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Fountains Abbey: 02. Cloister

(54°6′35″N, 1°34′56″W)
Fountains Abbey: 02. Cloister
SE 274 683
  • Rita Wood
4 May 2015

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The cloister at Fountains Abbey, wrote Gilyard-Beer, 'is about 125ft square, and once had a covered alley on each side, the lean-to roof of which has left marks on the surrounding buildings. Fragments of the alley walls survived until 1770, but there are no visible remains today although the foundations were traced in the nineteenth-century excavations' (Gilyard-Beer 1970, 44).

The cavity for the tabula remains on the E wall, this was the waxed board which showed the daily duties of the various monks.

Enough fragments remain for reconstruction drawings of the cloister arcades to have been made (see Comments).

Stonework of the earlier cloister has been identified, superceeded by later more obvious work (Coppack 2012, 10; fig. 2.4).

For further information, see report for Fountains Abbey: church.


Cloister arcades

According to Robinson and Harrison, 'The arches of the Fountains arcades were of trefoiled form, and featured highly complex mouldings' (Robinson and Harrison 2007, Figs. 28, 29 and 31). This was 'the most elaborate and probably the last in the sequence of late-12th century northern arcades' which began with Rievaulx, then developed at Kirkstall, Byland, Jervaulx, Newminster and Roche (Robinson and Harrison 2006, 143, 178, figs. 28-30). It was thought to have been constructed under Abbot Pipewell (Coppack 1993, 53-4, fig. 39), but Stuart Harrison thinks that perhaps it belongs later, to Abbot William or Ralph Haget (1180-1203). Remnants of this arcade are in an EH store.

The E cloister arcade was thirteenth-century (Fig. 32).


The laver basins along the walls on both sides of the Refectory doorway on the south walk are works of Abbot Pipewell (died 1180), being installed at the same time as the new refectory itself was rebuilt (see report for Refectory). Before the need for such enlarged facilities, there may have been a centralised (that is, circular, hexagonal or octagonal) fountain, as was the custom on the continental houses; it might have been in the centre of the garth, or attached to the south cloister walk adjacent to the earlier, E-W, refectory (Kinder 2002, 137-8). 'Geophysical survey of the garth has shown what appears to be a [...] projection from the south alley, in front of the refectory doorway' (Robinson and Harrison 2007, 179; compare Coppack 1993, fig. 2.4, where the '?laver' is shown in the SW corner of the garth. Robinson and Harrison also suggest that the survival of a springer forming an angle in the arcade of the N alley could indicate a collation bay on that walk of the cloister (2007, 179). No published source has been found for the geophysical survey.

The basin in the cloister garth 'was brought here from the cellarium in 1859... Its original position and purpose are not known' (Gilyard-Beer 1970, 44). It is not thought to have been the original water-basin because '[Gilyard-Beer] had to knock a large hole in the west range wall to get it out of the cellarium. It has been identified as a 17th or 18th century cider press by experts in that area. Certainly the tooling is not medieval and it is too big to be the basin of a lavabo which is what the structure in the south-west corner of the first cloister must be' (Glyn Coppack, pers. comm., May 2015).


G. Coppack, The English Heritage Book of Fountains Abbey (London, 1993).

R. Gilyard-Beer, Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire (HMSO, 1970).

T. Kinder, Cistercian Europe: Architecture of Contemplation (Kalamazoo, 2002).

D. Robinson and S. Harrison, 'Cistercian cloisters in England and Wales' in The Medieval Cloister in England and Wales, ed. M. Henig and J. McNeill. Journal of the British Archaeological Association 159 (2006), pp. 131-207.