Even the monks of the Cistercian Order were
compelled to give up even the wool of their sheep, which is
their chief means of support, and appears to be almost the
only revenue they have for their necessary subsistence and
[William of Newburgh, Augustinian canon](53)
The Yorkshire Cistercians were renowned for their
sheep farming. This was integral to the Cistercian economy, for
sheep not only provided wool, which could be used to make clothing
and blankets for the community, or else
sold, but were important for the manufacture of butter and cheese.
Furthermore, parchment and blankets could be made from sheep
skins.(54) The mid-fifteenth century
'Memorandum Book' records that Robert Glover of Ripley who, not
surprisingly, sold leather and gloves, purchased sheepskins from
Fountains was at one time the leading producer
and exporter of Cistercian wool in the country, and its seventy-six
sacks topped the list of wool producers in an Italian account of
c. 1300. It has been estimated that the community must have had
at this time c. 18 000 sheep.(56) Fountains
thus required extensive tracts of pasture lands to graze its flocks.
The sheep were moved between high and low pastures in accordance
with the seasons. For example, the limestone uplands of Craven were
used for summer grazing and the lower grounds of Bewerley for wintering;
the wether flock that
grazed at Bordley Hall in the summer was wintered at Braisty Woods,
and the flock wintered at Bolstershaw moved to Darnbrook House in
the warmer months.(57) The stretch of
land from Malham Moor to Kilnsey grange was probably Fountains'
most important summer pasture, and the community had a number of
on the uplands here, with their associated pastures and enclosed
meadows.(58) The Augustinian priory
of Bolton also had lands here, and the two communities engaged in
disputes over rights in the thirteenth century.(59)
What was a sheepcote?
The term 'bercary' is often the source of confusion and is applied
to sheep folds, as well as to sheephouses or cotes. It has recently
been stressed that the bercary was not simply a shed or store,
but could refer to the entire complex - sheltered housing for
the sheep, with pens, associated buildings and pasture. The
sheepcote could therefore be an extensive building, constructed,
in part, from stone, with pens for the sheep. It provided shelter
for the sheep in winter and during the lambing season, and afforded
storage space for food and perhaps also equipment.
Rievaulx's sheepcote at Skiplam survives - Wether Cote.
For an extensive consideration of sheepcotes, with discussion
of their form, function and surviving evidence, see C. Dyer,
'Sheepcotes: evidence for medieval sheepfarming', Medieval
Archaeology 39 (1995), pp. 136-164.
Fountains was granted pasture rights for three
hundred sheep at Sawley, and was also permitted to take fern for
litter and for roofing the sheepcote; as an added bonus the community
could keep the sheep manure produced here.(60)
Whilst this might seem a rather odd concession, manure was highly
valued and this would have been considered a great boon. The base
of a stone boundary cross, Lacon Cross, survives at Sawley on the
road from Fountains' grange at Warsill to the abbey. Crosses such
as this were often erected to indicate the road to travellers in
bad weather. (61)