Roche Abbey is a now-ruined abbey near Maltby, South Yorkshire, England. It
is situated in a valley alongside Maltby Beck and King's Wood.
The abbey was founded in 1147 when the stone buildings were raised on the north
side of the beck. When the monks first arrived in South Yorkshire from
Newminster Abbey in Northumberland, they chose the most suitable side of the
stream that runs through the valley, on which to build their new Cistercian
monastery. Twenty-five years later, at the end of the century, the Norman Gothic
great church had been finished, as well as most of the other buildings. The
abbey was under the control of the De Wasteney family - of French origin who
came over with William the Conqueror. This only lasted for a short time until it
was passed to another family for administration. A succession of powerful
Yorkshire families controlled the abbey, including the Levett family, another
family of Norman origin (originally 'de Livet') that gave its name to the nearby
village of Hooten Levett (sometimes spelled Levitt).
The cliff path walk can take you up to a tremendous view across the abbey
grounds from where you stand in awe at its layout. Unfortunately many of the
buildings are low-standing but the walls of the church still stand boldly up to
full height and you can see the gothic French idealism thrust into its design
and architecture. Later additions to the buildings included a kitchen area and
abbot's quarters, that were built on the other side of the beck. These quarters
were accessed by a bridge which still stands. The monks had toilets too which
were over Maltby Beck so the running water took away the waste. They even dammed
the stream higher up to ensure fast flowing water: quite a modern facility for
the 13th century.
No records exist as to what went on in the abbey other than there were 14 monks
and an unknown number of novices at the time of dissolution in 1538. It was the
dissolution by King Henry VIII of England that rendered the abbey to ruin, but
the walls of the north and south transepts are still impressive. The local
community at time of dissolution decided they had first right of claim on Roche
Abbey and its possessions. A very detailed account exists citing the terrible
destruction of the abbey and its valuable artefacts. Timber, lead and stone were
also removed in vast quantites.
Left in ruin, the land passed through many private hands until the 4th Earl of
Scarbrough decided it needed revitalising to enhance his adjoining family seat
at Sandbeck Park. Lord Scarborough enlisted the talents of Capability Brown.
With total disregard for any historical matters, Brown demolished buildings,
built large earth mounds and turfed the whole site. Up until the end of the 19th
century, Roche Abbey remained buried beneath Brown's work and wooded parkland.
However, subsequent excavation in the 1920s returned Roche to its former
splendour. The site is now in the care of English Heritage.
There are several local legends concerning ghosts, tunnels to other buildings,
and even a lost wishing well.
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