Studley Royal & Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire

Studley Royal, North Yorkshire

The Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden in North Yorkshire, England, are now a World Heritage Site and a Grade I listed building, owned by the National Trust.

Fountains Abbey was a Cistercian monastery, founded in A.D. 1132. The abbey ceased to function after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. After the Dissolution, there was a hope that the Abbey might become the cathedral for a new Dales bishopric. This did not happen, and by 1540 glass and lead from the dismantling of Fountains had found their way to Ripon and York. The Abbey buildings and 500 acres of land were sold on October 1, 1540 by the Crown to Sir Richard Gresham, a London merchant. The property passed through several generations of Sir Richard's family, before being sold to Stephen Proctor who built Fountains Hall probably between 1598 and 1604

Then the abbey passed through several hands until it came into the possession of the Messenger family. In 1767 it was sold for £18,000 to William Aislabie, who landscaped the abbey ruins as a picturesque folly to be viewed from the Water Garden. Further excavations took place under the ownerships of the Earl de Grey and the first Marquis of Ripon. In 1966 the estate was sold to the County Council and in 1983 the ownership of the estate passed in perpetuity to the National Trust. English Heritage carry out conservation work on the Abbey and Monastic Mill.

John Aislabie inherited the Studley estate in 1693. A politically ambitious man, he first became the Tory Member of Parliament for Ripon in 1695 and in 1718 became Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1720 Aislabie was a principal sponsor of the South Sea Company scheme, the bill in Parliament was promoted by him personally. After this collapsed (the South Sea Bubble), he was expelled from Parliament and disqualified for life from public office.

Aislabie returned to Yorkshire and created the gardens. After his death in 1742, his son William extended his scheme by purchasing the remains of the Abbey. Between them, the two created what is arguably England's most important 18th century Water Garden.

Fountains Abbey North Yorkshire

Fountains Abbey

A Cistercian foundation built in 1132. a small group of monks broke away from the Benedictine abbey of St Mary's in York to follow a stricter rule. After three years of difficulties, the small monastic community at Fountains were helped by the arrival of Hugh, the ex-Dean of York (Hugh), who provided the money to build the large abbey.

The original construction, would have been austere and fairly simple. A continual re-building programme over the next 400 years added elaborate architecture to the basic monastic complex. The monastery was dissolved in 1539.

Happily on account of its remote location in the valley of the River Skell, the ruins have survived. Fountains Abbey church survives to almost full height, including the 170 foot tower built c.1500, above the north transept. An unusual architectural feature of Fountains Abbey is the additional transept built at the eastern end of the presbytery, called the Chapel of Nine Altars, is found with only one other in England, Durham Cathedral.

A vaulted cellarium over 300 ft long along the west side survives almost completely.

Water Garden

The Water Garden, with its formal, geometric design and its wonderful vistas, was inspired by the work of French landscape gardeners. However the only professional advice John Aislabie received was from the Palladian architect, Colen Campbell. His gardener William Fisher an estate employee, and the garden works were carried out by local labour under the direction of local man John Simpson, who was later succeeded in 1728 by the master mason Robert Doe from London.

Fountains Hall

Fountains Hall was built by Stephen Proctor between 1598 and 1604, partly with stone from the Abbey ruins, and has been attributed to the influence of the Elizabethan architect Robert Smythson. Once sold to William Aislabie (who then owned the neighbouring Studley Royal Estate) 150 years later, the Hall became redundant since the entire estate of Fountains and Studley was administered from Studley Royal House in the Deer Park (this was burnt to the ground in 1946). Fountains Hall was leased to various tenants and at one time parts of it were used for farm storage.

It was not until 1928-31 that the Hall was repaired. The Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) often stayed there as guests of the Vyner family, who then owned Studley Royal.

During the Second World War, the Hall and other buildings on the estate were used to house evacuees, including pupils of Queen Ethelburga's School near York. After the war, the Hall again fell into a state of dilapidation.

The National Trust acquired the Fountains Estate from North Yorkshire County Council in 1983 and has been undertaking restoration work on the Hall since then. Fountains Hall is a Grade I listed building.

Temple of Piety

The Temple of Piety, probably started in 1729-30 as a dedication to Hercules, is a perfect example of neo-Classicism and was later re-designed as a symbol of filial piety by William Aislabie soon after his father's death in 1742.

The Banqueting House

A deliberately rustic building probably designed by Colen Campbell, was originally envisaged as an orangery, but later embellished and fitted out for the purposes its name suggests.

Octagon Tower

The High Ride on the east side of the valley gives magnificent views of the Water Garden. The Octagon Tower was built in 1738. Nearby are the reconstructed remains of Aislabie's Kitchen, a romantic spot thought to be where food and drink was prepared for consumption by guests at the Octagon Tower.

Temple of Fame

Further along is the Temple of Fame, a rotunda built around 1770. At the end of the High Ride is Anne Boleyn's Seat where there was a statue of Henry VIII's queen. The statue still exists, although not currently on display to the public.

The Moon Pond,

The Moon Pond with its crescent basins, houses three lead statues - Bacchus, Galen and Neptune. Other features of the Garden include the Serpentine Tunnel, the Rustic Bridge, Grotto, Half Moon Pond, cascades, canal, Fishing Tabernacles, Drum Fall and the Seven Bridges Valley in the Deer Park.

St Mary's Church

The Anglican church was by the architect William Burges. It was built for the first Marquis of Ripon, and has a highly decorated interior characteristic of the Victorian period. The Marquis, who had succeeded to the estate in 1859, was a successful politician and Viceroy of India in 1880-1884. A deeply religious man, he disliked Renaissance architecture. St Mary's Church is owned by English Heritage and managed by The National Trust.

Studley Royal House

The Deer Park once enclosed Studley Royal House, but Studley Royal House was largely destroyed by fire in December 1716 and had to be almost entirely rebuilt. This replacement building, was, in turn, extensively damaged by fire in 1946 and was demolished soon afterwards. Only the large stable block, built between 1728-1732, has survived, and is now a private house.

The Studley Royal Estate was a separate estate from Fountains Abbey until 1767. William Aislabie purchased the Abbey ruins in 1767 and landscaped the Seven Bridges Valley and Abbey grounds.

The Deer Park

The Park is the oldest feature of the Studley estate and was already well established when John Aislabie came into his inheritance. The 360 acre park is still grazed today by 500 Red, Sika and Fallow deer. Studley Royal Deer Park has had many uses since medieval times. There are traces of Middle Age settlements and the remains of the ice-houses that were built for Studley Royal House. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Marquess of Ripon created a golf-course which the Harry Vardon played on when he lived on the edge of the estate. The park was also used during the Second World War - the grassland was turned over to food production and the main avenue was a major assembly point for troops on their way south for the Normandy landings in 1944.

Now a National Trust property, Fountains Abbey is maintained by English Heritage, while being owned by the National Trust. The Abbey is immediately adjacent to another National Trust property, Studley Royal Water Garden, with which it is jointly marketed. The Trust also owns Fountains Hall, to which there is partial public access.

Studley Royal - National Trust

Fountains Abbey Estate


World Heritage Sites in Britain