Once again mounting the brakes, a pleasant drive of four or five miles, by the side of Sandbeck Park and through the small hamlet of Stone, brought the Excursionists to Roche Abbey, access to which, on a closed day, had been kindly granted by Earl Scarbrough.

The Abbey is approached from the high road down a steep hill, which leads to the fine lodge with its stone groined arched entrance as originally constructed. At the Abbey Mr. G. Fellows read a few notes on its origin and history.


Roche Abbey, formerly known as Sancta Maria de Rupe, or the "House of St. Mary of the Rock," was an abbey built by the Cistercian Order of Monks, which order originated in France and was introduced into England in 1128.

Entrance gateway, Roche Abbey.
Entrance gateway, Roche Abbey.

The first abbey founded by them in this country was at Waverley, in Surrey, at the time just mentioned, but later, Yorkshire seems to have had especial attractions for them, for in that county they built no less than six abbeys, viz., Fountains, Rievaulx, Byland, Kirkstall, Jervaulx, and the one in the ruins of which we are now assembled.

In the course of their wanderings, some of the brotherhood, with Durandus, who became first Abbot of Roche, came upon this charming valley, where (so legend says) they found a fissure in the limestone rock in the shape of a crucifix. This determined them to build an abbey on the spot, an intention which may have been further strengthened by the building material and the fine spring of water, known as the "Well of our Lady," being close at hand.

In those days, two local influential men whose lands adjoined in this valley, viz., Richard de Busli, lord of Tickhill and great-nephew of Roger de Busli, and Richard Fitz-turgis, welcomed the monks and agreed that whichever side of the brook, that here divided their estates, the monks might select for the site of their abbey, they should be joint patrons of it.

De Busli's side of the stream was selected, and he endowed the abbey by charter, in which "he gave to God, and St. Mary, and the monks of the Rock for the salvation of his soul and the souls of all his ancestors," liberal grants of land and pasturage. This was in 1147, when King Stephen occupied the English throne.

The Cistercians were conspicuous for the great simplicity of their lives. Out-door labour occupied the chief of their time when not engaged in their devotions, to which they were summoned seven times a day. Their garb was a white cloak and hood; they were only permitted two cloaks with cowls, but when working they wore a black gown, in order to protect their white cassocks from being soiled.

All the houses they founded were built in secluded places and dedicated to the Virgin. Strict silence was enjoined, and they had to "devise extraordinary afflictions for their own bodies, to the intent their souls may be advantaged."

Roche Abbey.
Roche Abbey.

It is obvious that the building dates from the period when Norman architecture was passing into the pointed or Early English style, that is about the latter end of the 12th century. Like all such buildings, it was commenced at the east end, and it is there that the earliest work may be traced.

All Cistercian abbeys were cruciform in shape, and in many instances had a tower at the point of intersection. There was an arcade of eight arches, with aisles, all of which were probably vaulted over. The building was 210 feet long by 99 feet wide across the transepts, each of which had two chapels in their east side. There were nine bells at the time of the Dissolution. The site of the high altar is plainly seen near the east window, which is of later insertion and probably replaced three tiers of small windows of Norman character. Glass has been found when excavating; this has been carefully preserved in the private chapel at Sandbeck.

Henry Crundall was abbot at the time of the Dissolution, in 1538, when the lead was stripped off and melted down with fires made from the woodwork of the interior.

The abbey eventually became the property of a Mr. Lumley, who was subsequently third Earl of Scarbrough.

In the county of Nottinghamshire, Rufford is the only abbey founded by the Cistercians.

In 1774 the fourth Earl employed a landscape gardener, known by the name of Mr. "Capability" Brown, to improve the grounds around the ruin; he does not, however, seem to have been successful, for his ideas were quite out of harmony with the surroundings.

The present Earl of Scarbrough has caused research to be made, and has thereby revealed the plan of the church and buildings, as far as may be seen to-day. Rumour says that in his zeal he has had his coat off in the cause on many occasions.

It is to the courtesy of this nobleman that we are permitted to visit this place on a private day, and I desire to take this opportunity of acknowledging his lordship's kindness in affording me the means of submitting these few facts to your notice.

Anyone desiring still further information as to Roche Abbey had better read Mr. James Aveling's "History of Roche Abbey from its Foundation to its Dissolution," published in 1870 by Mr. Robert White, of Worksop, who kindly presented a copy of the work to the Thoroton Society's library.

Sufficient time was arranged for here to make a thorough inspection of the ruin and its surroundings, as well as for tea, after which, at five o'clock, the return journey to Bawtry was commenced. This was varied by passing through the villages of Styrup and Harworth, the former of which places is interesting as being one of the five places in England that was licensed in 1194 by King Richard I. for public tournaments. These are reputed to have been held on the level tract of ground that lies between this place and Blyth.1 A tournament was held here by the sanction, if not in the presence, of King Henry III. in 1232; no tournament could be held without the sanction of the king.

Nottingham was reached about eight p.m.

(1) History of Blyth (Raine), p. 168.