Monday, 8 July 2013

Rufford Abbey and the White Monks of Sherwood Forest

Rufford Abbey was founded by Gilbert de Gant in 1146.

Picture: Mercian Archaeological Services CIC, Groin-vaulted Rufford Abbey Undercroft
The charter confirming the foundation was granted by King Stephen on Christmas day of that year.

Rufford was a Cisterican Monastery, a daughter house of Riveaulx Abbey in Yorkshire.

The abbey was situated just to the West of the King's Highway to York which passed from Nottingham northwards through Sherwood Forest, and the Abbey was an attractive stop-over for weary travellers on the long road through the forest.

The Abbey sat towards the northern edge of a vast tract of heathland, meadow, woodland and farmland consolidated from the possessions of the villages of Rufford, Crately, and Inkersall, granted to the Abbey. Rufford village had 8 families when the monks arrived, but was abandoned by the end of the Thirteenth Century. Crately was slower to become deserted, but villagers eventually moved to settle in nearby Edwinstowe and the village of Wellow (see Rufford Charters entry for information about the grants of lands and the Charters recording them).

The Church of the Abbey was dedicated to St Mary, and was built in the remote wastes and woods of Sherwood by the Cistercians, who favoured the isolation and separation from the world provided by the forest.

The Abbey complex included the Church, Cellar, Lay Brothers Frater, Cloister, Kitchens, Monks Frater, Warming House, Undercroft and Dormitory above, Inner Parlour, Chapter House, and Sacristy.

The surrounding landscape included areas of Woodland: 'ye abote wode', 'Abott Ymmslow', and 'burne abotote wode'. There were also large areas of heather lyngges, or wastes known as 'the Forest'. The valley of the Rainworth Water to the south of the Abbey was managed as Meadows to provide winter fodder for large numbers of sheep. The Cistercians were prolific sheep farmers.

The Abbey organised much of these land-holdings into 'Granges'- most of them within a days walk of the Abbey- the best know being Inkersall Grange which sat on Rainworth Water on the southern-most extent of the home estates.

As well as the demense farming which provided income for the Abbey, the Monks also possessed large parts of the town of Rotherham in Yorkshire which provided a vast amount of taxable income for the Abbey.

The Abbey was a popular over night resting place on the great road through the Forest and would have provided welcome accommodation as night fell over the desolate heaths and remote woodland of the High Forest (see A Journey through Sherwood Forest: Rufford Abbey to Nottingham post). 

Accommodation was provided for free by the monks- so it was essential that the monastery could provide for itself and visitors. The large amounts of farmland kept by the Abbey was therefore of great importance to ensure they could provide for all these travelers.

These could include Royalty, and in 1290 Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife of King Edward I stayed here while Edward held Parliament at his nearby Royal Palace and Hunting lodge at Clipstone (see Parliament Oak: Icon of Sherwood Forest entry for more details ). In fact the Abbey was among her final resting places as she was ill during her stay there, and died during an attempt to move to Lincoln for Spiritual and Medical help.

Rufford was a part of the fabric of life in Sherwood Forest for 400 hundred years.

It would sadly come to an end in the 1530 under King Henry VIII along with all other monasteries in the Kingdom.

At the Dissolution of the Monastery the Abbot was accused of being incontinent with two married women and 4 single women- six of the monks were said to be desirous of exemption from their duties- and the monastery was dissolved in 1536 (it is quite likely that these charges were trumped up as they were very convenient for the crown- however Priests were often badly behaved at times in Medieval Sherwood Forest).

Despite this inglorious ending, Rufford Abbey passed into the hands of rich landowners and eventually emerged to become a Country Park in the present Day with parts of the Medieval Abbey surviving within the later house. These  include the Lay Brothers Frater and the Undercroft which can still be visited to this day.

Photograph: Mercian Archaeological Services CIC, Rufford Abbey Country Park

1 comment:

  1. Got a few pics of Rufford, including the undercroft which is seriously impressive