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VIII.-ON THE RECENT EXCAVATIONS AT SAWLEY ABBEY, IN
YORKSHIRE. Read at the Joint Meeting of the Architectural Societies of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, held at Thornton College, Sept. 15th, 1852. By John RICHARD WALBRAN.
The ruins of the Cistercian abbey of Sawley are situated in the vale of the Ribble, immediately above that point of the river where it becomes the boundary between the counties of York and Lancaster.
According to a memorandum in the chartulary of the house, now preserved among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum, this abbey was founded, in the year 1147, by William de Percy, Baron of Topcliffe and Spofford ; the establishment of an abbot, twelve monks and ten lay brethren having been provided from Newminster in Northumberland, the eldest daughter of the great monastery of Fountains.
About forty years, however, after the period of the foundation, the institution was in danger of being dissolved. The monks complained that, through the humidity of the climate, their corn rotted on the ground; that they were in want both of food and clothing; and, so far as we may infer from the contemporary record of their position, that the fabric itselt' was in danger of ruin.
The founder was now dead, and his estates vested in his eldest daughter and heiress, Maud Countess of Warwick. She was a pious and benevolent woman, and on learning the destitute condition of the house, and the determination of the abbot of Clarevall and the visitors of the order that, in default of the interference of the patroness, the abbey must be destroyed, she obviated the scandal that awaited her father's inoperative foundation, by the donation of the church of Tadcaster and about an hundred acres of land in Catton, where she was born.
The sub-infeudatories of the Percys were inclined, from time to time, to contribute their acres and oxgangs to the foundation of their lord : but the attraction of the Lacys and their dependants to Whalley and Kirkstall, and of the Romilles and Albernarles to the priory of Bolton, prevented the accession of any considerable territory, or the diversion of the bounty of the neighbouring families in this direction.
When the coffers of the religious houses had become swelled to repletion, in the latter half of the thirteenth century, we find the convent of Sawley still poor and dissatisfied. They complained that the surrounding country was very mountainous and
at kina red, they al pro
woody, attracting the vapours of the Irish Sea ; their crops of grain were uncertain; the concourse of people that passed on that public way and claimed their hospitality was insupportable; and that among other misfortunes they had been exposed to the ravages of the Scottish army, who, in one of their forays, had plundered them of their personal property, and burned some of their buildings. Indeed, they were reduced to such exile circumstances that king Edward the First prayed the pope to confirm to them the appropriation of the rectory of Gargrave; most likely at the request of their neighbour, Thomas Earl of Lancaster, who also wrote to the pontiff on the same subject.
After this period, the absence of intestine commotion may, under the exercise of energy and prudence, have retrieved the position of the house. I have seen, however, no record that enables me to speak of it with certainty, until the year 1381, when a very interesting and synoptical glance is afforded by a compotus or household book of the abbey, preserved among the Assheton MSS. at Whalley. From this valuable record it appears that the revenue of the convent amounted to about 3771. of the money of that day; that the establishment consisted of at least seventy persons, of whom thirty were professed, the rest being employed in the house or on the land; and that their hospitality and domestic economy were conducted on such a scale as to require, in one significant article of consumption, the provision of 253 quarters of malted oats, and 164 quarters of barley. The most suggestive entries have been quoted by Dr. Whitaker in his “ History of Craven,” and afford materials for a graphic picture of a monastic household.
From this period I am unable to illustrate the condition of the house, until the time of Henry VIII., when the abbot, William Trafford, having taken part in “ the Pilgrimage of Grace,” was hanged at Lancaster, 10th March, 1536-7. As the law then stood, or rather was interpreted, the attainder of an abbot involved the institution over which he presided, and the abbey of Sawley was consequently forfeited and dissolved.
The site of the house, together with the greater portion of the lands, was granted, in the next year, to Sir Arthur Darcy. He was one of those ereatures that pandered to the passions of that detestable monster who then occupied the throne, and was thus rewarded with estates, which, under proper direction, would have obviated, ere now, an incalculable amount of spiritual destitution. There is a curious record of his obsequious officiousness, in a letter, addressed by him to Cromwell, about the time when he obtained Sawley, now preserved among the Cotton MSS. in the British Museum. From one passage it will be remarked that even his associates were not quite assured of his integrity. “Yt schall lyke your honourabyll lordschypp to be advertyssed,” says he, “that I was with my lord-lewtenant at the suppressyon of Gervayes. . . . . From Gervayes I went to Sallay, wher I inqueryd owt a chalyce thatt was brybbed ffrome the kyng affor the suppressyon off the howes, and allso I have ffownd a booke of dettes belongyng to the howes, and there is a bark howes stoord with leddyr. I require your lordschypp to send to me your pleasure whatt I schall doo therin.
“My lord, I bessyche you be good lord to me: yt is schewed to me that the kynge's hyenes wolld ageyn survey my landes, and fferther Mr. Chanssler dyd send to me thatt ytt was thoght thatt I had dysseyvyd the kyng. My lord, ye know thatt I myght have hadd Seynt Lenarde's, whiche is better by iij c markes then my landes in the ffyrst survey. I dyd reffuse thatt; and on my ffaythe, I never knew whatt Salley was, tyll yt was grauntyd. M. Fermer and M. Montagew wolld have gyffyn syx c markes yerly for Greness Norton; and in consyderacyon theroff, and with my wyfte in maryage, the kynge's hyenes gave me my landes unsurveyd. Yff ytt be the kynge's pleasure to have my rentalles, uppon my lyff I schall not lye, butt bryng them my sellfe, and hys grace schall have all thynges 'att hys conscyence and pleasure, as knowythe God, who ever preserve yow with myche honorr.”
From Darcy's representatives, the manor and estate of Sawley passed to the notorious James Hay Earl of Carlisle, whose granddaughter, Margaret Countess of Warwick, was in possession in the year 1662. About an hundred years ago, it came into the hands of the Weddells of Earswick; and was bequeathed by the late William Weddell, Esq., to the present worthy owner, the Right Hon. the Earl de Grey, who, it is to be rernarked, has had the felicity of possessing also the abbey of Fountains and that of St. Mary's at York; the only three monastic structures in Yorkshire, with the exception of Jervaux, whose ruins have been properly excavated.
The site of the abbey is on the eastern side of the river Ribble, and at the foot of the slope that rises swiftly to form the eastern flank of that picturesque vale. From an elevation above the park, the eye may range over a noble panorama, in which are included the old forest of Bolland, on the one hand, and the less rugged demesne of Gisburn on the other, or trace the devious
wandering of the silver stream, from the lovely and romantic seclusion of Bolton, until it guides us to the majestic ridge of Pendle, the scenes and associations of Whalley and Stonyhurst, and its ultimate destination in the Irish Sea.
Before the dissolution, the abbey had been surrounded by a close, or, as it is now called, a park, of about fifty acres, entered by two gates, traditionally remembered by the names of “North Port” and “ South Port.” This close has recently been cleared of the hovels and straggling fences with which it has been long encumbered, and restored to something like its original aspect and dignity. Very few traces of the old wall, however, now remain, and in another generation, it may be forgot that it has comprehended that part of the village immediately to the west and south of the ruin, and that the highway, which now intrudes, with so obviously unmonastic a tendency, on the necessary seclusion of the house, originally ran by the west side of the mill stream, and communicated more immediately with the bridge than the present road.
The village of Sawley has, probably, risen since the dissolution, and in consequence of the multiplied tenancies of the abbey estate. In the erection of the necessary farmholds, it is obvious that recourse was first had to the materials of the hallowed pile, and more especially since it had fallen into the hands of one who could neither view it with the eye of admiration, nor remember it with sympathy and regret.
The absence of generations of subsequent proprietors, and the apathy, or incapacity, of those to whom the supervision of the estate had been entrusted, had again, in the course of three centuries, nearly levelled these humbler erections with the ruin whence they were derived, and had abandoned what the fury of the fanatic or the necessities of the sordid had once left, with satiety, to unheeded pillage and decay; so that huge mounds of rubbish and a few melancholy fragments of ragged grout-work alone proclaimed the site where holiest and noblest hearts had hoped to gain an untroubled grave, and an institution of Christianity and civiliszation had diffused blessings-blessings we can now scarcely estimate-to a rude and insubordinate population.
It has been reserved, for the present noble and worthy proprietor of Sawley, to witness an acute and intelligent mind, directing a liberal and comprehensive system of improvement, raise this long-neglected, but highly-favoured, portion of his estates to the character and position it has long demanded and deserved. A long absent native of the place might, indeed, doubt the fact of its identity, either from the substitution of new features, or the revelation of those which for centuries have been concealed, until convinced by the majestic and imperishable features of nature around. The rude buildings which time had even failed to invest with the picturesque character of decay, were removed or supplanted by more commodious arrangements; minute and irregular divisions of land were suppressed; the park was divested of its encumbrances; and, from a shapeless mass of rubbish, the outline of a structure has been disclosed, which, though, of course, inferior, by far, to the kindred piles of Fountains and Kirkstall, is suggestive of many highly interesting considerations, and reduces to circumstance and certainty, speculations with which the musing mind had invested forms, of which it might justly deem that every trace and vestige has passed away, “as it were a tale that is told.”
Unlike many other houses that will at once occur to your recollection, where a spacious or elaborate structure records, in obvious terms, the progressive affluence of the institution, the buildings at Sawley speak rather of hope deferred than of possession, and more particularly represent the original impulse and intent of the founder, than the energy, the intelligence, or the progressive science of those into whose hands it was subsequently entrusted. A memorandum, in the chartulary of the abbey, records that the first brethren went forth “ ad construendum Abbatiam de Salleia, petente et præparante eis locum nobili viro Willelmo de Percy ;" but the definite and uncalled-for terms, “quam ego ipse construxi,” which Percy uses in his charter of foundation, leave little credit to be claimed, in this respect, by men who were doubtless more intent on the mortification of the tabernacle of the flesh than on the dignity or character of the the place, where this trial was to be fulfilled. Of this original structure, whenever, or by whomsoever prepared, little has been, apparently, left, save the shell of the conventual church. The domestic buildings, indeed, were then probably raised-as, I apprehend, was frequently the case-of temporary materials ; and as we know that during more than forty years no opportunity was afforded for their improvement, their condition may have more particularly excited that regret which the good Countess of Warwick expressed in her charter of re-foundation : 6 tum super prædictæ abbatiæ destructione, tum super prxdicti conventus miseria, et tam victus quam vestitus inopia intolerabili.''
The material of which the chief part of the existing work, with the exception of the door and window casings, has been
de Salleia,pe but the hich Percy u, in this