Kirkstead was founded in 1139 by Hugh Brito
(son of Eudo), lord of Tattershall. Hugh greatly admired the manner
life at Fountains and received
permission to obtain a colony of monks to provide for a new settlement
on his own lands. It was one of the
first daughter-houses to be colonised by Fountains. The site was
on a level plain surrounded by brushwood and marsh, on the east
side of the Witham valley. In time, this site proved to be too
small for the community and in 1187 the monks were granted leave
move to a new location. The community prospered at its new site
and there was a large number of monks and lay-brothers in the
Like most of the Cistercian abbeys of England, Kirkstead
suffered heavy losses during the fourteenth century. Despite financial
troubles the abbey was still reckoned to be among the greater monasteries
of Lincolnshire. The first two abbots were members of the
of dissident monks that left the Benedictine abbey of St. Marys,
in 1132, hoping for a return to the letter of St.
Rule. (1) They thus brought
to the foundation at Kirkstead the best
traditions of the Order and a rigorous approach to monastic life.
However, the house had an unhappy ending. Kirkstead was suppressed
in 1537 after the abbot and three of his monks were implicated
in the Lincolnshire rebellion. Following the uprising they were
tried, and on 6 March 1537 condemned to death.(2) At
the time of the Dissolution the annual net income of the abbey
was valued at £286.(3) Thereafter
the roof of the abbey was stripped for lead and the buildings
were left to ruin.
Today only a fragment of the church survives;
the rest of the abbey is represented by fine and extensive earthworks.
The only structure to survive is the gate chapel, which is now
the parish church of St. Leonard. A public footpath across the
of the church and cloister leads to the gate chapel.(4)