Easby Abbey was a Premonstratensian order. The order was first established in 1120 in northern France. The monks were different than other monks who always stayed in their abbeys. The Premonstratensian ones were priests and could leave to preach and minister in the wide world as well as serve as a vicar for the local parish church. They did, however, live a life of poverty, chastity, obedience, prayer, and manual work. They wore white clothing, thus they were given the name White Canons.
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Easby Abbey was founded c1155 by the constable, Roald, of nearby Richmond castle. It began with 13 canons, an abbot, and servants and labourers. The servants and labourers lived in an outer court of the abbey. The abbey was enlarged as it grew. In 1300 an upper part of the refectory was rebuilt, and the eastern part of the church extended.
Because of the land configuration by the River Swale where the abbey was built, it did not have a rectangular cloister but a trapezoidal one. Another difference to other abbeys was the infirmary was north of the abbey church. This was not because of the lie of the land but because a parish church already existed in the usual configuration.
The middle ages saw raiding of the abbey by the Scottish. Then in 1346 English troops used the abbey for accommodation and did not treat it well. In 1537 the abbey suffered its end when Henry VIII took over the reins. Roofs were removed as well as furnishings and contents. Some of the buildings were destroyed.
A lane beside the river leads to the abbey entrance. The remnants of the kitchen can be seen. From here the path leads into the south range where the dining hall was located on an upper floor. Note the large windows. Under the dining hall were storage rooms.
From the dining hall approach the cloister whose covered walks around four sides are no longer in existence. On the west side of the cloister was a dormitory. The entrance survives. There was a lavatorium for washing next to the doorway. At the north end was a warming house. Across from this was the chapter house. North of the cloister was the church. It had an aisled nave, north and south transepts and a square eastern arm. Burial places are marked by arched recesses in the presbytery.
Beyond the north transept there are further buildings. These include the infirmary hall with its own chapel and kitchen. The abbot’s chambers were located on the upper floor of buildings south and west of the infirmary.
Near the entrance gate was a vaulted guest hall with fireplace, above which was the prior’s chamber, above which was the dormitory for sleeping. A three storey building, part of the west range, had latrines, accommodation, and storage rooms.
Next to the abbey is the parish church St Agatha’s. On the north and south side of the chancel are frescoes dating back to the 13th century. There is a copy of the original carved stone cross-shaft (now in the V&A in London) dating back to AD800.
.5 mile from Richmond, Yorkshire
Off the B6271
Tel. none given
Open: April-end Sep, daily, 10am-6pm; Oct, daily, 10am-5pm; Nov-end March, daily, 10am-4pm, closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan
English Heritage property; parking; picnic area; get guidebook at Richmond Castle
Photos © by Barbara Ballard except St Agatha’s church by wfmillar courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland