Sawley Abbey is on the Ribble four miles NE of Clitheroe and about 13 miles WSW Skipton. Pendle Hill lowers to the S; the Forest of Bowland rises to the N. The site is low, with the dale nipped by the hills; the climate is mild but wet, more suited to beef and dairy than a monastic diet of cereals and vegetables. It was a small Cistercian abbey of the standard layout, and is now in the care of English Heritage (Coppack, Hayfield and Williams 2002). The precinct can still be traced on the ground, and encompasses the small village of Sawley as well as the ruins. The ruins of the principal buildings of the abbey are enclosed by a high stone wall but are kept open daily. Plan in Coppack, Hayfield and Williams 2002, fig. 4, p. 30 and Fergusson 1984, fig. 23.
The ruins have had almost all useful or carved stone removed. There are three mentions of sculptured stone derived from the abbey and at other sites. Firstly, Morris (1911, 442) says that ‘in the lane outside the grounds are two arches, apparently re-erected; in the masonry round about them are built many carved stones, e.g. A Virgin and Child, the Percy locket and crescent…’; two arches with reset pieces are seen arching over a road in photos in the Bingley Collection in Leeds University History department; a similar arch, with reset carvings on both faces, is now set as a gateway to a field on the E side of the village street just north of the abbey enclosure: there are no Romanesque pieces in this arch (Leach and Pevsner 2009, 684). Secondly, pieces of carved stone are said to be reset in houses in the village, but none were spotted; lastly, some ‘architectural pieces’ are reported in the wall of a barn at Middop Hall, 2½ miles S of Gisburn (Pevsner 1967, 367, with reference to Ministry of Housing and Local Government as source); no enquiries were made for these pieces.
Since coursed stonework has mostly been robbed, Romanesque sculptural remains in situ are chiefly at the bases of archways; there are two loose capitals of the period.
The abbey was founded in January 1147 or 48 by William de Percy. The site was found to be barren, poverty-stricken and ‘mountainous’; the community had a difficult time. Faltering, the abbey was saved in 1189 by the donation from his daughter Matilda, countess of Warwick, of the church of St Mary at Tadcaster (Coppack, Hayfield and Williams 2002, 24; VCH Yorkshire iii, 156-8).
The medieval name was Salley or Sallay, being replaced by Sawley in the 16thc.
The early fabric (c. 1150-60, Coppack, Hayfield and Williams 2002, 45-48) is of local shale with sandstone facings; much the same fabric continued in the second phase of building (1170s and 80s, Coppack, Hayfield and Williams 2002, 48-54).
Before the Dissolution the aisleless nave of the late-12thc church had been shortened to 39ft.
|Height above soil level||0.425 m|
|Max. width of stone||0.95 m|
|Overall height of standing remains||0.955 m|
|Height of course with stops||0.26 m|
|Height of course with stops||0.29 m|
The N chamfer-stop only appears to have a double spiral. A better lit view is in Fergusson 1984, pl. 32. A chamfer stop like this was seen at Sherburn-in-Elmet, West Riding.
The chamfer-stops here have a narrow horizontal roll. The same type of stop is used on an alcove in the cloister in the W wall of the S transept.
This wall is thick, showing the presbytery was intended to have a stone vault. These stops, and those in what remains of the chapels of the S transept, are all convex.
|Distance apart of bases||1.26 m|
|Width of bases||0.42 and 0.34 m|
|Height of capital and integral necking||0.21 m|
|Max. width of stone||0.95 m|
|Depth (front to back)||0.4 m|
|Height of block||0.32 m|
A large capital for a half-round column, having waterleaf forms of a loose, developed kind. The tips of the leaves on the two pairs of side leaves fold back flat against the ribs, the central leaf seems to end in an upright tip.
A block containing a pair of simple waterleaf capitals, with a lesser capital to the side: the block is not symmetrical as this secondary capital has not its pair in the same stone. The waterleaves are plain and squat, with a forked split between the leaves in one instance.
G. Coppack, C. Hayfield and R. Williams, “Sawley Abbey: the Architecture and Archaeology of a smaller Cistercian Abbey”, JBAA 155 (2002), 22-114.
P. Fergusson, Architecture of Solitude: Cistercian Abbeys in Twelfth-Century England, Princeton 1984, 143-4.
P. Leach and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire West Riding: Leeds, Bradford and the North. New Haven and London 2009, 683-5.
J. E. Morris, Yorkshire: The West Riding, London 1923, 438.
N. Pevsner and E. Radclife, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: West Riding, 2nd ed., Harmondsworth 1967, pages 430-31.