Founded as a priory in 1139 by Sir William le Gros (who is buried here), Count of Aumale and Earl of Yorkshire, Thornton Abbey was elevated to an abbey in 1148 because of its wealth and influence.
The History of Thornton Abbey
In 1264 the earlier wooden structure of the abbey was rebuilt in stone. In 1382 the Abbot of Thornton was given a licence to build a gatehouse, which still stands today. This is thought to be the earliest use of brick to survive in the county. A huge brick barbican was added to the front of the gatehouse in the 16th century. This would have once had a drawbridge at the outer end and a portcullis in the gatehouse.
Henry VIII stayed at the Abbey in October 1541 with Katherin Howard to hold a meeting of the Privy Council. Thornton Abbeywas dissolved on 12th December1539 by King Henry VIII and then re-founded by King Henry VIII as a college of secular cannons. Six years later the site was granted to the Bishop of Lincoln by Edward VI. During the 17th Century a stately home and farmhouse was built from stone taken from the abbey church.
Today, apart from the gatehouse and barbican, only foundations and a section of the 13th century octagonal chapter house remain. The gatehouse is now operated by English Heritage.
The Haunted History of Thornton Abbey
The huge threatening gatehouse with it`s stone demonic faces, and the few scattered remnants of the Abbey, are reputed to be haunted by Thomas de Gretham, the 14th Abbot of Thornton. He was said to have been a practitioner of the Black Arts, and seeker of carnal pleasures. When his crimes were discovered he was subjected to a particularly harsh and brutal punishment. He was waken down to the monastery dungeon where he was bricked up alive and left to die in the subterranean prison. He remained there until sometime during the 1830`s when workmen found the skeleton sitting at a desk with a book, pen and ink.
It is hardly surprising that his ominous figure, has been seen on several occasions, flitting around the grounds of Thornton Abbey, or staring with evil intent at surprised visitors who notice him standing in the dark corners of the towering gatehouse.