What is the oldest building in Yorkshire? Is it York Minster? Is it Scarborough Castle? So I delved into the history books and came up with the following list. The rules are simple. At least one part of the building must be “old”, even if there have been more modern additions since. Here’s what I came up with:
Clifford’s Tower- York – 1265
Clifford’s Tower is part of York Castle and was built around 1265, on the banks of the River Foss. It replaced a hastily built wooden castle in the same location, constructed just after the Norman Conquest. On March 16th 1190, before Clifford’s Tower keep was built, the original castle was the scene of one of the grizzliest episodes in York’s history. A series of anti-semetic riots led to 150 Jews being massacred and shame eventually brought on the city, While other parts of York Castle have been either demolished or used for different purposes, Clifford’s Tower still stands and is owned by English Heritage.
Kirkstall Abbey – 1152
In the mid- 12th Century, a group of Cistercian monks were founding one of the oldest institutions in the area, Kirkstall Abbey. These were a breakaway group of “traditionalist” monks, who had been thrown out of the Benedictine order, established at St Mary’s Abbey in York (the one in the museum gardens.) After establishing Fountains Abbey near Ripon, they travelled West and tried to build another monastic community in Barnoldswick, on the Yorks/Lancs border, but left here after constant run-ins with the locals. A site was found in the wilderness that was the banks of the River Aire in 1152 and so the monks moved into the area and built Kirkstall Abbey. They established a forge and strong community there; before Henry VIII and co intervened in 1538.
Adel St John’s Church – 1150
The Church of St John’s, in the Leeds district of Adel, is one of the finest examples of Norman religious architecture. The establishment of a church here lay in its position on an ancient road between Ilkley and York, near the ancient Roman settlement named Burgodunum. Roman, Saxon stones, plus, two Norman coffins can be found near the gates of the churchyard. Inside the building is the Chancel Arch, which features 78 beakheads, dating from this time, along with a centaur with bow and arrow favoured by the then monarch, King Stephen.
Skipton Castle- 1090
While there were too many Yorkshire castles to mention, built in the 11th and 12th Centuries, one of the earliest and best preserved fortifications was Skipton in 1090. Norman landowner, Robert de Romille built this to establish his authority in the area and help create this settlement into a market town at the foot of the rugged landscape to the north. Eventually the building fell into the hands of the Clifford family and its last owner, Lady Anne, who preserved the castle after a siege there during the Civil War. Nowadays it is a popular tourist attraction.
St Mary’s Abbey- York – 1088
St Mary’s abbey in York was one of the oldest abbeys but not the oldest structure in Yorkshire. Picture credit: dudesleeper wikipedia creative commons.
The aforementioned St Mary’s Abbey was built in 1088 by the Benedictine order of monks and became one of the wealthiest and most powerful monasteries in the country, The entire complex would have taken over the whole Museum Gardens site and was where the monks would have eaten, prayed, traded and helped the poor. During the Dissolution of Monastries in 1540, the monks were given money to leave and it became a residence for King Henry VIII when he visited York. It eventually fell into disrepair and became the ruin it is today.
Richmond Castle – 1072
Built just six years after the Norman invasion, Richmond Castle is still a prominent landmark in this North Yorkshire town. It was build by Alan Rufus, who fought in the Battle of Hastings. The reward for his bravery was the lands of Richmondshire and the right to rule over the population. Like Skipton, Richmond Castle is well preserved with some features remaining from Norman times, including the surrounding stone curtain wall, great archway in the keep and Scolland’s Hall. The castle is now owned by English Heritage and open to visitors.
Selby Abbey – 1069
Selby Abbey is older than you would think. As the name suggests it was founded by monks in 1069 and became very famous in religious circles, largely due to its proximity to York. It became a “mitred abbey,” in 1256 which was a special status and was visited by several monarchs of the time. The interesting part of Selby Abbey is that it survived the Dissolution of Monastries in the 1530, largely due to the last abbot, Robert Rogers’ friendship with Henry VIII. He had been one of the people to help the king divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon by signing a petition in favour of their separation. The king did not forget this and paid off the abbott and his 23 monks to leave the abbey, which was stripped of all its assets, but was not, unlike other monastries destroyed by his forces during the Dissolution. Selby Abbey eventually continued as a parish church, which it has done ever since.
All Hallows Church, Bardsey – c 825AD
Home of the oldest pub, The Bingley Arms, the very historical village of Bardsey, just north of Leeds also has one of the oldest churches in Yorkshire too. The inside of All Hallows dates back over 1,000 years, although more modern additions have taken place. The building is one of the finest examples of Anglo Saxon architecture in West Yorkshire, including a Saxon style porch and doorway and 10th Century tower.
All Saints Church- Ledsham – 8th Century AD
Bardsey may have the oldest pub, but the village of Ledsham in West Yorkshire boasts the oldest village church in Yorkshire. Although there have been many modernisations since, both the south and west walls of the nave can be traced back to the 8th Century, along with several motifs carved into the south door of the tower. These are one of the finest examples of church architecture from this period in the UK. Ledsham church though, is not the oldest building in Yorkshire.
St Wilfrid’s Crypt, Ripon Cathedral 672AD
Ripon Cathedral was founded by St Wilfrid in 672AD. One part of the original church remains, known as St Wilfrid’s Crypt, in dedication to its founder. This is probably the oldest place of worship in the UK, which is still in continuous use. The original church crypt was pioneering in that it was one of the first in Northumbria to be made of stone, instead of wood. Wilfrid died in AD709 and is buried in the cathedral. The gothic style interior was built in the 11th and 12th Centuries, around the original crypt, which by then was over 500 years old.
The Multangular Tower, York 3rd Century AD
Long before St Wilfrid’s great grandparents were even thought of, the Romans occupied Yorkshire. In their capital, York the invaders built walls around the city, in order to defend themselves from attack. Although most of these walls have now gone, one multangular tower remains in what is now the Museum gardens, along with a stretch of original Roman wall. It is one of the oldest remaining structures in Yorkshire and dates back to the 3rd Century AD. It was built with a series of other similar towers, which have since been destroyed or buried. On closer inspection, the tower was extended in Medieval times, probably around the time that the current walls were constructed to defend the city from attack. The Tower has seen a lot of battles over the centuries.
The oldest building in Yorkshire is…..
Starr Carr house near Scarborough – 8500BC
In 2008 one of the most interesting historical discoveries in Britain was made. It was the remains of the house, which dated back to the end of the last ice age. The structure included planks of wood which is thought to be the oldest example of carpentry in the world, plus flints, arrowheads and evidence of a larger settlement which once stood here. This was next to an ancient lake and would have been occupied by hunter gatherers, who moved there from the North Sea when it was a land mass. At this point in history, Britain would have still been connected by a land border to continental Europe. The area, which is made of peat has preserved the foundations of the building for over 11,500 years and laid undiscovered until 2008. The area was already known to historians as an important archaeological site. The discovery of Britain’s oldest house in Yorkshire and the UK, has put into question the nomadic existence of hunter gatherers in the Mesolithic Period.