An afternoon of no peace… but a lot of good will: a carol service at Fountains Abbey

Festivals, National Trust, North Yorkshire

If the National Trust property where you volunteer has an abbey on site, albeit a ruined one, that’s where a good few of the Christmas celebrations need to take place.  It’s fair to say that there are many people locally who regard a chance to hear singing from a local choir at one of the ‘Music and Lights’ events, or at the carol service here, as one of the focal points of their pre-Christmas celebrations.

The Abbey hasn’t had a roof since Henry VIII’s men came and removed it. Only the cellarium, which the monks used for storage, specifically for vast quantities of valuable woollen fleeces, is still under cover.  It’s a little draughty too, as the windows remain unglazed, but the acoustics are amazing. The monks who used to call the abbey home might be rather surprised to find that their storage facility is nowadays, from time to time, a concert hall.

Picture the scene before the service began.  Here’s the cellarium at 1.30 p.m.

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The cellarium, empty at 1.30 p.m.

For two hours after that, though, there was a batallion of volunteers, with a couple of members of staff cheerfully mucking in to transform the place.  Some of us hauled ranks and ranks of folding chairs out from storage and arranged them neatly.  Some protected scores of candles with little cardboard collars so nobody would be burnt by molten wax when the time came to light them during the service. Others uncoiled lengthy snakes of cable for the sound and lighting systems.  And the largest team of all arranged the refreshments: coffee, tea, hot chocolate, mulled wine.

By 3 o’clock. members of the public were already choosing their seats, and the refreshment stand was very much in business.   ‘One coffee, two teas and four mulled wines please!’ ‘Two hot chocolates, a mulled wine and a coffee’.  On and on we worked.  Suddenly, someone said she thought she could hear ‘Oh come all ye faithful’ in the distance.  The service had long since begun, and we’d been too busy to notice.

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The carol service continued, service of refreshments continued.  By half past 4, things finally started to quieten down as the event drew to a close.  Time for the team to snatch a refreshment break, and do a little accounting.  We’d sold far more than £1000 worth of hot drinks, including 66 bottles-worth of mulled wine.   Not bad for a couple of hours’ hard graft.  And as the congregation proved willing to do a whole lot of chair shifting, clearing up didn’t take too long.

Even if we didn’t hear many carols, we felt we’d had a good start to the Christmas season.  It hadn’t been very peaceful, but there had been plenty of cheerful good will from staff, volunteers and visitors alike.

And meanwhile, up at the entrance to Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal, two other volunteers had been busy.  Here’s Sharon, Volunteer Elf, welcoming visitors to meet Father Christmas – a volunteer, of course.FASRMusic&LightsDec15 003

14 thoughts on “An afternoon of no peace… but a lot of good will: a carol service at Fountains Abbey

  1. I love these posts about the Abbey and the events there–this must’ve been magical (not for the volunteers but for the visitors!) Is the concert just done once a season? How many people came, do you know?


    1. Yes, it was. The day before, when a local choir sang for 40 minutes to anyone passing was even lovelier. Not too many people came as the weather was abysmal, but those who did had an experience rather more in touch with simpler monastic times. Numbers? I don’t know. We CAN have up to 1000, but not this year. 300- 400? There are various concerts throughout the year. You’ll have to come and visit!


  2. wonderful memories of Fountains Abbey from April and the cellarium.What would the monks have made of the elf?


  3. What a stunning venue! Mulled wine, carols and the atmospheric surroundings sound like a magical combination. Well done, volunteers! Happy Christmas to you and yours, Margaret!


  4. What a beautiful place to hear the sounds of Christmas. I am glad I saved this to read until this morning. One day my country will have the rich history of your country – with interesting buildings that stand the test of time. This morning my eighth graders and I are off to the Naper Settlement and back in the time machine to the 1840s when America was hotly debating the future of slavery. It was doomed, thankfully. We’ll be walking in and out of restored buildings from the time period 1830-1850 – nothing like Henry VIII’s time. Cheers and Merry Christmas.


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