Ravenstonedale Kirkby Stephen Cumbria

In the grounds of St Oswald's, there are some Gilbertine ruins which have been excavated to form a very impressive glimpse of history. Strictly speaking it was not a monastery but a house.

These ruins are part of a small monastic house established by the Gilbertine Order. The Order was founded about the year 1131 by Gilbert of Sempringham in Lincolnshire. It was the only English Monastic Order and had several establishments on the eastern side of England between East Anglia and Yorkshire. It included women as well as men but there is no evidence that there were ever nuns at Ravenstonedale.

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Gilbertine Ruins Ravenstonedale
Gilbertine Ruins Ravenstonedale
Gilbertine Ruins Ravenstonedale
Gilbertine Ruins Ravenstonedale
Gilbertine Ruins Ravenstonedale
Gilbertine Ruins Ravenstonedale

There was almost certainly a parish church at Ravenstonedale when the manor was granted to the Gilbertine canons of Watton in Yorkshire about the year 1200. Watton was one of the largest Gilbertine sites with, at one time 150 women and 70 men, thirteen of whom were canons. As the numbers at Ravenstonedale were small (there were no more than 8 canons and perhaps a few lay brethren) the establishment remained dependent on Watton.

Gilbertine Ruins Ravenstonedale

Gilbertine Ruins Ravenstonedale
Gilbertine Ruins Ravenstonedale

While the canons would have served the local parish the lay brothers would have farmed any land belonging to the small monastery. They had a fish pond, probably at the bottom of Ash Fell and possibly rabbit warrens to the north along Scandal Beck as well as pastures near Tebay.

Gilbertine Monastic Ruins, St Oswald's Church, Ravenstonedale
Gilbertine Monastic Ruins, St Oswald's Church, Ravenstonedale
Gilbertine Monastic Ruins, St Oswald's Church, Ravenstonedale
Gilbertine Monastic Ruins, St Oswald's Church, Ravenstonedale

After the dissolution of the monasteries, c1540, the buildings were probably torn down or adapted for other purposes. In 1681 the site was visited by Thomas Machell, Vicar of Kirkby Thore and antiquarian. He described a cloister or quadrangle 20 yards square with rooms 6-7 yards wide. Some of these were vaulted, probably at ground floor level, as can be seen at Shap Abbey were the cloister is about the same size as that described by Machell at Ravenstonedale. The size of the cloister meant that the buildings would have extended west of the church, beyond the present path crossing the churchyard: it should be noted that the present church dates from only 1744. It was built approximately on the site of the original church and incorporates some worked masonry which probably came from the ruins.

Gilbertine Monastic Ruins, St Oswald's Church, Ravenstonedale
Gilbertine Monastic Ruins, St Oswald's Church, Ravenstonedale
Gilbertine Monastic Ruins, St Oswald's Church, Ravenstonedale
Gilbertine Monastic Ruins, St Oswald's Church, Ravenstonedale

In 1928-9 excavations by Mr. Edward Frankland exposed part of the eastern range of buildings and some medieval grave slabs. These have been recently cleared and consolidated in a programme funded by the Parish, English Heritage, Cumbria County Council and Eden District Council.

The remains belong to three main periods:
The earliest phase included the use of fine sandstone but only fragments remain. The layout indicates that it was intended to be a small monatery, but it is not known how much of the building work was completed.

What few records remain show that the Gilbertines suffered a decline after their founder's death and we know that their settlement at Ravenstonedale was often well below strength. The second phase probably reflects this with the main buildings being converted to a smaller house more suited to the size of the establishment. From this the manor would be administered and justice dispensed. Unfortunately it is hard to determine the use of the individual rooms.

In a later period a new room was added which included a large fire place and garderobe or lavatory. Again it is difficult to date this exactly and it could even be domestic accommodation built after the Reformation. It is likely that there was a water channel to serve this block from the nearby beck, but later alterations in the area have removed all traces.