In 1132, thirteen Benedictine monks from York fetched up in a wild and isolated place we now know as the manicured and lovely parkland setting of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. The Archbishop of York had offered them the land so they could establish a pious community based on silence, prayer and simplicity.
Over the years – over the next four centuries – they built a community with all the trappings of a large village: sleeping, living and working quarters, an infirmary, guest accommodation, a mill, a tannery, quarrying, as well as the daily focus of their lives, the Abbey church itself, where they worshipped eight times a day.
Their principal source of income was from sheep, whose wool came to be valued at home and abroad. Merchants from all over Europe to buy and trade.
The Abbey site could not sustain enough sheep for this thriving business. Lay brothers (the manual workers of the monastic world) were sent further and further afield to establish small working sheep farms – granges. During the 15th century they came here, and built the house in which we now live.
It’s changed a bit of course. Who knows how much of the house is truly original, though the stone-built walls are a traditional, sturdy and strong build? We no longer live in an upstairs dormitory, as the lay brothers did.
The Victorians divided the place into rooms for the servants of the country house which was built and attached to the grange in the 18th century. The animals and working quarters are no longer downstairs, though the old, spacious and business like kitchen hearth still exists.
As I make the eight mile journey from here to Fountains Abbey I like to think of the heritage our home shares with this wonderful UNESCO World Heritage site. Aren’t we lucky?
Just round the corner from us, on a back road into Ripon, is a fine old manor house, Norton Conyers. It was in such ruinous condition that it was closed for several years while its owners, Sir James and Lady Graham, oversaw its restoration.
Last year, one one of its few open days, we paid a visit, and I failed to blog about our wonderful afternoon out. But now I don’t have to.
Ann Stephenson, in her wonderfully varied blog ‘Travels and Tomes’ not only recounts something of the house and its history, but lets us all into a secret. Norton Conyers, with its secret attic and resident madwoman may have provided the inspiration for Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’. How exciting is that?
You can read all about it here. Thanks Ann, for letting me share this story.
While we are on the topic of the Bronte sisters (or, at least, we were two weeks ago), there’s one more thing I should mention– an especially juicy tidbit. Are you listening? Jane Eyre may be inspired by a true story.
This isn’t news in North Yorkshire and the cozy city of Ripon that I once called home. Just around the corner from Ripon, roughly two or three miles from the roundabout at the edge of town, lies a beautiful old manor house by the name Norton Conyers. It is a handsome medieval squire’s home, dating back to the 1600’s, which has remained in the possession of one family (the Grahams) for nearly 400 years. That’s an achievement!
However, the house had fallen into disrepair of colossal proportions: rain poured in, wood-boring beetles swarmed, and very little of the grand house was heated. Thankfully, Sir James and…
We went to Knole on Sunday: I was with Tom, Sarah and William. Here is a house with 500 years of history set into a mediaeval deer park of 1000 acres.
The house turned out to be off-limits. Only when we got home did we find out that with an over-booked Children’s Book Festival in full swing, other visitors were being urged to stay away.
It didn’t matter. A 1000 acre deer park simply never gets crowded, and the weather was sunny and bright. William rushed about the unending open space and we all helped him spot distant deer.
What we didn’t expect was that the deer were rather more interested in spotting us, and not staying at a distance at all. They’d developed a formula which goes something like this: ‘people = rucksacks = picnics = free food’.
We knew it wasn’t a good idea. We know that deer are wild creatures, sometimes unpredictable and that they can host ticks and other unwelcome creepy-crawlies. It was a treat to be able to see them grazing nearby.
The deer had other ideas. They found a neighbouring toddler’s empty push chair and nuzzled around it for treats. Then they spotted William. He had an apple. The young sika deer thought that William’s apple might make a nice change from grazing for young grass.
It was treat for William of course, to get so close to these wild creatures. And it was a treat for us too. But we were wary, and did what we could to discourage our marauder. Once he ‘d snaffled the apple core, we made our excuses and left.
We’ll go back to Knole of course, to explore the house. But we may leave our picnic at home.
If you come for your holidays to Nidderdale in the Yorkshire Dales – and my goodness, I do recommend it – you’ll want to have an afternoon pottering around Pateley Bridge. It’s just won Britain’s Best Village High Street 2016 award.
And if you come to Pateley Bridge, you jolly well ought to visit Nidderdale Museum. Tucked behind the High Street near the Primary School and the Parish Church on the site of the former Workhouse, it’s a little treasure trove.
This little museum is entirely staffed by volunteers who cherish each donation and display as many as they possibly can in an engaging and informative way. You’ll punctuate your visit with delighted cries of ‘I remember that! My granny had one!’ Or ‘Oooh, I never knew the railway went there. I wonder where the station was?’. You’ll have an animated discussion with a fellow-visitor about being an ink-monitor at school, or about the mangle that was hauled out on washdays when you were a small child.
You’ll also see things that were not part of your own heritage, but which were an important part of Nidderdale’s past. You’ll discover that this pleasant rural area was once an industrial power-house, with textile workers by the score and lead mines dotted over the landscape. You’ll be reminded how very tough day-to-day life was on a Daleside small holding or farm.
Here’s a very quick tour:
We had a Ewbank carpet sweeper at home … and this splendid bed-warmer, simply heated by a light bulb … and a cream-maker.
A Ewbank carpet sweeper.
A 1960s Belling bed warmer. Known in our family as ‘the bomb’.
A 1960s cream maker (milk and butter required) with contemporary beakers.
We had inkwells like this at school, and I spent many painful hours in the company of copy books like these.
But look at this parlour:
And this wholly intact cobbler’s shop, transferred to the Museum in its entirety.
And here’s a glimpse of life on the farm, before labour-saving machinery came along.
We’ll be going again and again. So much to see, to reminisce over, to learn from. This engaging museum is a treasure in its own right.
My visit was one of the perks of being a National Trust volunteer. Brimham Rocks is Fountains Abbey’s nearest neighbour, and staff there organised this trip – thank you! The museum is open at weekends until mid-March, then daily during summer months.
1592 was a terrible year for Korea. The Japanese invaded. They raged through the land destroying all they saw. They burnt ancient temples and state-of-the-art palaces as well as ordinary homes. Little was left.
Imagine an England in which every cultural icon was destroyed in WWII – Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, York Minster, Salisbury Cathedral, Chatsworth….. that’s the kind of morale-destroying disaster Korea faced in 1592.
Rather than accept these losses, Koreans rolled up their sleeves and built everything again, on the same site, and to the same design. Not just once, but in some cases several times, as a consequence of later invasions and revolts. Unlike our own historic buildings, these structures are made not from stone or brick, but from the wood from monumental long-lived trees with statuesque trunks and mighty branches. These palaces and places of worship are carved to traditional patterns and painted in an accepted range of colours with time-honoured designs and images. To our eyes, these palaces and temples look fairly similar. But once we overheard a group talking – ‘Look, anyone can see that’s twelfth century: not a bit like the 15th century style we were looking at earlier’.
Here’s Seoul’s Changdeokgung Palace. It was first built in 1408 for the Joseon royal dynasty and designed with an extensive natural garden in harmony with the topography of its surroundings. The Japanese burnt it down in 1592. It was rebuilt in 1608, burnt down during a political revolt in 1628, and again by the Chinese Manchu-Qing. Each time it was faithfully restored to its original design. The long Japanese occupation of Korea from 1911 to 1945 saw it heavily damaged yet again: once again it’s been restored, though only about 30% of the original buildings remain.
Against the odds, this palace and its grounds together form a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognised as a fine example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design in harmony with their natural setting. This is a fine and tranquil place.
Here is a tale of a murder. A murder which led to the building of a very fine church not many miles from here.
In 1870, Frederick Vyner, son of the Marquess of Ripon and Lady Mary Vyner, travelled to Greece with a small band of English and Italian friends and servants. They were set upon by brigands who had probably been tipped off, and who demanded a huge ransom: £50,000. Women, children and servants in the party were regarded as useless bargaining tools by the brigands. They were released. But five men remained captive, including Frederick. The money was found to pay off the ransom, but before it could be delivered, the Greeks sent in the army, and in the resulting battle, soldiers, brigands and four of the hostages were killed, among them Frederick Vyner.
Vyner’s mother, Lady Mary, determined that she would build a church in her son’s memory on the Newby Hall estate which was their home. Her sister, Lady Ripon, was at the same time engaged in a project to build a church at Studley Royal, Fountains Abbey, Ripon. William Burges , noted Victorian architect, obtained the commissions for both churches in 1870.
I’m going to get to know St. Mary’s Church, and the work of William Burges very well over the weeks and months to come, as I have just been accepted as a volunteer for the National Trust at Fountains Abbey, where one of my duties will be as an Information Assistant at the church. Yesterday though, as part of our training, we were taken to see the church at Newby, which was until the 1990’s, the parish church of the village of Skelton-on-Ure.
It’s clearly Saint Mary’s sister church, yet more stolid, more weighty in appearance. Originally to have been called St. Michael and All Angels, the church has a unique dedication – to Christ the Consoler. Wander round the outside, and you’ll see over the door Christ the good shepherd with some of his ovine flock: a complement to the sheep in the field beyond, at the moment nursing their young lambs.
Within and outside the church Christ is omnipresent, perhaps most spectacularly in the rose window which portrays Him at its centre. The several ages of man are illustrated on an inner wheel of glass, and the various occupations and conditions of man on an outer wheel: noblemen at the top, working types below. Curiously, being ‘negro’, seems to be a job in itself. All turn their gaze upon the risen Christ the Consoler as they go about their business. It’s easy to imagine this spectacular window being a teaching aid to any cleric needing material for his sermon.
Christ the consoler
A fisherman and a hunter.
Walk down the nave and you’ll witness the miracles of Christ on one side, his parables on the other, each complemented by the event from the Old Testament which is traditionally held to be the precursor of that in the New Testament. This one was my particular favourite: the Annunciation, whose forerunner was the story of Moses and the burning bush.
The dominating view as you enter the church is an almost overwhelming sculpture above the entrance to the chancel. Here is Christ’s Ascension with a crowd of 12 looking on. These are the disciples of course: but not Judas. His place is taken by Mary: a very mediaeval take on the event.
The chancel itself forms an intimate place for the Vyner family. Heraldic misericords record the arms of close and more distant branches of the family, all surrounding as if to embrace the memorial to the murdered young Frederick in a private and understated way. It’s decorated, as is St. Mary’s, with columns in Irish marble: dark green, plum red, greyish-white. More stained glass windows of Christ carrying his cross, then crucified, each with a number of Old Testament precursors.
Detail from the organ housing.
Angels rise above the chancel.
There’s more. There’s a glittering reredos with the Magi. There’s a spectacular organ casing set before the chancel. There’s detail to keep you happily busy and exploring for hours. Newby Hall and its gardens ought to be on your tourist map if you explore our area. Don’t leave the church out of your itinerary.
As for William Burges, and the story of the two churches he built here near Ripon… well, there’s plenty here for another day