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KIRKSTALL ABBEY

KIRKSTALL ABBEY, and Kirkstall Bridge, in the township of Headingley, and parish of Leeds, lower division of Skyrack, liberty of Pontefract; 3 miles W. of Leeds, 7 from Bradford, 8 from Otley, 16 from Harrogate.

This Abbey, as a subject of monastic history, has been nearly exhausted by the labours of Dugdale, and his follower Stephens. Antiquarians are as familiarly acquainted with the circumstances of its early discipline, the ruin of its revenues by improvidence, and the assistance by which they were restored, as if the transaction had passed before their eyes. Draftsmen and landscape painters, good and bad, have done their parts to delight or glut the public taste, with this enchanting ruin, and the acutest curiosity might almost look in vain for a point which has not been represented. --Whitaker's Loidis and Elmete.

The remains of this fine monastic structure stands in the beautiful vale of Aire, near the banks of the river. The space which they occupy, is about 340 feet from north to south, and 445 from east to west. This Abbey, dedicated to the blessed Virgin, was founded by Henry de Lacy, in 1147, for Monks of the Cistercian Order; and Alexander, Prior of Fountains Abbey, was appointed their first Abbot. Their first habitation was at Barnoldswick, but this place proving inconvenient to the Monks, they, about six years afterwards, removed to Kirkstall, in Airedale, then inhabited by some Hermits. Alexander, their first Abbot, governed the Monks thirty five years. They suffered much by some ill offices done to them by King John, who took from them some of their lands; but they found a benefactor in Robert de Lacy, who died in 1194, and was esteemed a second founder. --Dugdale.

Several of the first Monks were men of exemplary piety and virtue; and the revenues of the Abbey were so well managed, that at a visitation in 1301, the Monks were found to have 216 oxen, 160 cows, 150 yearlings and bullocks, 90 calves, and 4,000 sheep, and their debts amounted only to £160. At the dissolution, their revenues were valued at £329. 2s. 11d. --Dugdale; and £512. 13s. 4d. --Speed. It was surrendered, according to Speed, by John Ripley, the last Abbot on the 22nd Nov. 1540. In the 34th Henry VIII. the site was granted to Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in exchange for other lands. The Right Hon. the Earl of Cardigan is the present proprietor.

The situation of this Abbey, near the banks of a fine river, always calm and clear, except in floods, in a vale, fertile, open, and extensive, and with hills overlooking the Abbey, is particularly enchanting and picturesque.

[Description(s) edited from various 19th century sources by Colin Hinson © 2013]