As we’ve been four months back in England, it’s perhaps time to introduce our home, which answers to the name of ‘The Old Grange’. I’ve already mentioned that it’s in part of an older building which forms part of a large, mainly Georgian house. To understand how it came to be built, we’ll have to pay a quick visit to UNESCO World Heritage site, Fountains Abbey, some 5 miles from us as the crow flies.
Back in 1132, there was no Abbey. But there were 13 monks anxious to build one. These particular men had joined holy orders in order to live a simple, strict and holy life, and were dismayed by the lax conditions they found in the Benedictine order they had joined. The Archbishop of York offered them his protection, and the gift of some land near Ripon on the banks of the River Skell. This area now is a fertile place, with pastureland, woods, stone for quarrying, and the waters of the Skell. Back then, it was a hostile, overgrown and thoroughly unpromising environment. The monks joined the Cistercian order which they felt offered the structure and discipline they sought, and strove to emulate the lifestyle promoted by its founder Bernard of Clairvaux. A tough life of manual labour, self-sufficiency, and prayerful spirituality was the order of the day.
To cut a very long story short – one which I will tell in a future post, because it’s a fascinating one – the Abbey the monks built prospered, to the extent that it became one of the largest, most successful and wealthy monasteries in the whole of Europe. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 1530s, the buildings and lands belonging to Fountains Abbey sold for over £1,000,000 – unimaginable wealth at the time: the monastery had acquired land over much of Yorkshire and Lancashire. The simple life of those early monks had changed over the years. The monks themselves devoted more of their time to their spiritual life, with prayerful ritual being an important part of their routine. The day-to-day work, mainly with sheep and cattle and all the other work associated with farming, both at Fountains itself and at all the other sites, was done by the so-called ‘lay brothers’. Less educated, they had far fewer spiritual obligations. And they lived communally in ‘granges’.
All those older buildings you’ll see as you travel around this part of the world, which include ‘grange’ as part of their name owe their existence to the fact that once they housed those lay brothers, mainly from Fountains Abbey. The room where we sleep once formed part of the dormitory where the men working at our ‘old grange’ once slept.
In truth, it’s hard to believe. We live in a stone building of traditional design, but with all mod cons. One of the few signs of the building’s age is the huge fireplace on the ground floor which is now simply an alcove, though we gather it wouldn’t take much to reveal the old spit mechanism. We have only one room downstairs. The other spaces, which we have no access to, are now, as then, workspaces and storage areas.
Upstairs, where the bulk of our living space is, was once a single room, as long as the building itself. In Victorian times, the owners of the larger property which had been built onto the original Old Grange in Georgian times, decided to break up the space into a number of rooms, to make it convenient to use as servants’ quarters. And this is where we now live.
We find all this thoroughly exciting. We enjoy noticing other granges as we explore Yorkshire, and we appreciate the connection that we now know we have with Fountains Abbey, a wonderfully beautiful site, whose history has touched the area for so many many miles around.