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History of Rievaulx Terrace

A view down the lawn of the Terrace at Rievaulx Terrace, North Yorkshire, with the Ionic Temple in the middle ground; in the foreground are mature trees and bushes
The Ionic Temple at Rievaulx Terrace | © National Trust Images / Andrew Butler

Learn the story of Rievaulx Terrace’s past, from its beginnings as part of the Rievaulx Abbey estate. Discover how 18th-century owner Thomas Duncombe II planned to create a verdant garden with lavish temple follies, and the likely architect he employed to create his vision.

The many owners of Rievaulx Terrace

Until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, Rievaulx Terrace had been part of the estate belonging to Rievaulx Abbey. After the dissolution it was granted to Thomas Manners, 1st Earl of Rutland. He then passed it to George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham.

In 1687, upon the death of Villiers’s son, the estate was sold to Sir Charles Duncombe. Charles’s nephew, Thomas Duncombe, then inherited it in 1711. The property later passed to his own son Thomas Duncombe II, along with the adjoining Helmsley Estate (now Duncombe Park).

An elevated view from the Terrace at Rievaulx Terrace, North Yorkshire, looking down towards the vast ruins of Rievaulx Abbey
The view towards the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey from Rievaulx Terrace | © National Trust Images / Andrew Butler

The vision of Thomas Duncombe II

When Thomas returned from his Grand Tour in 1747, his thoughts turned to developing his estate, particularly Rievaulx Terrace. Here he would have the opportunity to create his ideal landscape, complete with views over a magnificent, ruined abbey.

His desire was to complement – and perhaps even surpass – the more formal terrace and temples installed by his father only a few miles away at Duncombe Park House.

From dream to reality

We don’t know for certain who Duncombe commissioned to design Rievaulx Terrace, or the temples at either end of it. The most likely candidate is Sir Thomas Robinson, a Yorkshire gentleman and architect. He was particularly interested in round temples like those at Duncombe Park.

The Tuscan Temple, a columned rotunda, at Rievaulx Terrace, North Yorkshire
Rievaulx Terrace's Tuscan Temple | © National Trust Images / Andrew Butler

The Tuscan Temple

It's thought that Robinson designed the Tuscan Temple in the late 1750s. Built at the south end of the Terrace, the temple is a rotunda very similar in style to the one at Duncombe Park.

Both take their inspiration from the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli near Rome. The main differences are that the one at Rievaulx Terrace stands on a podium rather than on a set of steps, and the columns have no bases.


Inside, the floor is adorned with 13th-century tiles from nearby Byland Abbey, which were re-laid during the 1920s.

Meanwhile, rich plasterwork was used to decorate the walls and ceiling. In the centre of the dome is a painting of a winged goddess, attributed to the Italian artist Andrea Casali. Casali had been encouraged to come to England by Thomas Duncombe II’s father-in-law, who employed him at Castle Howard.

The Ionic Temple

In contrast to the rotunda, the Ionic Temple at the far northern end of the Terrace is rectangular. It was inspired by the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome and resembles a scaled-down version of the famous Maison Carrée at Nimes. It’s also believed to be the work of Thomas Robinson.

The Duncombe family used the Ionic Temple for dining and socialising after promenading along the Terrace. The lavish interior, with its intricately painted ceiling, would have been a magnificent sight for the privileged guests to behold.

The frescoes

The restored plasterwork of the portico looks back to the work of Inigo Jones and the early 17th century father of Palladianism. The frescoes depict mythological scenes and are the work of Italian painter Giuseppe Mattia Borgnis, who came to England around 1753.

In the centre of the ceiling is a scene featuring Aurora, Apollo and the Muses, based on Guido Reni’s mural in the Palazzo Rospigliosi in Rome.

A woman is sitting and leaning against one of the columns of the Ionic Temple at Rievaulx Terrace, North Yorkshire. She is smiling and looking out of shot.

Discover more at Rievaulx Terrace

Find out when Rievaulx Terrace is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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Things to do at Rievaulx Terrace 

Explore this 18th-century pleasure garden, with its lavish temple follies, lush woodland, pretty wildflower bank and sweeping views towards the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey.

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Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.

The exterior of the Ionic Temple at Rievaulx Terrace, North Yorkshire. It has six tall columns at the entrance, reached by a stone staircase.

Rievaulx Terrace's collection 

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Rievaulx Terrace on the National Trust Collections website.