On the Wednesday of my Yorkshire Knitting Tour we visited Fountains Abbey. I had chosen this for an excursion because it is thr best-preserved of Yorkshire’s medieval abbeys, and includes remains of a ‘woolhouse’, where wool from the abbey’s many sheep farms was washed, spun, dyed, woven, and fulled.
It was Yorkshire’s abbeys that transformed Yorkshire into a major wool producer, turning vast tracts of land, both uplands and lowlands, into grazing for sheep. They sold huge quantities of wool to overseas merchants, both as raw fibre, and as woven cloth. Then the profits from this industry were used for building projects to improve the abbeys, making them ever more glorious, an enterprise that continued until the ‘dissolution’ of the abbeys by King Henry VIIIth.
Our tour of the abbey was led by Don, who eloquently impressed upon us an understanding that though the abbey was glorious, life there was utterly miserable for the vast majority of its inhabitants. Poor diet, hard labour, uncomfortable living arrangements, and little sleep.
By contrast, we enjoyed a leisurely tour of the abbey, followed by some shopping in the visitor centre, and some food and drink treats from the café. Not a bad life!