Roche Abbey is one of many ruined medieval abbeys scattered around the lands of the United Kingdom and Ireland. Formerly thriving centres of work, prayer and study, they were consigned to their current states of dilapidation during Henry VIII’s 1536 – 1541 Dissolution of the Monasteries.
I’ve found the ones that I’ve visited to be quite good places for taking a camera and a roll of film when I want to shoot something, somewhere, but I can’t really think of anywhere else to go.
As well as the peaceful day walking around the place, it means I can get stuck into some different types of photography to what I was doing out in the streets when I was in Shanghai. A bit of architectural, a bit of landscape, and a bit of textural-based stuff thrown in there too.
Ilford Delta 100, with its great contrast, detail-rendering and low grain therefore seemed as good a film as any to shoot Roche Abbey with. Especially in the Yashica Electro with its pretty sharp lens.
What follows, along with some more information about what and where Roche Abbey is, is what the Delta 100 and Yashica combo gave me from that day there.
What and where is Roche Abbey?
Before Henry VIII decided to raise a load of money by doing his Dissolution of the Monasteries, there were over 600 monastic communities across the British Isles.
Roche Abbey is one of the many ruined ones left over in the UK and Ireland from those history-changing 1536 – 1541 events. Built between 1147 to around 1170, at its peak it housed over 150 men, made up of a mixture of monks and lay brothers.
The abbey’s fall into its current state of disrepair began soon after it was handed over to Henry VIII’s commissioners in an apparently cordial ceremony, when a number of local men descended on the place and pillaged all the timber, stone, lead and whatever else they could carry.
It remained in this dilapidated condition for a couple of hundred years as ownership was passed down through a few different hands, until 1770 when it was owned by the 4th Earl of Scarborough.
It was he who decided to bring in the famous gardener and landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown – seriously, that was his name – to remodel the valley where the abbey sits.
He decided the best thing for the place was to demolish some remaining buildings and hide the visible foundations under earth, turf, and a number of water features.
Brown’s work remained for just over a century until future Earls of Scarborough thought – correctly, in my opinion – that what remained of Roche Abbey was too important an artefact to be left buried, no matter who had done the landscaping and how nice it may have looked.
And so they began the task of digging out the medieval remains.
It was a project that would take more than 80 years to complete, but that has left us with what we see today: one of the most complete ground plans, laid out in excavated foundations, of any Cistercian monastery in England.
As you can see on the illustration on this page here, the main remains of Roche Abbey today are from its church.
The two imposing towers are its transepts, and the front faces of them actually being internal walls, while the lines of stonework before them are the bottoms of the archways that stood in the nave.
Perhaps due in part to Roche Abbey’s modest size, I wouldn’t say it’s really one of the most famous, most spectacular, most visited, or most photographed ruined monasteries in the UK and Ireland.
Those titles would more likely go to the likes of Whitby Abbey, Rievaulx Abbey, and Fountains Abbey in England, Tintern Abbey in Wales, Melrose Abbey in Scotland, and Bective Abbey in Ireland. All of which I’d like to go to someday, of course.
However, one thing Roche Abbey has over those from a personal point of view, is that it being in South Yorkshire means it’s a lot closer to where I live.
And that’s why I ended up going here one Saturday afternoon when I just wanted to go somewhere and shoot some film.
The photographs above and the ones directly below show what are Roche Abbey’s main feature today. Those two transept towers that still stand, visually dominating the rest of the site.
Shooting some non-tower Roche Abbey remnants
While I hoped you found that history lesson as interesting as I did researching it, this is a photography website first and foremost. So let’s get into that here.
As well as wider shots of Roche Abbey’s towers, there are plenty of smaller remnants that you can explore and use in your photographs too.
Because the abbey grounds aren’t that big these days, you can take your time, see where the light and shadows fall if it’s a sunny day like I had, and find plenty of angles with which to compose your shots.
I’m not saying I did this particularly well here, but you certainly could.
The next set of images below shows some of these remaining crops of stonework, including those around the small waterway that runs through the area, and a couple of old doorways from those main two towers.
Walking further around the abbey grounds
While a visit to Roche Abbey won’t need all day – I was only there for two or three hours – you can squeeze a bit more from it by seeing what is around just outside the abbey grounds.
The first two images below are of the remains of the gatehouse, which stands outside of the ticketed area, while the shots below those are various scenes and views I came across whilst walking along paths surrounding the main abbey site.
And then there’s a photograph of the bench I sat and had my lunch on.
I didn’t shoot this because it was a particularly interesting piece of garden furniture though. Just like the two gatehouse images, it was me seeing how well this Ilford Delta 100 film did with those aforementioned light and shadows.
Judging by the results, I think my answer is that it gives you a lot of contrast and fine detail in the highlights without completely muddying out the darker areas.
Shooting some textures and flowers on Ilford Delta 100
The final little batch of photographs from Roche Abbey were shot with further views to seeing how well the Ilford Delta 100 film performed in certain situations. This time it was more on those details, but also the sharpness, and things of that nature.
I suppose they also show off something the Yashica Electro I was shooting with can do that I hardly ever use it for. That is, close up shots of things with the aperture open for a shallow depth of field.
Not that this site is about to turn into one of pixel peeping and shooting the same thing at different apertures and with different films to make direct comparisons. I prefer to think about the feel of photography and photographs more than the technical minutiae of them.
That said though, we do have a few shots here that show what an Ilford Delta 100 and a Yashica Electro can get you if you get close up and focus on textures and flowers.
I think that whatever you think of my part in these images – i.e. the composition could have been better – the tools themselves did okay.
Wrapping up from Roche Abbey
There’s probably not a great deal else to say about these photographs from my trip to Roche Abbey. But I do have a few things that I’ll reiterate if you’ve read this far and will continue until the end.
First is that I firmly plan on visiting more of these ruined abbeys, situated as they are across the UK and Ireland. They make good spots for shooting a roll of film and provide a peaceful setting for a nice day out too.
Second is another word on the camera and film combination that I used here. I really have enjoyed shooting with my Yashica Electro the past few years – from the first roll in it to this one at Roche Abbey – and would recommend anyone pick one up and try one for yourself too. Especially if you’ve never shot a rangefinder before.
You can read my full review of the Electro right here.
Third and final is a note on the film, which you can also read a full review of right here. If you have enough light to use an ISO 100 film, it’s a very good one to go with.
All three are splendid at doing what they do. As I’m sure you are with your camera too. 🙂
If you enjoyed that piece on shooting Ilford Delta 100 at Roche Abbey, why not have a look at some of these other film photo essays too:
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