Leeds nostalgia: buildings to treasure - the 1920s bid to excavate Kirkstall Abbey’s ‘secrets’

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Kirkstall Abbey has dominated the Leeds skyline for more than 800 years and has been open to the public as a park for 120 years.

It was built after Henry de Laci, the 12th Century baron, vowed to build a house for the monastic order if he recovered from illness.

It suited monks in Yorkshire, too, who at that point were based much further north, close to Settle, and often had to deal with Scottish marauders.

The building was completed in 1183 and took stone masons more than 30 years of hard labour. It took much less time for King Henry VIII to destroy it, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries Act. Bereft of its lead and timber roof, it became uninhabitable and was subsequently looted for its stone, its possession passing to various people, including the Earl of Cardigan, who sold it to Colonel North, also known as ‘the Nitrate King’ after he cornered the world market in Nitrate by buying up land in Chile - he was the man who later gifted it to the city of Leeds.

In the 1970s, the public were given a rare chance to climb one of the remaining stone spiral staircases which led to the then recently repaired western turret- the narrow stair led to a 30ft wide balcony offering views of the land.

A report in the YEP from September 1929 stated £25,000 had been set aside to remove hundreds of tons of modern masonry tacked onto the ruins in the 1890s and also to waterproof the existing ruins with lime and cement. Conservators also wanted to excavate but it is not clear if this happened.