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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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Woods are wild places, waste and desolate, that many trees grow
in without fruit, and also few having fruit. In these woods there are
often wild beasts and fowl; herbs, grass, leas and pastures grow here
and medicinal herbs are found in woods. … But woods are also
places of deceit and hunting, for wild beasts are hunted here, and watches
and deceits are ordained and set of hounds and hunters.
[Read more of this thirteenth-century account]

Monk and novice felling a tree
© Bibliotheque Municipale Dijon
<click to enlarge>
Monk and novice felling a tree© Bibliotheque Municipale Dijon

Woodland, and all that it afforded, provided many valuable resources including dead wood for building and repair work, and for charcoal, which was burnt in the forges. Woods were also important grazing sites for pasturing livestock, particularly pigs, who could graze on acorns and beech nuts here. Thatch and ferns could be gathered from the woods for roofing, honey might be taken and minerals extracted. The Chase of Nidderdale was a particularly rich source of minerals, and Byland acquired extensive rights here from Roger de Mowbray. The need to own or have access to such desirable woodland meant that Byland received a number of grants or rights to enter and exploit woodland. For example, John of Denby granted Byland wood – Holleroyde.(54) Richard of Bateby’s son, John, granted the community various woods for his soul and also ‘the good things’ that the monks had conferred on him in his need. (55)

... they obtain from a rich man a valueless and despised plot in the heart of a great wood, by much feigning of innocence and long importunity, putting in God at every other word. The wood is cut down, stubbed up and levelled into a plain, bushes give place to barley, willows to wheat, withies to vines; and it may be that to give them full time for these operations, their prayers have to be somewhat shortened.
[Walter Map, De Nugis Curialium].

The monks might clear woodland in preparation for cultivation, a practice known as assarting. Byland, for example, cleared the woods at Coxwold in Stocking, in 1177. However, the monks’ effectiveness at assarting the land provoked criticism and some donors set down restrictions to ensure that their lands were not overly-exploited. Thus, Roger de Mowbray’s concern to preserve hunting in the Chase of Nidderdale in the twelfth century caused him to stipulate that Byland should not cultivate the land here.(56) In the early thirteenth century, William, son of Michael of Briestwistle, granted the Byland community common pasture in Denby, and ‘in wood and plains’ in Briestwistle, but stated that the monks should not take growing oak nor stop his men from cultivating their lands.(57)
[Read more about the importance of woodland ]