Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Leeds is an enchanting part of England that fascinates with its beauty, architecture and landscapes. There are many beautiful locations in the region that are worth visiting by tourists and local residents. In this article, we will tell you about the history of Kirkstall Abbey. This is a ruined Cistercian monastery in Kirkstall, near Leeds. Kirkstall Abbey was gifted to Leeds Corporation in the 19th century and the site was opened to the public in the 1890s. Learn more about this picturesque place on

History of the abbey foundation

Before telling our readers about this beautiful location, let’s define the term abbey. So, an abbey is a canonical and autonomous monastery ruled by an abbot. It should be noted that abbeys used to be the largest and richest monasteries and very often owned estates, lands, etc.

As for Kirkstall Abbey, its history begins with Henry de Lacy. Lord of the Manor of Pontefract and 2nd Lord of Bowland, Henry de Lacy promised to dedicate the abbey to the Virgin Mary if he recovered from a serious illness. As a result, the lord survived and granted the Abbot of Fountains Abbey land at Barnoldswick in the West Riding of Yorkshire to establish a subsidiary abbey there. Abbot Alexander and other monks tried to implement Henry de Lacy’s idea but later decided that the land was unsuitable. The abbot began to look for another place and one day came across a plot in the wooded valley of the River Aire. He asked de Lacy to help acquire William de Poitou’s land. Thus, the construction of the abbey began and the main buildings were completed in 1152.

Abbey architecture

It should be noted that the abbey building was simple. Its windows weren’t ornamented and the nave had no triforium. The window and doorways have round heads and the vault arches were pointed. By the way, the abbey’s moulding and capitals were a vivid example of early Gothic.

There were many rooms, including a living room, a day room for monks and a room for monks, which opened with a staircase to the southern transept of the church. In the southern part, there are the remains of the old refectory, kitchen, pantry and butter house. It should be added that the abbey underwent changes from time to time. Thus, in the 15th century, the large eastern window was replaced by a smaller one. The tower above the crossing was raised in the 16th century.

As we already mentioned, abbeys usually owned other properties. Kirkstall Abbey was no exception. It owned fish ponds between the monastery and the river and a mill nearby.

The disintegration of the abbey

In 1539, the abbey was handed over to Henry VIII, who was dissolving the monasteries at that time. In 1584, the monastery ceased to function, so the estate was purchased by Sir Robert Savile. He owned the building for about a hundred years. Later, in 1671, the house passed into the hands of the Brudenell family, Earls of Cardigan. Then much of the abbey’s stone was reused. In 1889, the estate was sold to Colonel John North. He presented the abbey to Leeds City Council. The city council decided to restore the abbey, and a few years later, it was opened to the citizens and guests of the region.

The territory of the abbey occupies an area of 23.5 hectares and there is a public park next to the building. Nowadays, the park features landscaped areas, open meadows, tennis courts, children’s playgrounds as well as rugby and football pitches.

The abbey is a Grade I listed building. Therefore, you must visit this location and feel its special atmosphere.

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