Studley Royal water garden is the result of a breath-taking vision from John Aislabie and his son William. These tranquil but playful gardens continue to delight all these years later. Recognised as a site of cultural importance, they were granted World Heritage Status in 1986 for everybody to enjoy.
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
In 1132, 13 monks came here to start a simpler life. Over 400 years later, when Henry VIII demanded the closure of the Abbey, the monks left behind the most complete Cistercian abbey remains in the country.