By Lily Liu, MA in Conservation Studies postgraduate (Class of 2018-19)
It was a beautiful sunny day and the perfect trip to mark the end of a technical orientation week. Thanks to the Alumni Association of the University of York, the new 2018/19 cohort of Conservation Studies and fellow alumni were able to visit the World Heritage Site of Studley Royal Park and Fountains Abbey. Led by Dr. Keith Emerick, Inspector of Ancient Monuments and an expert long-involved with the conservation management of the site, the tour offered a fascinating glimpse of English architecture, landscape and culture over the span of several centuries.
The tour this year took a more academic approach compared to how last year’s MA students experienced Fountains Abbey. It was also an interesting ‘back to front’ approach, starting from the far end of the World Heritage Site at the Victorian church of St. Mary, where special access was granted for us, and ending at the abbey itself.
St Mary’s illustrious Gothic Revival interiors by William Burgess were a visual feast, and all were keen to take in the splendour of the gilding, sculpture, painting, stained glass, and other impressive crafts of art present in the building. Dr. Emerick also elucidated some major building phases, pointing out evidence of past structural issues and the importance of understanding the root of these problems from a conservation perspective.
From the church, the group meandered through the Georgian Water Gardens and its associated landscape and architectural follies. Though controversy over some modern art installations ensued over the course of intellectual debate, all agreed the views were nonetheless breathtaking and form part of an important historic environs. The aptly named “Surprise View” from the hideaway of Anne Boleyn’s seat did not disappoint, and acted as the perfect prelude to our finale: the spectacular ruins of the 11th-century Fountains Abbey.
The monumental remnants of Fountains Abbey made for fitting ambience to stir the hearts of all conservation enthusiasts present. We began by stepping through the history of the vaults, into the open corridors of stone arches stretching toward the sky. Previous evidential values of plaster were examined, as Dr. Emerick drew our attention to the markings on the walls which showed a historic preference for more “regular” drawn-on stone blocks, over the top of the uneven natural cut ashlar — though of very fine quality itself.
The visit to Studley Royal Park – including all its gems of the Church of St. Mary, the Water Gardens, and the ruins of Fountains Abbey – was a highlight to the start of the year, and a trip that all participants involved will remember fondly, for the beautiful weather, picturesque settings as well as educational discussions.
The YCAA would like to thank Dr. Keith Emerick for kindly giving up his time to lead this visit, current students and alumni for attending, Lily for this fine write-up, and the University of York’s Office of Philanthropic Partnerships and Alumni for help in assisting the visit.
[All images by Lily Liu]