Saturday, 16 May 2009

Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey
Nr Helmsley
North Yorkshire

The abbey at Rievaulx was probably founded in 1132, and was the first Cistercian abbey to be built in the North of England. Situated in a valley on the North West banks of the River Rye, and roughly three miles North West of Helmsley (just off the B1257) the Cistercian monks chose a beautiful place in which to build their abbey.

St Bernard of Clairvaux sent a small group of monks to the Yorkshire dales in 1132 to establish an abbey here, and it wasn’t long before the numbers of those living and working here swelled. Money was contributed from all quarters of England, with Henry II of England, and David I of Scotland both sending financial aid to the abbey. Its success continued, despite setbacks as a result of plague, war and famine. By the end of the 14th century, probably as a result of the plague, there were only 14 monks and a few others still living and working here. When Henry VIII’s agents finally arrived to dissolve the abbey in 1538, there were 23 individuals still at the abbey.

Rievaulx has produced 3 saints…..Saint William, the first Abbot here, Saint Aelred, the third Abbot, and Saint Waldef, a monk here at Rievaulx and then the Abbot of Melrose.

Large areas of the abbey still stand, however it’s thought that only about 15 percent of the original 90 acre site can still be seen above ground.

I would normally have more photos of site such as this, however, the number of English Heritage sites visited that day would have meant paying out a small fortune in entrance fees...which I think is unreasonable. Another visit may be pending sometime in the future…but for now I’m afraid this is the only photo from this Summer’s visit.

The old church of St Andrew, Upleatham

The old church of St Andrew
Nr Whitby
North Yorkshire

Reputedly the ‘smallest church in England’ this tiny church, in fact the remnants of the original church, stands on the B1268, north of the nearest village of Skelton, and around 15 miles North West of Whitby.

It appears that this confusing little building was once part of a larger structure, and what is seen today, merely represents the remains of parts of the original building, consolidated over the years into the tiny gem that is shown here. It is thought that the church was probably built sometime in the 12th century, there is certainly documentary evidence of this early stage of building, but sometime during the 19th century, a fragment of a 9th century cross was found nearby, raising the possibility of a much older structure on or near the present site.

The church measures around 6 metres by 4 metres, and small as it is, is probably not quite the smallest church in England!! The Western tower dates from 1684, and replaced a smaller bell cote. The south wall, with its two blocked arches and blocked window (within the larger of the two arches) suggests that there was once a South aisle to the church….which was probably demolished due to its poor condition around 1684. The arches of the aisle were subsequently blocked up, with a window being inserted sometime later…which was also then blocked up. The buttress at the South wall of the tower, is probably actually the remains of the churches Southern wall.

The North wall still retains its ‘Norman’ corbels, eight in total, with another 3 in the East wall (although this wall was built entirely in the 19th century.

Excavations that were conducted between 1970 and 1974, showed that the North wall of the church extended another 3 metres or so, with the South wall continuing even further, towards the remains of the 18th century Lowther vault. During these excavations, various shards of pottery were discovered, dating from the 13th century right through to the 20th century, along with large amounts of glass (plain and decorated) and painted plaster. The well preserved (although legless!!) 14th century effigy of a knight was also discovered, along with grave slabs probably dating from the 11th century.

Unfortunately the church is now unused (as a place of worship) although the church yard is open and you are freely able to walk around the exterior of the church and its grave yard. The interior of the church is just visible through the door, and it appears to be completely empty.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Furness Abbey, Cumbria

Furness Abbey
Barrow in Furness

Above. The East range of the Abbey buildings.

Above. Looking into the East range of the Abbey buildings.

Above. Looking along the water course on the East side of the Abbey.

Above. The North transept of the Abbey church.

Above. A selection of medieval corbels.

Above. Grave slabs in the monk's cemetery.

Above. Grave slabs in the monk's cemetery.

Above. Looking along the eastern water course towards the kitchens.

Above. The chapter house standing over the Eastern water course.

Above. The infirmary chapel with the footings of the octagonal kitchen in the foreground.

Above. Another view of the infirmary chapel.

Above. Another view of the infirmary chapel.

Above. The infirmary chapel again.

Above. The North transept.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Sweetheart Abbey, Dumfries and Galloway

Sweetheart Abbey\New Abbey
New Abbey
Dumfries and Galloway

The beautiful red stone remains of Sweetheart Abbey lay in the village of New Abbey, about six miles South of Dumfries.Previously documented on the Castle Blog because of the slight defensive qualities built into its fabric, only a few photos are shown here.

The above photo shows the abbey from the South, looking at the ruined church attached to the tower. The partially surviving rose window can just be seen above the roof line in the foreground.

View of the abbey from the West, with the reconstructed archway in the foreground right.

View of the tower from the North.

Dundrennan Abbey, Dundrennan

Dundrennan Abbey
Dundrennan nr Kirkcudbright
Dumfries and Galloway

The Abbey at Dundrennan lies about 5 miles east of Kirkcudbright, in an area littered with the remains of medieval towers, churches, stone circles and standing stones and ancient forts. The Abbey was reputedly founded by King David I, and built by Cistercian monks from the Yorkshire Abbey of Rievaulx. The building is thought to have been started sometime around 1142, with the site being occupied for the next 400 years or so.

The link with Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire is an educated guess, owing much to the fact that written records indicate that the Abbot of Rievaulx visited Dundrennan in 1164. Added to this, the fact that on about two occasions, monks or abbots from Dundrennan moved to Rievaulx to become Abbots there as well.

The Abbey was probably built over a 50 year period, with a tight-knit group of around 13 monks and 10 laymen conducting most of the work. Upon its completion, Dundrennan became the ‘mother’ house for two other Cistercian abbeys in the Galloway area; Glenluce Abbey, founded in 1191 by Roland, Lord of Galloway, and Sweetheart Abbey, founded in 1273 by Lady Devorgilla (in memory of John Balliol, her husband)

As you look at the remains of the Abbey from the car park, what would have been the largest part of the building, the Nave is now nothing more than a large open space with the remains of the walls surviving to around three feet in places. Only one of the Nave support pillars survives above ground, with the others surviving to ground level only. The North and South Transepts still stand to a significant height, although various walls are missing from all portions of this part of the building. The tall wall with the arched doorway would have formed the outer West wall of the Nave, with two small doorways just visible, blocked with masonry. The surviving arched door way would have been the main entrance to the Nave, and survives nearly intact. The walls of the cellars and the outer parlour also survive to make up the rest of the outer perimeter of the site. The monk’s cemetery lies beyond the Nave and can just be seen through the ruins. The Sacristy and the Chapter House still survive to some height, and lay to the right of the photo.

During the 13th century wars between England and Scotland, the Abbey declared its allegiance to the English King Edward I as he invaded Scotland. The declaration seems to have done the Abbey no good however, as it was seriously damaged by marauding English troops in 1299.

The 14th and 16th centuries saw the fortunes of the Abbey rising, as the monks became almost self sufficient in food and fuel, and began to export wool to mainland Europe.

In 1523, the last abbot at Dundrennan was promoted to the Bishop of Ross, and a lay administrator was appointed to take care of the day to day running of the Abbey. When the Reformation began to take hold in 1560, the Abbey did not escape the attentions of Henry VIII’s agents. It was demanded that the Abbey, like so many others throughout the kingdom, be demolished and stripped of its riches. The then current administrator of the Abbey, Edward Maxwell refused to follow these instructions, and somehow managed to persuade Henry’s agents to leave the building standing. So, although monastic life was banned, and indeed ceased, the church was still used as a parish church. This continued right up until the 17th century, by which time the Abbey was in a serious state of disrepair.

An interesting side note in Scottish history… 1568, Mary Queen of Scots, after being forced to flee from Langside, spent her last night in Scotland at the Abbey, before making her ill-fated trip to Workington, and thence to her eventual execution in 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle.

In 1621 the demise of the Abbey and its lands was signalled when they were annexed by the crown, and then in the 1650’s the church was no longer in use, with services being conducted at nearby Rerwick.

The Abbey was taken into state care in 1842, with some renovation work being carried out at this time, mainly to consolidate the ruins, but also to prevent the quarrying of stone from the remains. It’s said that many houses in Dundrennan contain stone from the Abbey.

The Abbey is now in the hands of Historic Scotland and the remains can be viewed for a small admittance fee. The car park nearby is free and expressly for the use of visitors.

Shap Abbey, Shap

Shap Abbey

Shap Abbey lays about a mile and a half West of the town of Shap, occupying the banks of the River Lowther at the bottom of a small valley. There are numerous sites of antiquity in the area, including 14 standing stones of various sizes, and medieval field boundaries to the West and the South of the abbey. Although the abbey now lies in ruins, there are plenty of standing walls, including the 15th century West tower.

The abbey was probably founded in 1199 by Thomas de Workington , after the abbey of St Mary Magdalene, founded near Preston Patrick in 1192, was moved to the area around Shap….then referred to as Hepp (meaning a heap) The name of the area gradually evolved into the town’s name that we see today, of Shap. Nothing now remains of the original abbey near Preston Patrick, with the exact location long since forgotten.

The abbey was granted huge swathes of land throughout the old county of Westmorland, including deer parks and sheep grazing. The canons were allowed to put 60 cows and 500 sheep to pasture on the land, as well as 5 yoke of oxen, and additional 60 mares allowed to run freely. The canons were also allowed to freely collect firewood, timber and other ‘necessaries’ from the land.

The remains are approached down a dedicated road that runs from the A6 right down into the bottom of the valley. A small car park caters for the many summer visitors. The first sight of the abbey is the 15th century West tower, still standing to a grand height of around 80 feet. The abbey is entered through a stile\gateway. Once into the abbey remains, enter through the huge archway of the tower…..this takes you into the Nave, the main body of the church, with the Quire and the chapel ahead of you. Most of the remains here only exist to ground level…..i.e. the footings of walls etc, however, small parts do still exist to around chest height.

Off to the right of the nave, the remains of the undercroft still survive, with the consolidated barrel vaulted ceilings intact and in good condition. The cemetery area, to the right of the chapel can be seen by the riverside, although the only graves that can be traced now are the three open trough like features that lay in the cloister area.

The farm, to the right of the tower incorporates the abbey’s infirmary and the ward of the hospital…. utilising the still standing buildings there. Much more masonry was removed in the dim and distant past and used to build Shap market hall, and the more decorative stonework was removed and used in the building of Lowther Castle.

The abbey initially managed to escape the first destructive phase of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries acts in 1536….but the demise of the abbey was only delayed until 1540, when it was sold to the Governor of Carlisle, Sir Thomas Wharton. Shap was the last abbey in England to be dissolved by Henry’s agents, with the last abbot, Richard Evanwode (or Bagott as he called himself) receiving a significant pension of around £40 per year. The other canons still living at the abbey at this time were pensioned off with more meagre payouts…totalling around £4 to £6 per year.

Today, the abbey is in the hands of English Heritage, and is freely accessible at any reasonable time.

Not the best photos of what is such a great site...but when I can pay the abbey another visit, I'll replace them with some better ones.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

St Andrew, Dacre

St Andrew

St Andrews is situated in the small Cumbrian village of Dacre, North West of Penrith. The church sits about 100 yards North West of Dacre Castle, across the small beck that separates them.

The church sits in the centre of a large square church yard, with the Northern part hiding the remains of a pre-Norman monastery. From this ancient site, the burials of around 200 people have been found, emphasising the importance this place once held.

Before entering the church, it is essential that you explore the grave-yard, for hidden amongst the many grave-stones, you'll find four stone carved bears. These four foot high, red sandstone figures, stand at the corners of where the old church yard would have been, and apparently tell a four part story.

The first bear is asleep with its head resting on a pillar (most of its head has been worn away though!!). The second bear is being attacked, perhaps by a lynx. The attacker can be seen on the bear's back. The third bear reaches around with one paw to try and brush off its attacker. The fourth bear appears to have dislodged the lynx, and has an enigmatic smile upon its face. The bears appear to be undated, but may have come from a gatehouse that once stood near to the nearby Dacre castle.

The church's fabric consists of a mixture of 12th, 15th and 16th century, and some early 19th century rebuilding. The tower to the West of the church is an 1810 rebuild of an earlier Norman tower, perhaps still containing original masonry.

The internal archway that separates the tower from the Nave however, is 12th century.

The three pillars that separate the North aisle from the Nave, probably date from 1200 to 1220, whilst the three pillars that separate the South aisle from the Nave, probably date from later on in the 13th century.

(South aisle pillars from the late 1200's)

(North aisle pillars from 1200 to 1220)

The vestry to the North of the Chancel is a much later part of the building. The North and the South aisles were added to the church during the 15th century, expanding the original narrow Nave.

There are some interesting 'relics' within the church. The first of these is the 10th century cross shaft that is set against the South wall of the Chancel. Unfortunately, my photo of this item is pretty useless....but none-the-less, it's included here. It depicts animals, and two figures, identified as Adam and Eve holding hands near a tree.

(10th century cross shaft)

The second item, is a fragment of a 9th century cross, with trails, an animal and a human face. This item too is set against the wall of the Chancel.

(9th century cross shaft)

(old timbers in the roof of the Nave)

(Looking from the Chancel to the Nave)

A bible of 1617 can also be seen in the church, on the East wall of the North aisle.

There is also an interesting lock, mounted in the South door of the South aisle, hidden behind a curtain. The lock is dated 1671, and was a gift from Lady Anne Clifford. It was her habit of giving these types of locks as gifts to those that had helped her.

The church seems to be open most days, and is easily accessible from the nearby road, though there is very limited parking.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

United Reformed Church, Stainton

United Reformed Church
Nr Kendal

Just off the A65, and about 3 miles South of Kendal, the tiny but picturesque village of Stainton can be found, hugging the banks of St Sunday's Beck, which was once used to great effect, to drive the numerous mills that laid along its banks. The chapel sits just at the road side, and is passed in the blink of an eye if you didn't know it was there.

A plain and simple building, it belies the fact that it is in fact a tiny church or chapel. Listed as a grade II building, it was probably built sometime in the 17th century, and has been refurbished at least once, the last time being in the 19th century. At this time, a tiny two storey extension was added to the end of the building.

A single pew end is all that apparently remains of the original contents of the chapel, with the date 1695 ID ED carved into its end.

John Hodgkinson's book, The Greater Parish of Kendal 1553-2002 contains an old, undated view of the interior of this church. It shows a very plain and simple place of worship, with undecorated windows, low dark wood pews, and a plain lectern set at one end.

It would appear that this chapel sprang up at the same time as Kendal was experiencing a growth in congregations belonging to descenting chapels in the area, which included the appearance of chapels in the market square, Fleece Yard, Shakespeare Yard and others.