Studley Royal Park and Fountains Abbey

Studley Royal Park is a park containing, and developed around, the ruins of the Cistercian Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, England. It is a World Heritage Site. The site also contains features dating from the eighteenth century such as Studley Royal Water Garden.

The site is close to Ripon.

The Fountains Abbey was founded in 1132 by thirteen Benedictine monks. They later became Cistercian monks. Following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 by Henry VIII, the Abbey buildings and over 500 acres (2.0 km2) of land were sold by the Crown to Sir Richard Gresham, a merchant. The property was passed down through several generations of Sir Richard’s family, finally being sold to Stephen Proctor who built Fountains Hall probably between 1598 and 1604. A remarkable Elizabethan mansion, Fountains Hall was built partly with stone from the Abbey ruins. Today there are three rooms open to the public.

John Aislabie inherited the Studley estate in 1699. A socially and politically ambitious man, he first became the Tory Member of Parliament for Ripon in 1695 and in 1718 became Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1720 disaster struck. Aislabie was a principal sponsor of the South Sea Company scheme, the bill for which was promoted by him personally. After this vast financial operation collapsed (the South Sea Bubble), he was expelled from Parliament and disqualified for life from public office.

Aislabie returned to Yorkshire and devoted himself to the creation of the garden he had begun in 1718. After his death in 1742, his son William extended his scheme by purchasing the remains of the Abbey and Fountains Hall. He also extended the landscaped area in the picturesque romantic style, contrasting with the formality of his father’s work. Between them, the two created what is arguably England’s most important 18th century Water Garden.

After William’s death, the estate passed to his daughter, then her niece. It escaped major reshaping and the garden and park passed to the Vyner family, descendants of the Aislabies.

In 1966 the estate was purchased by West Riding County Council and was acquired by the National Trust in 1983. The Abbey part of the estate is currently managed by English Heritage on behalf of the National Trust.

In 1986 the entire Park was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

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