Revealing Rustic Cottage at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal

Rustic Cottage one of the lost garden buildings of the estate

Rustic Cottage is one of several lost garden buildings from the Aislabie family’s Studley Royal water garden.

The cottage, originally built as a folly, once stood next to the boundary wall between the Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal estates. Follies were often used in eighteenth century gardens as eye-catchers to surprise visitors and enhance views.

The two estates were separately owned until William Aislabie bought Fountains Abbey from the Messenger family of Fountains Hall in 1767. He immediately set about joining up Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, building many follies along the way.

Aislabie created Rustic Cottage in a picturesque style which was very popular amongst garden designers at the time. The simple, rectangular folly was built to look intentionally rustic and almost thrown together.

Old photographs show us that the walls were made from cobbles and rubble from the abbey ruins. The doors and windows of the cottage had gothic arches and diamond shaped panes.

From the 1840s Rustic Cottage was used to house estate staff and is thought to have been demolished some time during the 1930s.

What's happened so far?

We didn’t know that much about Rustic Cottage prior to the dig as as very few images of the building remain and only a small part of one wall still stands above ground level.

Digging the trial trenches uncovered lots of exciting new information about the history and appearance of the building. Fragments of wall plaster revealed that the interior of the cottage was decorated in an eccentric colour palette over the years. During its use as a garden building, the cottage was originally painted with a midnight blue and then a ‘Pompeian’ red. We suspect that the cottage was redecorated for domestic use with lighter shades of goose grey, yellow ochres, and duck egg blues and greens. Unexpected fireplaces, indications of well laid flagstone floors and walls of unknown rooms were also among the team’s discoveries.

What next?

We’re planning to carry out further archaeological works next year, excavating the whole area and recording what we find. This will help us to plan any work to consolidate the remains as a ruin that everyone can see.

Rustic Cottage Dig diary