Kirkstall Abbey

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Opening Times:

April-September, Tues-Fri 10am-5pm; Sat–Sun 10am–6pm
October-March, Tues–Thurs, Sat–Sun 10am–4pm;
Closed Mondays except bank holidays (10am-4pm)
Last admission 1 hour before closing.



Venue contact details:

T: 0113 2305492

Kirkstall Abbey

Turner visited Kirkstall Abbey on his first tour to Yorkshire in 1797.  He was already highly thought of for his architectural subjects, but on this tour he gradually became more interested in the landscape settings of his subjects.  Turner had been brought to Yorkshire by Edward Lascelles of Harewood House, to make a series of watercolours of the house and grounds at Harewood.  Lascelles' patronage encouraged Turner in his early engagement with the landscape, and he commissioned a watercolour of Kirkstall direct from Turner's sketchbooks (Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Wilton number: 224).

Kirkstall Abbey stands on a wide fertile sweep of the River Aire about three miles west of Leeds centre.  Construction begun in 1152, housing a community of Cistercian monks and it grew to be one of the largest of Yorkshire's abbeys.  Its community was disbanded in 1539 during the Dissolution.  Having been stripped of its roofs and windows, the abbey served as a quarry for local building works. Fortunately all the major buildings survived intact, and its proximity to Leeds made it a popular resort for tourists from at least the 17th century.  In Turner's day there were refreshments available and boats to hire on the river. 

Turner made eleven sketches during his 1797 visit, including one that included the dormitory undercroft, which later collapsed in 1825.  This drawing was later developed into a finished watercolour, Refectory of Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire (The Trustees of Sir John Soane's Museum, Wilton number: 234) and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798.

Kirkstall was an important site to Turner and he returned at least twice, in 1808 and 1824, and made numerous sketches and at least three further watercolours of Kirkstall.  His final watercolour was developed from the same viewpoint as his first (Kirkstall Abbey, on the River Aire, Tate Gallery, Finberg number: CCVIII M), and was part of a commission to make views for a series of engravings called Rivers of England.


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Turner's Viewpoint

Turner made several architectural studies at Kirkstall but he was eventually drawn to a more distant view from the riverside from which he developed his first watercolour, where he could relate the abbey to its surroundings and particularly develop a sense of weather and time. 

Turner pictures Kirkstall Abbey as a deep and solitary immersion in nature, whereas actually then, as well as now, it would have been as much a social as a natural experience. 

Turner's viewpoint is at the other side of river from the Abbey but the same angle of the view can be obtained within the Abbey grounds.

Discover The Landscape

The Turner Trails bench and panel are located within Kirkstall Abbey grounds, with good views of the Abbey. 

Turner's Religious Houses

Listen to Episode 4 of our Turner podcast series when Turner expert, Professor David Hill, is joined by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, as they look at Turner's sketches and paintings of Yorkshire's historic religious houses.

The Venue


Kirkstall Abbey, Kirkstall, Leeds, LS5 3EH

Map reference: SE260360

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Directions to Kirkstall Abbey:

3 miles W of Leeds city centre on the A65 (Kirkstall Road).