FOUNTAINS ABBEY, one of the most celebrated ecclesiastical ruins in England. It lies in the sequestered valley of the river Skell, 3 m. S.W. of the city of Ripon in Yorkshire. The situation is most beautiful. The little Skell descends from the uplands of Pateley Moor to the west a clear swift stream, traversing a valley clothed with woods, conspicuous among which are some ancient yew trees which may have sheltered the monks who first sought retreat here. Steep rocky hills enclose the vale. Mainly on the north side of the stream, in an open glade, rise the picturesque and extensive ruins, the church with its stately tower, and the numerous remnants of domestic buildings which enable the great abbey to be almost completely reconstructed in the mind. The arrangements are typical of a Cistercian house (see Abbey). Building began in earnest about 1135, and was continued steadily until the middle of the 13th century, after which the only important erection was Abbot Huby's tower (c.1500). The demesne of Studley Royal (marquess of Ripon) contains the ruins. It is in part laid out in the formal Dutch style, the work of John Aislabie, lord of the manor in the early part of the 18th century. Near the abbey is the picturesque Jacobean mansion of Fountains Hall.
In 1132 the prior and twelve monks of St Mary's abbey, York, being dissatisfied with the easy life they were living, left the monastery and with the assistance of Thurstan, archbishop of York, founded a house in the valley of the Skell, where they adopted the Cistercian rule. While building their monastery the monks are said to have lived at first under an elm and then under seven yew trees called the Seven Sisters. Two years later they were joined by Hugh, dean of St Peter's, York, who brought with him a large sum of money and a valuable collection of books. His example was followed by Serlo, a monk of St Mary's abbey, York, and by Tosti, a canon of York, and others. Henry I. and succeeding sovereigns granted them many privileges. During the reign of Edward I. the monks appear to have again suffered from poverty, partly no doubt owing to the invasion of the Scots, but partly also through their own "misconduct and extravagance." On account of this Edward I. in 1291 appointed John de Berwick custodian of the abbey so that he might pay their debts from the issues of their estates, allowing them enough for their maintenance, and Edward II. in 1319 granted them exemption from taxes. After the Dissolution Henry VIII. sold the manor and site of the monastery to Sir Richard Gresham, and from him after passing through several families it came to the marquess of Ripon.
See Victoria County History, Yorkshire; Dugdale, Monasticon; Surtees Society, Memorials of the Abbey of St Mary of Fountains, collected and edited by J.R. Walbran (1863-78).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)