go to home page go to byland abbey pages go to fountains abbey pages go to kirkstall abbey pages go to rievaulx abbey pages go to roche abbey pages
The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Text only version

Byland Abbey: Location

Byland Abbey: History
Later Middle Ages

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

Byland Abbey: Lands

Cistercian Life







Contact Us


Fourteenth-century grant to Byland of the fishery of Stainsby
© British Library
<click to enlarge>
Grant by William de Tamtona of the fishery of Stainsby to Byland, for the souls of himself and his wife, Helen (fourteenth century)[BL MS Stowe Ch 483]

Fish was central to the monastic diet, especially during Advent and Lent, when the use of animal fat, eggs, milk and milk products was either prohibited or restricted. Accordingly, the monks of Byland required a considerable amount of fish to provide for the monks and lay-brothers of the house, as well as for guests. The community secured rights to fish in rivers and along the coast, for example at Gaterigg, Linthorpe and Coatham.(71) Byland was the only Cistercian house that was not situated on or near to a fishable river, and the monks created an extensive network of ponds (stews) for freshwater fish within the precinct and also on the abbey granges. The earthworks from these ponds and surviving dams are amongst the most remarkable of their kind in Yorkshire. The ponds had no post-monastic usage and may even have fallen out of use in the fourteenth century. This means that their analysis can shed considerable light on monastic fishing techniques in the Middle Ages. Fountains Abbey may have been the pioneer of fish farming, but Byland has left an important legacy to our knowledge and understanding of fish farming in the Middle Ages.(72)

Signing for salmon
Monks were meant to observe silence in the church and claustral area, and any necessary information was conveyed by making signs with their hands. To make the sign for fish the monk used his hand to mimic the motion of the fish’s tail in water.

Although Byland established a thriving fish-farming industry, the community would have had to supplement these supplies by purchasing fish from markets, and by 1170 Byland was buying fish for the monks and sick. The community might also secure benefactions of fish from donors. In the fourteenth century, William de Tamtona granted Byland the fishery of Stainsby in Cleveland, and various lands and rights of access for the souls of himself his wife, Helen. This was to provide thirteen common pittances each year of salmon or other sea fish and fresh herring, for the monks, brethren and the infirm. William stipulated that should any ‘visitor, abbot, prior, or cellarer hinder the above alms from being observed’, the fishery would remain to himself and his heirs.(73)