The dramatic and extensive ruins of the Augustinian priory, Kirkham, are sited in a spectacular setting by a river in the Derwent valley. The priory was founded in the 1120-1130 time period by Walter Espec, the lord of Helmsley.
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The priory was especially prosperous in the 13th century, but by the 14th it was debt ridden. It ceased to exist as a working entity with the suppression of the monasteries in 1539.
The gatehouse dates from the late 13th century and had a wide gate hall and ranges of buildings on either side. A niche in it once held a carving of the crucifixion. The gatehouse has the family heraldry (the De Roos family) carved into it. Groups of sculptures on either side included St George and the dragon. The two windows are flanked by shields and the seated figure of Christ is between them. A panelled parapet sits above 13th century leafwork.
The monastic buildings are mainly ruins. The cloister was 96 feet wide and 114 feet long. A passage led from the east side. A chapter house had four bays and wall arcades around the interior. The dormitory adjoined the chapter house and had a vaulted basement in its south end. There was a reredorter (latrine building). At one time there were two doors to it from the dormitory. The ground floor of the reredorter had a fireplace.
A 13th century dining hall on the south side of the cloister had a vaulted basement. It was 85 feet long and was reached from the cloisters. A lavatory served as a washing place. The kitchen ruins contain fireplaces and an oven. There was also a guest house. The western range of the cloister buildings no longer exists. There are, however, remains of an infirmary hall with offices, a kitchen, and the priorís house.
The church is not the first on the site as the original was rebuilt c1180. In the early 1200s it was decided to enlarge the church. The building work was begun but never completed. A new choir and presbytery of 8 bays replaced the 12th century one. The 12th century nave and transepts were not replaced. A section of the 13th century east front remains.
Remains of tombs lie between the arcades on the south side of the presbytery. The tombs of the family were located in the church. Groups of sculptures on either side included St George and the dragon. The two windows are flanked by shields and the seated figure of Christ is between them. A panelled parapet sits above 13th century leafwork.
No choir stalls remain. Foundation lines are visible for the east end of the church.
In the 14th century a chapel was added outside the south aisle. The 12th century north transept had a bayed entry into the 14th century chapel. A living room for the sacrist was added in this area. The crossing has only the remains of the piers of the 12th century tower. The south transept had eastern chapels dating from the 12th century. A 12th century door in the west wall led to the cloister. Little is left to give clues to the nave. When it was made longer in the early 12th century two west towers were added. The ruins of one tower rise to 20 feet.
An interpretation centre gives full details of the ruins.
Minor road off the A64, five miles south-west of Malton
Tel. 0 1653 618 768
Open: April-end July and Sep, Wed-Sun, 10am-6pm; Aug, daily, 10am-6pm
English Heritage property; parking; picnic area
Insider Tip: Donít miss this haunting ruin in a beautiful setting.
Photos and text © by Barbara Ballard