Rievaulx Terrace is a site located in the North York Moors National Park, in North Yorkshire, England, overlooking Rievaulx Abbey and owned by the National Trust. The site is a grass-covered terrace following a serpentine course across the side of a wooded escarpment overlooking the ruins of the abbey. At either end of the terrace stand two mid-18th century follies: small Palladian temples.
*** – History – ***
The Terrace is on land that was, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, owned by Rievaulx Abbey. It was then granted to Thomas Manners, 1st Earl of Rutland and it passed from him to the George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. On the death of his son it was sold to Sir Charles Duncombe in 1687 and inherited by his nephew Thomas Duncombe in 1711.
The site was created in 1758 by Thomas Duncombe III who had inherited it from his father along with the adjoining Helmsley estate (now Duncombe Park) some ten years previously. His desire was to complement, and perhaps even surpass, the more formal terrace and temples laid out in about 1730 by his father at Duncombe Park house a mile away. It is thought that he may have planned to join the two terraces by a scenic drive along the River Rye.
Two temples are on the site. At the south-east end of the terrace is the domed Doric or Tuscan Temple, thought to be a scaled-down version of the mausoleum at Castle Howard a few miles away. The pavement floor came from the choir of Rievaulx Abbey.
At the opposite end stands the Ionic Temple, inspired by the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome. It was intended as a banqueting house and the central table is still set as if for a meal. It is decorated with elaborate ceiling paintings and is furnished in the period style. The basement housed the kitchen and living quarters and nowadays it holds an exhibition on English landscape design in the 18th century.
Duncombe's descendant, the third and last Earl of Feversham, died in 1963. In 1972 the site and the adjoining woods were purchased by the National Trust.
*** – Ionic Temple – ***
At the far northern end of the Terrace is a rectangular Temple. Here stands the Ionic Temple. Like the Tuscan Temple it has a classical Roman source- the Maison Carree at Nimes, and again is likely to have been designed by Thomas Robinson in the late 1750’s. Here the Duncombe family and guests would dine and socialise after promenading along the Terrace. The lavish interior must have been a magnificent sight to behold by the privileged guests.
Although the room is filled with beautiful furniture and ceramic; including Chamberlain Worcester porcelain, and a set of twelve mid-18th century mahogany dining chairs, the chief glory is the ceiling. The restored plasterwork of the portico looks back to the work of Inigo, Jones, and the early 17th century father of Palladianism. Its frescoes of mythological scenes are the work of Italian painter Giuseppe Mattia Borgnis, who came to England around 1753. In the centre of the ceiling is Aurora, Apollo and the Muses, based on the Guido Reni’s mural in the Palazzo Rospigliosi in Rome.
*** – Tuscan Temple – ***
The visitor route follows a path through the woodland to the Tuscan Temple, then along the grass Terrace to the magnificent Ionic Temple. The classical temples are adorned with paintings and plaster work, imbuing the picturesque ideals of the 18th century while providing a visual gem for the modern day.
It is not certain who designed the Rievaulx Terrace, or the Temples at either end of it. Although the most likely candidate is Sir Thomas Robinson, a Yorkshire gentleman- architect. He was particularly interested in round Temples like those at Duncombe Park, just two miles away. Columned rotundas can be traced back to a single classical building- the temple of Vesta at Tivoli near Roma. Later to inspire world famous buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and the Jefferson Memorial in Washington.
The Tuscan Temple at Rievaulx Terrace, is very similar to the rotunda at Duncombe Park. The main differences are that the Rievaulx Temple stands on a podium rather than on a set of steps, and that the columns have no bases. Inside, rich plasterwork decorates the walls and ceiling. In the centre of the dome is a painted roundel of a winged goddess, which is attributed to the Italian artist Andrea Casali. Casali was encouraged to come to England by Thomas Duncombe II’s father-in-law, who employed him at Castle Howard.
On the floor are 13th century tiles from nearby Byland Abbey, re-laid during the 1920’s. While the Temple is not open to visitors, its beautiful interior can still be enjoyed by the view through the windows.
*** – Facilities – ***
Rievaulx Abbey was a Cistercian abbey in Rievaulx, situated near Helmsley in the North York Moors National Park, North Yorkshire, England. It was one of the great abbeys in England until it was seized under Henry VIII of England in 1538 during the dissolution of the monasteries. The striking ruins of its main buildings are a tourist attraction, owned and maintained by English Heritage.
Rievaulx Abbey was the first Cistercian monastery in the north of England, founded in 1132 by twelve monks from Clairvaux Abbey. Its remote location was well suited to the order's ideal of a strict life of prayer and self-sufficiency with little contact with the outside world. The abbey's patron, Walter Espec, also founded another Cistercian community, that of Wardon Abbey in Bedfordshire, on unprofitable wasteland on one of his inherited estates.
William I, the first abbot of Rievaulx, started construction in the 1130s. The second abbot, Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, expanded the buildings and otherwise consolidated the existence of what with time became one of the great Cistercian abbeys of Yorkshire, second only to Fountains Abbey in fame. Under Aelred, the abbey is said to have grown to some 140 monks and 500 lay brothers. By the end of his tenure, Rievaulx had five daughter-houses in England and Scotland.
The abbey lies in a wooded dale by the River Rye, sheltered by hills. The monks diverted part of the river several yards to the west in order to have enough flat land to build on. They altered the river's course twice more during the 12th century. The old course is visible in the abbey's grounds. This is an illustration of the technical ingenuity of the monks, who over time built up a profitable business mining lead and iron, rearing sheep and selling wool to buyers from all over Europe. Rievaulx Abbey became one of the greatest and wealthiest in England, with 140 monks and many more lay brothers. It received grants of land totalling 6,000 acres (24 km²) and established daughter houses in England and Scotland.
By the end of the 13th century the abbey had incurred debts on its building projects and lost revenue due to an epidemic of sheep scab (psoroptic mange). The ill fortune was compounded by raiders from Scotland in the early 14th century. The great reduction in population caused by the Black Death in the mid-14th century made it difficult to recruit new lay brothers for manual labour. As a result, the abbey was forced to lease much of its land. By 1381 there were only fourteen choir monks, three lay brothers and the abbot left at Rievaulx, and some buildings were reduced in size.
By the 15th century the Cistercian practices of strict observance according to the Rule of Saint Benedict had been abandoned in favour of a more comfortable lifestyle. The monks were permitted to eat meat, and more private living accommodation was created for them, and the abbot had a substantial private household in what had once been the infirmary.
At the time of its dissolution in 1538, the abbey was said to consist of 72 buildings occupied by the abbot and 21 monks, with 102 lay employees, and an income of £351 a year. The abbey owned a prototype blast furnace at Laskill, producing cast iron as efficiently as a modern blast furnace.
As was standard procedure, the confiscated monastic buildings were rendered uninhabitable and stripped of valuables such as lead. The site was granted to the Earl of Rutland, one of Henry's advisers, until it passed to the Duncombe family.
In the 1750s Thomas Duncombe III beautified his estate by building the terrace with two Grecian-style temples. They are in the care of the National Trust. The abbey ruins are in the care of English Heritage. When awarded a life peerage in 1983, former prime minister Harold Wilson, a Yorkshireman, adopted the title "Baron Wilson of Rievaulx".
Parking. Parking charges apply to non-members of English Heritage. Parking free for members. There are two disabled bays in the car park, as well as two additional spaces located within the site gates (which must be opened by a member of staff).
Food And Drink. The visitor can take in stunning views across the grounds while enjoying a tasty treat in their new tearoom or you are welcome to bring a picnic to eat in the grounds. There is a small patio area looking onto the site with a number of picnic tables, and of course plenty of grass on which to lay out your picnic blanket. To complete your Rievaulx experience make a visit to their new gift shop offering a range of high-quality wares inspired by the abbey.
Toilets. Male and female toilets are available, as well as disabled toilets and baby changing facilities.
Dogs. Dogs on leads are welcome in the ruins and café but not at the café counter. Assistance dogs welcome across the site.
Access. Access to most of site is via fine, loose gravel paths and smooth grass, although there are some steps from the cloister and church. Site is on a slope and in some areas assistance may be required by manual wheelchair users. Some signage is in place to warn of slopes. The grounds of Rievaulx Abbey are spacious and feature a number of grassed areas with benches and gravel paths.
Museum. The elegant museum features previously unseen artefacts from the abbey including elaborate medieval stone carvings, chess pieces and gold coins which tell the story of the rise and dramatic fall of the first Cistercian abbey in the North of England.
Audio Tours. The free audio tour will help you to discover 900 years of fascinating history.
Bus Access. Nearest location is Helmsley (approx. 2 mile walk) served by Stephenson’s 29, 31, 31X, 194, 195; Scarborough & District 128. If you are visiting the site on a Sunday during August & September you can catch the MoorsBus which operates between Helmsley, Rievaulx and Byland Abbey with a service also connecting Pickering and Helmsley too. Plan your day at: www.moorsbus.org
Location : Rievaulx, Nr Helmsley, North Yorkshire, YO62 5LB
Transport: Thirsk (National Rail) 11 miles. Bus: see above.
Opening Times Rievaulx Terrace: March through October, Daily 10:00 to 17:00; else see calendar.
Opening Times Rievaulx Abbey: Feb 17 through October, Daily 10:00 to 16:00 else see calendar.
Tickets Rievaulx Terrace: Adults £6.25. Children £3.15
Tickets Rievaulx Abbey: Adults £10.40. Children £6.20 Concessions £9.40.
Tel: 01439 748283