Exploring Jervaulx Abbey

Jervaulx Abbey
Jervaulx Abbey

Visitor Information

Jervaulx Abbey is a former Cistercian monastery in North Yorkshire, located on the A6108 approximately 3.6 miles from the market town of Middleham, and 14.8 miles from Ripon.

DSC_0451The ruins are now on private land, but are run as a tourist attraction with easy access and an honesty box for a modest entry fee.

As the Abbey is located in 126 acres of parkland, there are walks surrounding it and you can also get tea and cake at the local tearoom.

Foundation and life at the Abbey

Jervaulx Abbey was founded in 1146 by a Cistercian monk named Peter Quintain, on lands granted to him by Earl Alan, the Earl of Richmond.

There were early troubles in installing monks at the Abbey due to the fact that the Abbot of Savigny disapproved of its foundation. He had had no knowledge of it, and it looks like somethings never change, possibly his ego was bruised as his permission hadn’t been sort!

There is little written about the working life of the abbey from foundation, to dissolution, however little snippets come down to us through the ages.

In 1279, the Abbot Phillip was murdered by one of his monks, a trial was commenced and the guilty monk fled and was outlawed!

We know that the monks kept animals, most notably horses for which Middleham, 3.6 miles away from Jervaulx continues in this tradition today. It is also thought that Wensleydale cheese originated from Jervaulx.

DSC_0452I found it hard to decipher what ruins related to which buildings so would recommend picking up a guide leaflet from the entrance to the abbey.

It was clear to me that it had Norman origins, and seemed to have had excellent plumbing (for all you Blackadder fans!)

The buildings that remain include parts of the church and cloister, plus a watermill.

Dissolution of the Abbey

The Abbey had lived in peace for nearly 400 years when King Henry VIII came to the throne.

Portrait of Henry VIII within the Haunted Gallery at Hampton Court Palace
Portrait of Henry VIII within the Haunted Gallery at Hampton Court Palace

Henry VIII ascended the throne of England in 1509 and it was seen as a new dawn for England after the miserly paranoid reign of his father Henry VII.

He was 17 years of age, charismatic and seen to be a King who could relate to his people.

However, by 1536 Henry had morphed into someone who was unrecognisable from the gallant chivalrous youth he had been.

In 1533 he put aside his wife of 24 years Katharine of Aragon and by 1536 had executed his second wife Anne Boleyn.

1536 also saw the commencement of the Dissolution of the Monasteries which continued until 1541.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries was part of the English reformation where in which Henry VIII, with the assistance of his minister Thomas Cromwell appropriated their income and assets for the benefit of the Crown.

DSC_0454There were many thousands of religious houses by 1536 and Jervaulx Abbey was dissolved in 1537, worth £455 10s. 5d. to the crown – approximately £140,000 in today’s money.

Pilgrimage of Grace

The North rose up against Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell in late 1536, having been horrified by the destruction of their beloved religious houses, the break from Rome and the catholic church, and the general policies of Cromwell.

Monasteries and religious houses had been part of English people’s lives for centuries, often they were places that cared for the ill and the community. Life had revolved around them in a very religious age.

Led by Robert Aske, 9000 men marched on York and were allowed to enter the city unopposed. It drew many people to its cause, and finally numbered 30,000 -40,000 men.

It was an unsuccessful rebellion. Brutally, Robert Aske was hung in chains outside Clifford’s Tower in York in 1537

The last Abbot of Jervaulx Abbey, Adam Sedbar joined the Pilgrimage of Grace and once it became clear that Henry VIII DSC_0458was arresting the leaders, he fled to Bolton castle, hid, but was captured and imprisoned in the Beauchamp tower at the Tower of London.

He carved his name into the stone of the tower which is still visible today.

Adam Sedbar also met a terrible end. He was taken to Tyburn, hung drawn and quartered, and his head was displayed on London Bridge.

Post Dissolution Through to Today

Like so many religious houses, Jervaulx’s fate was to crumble and become re-purposed.

The pulpitum screen can now be seen at St. Andrew’s parish church in Aysgarth, and a window was reused at St. Gregory’s church in Bedale.

DSC_0453We know that Henry VIII gifted the site to Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox, and Margaret, his niece.

By the 19th century, it was in the hands of Thomas Brudenell Bruce, Earl of Ailesbury.

Thomas Brudewell Bruce arranged excavation of the site, and it was deciphered that the church was 270ft long.

Some tombs were found at the High Altar and that the pillars from the Chapter House were marble. Some beautiful floor tiles were also discovered.

After renovation and safe guarding over the last century, Jervaulx Abbey was saved from falling down completely so that we can enjoy it today.

I visited in the dead of winter and it was atmospheric, tumbling, and full of nooks and crannies to explore. It is surrounded by rolling fields and is away from civilization and you truly feel alone with history.

In the summer, it is covered in wild flowers and I recommend if you are in the Dales, please stop to pause and breathe in the peace that dwells at Jervaulx Abbey.


Photos from my visit to Jervaulx Abbey are available here
British History website
UK Genealogy 
Wikipedia – Adam Sedbar

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