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Coverham Abbey Premonstratensian monastery and precinct including Holy Trinity Church and medieval bridge

A Scheduled Monument in Coverham with Agglethorpe, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.2729 / 54°16'22"N

Longitude: -1.8386 / 1°50'18"W

OS Eastings: 410609.993525

OS Northings: 486370.599077

OS Grid: SE106863

Mapcode National: GBR HML1.R1

Mapcode Global: WHC6X.QVPQ

Entry Name: Coverham Abbey Premonstratensian monastery and precinct including Holy Trinity Church and medieval bridge

Scheduled Date: 8 February 1915

Last Amended: 29 April 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015725

English Heritage Legacy ID: 28228

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Coverham with Agglethorpe

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire


The Premonstratensian abbey at Coverham is situated on the north bank of the
River Cover four miles west of Middleham. The monument includes the key
religious buildings and the majority of the wider monastic complex lying
within the medieval abbey precinct. The precinct includes upstanding remains
of the gatehouse, the ruins of a mill and a mill race and drain and the
earthwork remains of fishponds and other monastic structures. The Church of
Holy Trinity and its adjacent redundant graveyard also stands with its
precinct, while the medieval bridge over the River Cover lies immediately
south west of the precinct.
The abbey's main buildings lie on a low river terrace sandwiched between the
River Cover and the steeply rising slope to the north and north east. Some of
the core buildings survive as upstanding ruins, further remains are
incorporated into buildings constructed after the dissolution of the abbey,
and other remains will survive below ground. The surviving fabric, combined
with a wider understanding of Premonstratensian sites elsewhere, confirms the
usual monastic layout of church with cloister to the south. The cloister
contained accommodation for monastic brethren, domestic functions and offices
connected with the administration of the house. The west range of the cloister
housed the cellars, stores and guest house, the east range the sacristy (where
sacred vessels were kept) and the chapterhouse, and the south range, the
kitchen and frater (refrectory). The dorter (dormitory) occupied the first
floor of the east range, providing easy access to the reredortor (latrine) and
the east end (quire) of the abbey church, where the monks sang their offices.
Of the standing remains at Coverham Abbey, the earliest are those of the early
13th century abbey church. These comprise the west wall of the north transept
standing to first floor height, a section of the west wall of the south
transept and the footings for the east end of the presbytery. The nave and the
aisles of the church were substantially rebuilt in the mid-14th century and,
of these, a section of the west wall and three piers and two arches of the
south arcade survive. The west range of the cloister housing the guest house
was rebuilt in the late 15th century, and substantial medieval fabric still
survives within the existing Garth Cottage.
In common with other monastic houses the abbey possess an inner and outer
court. The inner court included yards, enclosures and buildings such as the
infirmary and the Abbot's lodgings. It was defined by a stone wall, of which
only the western gatehouse is currently visible.
The inner precinct gatehouse stands 125m to the west of the cloister buildings
and dates to the early 16th century. It stands to its full height and
comprises a pair of small buildings on either side of a track. The buildings
have barrel vaulted ceilings with later pitched roofs built on top. Only the
inner (eastern) arch survives of the gate passageway.
The remainder of the monastic precinct, the outer court, contained a range of
agricultural and industrial buildings such as stables, workshops, bakehouses,
gardens, orchards and meadows, which supported the abbey as a self sufficient
community. The line of the precinct wall has been identified by analysis of
local topography and road patterns, but only one section of the wall is
currently visible 100m to the north east of the abbey, where the top of the
buried remains of the wall are exposed at ground level.
Within the precinct, west of the gatehouse, lies the site of the abbey mill.
The main building was rebuilt in the post-medieval period and is now a
dwelling house known as High Mill. The mill was powered by water, channelled
through a stone lined leat from a system of tanks and ponds on the fellside to
the north. A further ruined mill lies at the east end of the monument. In the
early 20th century it was used as the site of the first hydro-electric power
station in Coverdale.
South of the cloister are the earthwork remains of fishponds and processing
buildings and associated water management features. The earthwork remains of
further monastic buildings and enclosures are visible in the fields to the
west of Holy Trinity Church and to the north east of the abbey church.
The medieval bridge crosses the River Cover at the south west corner of the
abbey precinct, allowing access to the abbey granges and properties. It is a
single arch construction dating to the 15th century with the parapets added
Holy Trinity Church dates to the 13th century with a number of later
additions and alterations including a 15th century west tower, 14th century to
16th century windows and a 15th century chancel arch. The lintel over the
south door is a reused decorated Anglo-Saxon cross shaft with worn figures
still identifiable. The church continued in use as the parish church to the
1980s when it was declared redundant. The churchyard surrounding the church is
no longer in use for burials.
Coverham Abbey was founded in 1212 by Ranulph Fitz-Robert, Lord of Middleham,
when the abbey was moved from Swainby. The foundation gift included an
existing church at Coverham and land and income from the wider region. In 1271
the patronage of the abbey passed to the powerful Neville family. By the early
14th century the house was facing near collapse following the loss of lands
and income, fire, and the consequences of raids by the Scots in 1314-1318.
This prompted a phase of rebuilding and by 1350 the abbey had recovered and
was in receipt of land gifts from as far afield as the East Riding of
Yorkshire. The abbey was held in wide esteem both locally and throughout the
Premonstratensian order so that in 1367 it was used as the base for the
formal visitations of the order to its property in the north of England. In
1536 Coverham Abbey, valued at one hundred and sixty pounds, was formally
dissolved, its land and possessions sold off and the site of the abbey leased
for a period of 21 years. The dissolution was met by opposition in the local
community and in 1540 Coverham flirted briefly with history when it became a
rallying point for the ill-fated Pilgimage of Grace, which attempted to
reverse the religious and political changes of the reformation. The abbey was
sold to Humphrey Orme in 1557, after which date the major structual decay
appears to have started. When the site was bought by George Wray in c.1670 he
proceeded to build a house incorporating carved stones from the now ruinous
abbey, which was further altered and added to in subsequent years.
The abbey ruins are Listed Grade I, and the gatehouse, Coverham Bridge, Holy
Trinty Church, Garth Cottage and two stone effigies of knights 7m east of
Coverham House are Listed Grade II*. Coverham Abbey House, Abbey Cottage, the
outbuilding east of Coverham Abbey House, a wall of reused abbey stones and a
gate with gate piers, 10m and 8m respectively east of Coverham Abbey House are
Listed Grade II.
Garth Cottage, the two stone effigies, all Grade II Listed Buildings, Coverham
Abbey Farm and outbuildings, the nursery buildings, all other post medieval
buildings, walls, fences, High Mill House, the surfaces of yards, paths,
tracks, and the tennis court are excluded from the scheduling although the
ground beneath these features is included. The field in the north west corner
of the precinct is not included is not included in the scheduling as it is
consecrated ground still used for burials.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both
religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious
communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks,
canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of
religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated
from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England.
These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to
tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide
variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a
result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout,
although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for
the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into
the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship,
learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some
orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were
established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest
of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish
churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. The
Premonstratensian order, or "White Canons", were not monks in the strict sense
but rather communities of priests living together under a rule. The first
Premonstratensian establishments were double houses (for men and women), but
later they founded some 45 houses for men in England. The Premonstratensian
order modelled itself on the Cistercian values of austerity and seclusion and
founded all its monasteries in rural locations.

Despite demolition of the majority of core monastic buildings at Coverham and
the continued occupation of this area of the site, the abbey layout can be
reconstructed, some upstanding remains of the church survive and there will
be extensive below ground archaeological remains. Importantly the extent of
the precinct is identifiable and a wide range of remains associated with
ancillary economic and agricultural functions of the abbey remains
identifiable. Thus Coverham provides an insight into the organisation and
economy of a Premonstratensian community. It will also contribute to the study
of the impact of monasticism in the wider landscape of northern England.

Coverham Bridge is known to date to the 14th century and although it has
been partly rebuilt and resurfaced to take motor vehicles, the bulk of the
bridge is medieval and significant remains will be preserved beneath the
modern surface. It is immediately associated with the abbey, having provided
access to monastic holdings elswhere in the area and linked the abbey with the
wider medieval routeways in the region.

Coverham Church survives well as an example of a medieval parish church which
lay within a monastic precinct, and is important for understanding the
relationship between the abbey and the lay community of Coverdale during the
medieval period and the role of the church after the Dissolution. Parish
churches have always been major features of the landscape and a major focus of
life for their parishoners. They provide important insights into medieval and
later population levels, economic cycles, religious activity, artistic
endeavour and technical achievement.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Coppack, G, Abbeys and Priories, (1993), 100-128
Halsall, G, Coverham Abbey, (1986)
Halsall, G, Coverham Abbey; a Preliminary study of Archaeology and History, (1986)
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: The North Riding, (1986)
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: The North Riding, (1986)
'A History of Yorkshire' in Houses of the Premonstratensian order, (1913), 243-245
Clapham, A W, 'Archaeologia' in The Architecture of the Premonstratensians, , Vol. VOL 73, (1923), 117-146
Currie, C K, 'The Archaeology of Rural Monasteries' in The Role of Fish ponds in the Monastic Economy, , Vol. BAR 203, (1989), 173-184
Halsall, G, 'The Archaeology of Rural Monasteries' in Coverham Abbey; Its Context In The Landscape Of Late Med N Yorks, , Vol. BAR 203, (1989), 113-141
L'Anson, W M, 'The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal' in Coverham Abbey, , Vol. VOL XXV, (1918), 272-300
Listed Building Description, (1967)
Listed building entry,
Listed building report,
Minnot, R, (1995)
Moorhouse, S, (1995)
Moorhouse, S. Dr, (1995)

Source: Historic England

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