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Roche Abbey is a now-ruined abbey located near Maltby, South Yorkshire, England. It is situated in a valley alongside Maltby Beck and King's Wood.
The abbey was founded in 1147 when the stone buildings were raised on the north side of the beck. The co-founders of Roche were Richard de Busli, likely the great-nephew of the first Roger de Busli, the Norman magnate builder of Tickhill Castle, and Richard FitzTurgis. When the monks first arrived in South Yorkshire from Newminster Abbey in Northumberland, they chose the most suitable side of the stream that runs through the valley, on which to build their new Cistercian monastery. Twenty-five years later, at the end of the century, the Norman Gothic great church had been finished, as well as most of the other buildings. The control of the abbey was vested in the de Vesci family, lords of Rotherham, who in turn subfeuded the land to Richard FitzTurgis, lord of Wickersley (and who took Wickersley as his surname).
From the start, the Abbey of Roche, built for the so-called White Monks, as the Cistercians were known, had an almost otherworldly air. It was, after all, built at the northern end of an area once covered by Sherwood Forest, and it was said that Robin Hood went to Mass here. (A diocesan pilgramage is still made today on Trinity Sunday.)
Eventually, on co-founder FitzTurgis' death, control of the abbey passed to his son Roger, now 'de Wickersley,' and then eventually to a granddaughter Constantia, who married William de Livet (Levett), a family of Norman origin who were lords of the nearby village of Hooton Levitt (or Levett). The abbey continued in the Levett family until 1377, when John Levett of Hooton Levitt sold his rights in the abbey to the London merchant Richard Barry. By the time of the dissolution full control of Roche Abbey was held by Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland, who came in for numerous grants at the Dissolution as he was married to the niece of King Henry VIII.
The Roche Abbey records were lost or destroyed so there are no accounts of what went on in the abbey, other than there were 14 monks and an unknown number of novices at the time of dissolution in 1538. It was the dissolution by King Henry VIII of England that rendered the abbey to ruin, but the walls of the north and south transepts are still impressive. The local community at time of dissolution decided they had first right of claim on Roche Abbey and its possessions. A very detailed account exists citing the terrible destruction of the abbey and its valuable artefacts. Timber, lead and stone were also removed in vast quantites.
The remarkable chronicle of the despoilation was written by Michael Sherbrook, a priest and rector of nearby Wickersley who watched the pillaging. "For the church was the first thing that was spoiled; then the abbot’s lodging, the dormitory and refectory, with the cloister and all the buildings around, within the abbey walls," wrote Sherbrook in his eyewitness account. "For nothing was spared except the ox-houses and swinecoates and other such houses or offices that stood outside the walls these had greater favour shown to them than the church itself."
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