The Old Grange

Here's the Old Grange, as it was in May, with the wisteria out.
Here’s the Old Grange, as it was in May, with the wisteria out.

As we’ve been four months back in England, it’s perhaps time to introduce our home, which answers to the name of ‘The Old Grange’.  I’ve already mentioned that it’s in part of an older building which forms part of a large, mainly Georgian house.  To understand how it came to be built, we’ll have to pay a quick visit to UNESCO World Heritage site, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, some 5 miles from us as the crow flies.

The nave of the now ruined Fountains Abbey
The nave of the now ruined Fountains Abbey

Back in 1132, there was no Abbey.  But there were 13 monks anxious to build one.  These particular men had joined holy orders in order to live a simple, strict and holy life, and were dismayed by the lax conditions they found in the Benedictine order they had joined.  The Archbishop of York offered them his protection, and the gift of some land near Ripon on the banks of the River Skell.  This area now is a fertile place, with pastureland, woods, stone for quarrying, and the waters of the Skell.  Back then, it was a hostile, overgrown and thoroughly unpromising environment.  The monks joined the Cistercian order which they felt offered the structure and discipline they sought, and strove to emulate the lifestyle promoted by its founder Bernard of Clairvaux.  A tough life of manual labour, self-sufficiency, and prayerful spirituality was the order of the day.

A view of Fountains Abbey: Wikimedia Commons
A view of Fountains Abbey: Wikimedia Commons

To cut a very long  story short – one which I will tell in a future post, because it’s a fascinating one – the Abbey the monks built prospered, to the extent that it became one of the largest, most successful and wealthy monasteries in the whole of Europe.  When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 1530s, the buildings and lands belonging to Fountains Abbey sold for over £1,000,000 – unimaginable wealth at the time: the monastery had acquired land over much of Yorkshire and Lancashire.  The simple life of those early monks had changed over the years. The monks themselves devoted more of their time to their spiritual life, with prayerful ritual being an important part of their routine.  The day-to-day work, mainly with sheep and cattle and all the other work associated with farming, both at Fountains itself and at all the other sites, was done by the so-called ‘lay brothers’.  Less educated, they had far fewer spiritual obligations.   And they lived communally in ‘granges’.

All those older buildings you’ll see as you travel around this part of the world, which include ‘grange’ as part of their name owe their existence to the fact that once they housed those lay brothers, mainly from Fountains Abbey.  The room where we sleep once formed part of the dormitory where the men working at our ‘old grange’ once slept.

In truth, it’s hard to believe.  We live in a stone building of traditional design, but with all mod cons.  One of the few signs of the building’s age is the huge fireplace on the ground floor which is now simply an alcove, though we gather it wouldn’t take much to reveal the old spit mechanism.  We have only one room downstairs.  The other spaces, which we have no access to, are now, as then, workspaces and storage areas.

Upstairs, where the bulk of our living space is, was once a single room, as long as the building itself.  In Victorian times, the owners of the larger property which had been built onto the original Old Grange in Georgian times, decided to break up the space into a number of rooms, to make it convenient to use as servants’ quarters.  And this is where we now live.

We find all this thoroughly exciting.  We enjoy noticing other granges as we explore Yorkshire, and we appreciate the connection that we now know we have with Fountains Abbey, a wonderfully beautiful site, whose history has touched the area for so many many miles around.

The Old Grange seen from the walled garden which most certainly was unknown to those lay brothers.
The Old Grange – the top floor dormitory – seen from the walled garden which most certainly was unknown to those lay brothers.

17 thoughts on “The Old Grange”

  1. What a wonderful, unusual place to live! We Americans get all excited about anything built in even the 1700s–the idea of living in a home with almost 1000 years of history is mind-boggling! The setting is beautiful, too–I’ll look forward to seeing more.


  2. Drove past on the way to The Big City this morning, and saw the entrance!
    I love it when I am out walking and we come across an old Monk’s Trod, ancient stones often in muddy copses or along damp green paths which the Monks would have used to stop their long clothes getting soiled. Best one is probably through Riffa Wood. You can feel how ancient they are somehow.


    1. Yes, we rent the Old Grange from the owners of the Georgian house, which is a Grade 2 Listed Building. This means they are obliged to look after it and only make necessary changes in a way befitting such a building. They are great custodians however, and it’s in great form.


  3. I agree with KerryCan – we Americans think something is old if it is from the 1970s and then we tear it down because it’s too old or too small or doesn’t fit the current feeling for living spaces…. the oldest city in North America will celebrate its 450th anniversary next year. Your home is probably very well built and will last another several centuries because it was built to last. Lovely story.


    1. It’s certainly solid! If you look at much of the housing round here, from small cottages to large estates, you’ll see that much of it has at least parts of it that date from the 17th and 18th centuries, or even before. I need to come and explore some American history though.


  4. What a lovely story! You live in a beautiful old place which remind you the life of the lay brothers depending on Fountains Abbey! and later the decision of owners in Victorian times who decided to redefine the space! As you says it’s very exciting. You have great activities too, such as the bells ringing in the Cathedral and the drama in the woods by night! Here we go on rambling and next saturday we’re going to listen in Camon ‘Le Chœur de Léran’ and ‘The Holme Valley Singers’ from Yorkshire! I’ll tell you about them! Good weekend!


  5. Well I would be very tempted to get permission to uncover the spit system! It sounds like a lovely place to live. Is the walled garden your responsibility? If so, that looks like a lot of hours of hard work.


    1. We are soooo lucky. The gardens are the delight and the responsibility of the owners. We just enjoy as and when we want. Though I’ve asked if I can help too, as I do like gardening. Still, I do the bits I fancy, and no more. Now then, that spit system. Not sure it would function for anything much smaller than an ox… 😉


  6. What a wonderful place to live. I’ve always been fascinated by the history in place names, there’s so much you can learn about an area. We used to live in Lamberhurst – hurst being Anglo Saxon for wooded hill and the lamber part connected to sheep. Looking at the comments from your north American readers reminded me that it was that long sense of history that we missed when we lived there. I remember some U.S. friends struggling to grasp that the church we were married in was over 1000 years old!


    1. Yes, it’s a real shock to their systems isn’t it? But you, like us, are confronted with the past every day with all those town and village names sounding so utterly, authentically Viking: all those paces like Grimwith and Thornton Watlass and so forth. I love it!


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