A Visit to Fountains Abbey

25th April 2013
Fountains Abbey

The Abbey taken from where the abbots house once stood

If you have an interest in photographing old buildings or churches you could do worse than a visit to Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire. There are also gardens and a lake, a deer park and Dippers on the River Skell.

In my opinion it is well worth visiting and will keep you occupied for a few hours, may challenge your photographic skills and perhaps allow you to try something different.

The Abbey – A Brief History

Shows the western facade, great west door, great west window and the west range

The Abbey was founded in 1132 and operated for over 400 years, until 1539, when Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries.
Construction began in 1132 when a two-storey wooden church was built. A church built with locally quarried sandstone later replaced it. In 1146 the original cruciform, un-aisled stone church was badly damaged by fire and rebuilt in an enlarged form on the same site.
This structure, completed around 1170, was 300-foot (91 m) long and had 11 bays in the side aisles.

The south aisle looking east

A lantern tower was added at the crossing of the church in the late 12th century. The presbytery at the eastern end of the church was much altered in the 13th century. The church's greatly lengthened choir, commenced by Abbot John of York, 1203–11, and carried on by his successor terminates, like that of Durham Cathedral, in an eastern transept.

The 160-foot (49 m) tall tower, which was added not long before the dissolution, by Abbot Huby, 1494–1526, is in an unusual position at the northern end of the north transept and bears Hubys’ motto 'Soli Deo Honor et Gloria'.

Shows the north tower

The cloister, which had arcading of black marble from Nidderdale and white sandstone, is in the centre of the precinct and to the south of the church. The three-aisled chapter-house and parlour open from the eastern walk of the cloister and the refectory, with the kitchen and buttery attached, are at right angles to its southern walk. Parallel with the western walk is an immense vaulted substructure serving as cellars and store-rooms, which supported the dormitory of the lay brothers above.

The magnificent west range used by the lay brothers

These buildings extended across the river and at its southwest corner were the latrines, built above the swiftly flowing River Skell. The monks' dormitory was in its usual position above the chapter-house, to the south of the transept. Peculiarities of this arrangement include the position of the kitchen, between the refectory and calefactory, and of the infirmary above the river to the west, adjoining the guest-houses.

Dipper on the River Skell

After the dissolution of the monasteries the Abbey buildings and over 500 acres (200 ha) of land were sold by the Crown, on 1 October 1540, to Sir Richard Gresham, a London merchant, After a few more owners it was sold to William Aislaby who was responsible for combining it with the Studley Royal Estate.

In 1966 the Abbey was placed in the guardianship of the Department of the Environment and the estate was purchased by the West Riding County Council who transferred ownership to the North Yorkshire County Council in 1974. The National Trust bought the 674-acre (273 ha) Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal estate from North Yorkshire County Council in 1983.

In 1986 the parkland in which the abbey is situated and the abbey was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It was recognised for fulfilling the criteria of:

View taken from the south around the area of the cloister passage

“being a masterpiece of human creative genius, and an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stages in human history”.


Three miles south west of Ripon in North Yorkshire, England

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