Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Fountains Abbey Leather

There have been two online reports about the latest archaeological discovery at Fountains Abbey, which is the identification of a sizeable tannery within the monastic precinct. It is the largest tannery identified on an English medieval monastic site, and was situated on the eastern site of the complex, down stream, and down wind, of the main buildings.

If I recall aright from my reading of R.B. Smith Land and Politics in the Reign of Henry VIII: The West Riding of Yorkshire 1530-1546 - a book I definitely recommend - and of the WEA history of Nidderdale project, Fountains had vaccaries in Nidderdale as well as extensive flocks of sheep on what became known as Fountains Fell.  The Cistercians were industrial pioneers or entrepreneurs in medieval Yorkshire, and doubtless elsewhere in the country. In addition to processing agricultural produce they engaged in metal working, but not always on site as in this instance. The industrial chimney alongside the rebuilt and refounded medieval Cistercian abbey at Buckfast in Devon is not as incongruous as one might at first think.

The discovery is reported upon by BBC News at Tannery find solves ancient monastery mystery
The Stray Ferret has more of the statement from the lead archaeologist and can be read at 
Fountains is, of course, justly famous and so very well worth visiting both for the extensive and awe-inspiring remains of the abbey and also for the post-reformation features of Fountains Hall and the exquisite eighteenth century landscape gardens created along the River Skell as the grounds of Studley Royal, together with a lavish Victorian church by William Burges. Verily a World Heritage Site.

As a functioning Cistercian house it was not only at the very beginning of the establishment of the White monks in England but it remained at the forefront to the very end in 1539, a spiritual and economic powerhouse and a witness to so many, interconnected, aspects of medieval life. 

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