Grid Refs: SE 074 542 & SE 051 572
8 April 2007


House   Nave
The House to the west of the priory   View down the nave
South Wall   Pillars
   South Wall of Priory Church of St. Mary & St. Cuthbert   Octagonal & cylindrical pillars in the nave
South side choir   west doorway
South side of choir   Detail to side of west door
Bardenk Tower   View from SE
Barden Tower   View from the South East
Chapel   North side of choir
Chapel and Priest's House, now a restaurant   Closer view from South East


I show the Bolton Abbey area, with its priory and Barden Tower partly for nostalgic reasons.  When I lived in Colne in the 1950s, it was possible to visit the area by train from Skipton, by a service bus that meandered through the lanes or on a thirty-five mile round trip by bicycle.  There were few cars at that time so one saw the valley in all its beauty; the scene was almost unchanged from when Turner painted it in 1809.  One could marvel at the ruins of the priory and walking up the Wharfe to the Strid - an impressive rush of water through a narrow gap - and appreciate why monks would choose such a spot to build.  Now all is sadly changed.  While there is a largely unobtrusive car park near the priory in recent years a new car park has been created along the banks of the Wharfe, stretching about three quarters of a mile towards the Strid.  Cars park about 6 or 8 deep in this area giving it the appearance of a sea front.   The fields are given over to ball games and the smell of barbecues drifts across the river.  Everywhere dogs run free, barking at each other, pedestrians and the ducks.  Disturbing our most endangered birds, such as kingfishers, during the nesting season is an offence that can carry a fine up to £5,000.  The area of woodland near the Strid is an area of Special Scientific Interest but many visitors do not respond to the request to keep their dogs on a short leash and they rush about unchecked.   If you plan to visit Bolton Priory, avoid a weekend or school holidays.  This is a classic case where too many visitors spoil the beauty that people came to see. With the price of car parking at £5 -50 a day it is no doubt a good venture for the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement.

Bolton Priory

Following the Norman Conquest, the Honour of Skipton, including Barden Forest was granted to Robert de Romille.  The priory was founded by Augustinian canons led by Prior Reynald in about 1154/5.   The land had been donated by Lady Alice de Romille. The building work continued and a great west tower was commenced in 1520.  It was still incomplete at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.  The land was then sold to the Clifford family and the lead from the roof and furnishings of the priory were removed.  Prior Moone was able to save the nave of the priory church for use as a parish church, with a newly built East wall to separate it from the choir. The cellarium, cloister, refectory, and dormitory were gradually removed and the choir and transepts fell into disrepair.  New windows designed by Pugin were installed on the south side in 1853.  The church architect George Street was responsible for restoration work from 1867, including the pews, font and sanctuary.  The east wall was rebuilt in 1880 and is notable for its unusual decoration.  Further restoration took place between 1982 and 1985 under Canon Slaughter.  The unfinished west tower now forms the entrance porch to the west door.  It was built onto the original 13th century facade.  The wooden roof of the tower dates from 1984.

Barden Tower

Barden Tower remains largely unspoiled.  There is a car park by the river but few visitors climb the hill to the ruin.  Here, at the former Priest's House one can enjoy a pot of tea and a cake. At one time they used to offer a "Yorkshire Tea", presented on a double-decker cake stand, with sandwiches at the bottom and cakes and biscuits above.

During the early medieaval period a lodge was built at Barden to administer the area under Forest Law.  The Clifford family came into possession of the Honor of Skipton in 1309.  The tenth Lord Clifford extended the lodge in the late 15th century and also built the chapel and Priest's House.  He lived at Barden in preference to Skipton Castle but on his death in 1523 it was used only as a hunting lodge.  Lady Anne Clifford was the daughter of the third Earl, George Clifford and his wife, Margaret, Countess of Cumberland.  She was born at Skipton Castle in 1589.   The third Earl died in 1605 and the estates went to his son with Anne to inherit if the male line failed.  In 1643 at the age of 53, when she was twice widowed, Lady Anne succeeded to the estates on the death of her cousin, the last Earl of Cumberland.  She repaired Barden Tower between 1658 and 1659.  On her death in 1676, the property descended through the Earls of Cork and Burlington until it came in 1754 to the Cavendish family, Dukes of Devonshire. The roof lead and timbers were removed in the late 18th century and the tower fell into ruin.  The late 18th century was a difficult time for the 5th Duke of Devonshire who was among the biggest and wealthiest landowners in the realm.  The Duke lived for 25 years in a ménage à trois with his wife Georgiana and his mistress Lady Elizabeth Foster, by whom he had two illegitimate children.  The Duchess had an extramarital affair with with Charles Grey, later the 2nd Earl Grey and had a child by him, named as Eliza Couteney.  Georgiana constantly ran up huge gambling debts and owed £20,000 at her death in 1806.

The masonry of Barden Tower was secured in 1899.  In more recent years public money through English Heritage contributes to the upkeep by the owners, the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement.  This trust was set up by the Duke of Devonshire to avoid inheritance tax.  So the owners stripped the lead from the roof to fund their profligate lifestyle and those who pay tax contribute to the repairs.

The ruin bears a plaque bearing the following inscription placed by Lady Anne Clifford:

This Barden Tower was repayrd by the Ladies Anne Clifford Countess Dowager of Pembrookee Dorsett and Montgomery Baronesse Clifford Westmerland and Veseie Lady of the Honor of Skipton in Craven and High Sherifesse by inheritance of the Countie of Westmerland in the years 1658 and 1659 after it had layne ruinous ever since about 1589 when her mother lay in itt and was greate with child by her till nowe that itt was repayred by the sayd lady  ISA. Chapt. 58. Ver. 12. God's name be praised!


The Priory Church of St. Mary & St. Cuthbert, Bolton Abbey, booklet published in 1990.
Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire
by Amanda Foreman (1998) ISBN 0-00-655016-9



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