Arable and pastoral land
To sustain a self-sufficient community
it was vital that the abbey acquired arable and pastoral land,
or had rights to pasture its flocks and cattle in suitable areas.
The Cistercians managed and exploited their lands by establishing
granges. These were agricultural centres managed by the lay-brothers,
from which the land was cultivated and harvested, and livestock
reared. The establishment of Rievaulx’s granges was begun
within twenty years of the abbey’s foundation, as indeed
was the case with most of the other Northern houses.(27) The
large grange at Griff was near to the abbey and was the home farm.
most home granges Griff was never leased out but was directly exploited
by the monks until the Dissolution, that is, it remained in demesne
until that time when it was leased to the Earl of Rutland, who
purchased the site.
Most of Rievaulx’s granges were situated
to the north and east of the abbey, where the land was well suited
to arable and
pastoral farming. The community had good arable lands at places
such as Welburn, Hunmanby and Folkton; indeed, towards the end
of Aelred’s abbacy, in the 1160s, Rievaulx purchased sixteen
fields at Folkton. The Yorkshire Cistercians were renowned for
their sheep farming. This was integral to the Cistercian economy,
for sheep not only provided wool - which in turn could be either
used to make clothing and blankets for the community, or sold -
but were important for their milk and the manufacture of cheese.
Furthermore, parchment and blankets could be made from sheep skins.(28)
How many sheep did Rievaulx have?
In the late thirteenth century the abbey had about 14000 sheep.
acquired extensive pastoral lands to graze its large flocks but
also created lush pastures by draining land in the Pickering
Waste, which had been given to the community by Henry II (1154-89).
Rievaulx’s pasture lands were scattered around Yorkshire.(29) The
community had a number of sheep-houses (bercaries) where its flocks
were folded. These included two sheep stations at Morton
grange and the sheep house at Sproxton, which was associated with
the grange at Griff. At Allerston, in Givendale Dyke, the abbey
was granted permission to pasture five hundred sheep and to build
sheep folds. The donor, however, reserved the right to dung from
the fold. This might seem a rather strange request, but was by
no means exceptional as dung was greatly valued as a fertiliser.(30) The
actual size and structure of these sheephouses varied but, it seems,
they might occupy an area of about an acre; the folds
themselves were probably constructed from wood or brushwood hedges,
but were sometimes built of stone and roofed with ferns.(31)