Fountains Abbey Mill is described as being the best preserved watermill in England. It is also the only 12th Century Cistercian cornmill in Britain and one of only a few surviving in Europe. It was originally built as a huge monastic watermill and granary but in its' time has also been a sawmill, stone masons workshop and a station for generating electricity.
The medieval mill ground wheat, oats and barley to feed the whole Abbey community. The mill continued to grind corn until 1927. No original machinery has survived - today models can be seen inside the mill building demonstrating how the machinery would have worked. The saw mill was added in an extension to the main building in the 1840's and was in operation until the 1930's.
The first water turbine was installed before 1901. It was used to power cooling equipment when part of the site was being used as a dairy. A second larger generator was put in during 1928 to provide electric lighting to Fountains hall. The supply became less reliable when the water level dropped or leaves slowed down the flow. The turbine still exists and has been restored to help power the display lighting in the mill today.
Fountains hall is a great Jacobean mansion fronted by an impressive array of topiary elephants.
Fountains Hall was built by Sir Stephen Proctor between 1598 and 1604, partly with stone from the Abbey ruins. It was built during the peaceful and prosperous final years of the reign of Elizabeth I. The building style has been attributed to the influence of the Elizabethan architect Robert Smythson, who designed Burton Agnes Hall and Hardwick Hall. Proctor re-used sandstone blocks and a stone staircase from the abbey, but had fresh limestone cut for the windows and main façade. Still visible today, are Sir Stephen's initials and bade (an otter with a fish in its mouth) carved in stone over the impressive entrance.
Three rooms are open to the public; the Stone Hall with its minstrels’ gallery, the Arkell room, which is used as exhibition space and the Reading room complete with comfy chairs for you to relax in.
Fountains hall lies within the Fountains estate and entrance is included in the overall admission price. See website below for up to date admission prices and opening hours.
Fountains Abbey began in 1132 when a group of Monks left St Mary's Benedictine Abbey in York to found a new, more devout monastery. Within three years the little settlement at Fountains had been admitted into the austere Cistercian Order. The Abbey housed up to 80 choir monks, known as 'white monks' as they wore habits of undyed sheeps wool. The lay brothers worked the farms or granges belonging to the abbey. They wore robes of a darker wool and may have numbered several hundred in the early years.
Most of the abbey buildings date from betweed 1140 and 1270, though the north tower was added by Abbot Huby in Henry VIII's reign. The abbey was closed down in 1539, and the abbot, prior and monks were sent away with pensions. The estate was sold by the Crown to a merchant, Sir Richard Gresham. It remained in private hands until the 1960's.
The whole of the Fountains estate is in the care of the National Trust details of admission charges and up to date opening times can be found on the website below.
As we walked around the Abbey we followed an excellent Audio guide which can be found here.