Join us as we tell the extraordinary story of Leeds’ iconic Kirkstall Abbey throughout its history through images of its past.
Built in 1152, Kirkstall Abbey became one of the most important Cistercian abbeys in the country. That was until the 16th century when Henry VIII went on his historic rampage on Catholicism and shut all the monasteries in the country down with force. The ruins still stand however, and represent Leeds’ storied past, as these amazing pictures show.
At Its Height
This is Kirkstall Abbey as it would have appeared in 1540 – during the dissolution of the monasteries, and at the start of the desolation we see today. The Tower was added around 400 years after its original construction and provided a final, grand addition to the estate before its sad abandonment.
A Cistercian Design
The remains of Fountains, Rievaulx, Tintern, Netley and Kirkstall Abbey are largely built in the same pattern and design, bar for a few local changes, and thanks to how well preserved Kirkstall is, we can still work out the floor plans shown in the layout above.
After Henry VIII had his wicked way with abbeys up and down the British Isles, the final abbot converted the old gatehouse into a residence, and then a farmhouse which is as we see it here. It stayed that way for 300 years before falling under the ownership of Leeds City Council and becoming part of the Abbey House Museum.
A New Start
After Kirkstall Abbey was left empty, it soon deteriorated. The lately added tower was not designed with supports and eventually gave way in 1779. It continued in that fashion until 1895, when it was reopened as a public park. The water in the foreground was used for ice skating in winter, but sadly, it no longer exists.
20th Century Friendly
The Abbey looks hugely impressive from above and you’ll note the carefully constructed footpaths, which were added between 1892 and 1896 as part of extensive repairs and renovations to entice more folk from the city and surrounding towns and villages to come and make a day of it.
Modern Home of Entertainment
Since its rebirth, it has become an important example of Leeds’ early history, as well as a scenic setting for some of Leeds’ finest cultural moments. From the much missed Leeds Shakespeare Festival to the annual Classical Fantasia, Kaiser Chiefs’ homecoming in 2011 and the BBC’s wonderful Frankenstein’s Wedding… Live in Leeds.
Into the Future
As it approaches its 900th birthday in the next half century, the aim will be to help Kirkstall Abbey retain the remnants of its quite remarkable past. A ruin maybe ruined, but Leeds’ abbey still holds a special place in the city and in the hearts of its people – hopefully for another 900 years to come.