The ruins of the 12th Century Fountains Abbey are set in a World Heritage Site of 800 acres of stunning Yorkshire countryside along with the Georgian water garden of Studley Royal which contains a number of follies and classical statues; the world’s only surviving Cistercian corn mill, the Victorian Gothic St Mary’s Church and Fountains Hall. The Abbey, founded by Benedictine monks in 1132, was purchased in the 18th Century by John Aislabie who had inherited the nearby Studley Royal Estate. The Abbey ruins, which are the largest monastic remains in the country, were closed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 and the whole estate sold off to Sir Richard Gresham. They remained privately owned until the 1960’s and the National Trust bought them from the former West Riding Council in 1983.
The Abbey and the other buildings are in the care of English Heritage but are run in partnership with the National Trust. Historic Property Restoration has carried out conservation and restoration work to many parts of this World Heritage Site for over twenty five years, including St Mary’s Church, Fountains’ Hall, Garland Bridge and of course to the Abbey itself.
The working briefs have been many and varied ranging from small stonework repairs to specialist consolidation of masonry and re-roofing. The largest project to date has been the rescue of the dilapidated corn mill which was sympathetically converted into an interactive working mill museum by Historic Property Restoration Ltd in 2000. The fit-out included everything from mechanical and electrical work and the installation of a lift through to final decoration. The mill pond and water wheel were carefully reconstructed and the waterways cleared and re-established. Fountains Mill was built by the Cistercians in the 12th century to grind grain for the monastery and survived the closure of the abbey, continuing to mill grain right up to 1927. The building’s long history has included life as a monastic granary, a timber sawmill, a home for refugees and a workshop for masons; it now provides a historical educational facility for visitors.