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Fountains Abbey Fountains Abbey, with Ancillary Buildings
Lindrick with Studley Royal and Fountains
England  country
United Kingdom  country
Europe  continent
Main date(s)
54.109685° N, 1.581495° W
OS Grid Reference
SE 27487 68285

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

Source: The National Heritage List for England. Reprinted under license.

Description of Fountains Abbey

Visitors approach Fountains Abbey from the west, which provides a fine vista across the Abbey Green to the abbey church and west range. The small River Skell runs picturesquely along the right side of the site; it provided an important water source to the abbey. A variety of monastery buildings cluster around the south side of the church. Behind the abbey to the east lie the extensive grounds of Studley Royal Park.

Construction on the abbey church began in 1135. Now carpeted with grass and open to the sky, this ruined medieval church is among the most atmospheric sights in England. The oldest part is everything west of the transept, including the long nave with large cylindrical pillars and round Romanesque arches. The west front has a small central portal topped by a large window.

In the early 13th century, the original chevet (east end) was replaced with a five-bay choir and another transept dubbed the Chapel of the Nine Altars. In 1483, the three openings in the east wall were replaced with the single large window seen today.

The large tower attached to the north transept dates from the abbacy of Marmaduke Huby (1494-1526). It has four stories and rises 50 meters high. It is an incongruous addition to the abbey, as original Cistercian principles forbade such ostentatious towers.

An added bonus to the interesting ruins of Fountains Abbey is the adjacent 18th-century landscape garden of Studley Royal, one of the few surviving examples. Its spacious man-made landscape incorporates several ponds, ornamental monuments, follies, and carefully designed vistas.

Holly Hayes
October 9, 2011

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