Henry de Lacy (1070, Halton, – 1123), Lord of the manor of Pontefract, 2nd Lord of Bowland, promised to dedicate an abbey to the Virgin Mary should he survive a serious illness. He recovered and agreed to give the Abbot of Fountains Abbey land at Barnoldswick in the West Riding of Yorkshire (now in Lancashire) on which to found a daughter abbey. Abbot Alexander with twelve Cistercian monks from Fountains went to Barnoldswick and after demolishing the existing church attempted to build the abbey on Henry de Lacy's land. They stayed for six years but found the place inhospitable. Abbot Alexander set about finding a more suitable place for the abbey and came across a site in the heavily wooded Aire Valley occupied by hermits. Alexander sought help from de Lacy who was sympathetic and helped acquire the land from William de Poitou. The monks moved from Barnoldswick to Kirkstall displacing the hermits, some of whom joined the abbey, the rest being paid to move. The buildings were mostly completed between 1152 when the monks arrived in Kirkstall and the end of Alexander's abbacy in 1182. Millstone Grit for building came from Bramley Fall on the opposite side of the river.
On 22 November 1539 the abbey was surrendered to Henry VIII's commissioners in the Dissolution of the monasteries. It was awarded to Thomas Cranmer in 1542, but reverted to the crown when Cranmer was executed in 1556. Sir Robert Savile purchased the estate in 1584, and it remained in his family's hands for almost a hundred years. In 1671 it passed into the hands of the Brudenell family, the Earls of Cardigan. Much of the stone was removed for re-use in other buildings in the area, including the steps leading to Leeds Bridge. During the 18th century the picturesque ruins attracted artists of the Romantic movement and were painted by artists including J. M. W. Turner, John Sell Cotman and Thomas Girtin. The church is of the Cistercian type, with a short chancel , and transepts with three eastward chapels to each, divided by solid walls. The building is plain, the windows are unornamented, and the nave has no triforium. The cloister to the south occupies the whole length of the nave. On the east side stands the two-aisled chapter-house , between which and the south transept is a small sacristy, and on the other side two small apartments, one of which was probably the parlour. Beyond this is the calefactory or day-room of the monks. Above this whole range of building runs the monks' dormitory, opening by stairs into the south transept of the church.
On the south side of the cloister there are the remains of the old refectory, running, as in Benedictine houses, from east to west, and the new refectory, which, with the increase of the inmates of the house, superseded it, stretching, as is usual in Cistercian houses, from north to south. Adjacent to this apartment are the remains of the kitchen, pantry and buttery. The arches of the lavatory are to be seen near the refectory entrance. The western side of the cloister is occupied by vaulted cellars, supporting on the upper story the dormitory of the lay brothers. Extending from the south-east angle of the main group of buildings are the walls and foundations of a secondary group of buildings. These have been identified as the hospitium or the abbot's house, but they occupy the position in which the infirmary is more usually found. The hall was a very spacious apartment, measuring 83 ft. in length by 48 ft. 9 inches in breadth, which was divided by two rows of columns. The fish-ponds lay between the monastery and the river to the south. The abbey mill was situated about 80 yards to the north-west. The millpool may be distinctly traced, together with the goit or mill stream.
The main entrance to the visitor centre has level access. The entrance is automatic, opening outwards with a clear opening space. Kirkstall Abbey, including the visitor centre is all located at ground level. The visitor centre is fully accessible and so are most of the grounds. Please note that Kirkstall Abbey is a heritage site and some areas of the grounds are cobbled and/or uneven. Seating is available in the visitor centre and around the grounds. There are accessible toilets in the visitor centre. Facilities in the accessible toilets include an emergency alarm, a fire alarm with a flashing light and a baby change unit. This toilet is not RADAR key operated. A wheelchair is available from the visitor centre to borrow on your visit. Kirkstall Abbey park is well used by dog walkers. Guide and assistance dogs are welcome in the abbey grounds and dog bowls are available at the front entrance of the visitor centre. An induction loop is in place at the desk in the visitor centre. An audio trail of the abbey is available for visitors with their own smart phones. Handling sessions occur regularly. Touch tours can be arranged with two weeks notice for individuals and small groups. Call +44 (0)113 2305492 to book.
Location : Abbey Rd, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS5 3EH
Transport: Headingley (National Rail) 1 mile. Bus Routes : 33, 33a and 757 stop close by.
Opening Times : Tuesday to Sunday + Bank Holidays 10:00 to 16:00 (last admission)
Tickets : Free
Tel: 0113 3784079