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Monks in Bilsdale

The Cistercian monks at Rievaulx Abbey had a major impact on Bilsdale.  The abbey was founded around 1131 and Walter Espec, the Lord of the manor at Helmsley, granted them 9 curates of land near the River Rye,  The Cistercian Order emphasised the need to lead an austere life and be self sufficient.  The choir monks lived in the monastery, copying books and praying, and lay brothers worked on the land in granges returning to the monastery pehaps once a week.

This approach was very sucessful and in 1145 Walter Espec granted most of Bilsdale south of Chop Gate to the Abbey.  At that time Bilsdale was a wild place, the valley bottom was boggy and the area was covered in trees.  The monks drained the valley, cut down the trees,introduced sheep farming and smelted iron from the local iron ore.  By the late 12C there were over 150 monks and 350 lay brothers at Rievaulx and merchants came from Rome, Venice, Antwer and Bruge to buy their high quality wool.  There were granges at Laskill, where the wool was stored, New Houses, the Grange, Ellermire, William Beck and Wethercote.

Towards the end of the 13th century there was an epidemic of sheep scap which decimated the flock.  In the 14th Century the Scots invaded twice and finally the black death in 1348/9 had a devastating impact on the monks and lay brothers.  Subsequently tenant farmes were employed to work on the land.  By 1381 there were only 14 monks 3 lay brothers and the abbot at Rievaulx.

There was some recovery during the 15th century.  Wool production  contiued and a  proto last furnace was built near Laskill.  The  stern rules about austerity seem to have been relaxed and the final abbot was most famous for being a huntsman at Skiplam Grange .  By the dissolution in 1538 there were 21 monks and the abbot who took their pensions and left.  Henry VIII took everything of value and sold the land to the Manners family - distant relatives of Walter Espec.

The northern part of Bilsdale was granted to Kirkham Priory around 1200 and rented to tnnant farmers.  Later Raisdale was also granted to Kirkham by Simon de Ver but it was subsequently transferred to Rievaulx.

More information  - Lucy Warrack's talk to the Bilsdale Local Hitory Group "Monks in Bilsdale".

Published: 23 2021 (Updated: 26 2022)

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