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Fountains Abbey: Location

Fountains Abbey: History
Trials and Tribulations
Strength and Stability
End of Monastic Life

Fountains Abbey: Buildings
Chapter House
Warming House
Day Room
Lay Brothers' Range
Abbots House
Outer Court

Fountains Abbey: Lands

Fountains Abbey: People

Cistercian Life






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‘A disgrace to the Order’
In the 1220s the General Chapter denounced the bickering between Fountains and Byland regarding leadmines in Nidderdale as a disgrace to the Order. Concord was reached in 1226 when it was agreed that two mines in Coldstones, which lay south of Ashford Gill Beck, should be worked by both abbeys for seven years and the costs divided; thereafter, Byland was to withdraw. A third mine in Coldstones was to be worked in this way until it was exhausted. The monks and lay-brothers of both abbeys were bound to abide by the terms of the agreement, for failure to do so would result in the offender having to apologise in person to the other community and enduring a fast of bread and water every Friday for a year.
[Jennings, Yorkshire Monasteries, pp. 81, 84.]

Fountains’ main non-agricultural industry was lead-mining.(129) Lead was an extremely important resource that was necessary for the manufacture of piping and brewing vats, and for use in roofing and window tracery.(130) In the late twelfth century, Fountains acquired a number of rights to mine lead in Nidderdale from Roger de Mowbray and his wife, Alice de Gant. These included mines at Bewerley and Dacre, where the abbey had granges, and the right to mine all metals in the forest of Nidderdale.(131) The hamlet between Dacre and Pateley Bridge, that is today known as ‘Smelthouses’ (and was formerly part of Brimham grange), refers to its medieval past, for the monks of Fountains had lead-smelting works here; their mill was on the spot today called ‘Lead Wath’.(132)

Greenhow Hill
© Peter Howard
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Greenhow Hill

In the late fifteenth century Fountains was mining lead on Greenhow Hill, near Dacre, where a number of bell-pits can still be seen. Fountains’ expansion in this area, however, brought the community into conflict with the Augustinian canons of Bolton Priory and the miners of the Duchy of Lancaster. The dispute centred on Mungo Gill and disagreement continued until the Dissolution.(133)

Once the lead was mined it was smelted in furnaces built on hillsides, ‘bole hills’. These were low stone circles which had gaps in the base to allow the wind to enter and power. Fountains had hillside furnaces at Bale Hill, in Bishopside [Aldfield], and at Bale Banks, in Coldstones. From the fourteenth century bellows were used to power the furnaces, which were now moved by streams and driven by waterwheels. By the fifteenth century Fountains was using both types of furnace. The mid-fifteenth century ‘Memorandum book’ records the payment of 3s 4d for a bellows pipe [sufflatorium].(134)

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