Studley Royal Water Garden at Fountains Abbey

Autumn colour and frost in Studley Royal water garden
The water garden is the main reason we're a World Heritage Site Andrew Butler

Studley Royal Water Garden was a breath-taking vision of John Aislabie and his son William.

In the early 18th-century John Aislabie had great plans to impress visitors to his Yorkshire estate and so turned the wild and wooded valley of the river Skell into one of England’s most spectacular Georgian water gardens.
John Aislabie inherited the Studley Royal estate in 1693. He was a socially and politically ambitious man and became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1718. Disaster struck his career in 1720 due to his part in the South Sea Bubble financial scandal and he was expelled from Parliament. It was then that John returned to Yorkshire and devoted himself to creating this ground-breaking garden. 
Inspired by the work of the great French landscape gardeners, the two gifted amateurs created the Water Garden with its formal, geometric design and extraordinary vistas; including the much photographed Temple of Piety. 
You can also find classical statues, follies and garden buildings carefully positioned within the landscape to discover and enjoy. 
In 1767 William Aislabie purchased the Abbey ruins to complete the garden and create the ultimate vista. The climax of the garden is known as “The Surprise View” or “Anne Boleyn’s Seat”. “Surprise View” is an apt name as it gives an astonishing view of the Abbey ruins in the distance and was designed to cause a sharp intake of breath when visitors to the garden came across it. 
Amazingly the garden you see today is little changed from the one that would have impressed Aislabie’s visitors 200 years ago.

Studley Royal Water Garden Timeline

  • 1200 - Small farming communities grow up, including Studlei Magna
  • 1356 - Sir Richard Tempest is Lord of Studley
  • 1400 - Studley village disappears. The manor house, Studley Hall remains
  • 1452 - The Mallory family live at Studley for the next 200 years
  • 1667 - George Aislabie of York marries Mary Mallorie of Studley
  • 1693 - John Aislabie inherits and begins to plan his water garden
  • 1716 - Work starts on the Lake, Canal and Moon Pond
  • 1742 - William Aislabie inherits and develops the Water Garden
  • 1742 - 1781 - A Chinese garden is added and Studley Hall rebuilt
  • 1767 - William buys the Fountains Abbey estate and the two become one
  • 1781 - William dies, with the Water Garden much as it is today