Written by Jenna Tinning, Conservation Studies postgraduate (2017-18).
At the end of a busy first week for the new 2017/18 Conservation Studies cohort, the students and alumni gathered together on Saturday 30 September 2017 for a study to trip to the World Heritage Site of Studley Royal Park, known by many as home to the ruins of Fountains Abbey. We were very lucky to be led through the day by the extremely knowledgeable Dr Keith Emerick, Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic England, who has been involved in the conservation management of the site for many years.
As one of National Trust’s flagship sites (though interestingly managed by English Heritage!) the visit was a brilliant example of sustainable management of a cultural heritage asset as a visitor attraction. Keith picked up on a number of interesting points about the challenges that are faced in making this a reality. We started the day with a bit of background to the site, where we discovered just how many partners are involved in its running and what it means to be a world heritage site – including the fact that ‘fountains’ must have a management plan for every six years, which in turn forms the guidelines for the conservation work on site.
Moving down to the Abbey we learnt more about issues with water drainage at the site and how efforts are being made to manage the impact of flooding, including the installation of some new porous floor tiling to help combat localised flooding. One of many highlights of the day was that we were given behind the scenes access to a large open space that used to be the dormitory of the lay-brothers above the cellarium, an area that is not currently accessible to the public due to the fact that there are large exposed archways on either side that are not cordoned off, meaning that visitors could be exposed to rather big drops off the edge! We discussed how the National Trust and Historic England are therefore working to open this space up to the public and the challenges they face in doing so – particularly to maintaining the aesthetic value of the site.
Another highlight of the trip was taking in the views from some of the many Georgian follies and features located within the grounds of the site, including the spectacular ‘Anne Boleyn’s Seat.’ Each had been carefully designed to provide a new and contrasting vista and experience for guests. Considering that every day the Fountains Abbey and Study Royal site now attracts so many visitors – an average of 350,000 a year – an important and interesting observation to note was that there is still always a quiet place within the landscape where you can go and take in the surroundings in peace, without seeing any others visitors if you so wish.
Unfortunately, because of the sheer size of Studley Royal Park with an area of about 800 acres, there was no way we could explore all the fascinating features of the landscape in one day, and therefore some aspects, such as St Mary’s Church, were left for us to explore in our own time. Overall, as can be seen by the feedback we have received, the day was a fantastic experience that gave us some really interesting insights into the management of such a diverse World Heritage Site, and it also proved a great opportunity to mix with our new course friends and alumni.
Just wanted to say that for me the Fountains trip was a really great opportunity to meet people. What with being in the first week…and just generally mixing us all together, it worked really well as a kind of induction event
I would like to thank the York Conservation Alumni Association (YCAA) for organising a visit to such an amazing place of historical significance and world heritage status. I believe that such visits on a regular basis will expose us to the practical world of conservation and create an interactive environment between the students, professors and professionals from the field. Looking forward to more such opportunities!!
The visit to Fountains was a wonderful experience…as for the ideas for other events, I recommend Saltaire, another world heritage site in Yorkshire.
The importance of field trips for studies like our own is very important, I think that they can be the equivalent of “a photo is worth a thousand words”: a well-organised field trip can worth a lot of hours reading and lecturing… so, similar trips as the one to Fountains Abbey will be more than welcome, although visits within the city of York are welcome as well!
The place chosen for the site visit was wonderful and we were able to understand many aspects that are concerned with heritage conservation – finer details of landscape planning, psychological planning in landscape, architectural details, colour palette of the place and of the trees, historical anecdotes gave an enriching experience.