Architectural Description of Kirkstall Abbey;
by W. H. St. John Hope and John Bilson

In issuing to members of the Thoresby Society this, the sixteenth volume of the Society's Publications, the Council brings to its completion a work which has involved a large amount of labour and research on the part of its co-authors, Mr. W. H. St. John Hope, M.A., and Mr. John Bilson, F.S.A., and which summarizes the matured opinions of these two gentlemen. It is confidently believed that this volume will be the standard work on the architecture not only of Kirkstall Abbey, but of early Cistercian monastic buildings generally.

The plan of the book, which consists of two separate papers, for which Mr. Hope and Mr. Bilson are severally responsible, is justified by a twofold consideration. Firstly that our two authors, each of unchallenged eminence both in archaeology and in conventual architecture, have approached the subject from different points of view. Mr. Hopes paper, beginning with a brief sketch of the History of the Abbey from its foundation by Henry de Lacy down to the present day, is devoted mainly to a detailed description of its architecture, showing how it grew from the humble offices which were sufficient for the little pioneer company of monks from Fountains in 1152 to the magnificent pile which was surrendered to King Henry in 1539. The readers intelligent interest in this survey will be, chronologically, greatly strengthened by a study of the excellent coloured plan of the Abbey buildings which has been provided, in which the different colours represent the various periods.

Mr. Bilson approaches his subject from a different side, and with a wider outlook, treating the Abbey as one member of a great family, noting differences from and resemblances to other examples to be found elsewhere. To Mr. Hope the Abbey is the Abbey, an isolated building, self-contained, the work merely of its successive architects to Mr. Bilson it is an Abbey, one of the great Cistercian group, the evolved product of a system. One may say that Mr. Hope’s treatment is objective, Mr. Bilson’s subjective. And it is perhaps no disadvantage from the point of view of the reader when in the two papers these differing treatments overlap, and the same thing is presented from two points of view.

A feature of the volume which honourably distinguishes it from most of its predecessors , is the number and ( if the Council may be allowed to say so) the excellence of the illustrations . For a few of these the joint authors are responsible, but the Council has also to acknowledge much invaluable help from other sources. The large ground plan of the Abbey, originally drawn for the Society by a local architect, has been corrected in places by Mr. Hope and Mr. Harold Brakspear, with the kind help of Mr. Thos. Neilson, and Mr. E. Kitson Clark, F.S.A. To Mr. Godfrey Bingley’s well-known skill the Council is indebted for a large number of photographs, and also for the preparation of the index; as also to Mr. C. H. Bothamley, Mr. A. Dawson Berry, Mr. Thomas Gascoigne, Mr. H. Wormald, Mr. C. H. Allanson, Mr. Isaac Howe, Mr. J . H. Radcliffe, and Mr. C. R. H. Pickard. The Council is also indebted to Messrs. Frith, Mr. Joseph Wormald, and Mr. J. V. Saunders for permission to reproduce certain photographs, and to MM. Philippe des Ports , and C. Enlart for similar permission in the case of figs. 57, 58, and 59 (Fontenay) and 73 (Pontigny) ; and to the British Archaeological Association for the like in the case of Mr. J. T. Irvine’s drawing (fig. 81).

It is intended to print a bibliography of the abbey in a future number of the Miscellanea of the Society.

B.P.S.           September, 1908 .



Introduction 1
General History 1
The Precinct 8
The Great Gatehouse 10
The Church 10
The Cloister 27
The Chapter House 29
The Parlour 30
The Dorter 30
The Rere-Dorter 32
The Dorter Sub-Vault 32
The Abbot’s Lodging 34
The Infirmary 38
The Warming House 43
The Frater and Misericord 46
The Meat Kitchen 49
The Old Kitchen 50
The First Frater 51
The Cellarer’s Building 54
The Rere-Dorter of the Lay-Brothers 59
The Guest House 60
Report on the Preservation of the Ruins of Kirkstall Abbey by W. H. St . John Hope, M.A. 64


Introduction 73
Plan 84
General Design and Structure 101
Details 124
Piers 124
Corbel Supports 125
Bases 126
Capitals 127
Arches 133
Doorways 133
Eaves Corbels 138
Hoods 137
Plinths 137
Strings 137
Windows 137
Conclusion 138
Index 141-6
List of Illustrations 147-9
Introduction v., vi .

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