Roche Abbey is situated in the valley of the
Maltby Beck, around nine miles from Doncaster and thirteen miles
from modern Sheffield. The site was enclosed by steep limestone
cliffs and bordered on Bruneswald, later known as Sherwood
Forest. This was a choice location for the monks: it provided privacy
and solitude, as well as vital natural resources - water, woodland
and stone. Whilst the setting was solitary, it was not remote.
royal consignment Extensive
repair work was undertaken at Sheffield Castle in 1446-7.
The fine limestone from Roche Abbey quarries was chosen for
the reconstruction of the tower. The stone was transported
by the tenants of John Talbot, lord of Hallamshire: 120 men
with sixty wagons and their draught-oxen. This was boon-work,
and although the men were not paid for their work, they were
provided with bread, beer and other supplies.
[A. H. Thomas, 'Hallamshire Court Rolls of the fifteenth century, pt.
4, Trans. Hunter Arch. Soc. 11:4 (1924), pp. 341-359 at
It was close to several thoroughfares, within
a few miles of the River Trent, and near to the castles of Tickhill
and Conisbrough.The magnesium limestone cliffs that bounded the
abbey on the north afforded shelter, and also an identity, for the
community took their name from these rocky surroundings: the monks
of St Mary of the Rock (Roche). Woodland to the east provided timber
and fuel, as well as pannage
for the pigs. The Maltby Beck supplied water, an essential resource
for the daily functioning of a self-sufficient community. Stone
channels directed water through the precincts; it flowed from west
to east, bisecting the site: the church, cloister and inner court
lay to the north of the Beck; the abbots lodgings, infirmary
and outer court to the south.
May 1236 troops of knights, riding on horses and fully armed
with shields, standards, helmets and coats of mail suddenly
appeared out of thin air at Roche.
Water was needed for a multiplicity of functions:
drainage, cooking, washing, the cultivation of crops and the powering
of mills; it was also used for liturgical purposes. The nearby quarries
provided a ready supply of high-quality stone, which was easy to
work with and durable. Contemporaries admired the fine masonry at
Roche, and stone from here was transported for use elsewhere, including
Sheffield Castle and Windsor Castle. Roche Abbey Stone
is still quarried from here and considered a superior stone.