Standing in full glory, and to its original height, the magnificent east end gable of Gisborough Priory church is predominantly all that survives of this early 12th century Augustinian monastery. Founded by an influential local baron, Robert de Brus, Gisborough Priory was generously endowed. Robert's brother, William became the first Prior, and many family descendants were later buried in the church including the grandfather of King Robert Bruce.
Despite there being nothing left above foundation level of the first stone church, the evidence suggests that it was a building of great proportions. When the second church was started at the end of the 12th century, the plans were to build an even more grand version, and again, this was clearly the case as seen from architectural evidence uncovered during excavation of the site. Severely damaged by fire in 1289, this church was replaced by a third rebuilding that spanned almost a century, and the present east end is a wonderful example of northern Gothic architecture from this period.
Originally over 350ft (106m) in length, the presbytery alone comprised nine bays, and each arcade was supported by a clustered column on a moulded base, and topped with a foliated capital. Only scant remains of this skilful work is visible today, but leaving us in no doubt as to the scale and grandeur of the 14th century Gisborough Priory, is the remarkable survival of the east end gable of the church. A massive central window with slender shafts culminating in turrets sits beneath a gable containing an ornately traceried window. Flanking the main window are two symmetrical, gabled and turreted buttresses each with a low-level, broad lancet window. The extent and richness of the carving on the dark ashlar stonework of this gable end is so beautiful that, if for no other reason, a visit to this charming site should be considered.
Once the fourth richest house in Yorkshire, Gisborough Priory (now falling within the boundaries of Teeside) managed to survive the Dissolution until Christmas Eve 1539, when the Prior and 23 canons surrendered their monastery to the Crown. After the Suppression, the site was eventually sold to the Chaloner family, who converted the west range of the claustral buildings as living accommodation. By the beginning of the 18th century all the domestic buildings, and the nave of the church, had been cleared away and replaced by formal gardens. The east wall of the church was presumably retained as a 'romantic' feature of the landscaped site. During the 1860s it was Admiral Chaloner who began to excavate Gisborough Priory in an attempt to uncover the tombs of the Gisborough patrons, and his extensive operations led to the recovery of large quantities of architectural detail.
Initially, it appears that there is not too much to see here but, once through the ruinous 12th century gatehouse, the site holds a fascination for seeking out every visible fragment and learning something of the obscure history of Gisborough Priory.