RIEVAULX ABBEY, in the parish of Helmsley, and wapentake of Rydale; 2¼ miles WNW. of Helmsley.
This beautiful monastic ruin is situated in a narrow valley, which is crowned at various parts with hanging woods. The river Rye, from which the local name is acquired, winds through the vale in a stream successively deep and rapid, and is intersected by two picturesque bridges. Within this sequestered spot is the village of Rievaulx, consisting of scattered cottages, which appear amongst natural clumps of trees, with the river winding beneath, and each presents a landscape in itself. The abbey stands close by the village, from which it recedes towards a steep woody bank running nearly north and south. The principal remains are those of the church and the refectory. The former consists of the choir and part of the side aisles, with the transept and its aisle, and the commencement of the tower. This edifice ranks amongst the largest monastic churches. The choir is one hundred and forty-four feet in length, and sixty-three feet wide; and the transept is one hundred and eighteen feet long, and thirty three wide. The probable length of the nave was one hundred and fifty feet, and the whole length of the building could not have been less than three hundred and thirty or three hundred and forty feet. This abbey, for monks of the Cistercian order, was founded in 1131, by Sir Walter Espec, one of the commanders at "the battle of the Standard," whose only child, a son, being killed by a fall from his horse at Kirkham (There seems to be some debate about whether Walter Espec had a son who was killed in a riding accident. Cannon Atkinson concluded that he didn't - MB 2016) The afflicted parent devoted the principal part of his large possessions to pious uses, and after building the abbeys of Rievaulx and Kirkham in Yorkshire, built also the abbey of Warden in Bedfordshire. On the dissolution of the larger monasteries, Rievaulx, valued at £378. 10s. 2d. per annum, was seized by the crown, and was granted in exchange by Henry VIII. to Thomas Lord Ross, Earl of Rutland, a descendant of the Espec family. From that family it came by marriage to the Duke of Buckingham, and was by the trustees of George the second duke, sold in 1695, to Sir Charles Duncombe, an ancestor of Charles Duncombe, Esq. the present proprietor. The terrace of Rievaulx, from which the ruin and the valley are seen to great advantage, is nearly half a mile in length, of ample breadth, and forming a handsome lawn. It is backed by plantations of trees, intermixed with flowering shrubs, which project forward in semi-circular sweeps, and added to the winding of the terrace impart to it an air of beauty and grandeur. At one end of this terrace is a circular temple with a Tuscan colonnade, and at the other a temple with an Ionic portico. The latter of these temples consists of a well proportioned room of large dimensions, on the ceiling of which is a copy of Guido's Aurora, with the graceful "Hours" in great brilliancy surrounding her car, in the cove of the ceiling are painted in compartments the story of Hero and Leander, the whole by the pencil of Burnice, who was brought over from Italy for the purpose. But distinguished as may be the productions of the Italian painter, the inimitable paintings of nature form the principal attractions of "Rievaulx," and the view from the Ionic temple, which presents the woody steep rising in beauteous majesty to the summit of the hills; with the monastic ruin in the vale; and the bridge beneath finely encompassed with pendant woods, disclose a combination of beauties that must be seen to be enjoyed and once seen can never be forgot.
[Description(s) edited mainly from various 19th century sources by Colin Hinson. ©2010]