The arrival of the Cistercian community at Rievaulx in the twelfth century has traditionally been associated with the development of the monastic estate and the expansion of pastoralism in Ryedale and the adjoining valley of Bilsdale. This paper focuses on the establishment of the monastic estate and its local and associated iron industry to assess the impact of iron-working on the natural resources of these two dales which formed the proximate estate of Rievaulx Abbey.
The results of this multi-disciplinary research project challenge historical orthodoxy in relation to the impact of the Cistercian community at Rievaulx in the twelfth century, and show that the area prior to the establishment of the monastery was a populated and managed landscape with a history of metal-working. Palaeoecological (environmental) data-sets show that woodland management was practised and that, through time, wood stocks were not over-exploited to the point of exhaustion as industrial activity accelerated and the economic base of the abbey expanded, but that rotational woodland management was practised to maximise the productivity of renewable resources which were synchronised with operational phases, technological innovation, and economies of scale.
The long history and continuity of iron-smelting in Bilsdale, which continued in the post-monastic period until the mid-sixteenth century, provides a rare opportunity to examine the environmental history of a valley site in direct relation to a specific Cistercian establishment and a particular metallurgical process. This paper presents results which reveal the relationship between monastic iron production and the associated management of local wood stocks from the inauguration of Rievaulx Abbey from the early twelfth century to its destruction and demise as a monastic house during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538.
The medieval Gulf of Picton extended 60km inland from the modern coastline. The strategic setting and natural resources of the island setting of Maillezais Abbey were exploited by building a system of drainage canals and levies, which provided farm and pasture land, fisheries and salt beds, while controlling access to the inland, curtailing incursions, and enhancing commercial exchange.
The abbey’s architecture played an integral role in this program. Nothing remains of the western entrance, now obscured by a 15th-century fortification. Key to understanding the architectural evidence is a visual accounting of the abbey’s topographic setting, which, built on the highest point of the island, suggests an elaborate archivolted portal topped by a several story west tower, facing the open gulf, thus dominating the island landscape like a billboard on the horizon, leaving little doubt as to the formidable Christian presence controlling the maritime port.
The Cistercians established a monastery at Meaux, in the lower valley of the River Hull, in 1150. Within the next hundred years they had initiated a drainage and water management system of such effiency that they were able to run at least 11,000 sheep in this area. It led to a vast increase in their wealth and the establishment of a great number of outlying ‘granges’ connected to feeding the growing number of monks and servicing the export of wool to the Low Countries on an ‘industrial’ scale. This appears to contradict the original, Cistercian doctrine of self-sufficiency and poverty.