GUISBOROUGH AND THE SKELTON VALLEY
Although a mere fragment of the Augustinian Priory of Guisborough is standing to-day, it is sufficiently imposing to convey a powerful impression of the former size and magnificence of the monastic church. This fragment is the gracefully buttressed east end of the choir, which rises from the level meadow-land to the east of the town. The stonework is now of a greenish-gray tone, but in the shadows there is generally a look of blue. Beyond the ruin and through the opening of the great east window, now bare of tracery, you see the purple moors, with the ever-formidable Roseberry Topping holding its head above the green woods and pastures.
The destruction of the priory took place most probably during the reign of Henry VIII., but there are no recorded facts to give the date of the spoiling of the stately buildings. The materials were probably sold to the highest bidder, for in the town of Guisborough there are scattered many fragments of richly-carved stone, and Ord, one of the historians of Cleveland, says: ’I have beheld with sorrow, and shame, and indignation, the richly ornamented columns and carved architraves of God’s temple supporting the thatch of a pig-house.’
The Norman priory church, founded in 1119, by the wealthy Robert de Brus of Skelton, was, unfortunately, burnt down on May 16, 1289. Walter of Hemingburgh, a canon of Guisborough, has written a quaintly detailed account of the origin of the fire. Translated from the monkish Latin, he says: ’On the first day of rogation-week, a devouring flame consumed our church of Gysburn, with many theological books and nine costly chalices, as well as vestments and sumptuous images; and because past events are serviceable as a guide to future inquiries, I have thought it desirable, in the present little treatise, to give an account of the catastrophe, that accidents of a similar nature may be avoided through this calamity allotted to us. On the day above mentioned, which was very destructive to us, a vile plumber, with his two workmen, burnt our church whilst soldering up two holes in the old lead with fresh pewter. For some days he had already, with a wicked disposition, commenced, and placed his iron crucibles, along with charcoal and fire, on rubbish, or steps of a great height, upon dry wood with some turf and other combustibles. About noon (in the cross, in the body of the church, where he remained at his work until after Mass) he descended before the procession of the convent, thinking that the fire had been put out by his workmen. They, however, came down quickly after him, without having completely extinguished the fire; and the fire among the charcoal revived, and partly from the heat of the iron, and partly from the sparks of the charcoal, the fire spread itself to the wood and other combustibles beneath. After the fire was thus commenced, the