RUFFORD ABBEY, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE

Grid Ref: SK 644 646
Date: 10 July 2010

 

Rufford Abbey spacer Rufford Abbey
Rufford from the South West   South Elevation
Rufford Abbey   abbey
From the South East   East wall of Monastic West Range
abbey   abbey
The Great Hall of the Elizabethan House   The Great Hall, created inside the west range
stone statue  
Stone decoration in the hall   The undercroft was a dining room for lay brothers

 

The remains of Rufford Abbey are administered by English Heritage and are within the Rufford Country Park, just off the A614. The park includes an arboretum, country walks, gardens, a lake, café, shop and restaurant thereby providing a family outing.

Rufford Abbey was a Cistercian house founded on land given by Gilbert de Gant, Earl of Lincoln in 1146. It was a daughter house of Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire. Building work took place over about a century using local red sandstone and limestone. The abbey gradually acquired the neighbouring villages of Cratley, Grimston and Inkersall as well as Rufford. By about 1250 the monastery had an abbey church, separate dormitories and refectories for choir monks and lay brothers, a house for the abbot, an infirmary and the service buildings such as bakehouse, brewhouse, granary, stables and guest accommodation.

At the time of the Dissolution, Rufford was said to have an income of £254 per annum and had 17 granges or farms in Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. The monastery was closed in 1537 and acquired by George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury for his services in defeating the rebellion against the Dissolution known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. The 6th Earl of Shrewsbury (1522-1590) was Bess of Hardwick's fourth husband; they married in 1657. He was given the task of maintaining Mary Queen of Scots under house arrest. The 6th Earl began to modify the abbey into a house. The work was continued by his son, Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury, who married Mary Cavendish, Bess of Hardwick's daughters by her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, whom she married in 1547. He added wings to the north and south sides of the lay brothers' accommodation. The Great Hall was used to entertain James I when he visited to hunt in Sherwood Forest. Gilbert died in 1616.

In 1626 the estate passed via a sister of the 7th Earl of Shrewsbury, Mary who had married Sir George Savile, 1st Baronet of Thornhill. Her son George had died in 1614 before his father so the Rufford estate went to her eldest grandson, Sir George, 2nd Baronet who died aged about 16 in 1626. He was succeeded by his 14 year old brother William. Sir William Savile, the 3rd Baronet, was a great-grandson of the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. He supported the crown in the Civil War and entertained Charles I at Rufford shortly before the king raised his standard at Nottingham on 22 August 1642, which signalled the outbreak of the war. Sir William was involved in a number of engagements before his death in York in 1644 aged only 32. His son, Sir George rose to prominence after the Restoration becoming Viscount, Earl then Marquess of Halifax. Although initially a supporter of James II he was a practical man and eventually offered the crown to William of Orange and Mary, James' son-in-law and daughter. He made further improvements at Rufford in the 1680s, destroying much of the monastic remains.

The Marquess of Halifax died in 1695 and his heir, William in 1700. The baronetcy and estate were inherited by a cousin John and then passed to George Saville in 1704. He made further modifications to the property including a bath house and garden pavillion. His son, Sir George Savile, 8th Baronet, a Whig MP for Yorkshire, bought the nearby villages of Ollerton, Boughton, Kirton and Egmanton to enlarge the estate to just short of 10,000 acres. On his death in 1784 the estate went to a nephew, Richard Lumley-Saville, 6th Earl of Scarborough. George IV was a guest at Rufford in his time. The estate then passed to Richard's brother John Lumley Savile, 7th Earl of Scarborough and rector of Thornhill (1760-1835). His son, John, the 8th Earl (1788-1856) inherited in 1835 and lived at Rufford with a French girl he had rescued from drowning in the Serpentine. They were unmarried but had six children. From 1837 the 7th Earl launched a major redevelopment at Rufford employing Anthony Salvin as architect. When the 8th Earl died as a result of a riding accident he was succeeded by his third illegitimate son, Captain Henry Savile, race horse owner and breeder, who lived until 1881. He was succeeded by his younger brother Augustus who moved in the circle of Edward, the Prince of Wales and entertained him at Rufford when he came for the races at Doncaster or on shooting parties. Another brother, Sir John Saville (1818-1896) then took over when Augustus died. He was British Ambassador to Rome and was made the 1st Baron Savile in 1888. His nephew was John Savile Lumley-Savile (1853-1931), who inherited in 1896. He too was a friend of Edward VII.

The estate then went to trustees of the 3rd Baron, who was then a minor. As a consequence of falling income and rising costs the trustees had to sell the house, its contents and the estate in 1938 to Sir Albert Ball, a manufacturer. During the war the house was taken over by the Leicester Yeomanry and later the Coldstream Guards before becoming a prisoner of war camp. In 1949, a conservation trust was formed by writer and historian Robert Innes-Smith. The abbey was purchased by Nottingham County Council in 1952 together with 130 acres surrounding it. The house had deteriorated during the war and been further neglected in the immediate post-war period such that demolition of large parts of it were necessary from 1956 through to 1958. The parts of the original abbey which still remained were protected and came under the care of the Ministry of Works, which became English Heritage. The abbey and grounds became a country park in 1969, and some 10,000 trees have been planted.

Sources

Rufford Past and Present, a colour brochure available at the Country Park, text by Roly Smith, published in 2000, which includes a family tree of the Talbots and Savilles.

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