‘NO HAIR shirts for me!’

‘I would rather be a Georgian because they have nice houses and more luxury.’

‘I would be a Georgian as the ladies got to wear nice dresses.’

The comments of children visiting Fountains Abbey make for amusing reading.

Stuck on the wall in the Banqueting House with many others, they were responding to the question ‘would you rather be a monk or a Georgian?’

Very few had opted for the former. Monks led a harsh life, dressing in shirts made from coarse animal hair, rising at 2am, praying eight times a day and eating meals in silence.

Although one visitor, Ken, aged 71, had chosen the life of a monk ‘because they got free beer.’

Like many citizens of the day, the monks drank weak beer as it as seen as safer health-wise than water.

Fountains Abbey lies along the valley of the River Skell about two miles west of Ripon.

The Abbey, Britain’s largest monastic ruin, was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s Abbey in York seeking a simpler life. They later became Cistercian monks. It was named Fountains Abbey because of the springs of water that existed in the area.

We have been many times, enjoying the walk from the spectacular abbey to Studley Royal Water Garden, with its calming mirror-like ponds.

This time, we visited Fountains Hall, a historic mansion that is often overlooked but is well worth the short detour.

In 1597 Stephen Proctor bought the Fountains Abbey estate and began the construction of Fountains Hall soon after. He built it as his country home, reusing sandstone blocks and a stone staircase from the Abbey, but had fresh limestone cut for the windows and main façade.

Since then several families have called it their home including five generations of the Messengers. The Vyner family were the last to reside in the hall before it was sold to the then West Riding County Council.

It has seen many uses over the years - stately home, courthouse, an estate employees’ lodging and a farmer’s house.

Eighty years ago Fountains Hall was the base for the offices of Fountains Abbey Settlers Society. Created by the Vyner family, the owners of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal estate, the society trained and found jobs for young men from South Tyneside during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Boys aged 14 to 17 travelled down and stayed at a training camp on fields near the abbey to work the land and enjoy a better life in rural North Yorkshire. They were trained in skills from gardening to forestry, to domestic service, to help them find jobs.

A wall of woollen socks - similar to those they would have worn - represents the boys. Each bears a hand-sewn name, and you can find out how they got on though a tablet beside the display.

The stories are fascinating. Some did well - James Spottiswoode, of South Shields, found a permanent position on a farm near Saltburn with a decent wage and ‘a bed to himself’, while James Hurrell from Hartlepool took a job in service with the Vyners.

But others were not so happy. Ernest Skipper, wrote a letter on arrival: ‘Dear Sir, I have arrived safely. I would like to go home.’

Stanley Macey, also from South Shields, tried farm work, but did not settle, then headed south and eventually went to sea.

Both Fountains Hall and Abbey host many festive treats for visitors in the lead up to Christmas.

At the hall children can get a taste of a 1930s Christmas. They can make a paperchain or an angel decoration, challenge each other to a game of snakes and ladders and find a stocking to see what present they would have received on Christmas morning. They can also have a go dressing up in the clothing of that period.

Father Christmas will be at the hall telling festive tales in his cosy reading room grotto. This event, in which kids will get time with Father Christmas and a gift, should be booked in advance.

In the estate itself, there’s a family trail along which children can learn all about the history and tradition of the Christmas tree and be revived by a warming mug of hot chocolate.

And on weekends throughout November and December the popular Music and Lights event is held: choirs will perform in the cellarium, with the floodlit abbey creating an unforgettable atmosphere.

Fountains Mill is also interesting as one of the oldest buildings on the estate. Built by the Cistercians in the 12th-century to grind grain for the monastery, it survived the closure of the abbey and continued to mill grain right up to 1927.

For more information visit nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey -and-studley-royal-water-garden/features/festive-family-fun-at-fountains-abbey

*The estate is closed on Fridays up to January 31. It is closed on December 24 and 25 but open on Boxing Day.