FOUNTAINS ABBEY, in the township of Markington, and parish of Ripon; 3¾ miles S. of Ripon.
The awful remains of this ancient Abbey fill the midway of a deep Vale, through which flows the brook called Skell, and the high hills on either side, clothed with lofty trees, and varied with scars, slope gently to the brook." In these deep solitudes and awful cells, Where heavenly pensive contemplation dwells."
In 1132, certain Benedictine Monks at Saint Mary's, in York, displeased with relaxation of discipline in their Convent, and disgusted with the luxury of their life, resolved to migrate where monastic manners were practised with more severity, and determined to embrace the rules of Cistercian Monks at Rivaulx, and applied for that purpose to Thurston, Archbishop of York, whom they requested to favour their designs. The Prelate, with many of the Clergy, went to St. Mary's, where they found the Abbot and his attendants preparing to oppose his resolutions, and threatened to punish the discontented Monks. He was refused admittance into the Chapter house, when a riot ensued and the Prelate having interdicted the Abbot and Monks, left the Monastery, taking under his protection, the Prior, Sub prior, and eleven Monks, who withdrew from the Convent, and were entertained by the Archbishop for eleven weeks. During this time the Abbot made frequent complaints to the King, Bishops, and Abbots, against the Archbishop for depriving him of part of his flock. At Christmas, Thurston gave them a place, then called Skeldale, for their residence, the receptacle for wild beasts, and overgrown with wood and brambles; he also gave them the village of Sutton. During part of the winter, a large elm tree was their only shelter; they afterwards retired under the melancholy shade of seven yew trees, growing near where the Abbey now stands. One of them was blown down in 1757, the other six are now standing. They are of great magnitude, the largest being 20 feet in circumference within three feet from the ground. Under these, it should seem, they resided till the Monastery was built. The fame of their sanctity induced many to resort to them; which proportionably increased their distress, and rendered their poverty still more severe; for in vain, did the Abbot solicit relief, as famine, that year, had extended all over the country, and the leaves of trees and herbs, except a small supply from the Archbishop, were their only food. Soon after Eustace Fitz John Lord of Knaresborough, supplied them with a cart load of bread. For more than two years they laboured under every hardship poverty could inflict, till Hugh, Dean of York, who was very rich, labouring under a disease likely to prove fatal, resolved to end his days among them. For this purpose he removed to the Abbey, and devoted his riches to charity, the building of the Monastery, and uses of the house.
In 1140, the building had considerably increased, when, in the war between Stephen and his competitor, a party of soldiers, at the instance of William, Archbishop of York, came here and burnt the Monastery.
In 1204, John de Eborac, Abbot, laid the foundation of the Church. His successor, John de Pherd carried on the work with spirit and John of Kent, the next Abbot, is supposed to have completed the building. But the great Tower, it should seem, from the style of the architecture, was either built or heightened subsequent to the death of John of Kent, in 1245.
Profusion of wealth, many grants and privileges now poured in upon them, but extravagance, the too general attendant on wealth, proved, not long after, the cause of much concern and affliction to the Monks, for in 1294, they became in want of necessaries, which Romain, then Archbishop of York, attributed to their flagrant dissolute conduct. In times long subsequent, this Abbey became more opulent, and consequently more powerful than any in this county, for at the dissolution, its revenues were estimated, according to Burton, at £1125. 18s. 1d. --Dugdale, £998. 0s. 8½d. --Speed, £1073. 0s. 7½d.
At that time their plate was valued at £708. 5s. 9d. they also had in possession 2356 horned cattle, 1326 sheep, 86 horses, 79 swine, 117 quarters of wheat, 12 of rye, 134 of oats, 392 loads of hay. In their granary were 18 quarters of wheat, 18 of rye, 90 of barley and malt, and 2 of oats. --Burton.
The architecture is mixed, in some parts are seen the sharp pointed windows, in others the circular arches. The great east window is magnificently grand, and the arch much pointed. There has, it is supposed, been a central tower, long since fallen into decay. At the top of the north corner window of the Sanctum Sanctorum, is the figure of an Angel holding a scroll, on which is the date 1283.
These monastic remains are deservedly considered the most magnificent and interesting that our country, rich in these venerable and admired works of antiquity, retains from the wreck of the general dissolution. So great was the extent of this magnificent institution, that when entire, it is said to have occupied nearly twelve acre of ground; and such the ravages it sustained, that the buildings now cover little more than a sixth part of that space; yet, with every devastation, it is far more extensive, and incomparably more perfect than any other. Besides the church, whose beauty and grandeur need no comment, and which era aided by the lofty, and nearly perfect tower, standing at the end of the north transept, the numerous buildings connected with it, appear in a state of preservation unequalled by another. Among these the two Cloisters, the Chapter House, the Refectory, the Dormitory, and the Kitchen are the principal; and connected with the South west extremity of the great Cloister are some very interesting ruins of buildings: among which are distributed many ruins of walls and vaults, not to mention the gate, the mill, the bridge, and numerous other distant and distinct objects. No part is now pulled down to give space, and none rebuilt to obtain uniformity; and the present worthy owner is solicitous only to preserve it from wanton injury. As it was left to her, so it stands every storm and tempest; and this amiable lady's admiration of antiquity is evinced in the improvements which have recently taken place.