel of the Nine Altars; Bishop Huby's Tower (1526), 55 metres high, of 5 stages with deeply-moulded plinth, massive angle buttresses, windows with varied heads, embattled parapet and decorated with inscriptions and statues in niches; the 3 elaborately-moulded arches of the Chapter House, which was one of the largest in the country; the central line of piers in the west cloister range from which ribs spring without capitals and which, with 22 double bays,is the largest building of its kind in Europe; the 2 warming house fireplaces with flat joggled arches; the guest houses, each with 2 floors of hall, chamber and privy and with early circular chimney stacks; and finally the late C12 bridge with 3 ribbed arches and triangular cutwaters, another rare survival.

Fountains Abbey developed as one of the most powerful religious houses in Yorkshire and the richest of its order in England. In November 1539 it surrendered to the King and eventually, in 1597 it passed to Stephen Proctor who built Fountains Hall (qv) c1611, probably using the stone from the monks infirmary for the purpose. The ruins passed through several hands until 1768 when they were sold to William Aislabie of Studley Royal, uniting the most ambitious garden scheme in the north of England with the most decorative of ruins. William Aislabie was responsible for 'tidying' the east end of the church, and building structures among the ruins, including a viewing platform in the east window (Walker). Ownership has since passed through the West Riding and North Yorkshire County Councils to the National Trust. The ruins are a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

R Gilyard-Beer, Fountains Abbey, 1970. N Pevsner, Yorkshire, York and The West Riding, 1977 pp 203-215. W St John Hope, Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire, 1900. W T C Walker, personal communications.

Listing NGR: SE2749468282

Further Resources

  1. Coppack, Glyn. Fountains Abbey: The Cistercians in Northern England.
  2. Greeves, Lydia. Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal (National Trust Guidebook).
  3. The National Heritage List for England: 1149811, /resultsingle.aspx?uid=1149811. Historic England.
  4. Official Website of Fountains Abbey. Official source.