Last Photographed: Tuesday 5th July 2005
A monastic community was originally founded in 1145 by Akarius Fitz Bardolph at Fors, near Aysgarth. However, the site suffered from poor weather and crop failure, and in 1156, the monks were forced to relocate to a new site at Jervaulx, next to the River Ure (Jervaulx deriving from "Ure Vallery").
Few records exist of later life at Jervaulx, but we do know that they made their wealth from sheep, cheese- making and horse breeding. They were particularly famed for the latter, with the loss of Jervaulx's horses being felt keenly when the abbey was dissolved. The monks are also credited with being the first to introduce cheese-making into the Wensleydale region, having brought the skills with them from their home in France.
The only event of note that's recorded from Jervaulx's history is from 1279, when Abbot Philip was murdered by one of his monks. His successor - Abbot Thomas - was initially accused of the crime, but a jury later determined that another monk was to blame.
Jervaulx fell victim to Henry VIII's suppression in 1537. The last abbot, Adam Sedbergh, had joined the Pilgrimage of Grace opposing the dissolution of the monasteries, and was hanged at Tyburn in the same year. The destruction of Jervaulx was therefore particularly savage. Not only was it stripped of lead and all other valuables as was customary, but the buildings were demolished at the hands of the king's men.
In an interesting footnote, Cromwell's commissioners faced difficulty in transporting the lead from Jervaulx. The harsh winter conditions made the surrounding roads impassable for wagons bearing such heavy weight, and so the lead was buried at the foot of the west wall for removal the following summer. For some reason, it would seem this treasure was forgotten and left hidden for centuries. Eventually, it was rediscovered, and subsequently used for the re-roofing of York Minster following the fire of 1984.
Despite the destruction wreaked by the suppression, a remarkable collection of ruins still survive. Little is left of the church, but the kitchen, the hall and the chapter house are easily identifiable.
Jervaulx benefits, in my opinion, from being in private hands. The owners have pioneered a scheme of natural preservation, allowing plants and wild flowers to grow freely amongst the ruins and atop the walls. This has had the effect of preserving the fabric of the abbey from the erosive properties of acid rain. This contrasts sharply with the stark conservation practices of English Heritage.
Whatever the relative merits of either conservation approach, there's no doubt that the owners of Jervaulx have created a wild and wistful fairyland amongst the beautiful ruins of this ancient abbey. It's an enchanting magic garden with lots of nooks and crannies and a surprise around every corner. It may lack the majesty of Fountains or Rievaulx, but it makes up for that with its own brand of charm and intimacy. Jervaulx is another lost corner of Britain where it's possible to escape the modern world and reconnect with a quieter past.