North Riding of Yorkshire

Jervaulx Abbey, North Riding of Yorkshire

Cistercian Monks

Jervaulx Abbey is a Cistercian Abbey and is very unusual in that it is in private ownership rather than owned by an organisation such as English Heritage or the National Trust, who between them own the vast majority of England’s major ruining Abbeys and Priories.

The first Abbey, known as the Abbey of Fors, was founded about 8 miles west of here, but the site was just too inhospitable so after just six years Peter Quintain, a Cistercian Monk, was allowed to move the Abbey to its current site – the year  as 1156.

The Abbey grew over the next 400 years and became another of Yorkshire’s large monastic communities, along with the likes of Whitby, Fountains and Rievaulx. When the Dissolution arrived it was one of the richest Abbeys in the country.

Unusually, after the Dissolution, the Abbey seems to have been left to its own devices, no one rebuilt it as a mansion, it didn’t metamorphose into a parish church but seems to have just sat and slowly decayed. Little is known of its history until Thomas Brudenell Bruce, Earl of Ailesbury arrived here around 1804. He had the Abbey cleared and the decay stopped. The family owned it until 1887 when it passed to Lord Swinton of Masham and was given over to the Christie family. It was sold again in 1971 to the Burdon family who seem to have done little to keep the Abbey until 1982 when a Heritage Commission visited and condemned it as the “most dangerous place” in the UK and enforced closure.

Work began two years later to restore and conserve the Abbey and this work took 16 years to complete.

Something which sets Jervaulx apart from other similar ruined Abbeys is that when restoration began in the 1980s it was decided not to clear everything away and leave just the bare bones but to preserve a sense of aesthetic decay, to allow plants and animals to continue to live in and around the Abbey ruins. This does give the Abbey a very special feel, particularly out of season with mist or rain cloaking the valley and the ruins.

The Burdon family still own the Abbey but since the restoration work was undertaken have become passionate about preserving and presenting it to the public. There is now a very nice visitor centre, shop and café across the road making Jervaulx a great place to stop on any tour of this part of the country.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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