West Riding of Yorkshire

Kirkstall Abbey, West Riding of Yorkshire

Cistercian Monks

Henry de Lacy was suffering from a serious illness. He vowed to found an Abbey dedicated to the Virgin Mary should he survive. Survive he did, and so he gave the Abbot of Fountains Abbey land at Barnoldswick in Lancashire. Thirteen monks left Fountains and set up an Abbey at Barnoldswick for the Cistercians.

They stayed here for six years, but found it too inhospitable and so Abbot Alexander set about finding a new place for their Abbey to move. He selected a site in the wooded Aire valley and sought help from de Lacy to pay for the new foundation. De Lacy bought the land from William de Poitou and the monks moved from Barnoldswick and set up Kirkstall Abbey.

Almost all of the buildings that stand today were constructed between 1152 and the death of Abbot Alexander in 1182. It became a medium sized Abbey and served the small communities up and down Airedale, the closest being the small village of Loidis which has grown somewhat and is today Leeds – the city that now surrounds Kirkstall Abbey.

The Dissolution arrived in 1539 and the land was sold to various families all of whom helped themselves to bits and pieces of stonework – a good deal of which can be found on other buildings throughout Leeds. However, enough remains of the Abbey to give a very good indication of its size and power.

By the 18th Century the ruins were already a tourist attraction and amongst the many attracted here was J.M.W. Turner who painted the ruins. In 1889 the Abbey was sold to Colonel John North who presented it to Leeds City Council. They restored it and opened it to the public in 1895 – it has been open to the public ever since.

There is a small onsite museum and a visitor centre and today Kirkstall Abbey and its surrounding grounds are one of the best open spaces in Leeds.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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