The dramatic Abbey ruins at Fountains are the largest monastic ruins in the country. The Abbey was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York seeking to live a devout and simple lifestyle.
Within three years the little settlement at Fountains had been admitted to the austere Cistercian Order and with that came an important development – the introduction of the Cistercian system of lay brothers.
The lay brothers (think labourer) relieved the monks from routine jobs, giving them more time to dedicate to God. It was because of the lay brothers that Fountains became so wealthy through wool production, lead mining, cattle rearing, horse breeding and stone quarrying.
In the 14th-century the monks had to cope with bad harvests and raids from the Scots which led to economic collapse. This was only made worse by the Black Death which struck the country in 1348.
Despite its financial problems, the Abbey remained important. The abbacy of Marmaduke Huby (1495 - 1526) marked a period of revival and the great tower built by Huby symbolises his hope for the Abbey’s future.
The Abbey was abruptly closed down in 1539 in the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by Henry VIII, and the abbot, prior and monks were sent away with pensions.
The estate was sold by the Crown to a merchant, Sir Richard Gresham. It remained in private hands until the 1960s. The National Trust bought the estate from the West Riding County Council in 1983.