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Byland Abbey: Location

Byland Abbey: History
Later Middle Ages

Byland Abbey: Buildings
Chapter House
Warming House
Day Room
Lay Brothers' Range

Byland Abbey: Lands

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Byland's property at Clifton

Heard at Clifton
Cases that were heard at Clifton included the theft of a mazer and silver spoon from Ampleforth, and the three men of Thormanby who were accused of stealing twenty shillings during the Scots invasion of 1322.
[Kaner, ‘Clifton and medieval woolhouses’, p. 7.]

Byland’s property at Clifton was exceptional both in size and function. It consisted of a vast hall, two large chambers and two private chambers. The hall was about twice the size of that commonly found on granges and was equivalent to a hall in an episcopal palace. It was probably made of timber, but this will only be known if the site is excavated. The function of Byland’s property at Clifton was equally, if not more remarkable than its structure. The community at Byland evidently held its assize courts here in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Surviving evidence suggests that it was mostly petty crimes that were heard here. The large hall would have been ideal setting for these hearings.

A fair and comely maid
© British Library
<click to enlarge>
A fair and comely maid

In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, war against the Scots meant that parliament frequently met at York, and accommodation was required throughout the city for the royal court. Accordingly, the monasteries and townsfolk were called upon to provide hospitality for the influx of visitors. This would have been burdensome and expensive. It was at this time that Byland, like other Cistercian houses, suffered financial problems, and it has been suggested that their plight may have prompted the king to take the community’s house at Clifton into royal custody. The king may in turn have granted this property, temporarily, to Ralph de Montemer, for in 1314 he commanded Ralph entertain Earl John of Warenne in the vill of Clifton.(1)

Edward II (1307-27) may have stayed at Byland’s house in Clifton when he was visiting the religious houses in York,(2) but the most interesting and intriguing visitor was ‘the fair and comely’ Maud Narford, who was the mistress of the philandering earl, John of Warenne (d. 1347).
[Read more about this colourful liaison]

A Youth Hostel, Cliff Villa, now stands on the site formerly occupied by the community’s house.