Abbey ever after! Historic items tell story of a jewel in Leeds’s heritage crown

Kat Baxter examines medieval floor tiles.
Kat Baxter examines medieval floor tiles.
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They are fascinating finds that help tell the story of one of the most famous medieval monasteries in the country.

Floor tiles, crockery and even a peg used to tune musical instruments such as lyres and lutes have all been recovered during excavations among the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds over the years.

Now the items have gone on display to the public, filling four viewing cases at the abbey’s visitor centre.

Kat Baxter, curator of archaeology for Leeds Museums and Galleries, said: “Standing in the abbey’s beautiful ruins today, it takes quite a lot of imagination to picture how the building must have looked when it was home to Cistercian monks and decorated with elaborate church windows and stunning tiled floors.

“Bringing together this collection of objects helps us to build a more complete picture of how the abbey has appeared through the ages as well as exploring some of the people who have visited and what they’ve done here at different points in the building’s long and captivating history.”

Kirkstall Abbey was a monastic site from the 12th century until 1539, when it was shut down by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The industrialist Colonel John North bequeathed its grounds to the city for use as a public park in the late 19th century.

Coun Brian Selby, Leeds City Council’s lead member for museums and galleries, said: “Kirkstall Abbey is one of our city’s most stunningly beautiful and historic locations and has been such an important part of our local heritage for centuries.

“Giving visitors a more detailed look at the abbey’s history through this display will help preserve that heritage as well as retelling some important parts of the building’s fascinating story in a whole new way.”

The musical tuning peg now on show in the visitor centre was found during excavations at the abbey’s old guesthouse.