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Published: April 26th 2017
My first trip to Fountains Abbey was a few years back. I was 11. It was a school trip. At that time, I was arguably more interested in what was in my lunchbox and who I ended up sitting next to. The Other Half has never been before, so we decided to take to have a detour from our normal routes back down south and paid a visit. Ripon Racecourse was being spruced up ready for the flat season and Ripon Cathedral was as dominant as ever. The rest of town was I had remembered. A traffic jam. We pressed on without even an opportunity of a photograph of the Cathedral. I turned off the Pateley Bridge into the grounds of Fountains Abbey.
If you search on the internet for Fountains Abbey, you will see it comes with the joint title of Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Garden. They are both National Trust properties and are now designated a World Heritage site. Fountains Abbey was obviously around a long time before the gardens. The valleys of North Yorkshire are awash with monastic ruins, as the clergy folk spread out from York to found their own little communities.
Rievaulx and Jervaulx are close by. Fountains Abbey was founded by Benedictine in 1132 by monks who left York to follow the Cistercian order. They didn’t account for Henry VIII having a disagreement with Rome 400 years on and the properties and land belonging to Fountains were sold off to the Gresham family. A Jacobean mansion was built by the next owner, but the Abbey buildings themselves fell into ruin. The Hall still stands, as does the 12th
century mill – apparently the oldest corn mill building left intact in the UK. The wheel itself mind is no longer and went AWOL when electricity was installed on the estate.
Studley Royal was a separate estate owned by the Mallory family. A family of politicians, a certain John Aislabie reached the giddy heights of Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1718 before fortunes changed. Aislabie was the chief sponsor of the South Sea Company. It sold stocks and shares in exclusive trade with South America. In retrospect, wiser individuals might have spotted the flaw with plan. Exclusive trade with a continent under the majority influence of Spain was never likely to such a profitable mission. The Company collapsed in
a heap with huge debts and the financial scandal that was the South Sea Bubble emerged. It was probably eclipsed by the Wall Street Crash, but a significant event in the day. The net result was that Aislabie was no longer Chancellor and retreated to his estates in North Yorkshire. He set about extending the gardens he started in 1718. After his death in 1742, his son William moved the project up a gear and extended the scheme. He recognised the beautiful vistas towards the Abbey ruins and made the addition of the ruins and Fountains Hall part of his plan. The South Sea Bubble clearly hadn’t taken too much of a toll on the family fortune. The result is considered England’s most important 18th
Century Water Garden.
The Water Gardens are full of statues, follies and even a mini Castle. The cascades and ornamental lakes draw the eye ever onwards towards the ultimate view to the Abbey ruins. The day was spoiled by a brisk wind, that rushed across the expanses of open water. On a good day, it is undoubtedly a pleasant place. We stopped for a cup of tea and sat outside regardless. The
estates passed down through the family, although quite how much time any of them spent there is questionable. The 1st
Marquess of Ripon was also Viceroy of India, whilst he was owner. It all eventually passed to the Vyner family in 1923. The portraits and photographs in Fountains Hall demonstrated how close they were to royalty, who were regular visitors.
There is no longer a Studley Hall or Royal House as it was known. It was in the north west corner of the estate. Fire destroyed it in 1946. We walked back over the hill towards the Choristers House and St Marys Church. St Marys was designed by William Burgess and commissioned by 1st
Marquess of Ripon in memory of Frederick Grantham Vyner. The Church was finished in 1878 and the stained glass is apparently a masterpiece. There was no time to view. Frederick Vyner was apparently murdered by “Greek bandits” and the funds used to build the Church came from the unspent ransom raised to free him. The Victorian Grand Tour clearly didn’t work out well for all those who could afford it!
I would add my normal Appendix 1, but alas there is no
record of a Monks X1 playing football at Fountains. Shame!
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