Jane Nordli, Manager of the Abbey Inn, seen through the arch. Courtesy English Heritage
After wandering around the ruins of medieval Byland Abbey near Thirsk in Yorkshire and inspecting its newly refurbished museum, you can now quench your thirst and satisfy the appetite you’ve built up at English Heritage’s first gastro-pub!
The Abbey Inn joins Byland Abbey as it enters a new golden age, with lots of new objects on display in its museum to tell the story of the monks who lived there. The Inn overlooks the site, providing a taste of the famous hospitality of monks for the modern-day visitor.
“We want to give visitors to this beautiful part of Yorkshire a real sense of time and place, complete with five star facilities,” said Jeremy Reed, Visitor Operations Director for English Heritage in the North. “People can dine and sleep in the monastic precinct, discover more about the Abbey’s fascinating story, while helping us preserve the wonderful setting.”
Senior Curator Kevin Booth with the interesting hood relic. Courtesy English Hertiage
Byland Abbey was founded in 1177 after a group of monks – originally from Furness Abbey on the north west coast – had some difficulty in finding a hospitable home for themselves. After being burnt out by Scottish raiders, they moved to Old Byland, not far from Rievaulx Abbey, but were asked to move since their bells could be heard over the moor at the neighbouring abbey, causing much confusion over prayer time!
At the present site, granted to the wandering monks by Thirsk’s Norman De Mowbray family, the monks built a stunning home for themselves, with some of the finest floor mosaics in Europe, which survive to this day.
More of the original yellow, green and blue tiles will go on display in the museum when Byland opens its doors this Easter, as well as a remarkable 15th century ceramic hood used in the (forbidden) distillation process – or was it an alchemist’s apparatus? A similar find in Lincolnshire was linked with the forlorn practice of attempting to turn base metal into gold.
Director of Properties Presentation Anna Keay with the 15th century ceramic hood. English Heritage
“Byland has a magnificent collection of well preserved artefacts and the museum gives us a chance to share their story with the public,” said Susan Harrison, English Heritage Archaeology Curator for the North. “Apart from the ceramic hood, we’ve been able to redisplay rare painted stone and more of the medieval tiles for which the Abbey is famous throughout Europe.”
The Abbey Inn was built in 1845 by monks from Ampleforth, under the leadership of Father ‘Honest John’ Molyneux. It was originally a farmhouse, but became a hostelry at the turn of the century. The Inn continued the tradition of hospitality that was found at Byland down the ages. King Edward II called in for dinner in the 13th century, but didn’t stay for dessert when Robert the Bruce attacked with his Scottish army!
Recent research by English Heritage suggests that tourists discovered the site as far back as the 17th century. A massive earthwork, reckoned to be a monastic dam, looks as if it also served as a walkway for aristocratic visitors through (now lost) pleasure gardens.