JERVAULX ABBEY, in the parish of East Witton, wapentake of Hang West, and liberty of Richmondshire; 1¾ miles E. of East Witton, 3 miles SE. of Middleham.
This once stately erection was founded in the year 1156, by Akarius, the son of Bardolph, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. At the general dissolution this monastery was seized, and its revenues, valued by Speed, at £455. 10s. 5d. granted to the King. the site being given to Maltham, Earl of Lenox. Sedbergh, the last Abbot, was hanged in June, 1537, for opposing the King's measures. It is now the property of of the Marquis of Ailesbury. The remains of this Abbey are situated about two hundred paces from the highway leading from Middleham to Masham, and are not very visible, the view being much intercepted by trees. The name is of Norman extraction, and signifies simply Euredale Abbey, being situated on the banks of the Ure. Of all the ruins in the North of England. This has suffered the most complete demolition, considering the ample size of the building. The boundary wall, when in its pristine glory, comprehended a circuit of at least a mile. In 1806-7 the whole of this venerable ruin was explored by order of the noble proprietor, and cleared of the briars and refuse with which, by the neglect of a succession of ages, it had been incumbered; when the Abbey church and choir measuring 270 feet in length; with the cross aisles, the high altar, and several tombs were discovered. Further search exhibited the chapter house, 48 feet in length by 35 in width, with the marble pillars which formerly supported the roof. The site of the Abbot's house and garden, with the kitchen and the refectory, the cloisters and the dormitory, also became visible. The tesselated pavement of the great aisle, in geometrical figures, was found in a perfect state, but though the covering which had shut it out from the light of the sun had prevented its actual decomposition, the hand of time, though unseen, had been at work, and rendered the beautiful mosaic so frail, that the action of the air, and the rude blasts of winter, soon reduced it to dust. In the aisle were found several stone coffins, bearing inscriptions, in a state sufficiently perfect to be disciphered. A sunk fence, aided by a wall built for the purpose, now protects the ancient site. A neat mansion has been built near the Abbey, and is occupied as the residence of Mr. Claridge, the steward of the estate; the approach to which is by an ancient gate-way, in the style, but not of so early a date, as the Abbey. Pop. included with East Witton.
The complete extract from Langdale's Topographical Yorkshire Dictionary:
"Gervalx Abbey," says Leland, "of white Monkes, ripa citeriori a ii (=2) miles beneth Middleham." Akarius Fitz Bardolph, in the time of King Stephen, gave to Peter de Quinciano, a Monk, and to other Monks of Savigny, certain lands at Fors and Worton, in Wensleydale, being part of his possessions where in 1145, they began to lay foundations of a Monastery of their order, Cistercians, which was successively called the Abbey of Fors, Wensleydale, and Charity. The donations that had been made by Akarius and others, appear to have been confirmed by Alan, Earl of Richmond. -Serlo, then Abbot of Savigny, disapproved of the foundation, as made without his knowledge and consent; neither did he choose, though repeatedly solicited by Peter, to supply it with Monks from his Convent, on account of the great difficulties experienced by those he had before sent into England. He therefore, in a general chapter, proposed that it should be transferred to the Abbey of Belland (Byland) which from its vicinity would be better able to lend the necessary assistance required in its yet infant state. -This being agreed to, twelve Monks, with Joker de Kingston for their Abbot, were sent them from that house. -After undergoing great hardships from the smallness of their endowment and sterility of their lands for some time, (during which they had received occasional relief from the Abbot of Byland) Conan, son to Alan, Earl of Richmond, greatly increased their revenues; and, in 1156, removed their Monastery to a pleasant and healthy valley in East-Witton, the present situation. This was done with the consent of Harveus, the son of Akarius, the founder; who took care to reserve to himself the patronage of the Abbey, as well as the prayers of the Monks, usually offered up for the founder and his relations; and that the bones of his father and mother should be removed to an honourable place in the new Monastery. In this place the Monks erected a magnificent Church and Monastery, which, like most of the Cistercian order, was dedicated to St. Mary. -At the dissolution it was valued at 455L. 10s. 5d. -Speed; 234L. 18s 5d. Dugdale. The site in the 36th of Henry VIII. was granted to Matthew, Earl of Lenox, and Lady Margaret his wife. What little remains of this ancient structure, has become nearly overgrown with rough wood and briars, and scarcely any trace of it, as a building, remained, except some few arches, nearly level with the ground; when in 1805, the late Earl of Ailesbury, visited this place; and among a great variety of improvements projected upon his estate, was much pleased with an experiment that had been made by his steward in digging down to the bottom of one of the arches, which proved to be the door of the Abbey Church, and led to a beautiful floor of tesselated pavement. His Lordship caused the whole of this ruin to be explored and cleared out; which was done in 1806 and 1807, at a very considerable expense, as the base of the building was buried several feet below the surface; when the Abbey-church and choir, with the cross ailes, -the high altar, and several tombs, -the chapter-house, with marble- pillars, formerly supporting the roof, were discovered; also the Abbot's house, the garden, kitchen, refectory, cloisters, and dormitory. The restoration was under the skilful superintendance and direction of John Claridge, Esq. who resides near the spot, that this object was so successfully accomplished. In order to preserve this ancient site, it has been enclosed by a sunk fence, in part, or by a wall; and over the entrance is the following inscription; viz.
Founded Anno Domini 1141,
Demolished Anno Domini 1537.
These ancient Ruins were traced out and cleared by order of
The Right Hon. Thomas, Earl of Ailesbury,
Anno Domini 1807:
[Description(s) edited mainly from various 19th century sources by Colin Hinson. ©2010]