One of the best preserved 12th-century monastic sites in England. Visited by Ann Walker and Anne Lister in 1835.
Anne, of course, describes the visit in her journal, mentioning that “A[nn] and he set off for the abbey about ¼ hour before me – I there at 10 55/..” (adding that “A[nn] & Mr B[rown] had not chosen their station“). Anne’s narration starts off with “Three very good kisses last night” – although actually, the day’s diary entry opens with “\5|4?” – “no kiss“. Anne also describes her route to the Abbey from their inn, the Star & Garter. It’s no longer an inn, but the building that was the Star & Garter still exists, and at least part of the path that Anne took is still also there: “a ten minutes walk along a neat shaded private walk from the Inn to a sort of Lodge at the end of it where crossed dam-stones or wear of a large mill into the field in which stands the fine ruin“. On the 1851 Ordnance Survey map of the area, the path is marked as “Serpentine Walk” and runs from opposite the inn to the top of the mill stream:
The modern route from the old Star and Garter on Bridge Road to the abbey takes a slightly different route, with a bridge crossing the mill stream just above the mill. Anne probably crossed the mill stream at the top of Serpentine Walk.
Anne describes the abbey as follows:
“no getting into the church part all walled up from the public – the key-keeper living at some distance – it was some time before I could send the little girl from the lodge & get the other little girl who shewed me into the cloisters – A[nn] by this time seated at her sketching – just looked about – the whole of the church part remaining the aisles even still in a great measure not unroofed – only the South side of the great square tower remaining – very interesting ruin – Cistercian monastery founded by Henri de Laci in 1147 – why have I never been here exploring before? – Why not see all at & about home before journeying farther?“
Kirkstall is 15 miles to the northeast of Halifax; Ann, Anne, Eugenie and George had left Shibden earlier that day, 27 July 1835: “off to Kirkstall bridge at 8 – alighted there at the Star & Garter Inn at 9 37/..“.
The Star and Garter
Ann and Anne spent two nights at the Star and Garter, leaving on 29 July: “A[nn] and I and Eugenie off in the carriage at 6¾ and at Shibden at 9 5/..“. Ann spent the three days sketching with Mr Brown, getting up early each morning; Anne following later.
The Star and Garter was built in the late 1700s and by the 19th century was an important coaching inn serving the roads from Leeds to Bradford and Kendall. The turnpike to Bradford, which ran past the abbey, was opened in 1794. The building is Grade II listed and is now used for retail purposes.
“Star and Garter” is a popular name for pubs and hotels throughout England. The name stems from the insignia of the royal “Order of the Garter”, to which Charles I added a star.
Foundation at Barnoldswick
Anne was right that the abbey was founded in 1147, but the monks didn’t inhabit the land at Kirkstall until 1153. Henry de Lacy (died 1177), apparently as a promise to God if he recovered from illness, gave land at Barnoldswick (near Skipton, some 35 miles to the northwest of Kirkstall) to 13 Cistercian monks and 10 lay brothers from Fountains Abbey so that they could found the new house. The land, it seems, was not owned by de Lacy, but by Hugh Bigod, earl of Norfolk, from whom de Lacy had rented the land. The annual rent, five marks and a yearling hawk, had not been paid for years. The land at Barnoldswick proved to be less than ideal: the locals that the monks had displaced proved to be very disruptive (even murdering three of the lay brothers), the weather was atrocious, and it bordered land owned by a rival of de Lacy. The community at Barnoldswick was named Mount St. Mary*.
The move to Kirkstall
By 1152 Alexander, previously Prior of Fountains Abbey and the leader of the new community and Abbot of Kirkstall, had decided to leave Barnoldswick and had found a new site – the present location at Kirkstall. The initial grant of land at Kirkstall was made by William de Peitevin, who was a tenant of Henry de Lacy. (Note that “tenant” did not necessarily have the same connotations as it does today. The tenancy could have been a type of freehold, with no right of possession by the ultimate owner.) The Kirkstall Abbey coat of arms depicts three swords and is similar to the de Peitevin crest – which suggests that de Peitevin was perhaps more involved in the founding of Kirkstall Abbey than de Lacy.
Abbot Alexander died in 1182, by which time the construction of the abbey was largely complete. Additional buildings were added later in the medieval period, but these have survived less well than the original abbey. The original stone buildings were made of Bramley Fall sandstone, which was quarried on the bank of the River Aire about a mile upstream of the abbey .
The Abbey was surrendered to the crown on 22 November 1539, as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when King Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland, after the Church of England split from Rome in 1534.
After being expropriated by the crown in 1539*, in 1542 at least some of the assets of the abbey were awarded to Thomas Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer was executed by Catholic Queen Mary I in 1556 and Kirkstall possibly passed to Cranmer’s widow or son, but eventually reverted to the crown.
In 1564 Kirkstall was sold by Elizabeth I to the Savile family, later of Howley Hall, Batley, near Leeds. Howley Hall was built by Sir John Savile, 1st Baron Savile of Pontefract, around 1590. His son Thomas became the first Earl of Sussex and his grandson James the second. James’ daughter Frances married Francis (Lord) Brudenell in 1668* and so Kirkstall passed to the Brudenell family. Frances’ son, George Brudenell, became the third Earl of Cardigan, and by 1711 the Cardigans had taken ownership of Kirkstall Abbey*.
The Brudenel/Cardigan family held Kirkstall until the late 19th century when they sold off their Leeds estates. In 1889 the abbey was bought for £10,000 by Leeds-born millionaire John North, who donated it to Leeds City Council. The council opened Kirkstall to the public in 1895, and continue to maintain it to this day. In May 2022 the council introduced a £5 fee for non-Leeds residents to visit the abbey.
The Abbey today
The ruins of the Abbey remain – as far as we can tell – largely in the state the Ann & Anne would have seen them in 1839. The photographs below were all taken by In Search of Ann Walker members in 2022.
Anne writes that “the whole of the church part remaining the aisles even still in a great measure not unroofed“; the roof of the northern aisle (running from the left of the main entrance to the northern transept) can be seen in this photograph. On the last day of their visit, Anne mentions that Ann “finished the sketch from the west begun yesterday“, so she probably would have been sitting somewhat to the right of the photographer’s position.
The tower is still just as Anne describes it: “only the south side of the great square tower remaining“.
The photograph above shows the walls of what were probably the kitchens and refectory. The cloisters, where Anne “sat down on a bench in the cloisters” while Ann was sketching on the first day of the visit, are behind these buildings (to the north).
- Anne Lister’s journal, West Yorkshire Archive Service ref. SH:7/ML/E/18/0067~69
- The Legacy of the DeLacy, Lacey, Lacy Family 1066 – 1994, by Gerard Lacey, 1994 – https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/The_Legacy_of_the_DeLacy_Lacey_Lacy_Fami/rKAKXWXIa9gC?hl=en&gbpv=1
- British Listed Buildings: https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101255874-former-star-and-garter-hotel-kirkstall-ward
- The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture: https://www.crsbi.ac.uk/view-item?i=2283
- NINETEENTH-CENTURY SPECULATIVE HOUSING IN LEEDS: With special reference to the suburb of Headingley, 1838, by Frank Trowell, PhD thesis, University of York, 1982
- The Thoresby Society – https://www.thoresby.org.uk/content/people/north.php
* Kirkstall Abbey 1147-1539: an historical study, by Guy D. Barnes, published by the Thoresby Society, 1984 – https://archive.org/details/thoresby039/page/n9/mode/2up
** Ancestry UK: Census records, etc. – https://www.ancestry.co.uk (paid subscription)
Anne Lister diary transcriptions by Karen Trillo
In Search of Ann Walker’s research into Ann’s life is ongoing, therefore new discoveries may change the way we chronicle her life in the future.
How to cite this article:
Martin Walker (2022) “Kirkstall Abbey”: In Search of Ann Walker [Accessed “add date”]