Roche Abbey

Aerial View of Roche Abbey with plan re-laid in wall.

Aerial View of Roche Abbey with plan re-laid in wall.

Hi everybody, it appears it’s my turn to make a small contribution again to the page other than setting up posts for you all and replying to some of your comments… so, please forgive me if this isn’t up to the usual calibre, but the writers are so much better than me 🙂 Here’s a little something about a site that is close to where i grew up. Hope you all enjoy it

Built in 1147, Roche Abbey nestled on the side of Maltby Beck, near Rotherham. Home to an Order of Cistercian Monks, it was quite advanced for a monastery of the medieval period. Later developments included a kitchen and other buildings, including the Abbott’s rooms across the river from the Abbey, which were reached by a small bridge. Also taking position over the water were a set of latrines which emptied directly into the stream, which the monks had dammed further upstream, in order to provide a faster run of water.

The Abbey also had a quarry, and was constructed in a valley area, on the edge of what was once Sherwood Forest. The Abbey was founded by Richard de Busli, thought to be a nephew of Roger de Busli, who was credited with building the nearby Tickhill Castle. (I say nearby, in modern terms approximately 20 minutes by car, in medieval times, perhaps a good half day’s ride away) and Richard FitzTurgis, whose family later took the name of nearby Wickersley when they received the Lordship. FitzTurgis was tenanted the land on a semi-feudal basis, for the monastery by the De Vesci Family, Lords of Rotherham. His son Roger de Wickersley inherited upon his father’s death, and his share was later passed to his daughter’s husband, of the de Levit family, who later settled Hooton Levitt near to Wickersley.

view of the trancepts

view of the transepts

In the later 14th Century, John de Levit sold his share to a businessman from London, Richard Barry. By the time of the Dissolution it was controlled by the 2nd Earl of Cumberland, Henry Clifford who was married to Eleanor Brandon, daughter of Charles, Duke of Suffolk and niece of Henry VIII. To say he benefitted financially from the closure of Roche Abbey would be an understatement. There were several grants made by Henry VIII to Clifford in relation to the land and assets as compensation.

Although there are no surviving financial accounts or records of life in the 400 years of the monastery, we do know that when Roche was dissolved, there were fourteen to seventeen monks in residence, the abbot, Henry Cundall and an unknown number of novices, possibly the three that make up the difference in monks. A chronicle written by (later) Wickersley priest Michael Sherbrook who was a child at the time, graphically details the ensuing spoiling of the once magnificent structure after its closure in 1538. The local population, including his father, feeling very much as though the Abbey was part of their community, and as a result were entitled to a share of the spoils, pretty much robbed out everything they could of the timbers, lead and stonework. Nothing was left as sacred, even the tombs of the nobles and brothers buried within the precincts were turned over and ransacked for anything of value.

a contemporary depiction of a monastery being robbed out during the dissolution. This picture is often associated with Roche as its source is an "Unnamed" eye-witness detailed account.

a contemporary depiction of a monastery being robbed out during the dissolution. This picture is often associated with Roche as its source is an “Unnamed” eye-witness detailed account.

Strangely however the administrative and livestock buildings over the river remained untouched. In ruins, the remains of the proud abbey and the land on which it stood, were passed around as a part of deals and trade, until eventually in the 18th Century, landing into the hands of the Earl of Scarborough, who owned the land next to the former abbey grounds. In an effort to make the scenery more aesthetically pleasing to his Sandbeck Park seat, he commissioned renowned landscaper Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to “tidy up” the site. Brown launched into an ambitious remodeling of the ruins, which included pulling down most of the remainder, and burying large parts of what was left under large grassy mounds. New turf was added, and much was planted with new trees to create a woodland.

The once proud Abbey remained hidden from view for nearly a century and a half, until 1920, when it was excavated and claimed as a monument by English Heritage along with the remains of the medieval woodland it sits alongside. The stone bridge remains over the river, and the huge walls of the North and South Trancepts rise up alone quite suddenly from the valley below as you drive the modern road that runs along the cliff edge, when you turn your head backwards for a glimpse as it cuts away. The robbed out walls have been picked out and re-laid extensively to give an accurate interpretation of the extent of the fine building that Roche Abbey once was.

The gatehouse, doesnt look much from this angle, but once inside there are the remains of several arches and a vaulted ceiling rather reminiscent of medieval cellars that we see in such buildings as Henry VIII's wine cellar that remains under the MOD building at Whitehall

The gatehouse, doesnt look much from this angle, but once inside there are the remains of several arches and a vaulted ceiling rather reminiscent of medieval cellars that we see in such buildings as Henry VIII’s wine cellar that remains under the MOD building at Whitehall

There are several local legends concerned with the Abbey, one being that there were secret passages under the grounds, another that the site is haunted by the ghosts of several murdered monks. How true that is, depends on your belief in such things. One thing is true though, having grown up in the shadow of this sad, lonely yet nonetheless magnificent structure, I can vouch that Roche Abbey ruins do have a distinctly eerie feel to them as they stand alone, 900 years later, in the mists of a small valley.

Paula