Another Sunday, another church

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Feb 262017

Rievaulx Abbey, founded in 1132, was the first Cistercian abbey to be established in the north of England. It quickly became one of the most powerful and spiritually renowned centres of monasticism in Britain, housing a 650-strong community at its peak in the 1160s under its most famous abbot, Aelred. The monastery was suppressed in 1538, but the spectacular abbey ruins became a popular subject for Romantic artists in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Rievaulx was an abbey of the Cistercian order, which was founded by St Bernard of Clairvaux at Cîteaux, near Dijon, France, in 1098. It was to become one of the most remarkable European monastic reform movements of the 12th century, placing an emphasis on a return to an austere life and literal observance of the rules set out for monastic life by St Benedict in the 6th century.

The Cistercians first appeared in England at Waverley, Surrey, in 1128. Rievaulx was established in March 1132 on land given by Walter Espec (d. 1154), lord of nearby Helmsley and a royal justiciar. He was an active supporter of ecclesiastical reform and had founded Kirkham Priory for the reformist Augustinian canons in about 1121.

The arrival of the reform-minded Rievaulx community sent shockwaves through the older Benedictine houses of the north. The foundation at Rievaulx was carefully planned by Bernard of Clairvaux to spearhead the monastic colonisation of northern Britain. Rievaulx’s first abbot, William, dispatched colonies to establish daughter houses at Warden and Melrose in 1136, Dundrennan in 1142 and Revesby in 1143.

The first buildings at Rievaulx were temporary wooden structures. In the late 1130s Abbot William began the construction of stone buildings around the present cloister. The northern part of his west range, which housed the abbey’s lay brothers, still survives, as does a fragment of the south range.

Rievaulx Abbey was shut down on 3 December 1538, as part of the Suppression of the Monasteries that took place under Henry VIII in 1536–40. By this time Rievaulx’s community had shrunk to just 23 monks. It was sold to Thomas Manners (d.1543), 1st Earl of Rutland, who was closely associated with the royal court.
Rutland dismantled the buildings, reserving the roof leads and the bells for the king. His steward at nearby Helmsley, Ralf Bawde, recorded the process of dismantling, leaving remarkably detailed accounts of the process and the form and contents of individual buildings.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the abbey ruins were in a state of imminent collapse. Minor repairs were carried out in 1907, but the scale of the repairs needed was such that only state intervention could save the site. The Office of Works took the ruins at Rievaulx into guardianship in July 1917.

Immediate repairs were begun, in spite of the shortage of labour and materials brought about by the First World War. After 1918 Sir Frank Baines, Principal Architect at the Office of Works, devised pioneering engineering techniques at Rievaulx such as reinforced concrete beams hidden in the upper walls to stabilise the buildings.

In the 1920s Sir Charles Peers, Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments, ordered the removal of much fallen debris to expose buried elements of the building. The work was carried out by war veterans. This policy of preservation and display set the style for the presentation of ancient monuments in Britain for the next two generations.

 Posted by at 12:10 am

Crackpot Hall

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Feb 232017

The ruins of Crackpot Hall lie about a mile east of Keld on the northern slope of Swaledale. There may have been a building on this site since the 16th century when a hunting lodge was maintained for Thomas, the first Baron Wharton, who visited the Dale occasionally to shoot the red deer. Survey work by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has shown that the building has changed many times over the years. At one time it even had a heather or “ling” thatched roof.

The current ruin is of a farmhouse dating from the mid 18th century. It was an impressive two-storey building with a slate roof and matching “shippons” or cow sheds at each end for animals. The building may also have been used as mine offices, as intensive lead mining was carried out in the area, and there were violent disputes over mine boundaries in the 18th century.

In the 1930s Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley wrote of a wild 4-year-old child living named Alice. On 7 November 2015 BBC Radio 3 broadcast a documentary in the Between the Ears strand titled Alice at Crackpot Hall about the story.

The current building was abandoned in the 1950s because of subsidence. Crackpot Hall has been saved from further decay by Gunnerside Estate with the aid of grants from the Millennium Commission and European Union through the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.

The name Crackpot is said to be Viking for “a deep hole or chasm that is a haunt of crows”.

The spoil heaps are from old lead mining which run all through Swaledale.

 Posted by at 12:32 am