Medieval Hostelry Found Beneath English Heritage Gastro-Pub

By Graham Spicer | 14 August 2006
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archaeological plan of byland abbey with a dark oblong patch clearly visible

The geophysics plot showing the major building under the ground - . Courtesy English Heritage

A medieval hostelry has been found buried beneath a gastro-pub on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors.

English Heritage opened the pub at its Abbey Inn site near Coxwold in April 2006 and had been conducting an archaeological investigation of grounds at the adjacent Byland Abbey. A geophysics survey revealed the bold outline of a major building under the soil, believed to be part of an 800-year-old monastic guesthouse.

The geophysics research shows a probably two-storey complex covering 40x20 metres, with walls up to 1.5 metres high. Archaeologists subsequently found more stonework, roof tiles and pottery when they dug trenches to investigate further.

Work was taking place to pave the way for services to be installed to the Abbey’s proposed admissions point and museum, opposite the Inn.

“18th century engravings show ruins in this part of the precinct,” said John Lax, English Heritage Visitor Operations Manager.

photo of a woman stood in a ditch holding up a piece of rock with a ruined abbey in the background

Archaeologist Nicola Toop inspecting a medieval roof tile unearthed at the site. Courtesy English Heritage

“We thought these might belong to the vanished guesthouse, but now we have physical evidence that seems to prove the point. The new discoveries are providing an exciting link between the past and present.”

Monasteries were expected to provide food and lodging to travellers and the guesthouse at Byland Abbey would have been used for distinguished visitors. Byland’s hospitality was said to have been the best in northern England and King Edward II once stayed there.

Little is known of the abbey and guesthouse’s history after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. Abbey Inn was built on the site in 1845, originally as a farm building and becoming a hostelry at the turn of the century.

“Abbey Inn couldn’t have been built in a more appropriate place,” added John. “Today’s guests are clearly not the first ones to enjoy the view over the monument.”

Byland’s Cistercian monks originally came from Furness Abbey on England’s north-west coast. Scottish raiders chased them from there and then a dispute with the Abbot at Rievaulx forced them from their new home at Old Byland. Roger De Mowbray then offered them a boggy patch of land in 1177 where the monks finally created Byland Abbey.

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