St. Mary’s Abbey was first founded in 1055. It built up a substantial wealth until its destruction in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Some parts of the building were turned into a palace for King Henry VIII on his visits to the north.
In 1827 there were excavations at the Abbey where the old columns were discovered and recorded after rubbish had been cleared from the area. The workman who were clearing the site also found a number of skulls and bones underneath a tomb-stone, and the local press reported that the excavations had greatly increased interest in the history of the area. The work of recording the excavations was given to Samuel Sharp, who was given praise and awards in the following years for his work here and at other sites.
In 1924, 1,500 Roman Catholic Pilgrims gathered at St. Mary’s Abbey for a service, with a High Mass being sung by monks from Ampleforth Abbey. A visit was then made to the York Tyburn, where the Elizabethan catholic martyrs were killed.
The ruins of the building, such as the walls of the nave and the cloisters, are still visible and are in the grounds of Yorkshire Museum. This had been given previously to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. The stone walls which protected the abbey still exist and are one of the best surviving examples of abbey walls which remain in the country.
In 1717 the King had given permission for the stone which remained to be used for the repair of Beverley Minster. Much had however already been taken by locals to repair numerous other buildings in the city.