Merevale Abbey, a Cistercian monastery, associated water control features and industrial remains
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1014682
Date first listed: 11-Jun-1968
Date of most recent amendment: 19-Sep-1996
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: North Warwickshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: SP 28726 97964, SP 29229 97741
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
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. Some 75
of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St
Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or "white monks",
on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic
orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual
labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas
where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were
often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen,
dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers
eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were
especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on
sheep farming. The Cistercians made a major contribution to many facets of
medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.
Merevale Abbey is a well documented example of a Cistercian monastery founded in the mid 12th century. Antiquarian excavation and a more recent archaeological watching brief have provided evidence for the quality of the surviving remains of the church and the conventual buildings, though a great deal remains to be discovered. The site not only retains several visible fragments of major monastic buildings but also earthwork and buried remains which illustrate the development of the monastery and will preserve rich evidence for the changing lifestyle of the monks. In particular, the remains of the monks' industrial activities, both in the mining of raw materials and their subsequent transport and processing, are of great interest, as remains of this type are rare on monastic sites themselves. Additionally, organic material will be preserved in many of the water control features on the site and this will be of value in understanding the economy and environment of the monastery's inhabitants.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes two areas situated at the junction of two small valleys,
approximately 1.2km to the west of Atherstone. The central part of the
monument includes the ruins of two conventual buildings, which are Listed
Grade II and II*, and buried remains associated with the core of the
monastery. The monument is more extensive than this, however. It also includes
the earthwork remains of buildings and other features within the monastic
precinct, parts of a monastic water management system and early industrial
Merevale Abbey, a monastery of the Cistercian order, was founded by Robert,
Earl Ferrers in 1148 and was colonised by monks from Bordesley Abbey,
Worcestershire. Following its Dissolution in 1538 the monastery's estates were
granted to Sir Walter Devereux, Lord Ferrers but following the death of his
son in 1579 the property passed to Robert, Earl of Essex.
The main abbey buildings lie among the agricultural buildings and farmhouse of
Abbey Farm on a spur of land which falls gently away to the north into the
valley of a stream flowing west-east. The spur falls away more steeply to the
south east into a second valley which joins the main valley some 300m to the
east of the monastic church. The conventual buildings on this spur were
originally surrounded by water on three sides: by man-made pools of water to
the north and south and by a waterfilled ditch extending from the pools along
its eastern side. An excavation in 1849 and a watching brief in 1967 have
provided information about the layout of the monastic buildings and many of
these will survive as buried structures beneath the farm buildings.
The monastic church is situated towards the centre of the spur. The part of
the south wall of its south aisle which remains standing is Listed Grade II.
It is built of sandstone and is approximately 4m high and 10m long. It now
partly forms the north wall of a farm building and is included in the
scheduling, although the building itself is excluded. The church is aligned
east-west, approximately 73m long, with aisles, transepts and a straight-ended
chancel. The 19th century excavators also located the northern end of the
western claustral range and produced a plan of all the claustral buildings
based on their investigations.
The conventual buildings lay immediately to the south of the church. Much of
the refectory in the southern claustral range survives as a Grade II* Listed
ruin and is included in the scheduling. In most Cistercian houses it was
traditional for the refectory to be built on a north-south alignment, but this
example is untypically aligned east-west. The north wall survives up to 6m
high in places and the eastern half of both its internal and external faces
are divided into bays by round filleted shafts and semi-octagonal pilasters.
The western end of the wall includes an original doorway with a two centred-
head of three moulded orders and a chamfered rear arch. An 18m length of the
refectory's south wall also remains standing and retains the entrance and
stairs to a pulpit within its internal fabric. The lower courses of the east
wall, also with a doorway, are visible above ground, but the west wall
survives only as a buried feature. Several of the farm buildings incorporate
medieval masonry within their fabric. Those fragments within Abbey Farmhouse
are believed to be in situ, however this Grade II Listed house is in use as
a dwelling and is not included in the scheduling.
The conventual buildings were originally set in the centre of a large, roughly
square precinct of approximately 18ha. The boundaries of much of this precinct
can still be identified. Most of the western, southern and south eastern
boundaries are defined by ashlar masonry walling, whilst the northern, north
eastern and eastern sides of the precinct were defined by artificial lakes.
Sections of the precinct wall remain standing up to 3.5m high to the south
east, south and north west of the conventual buildings, and are included in
the scheduling. Beyond the eastern precinct boundary are the earthwork remains
of ridge and furrow cultivation which are aligned north east-south west. The
ridge and furrow respects the monastic precinct and is included in the
scheduling in order to preserve the stratigraphic relationship between these
Documentary and field evidence indicates that the main abbey gatehouse was
on the west side of the precinct to the north of the Church of Our Lady. The
earthwork remains of a hollow way running from the gate towards the chapel are
visible to the north east of the church. The remains of the gatehouse and
associated ancillary structures such as stables will survive as buried
features within the precinct in this area. The Church of Our Lady, now the
parish church of Merevale, dating from c.1240, with 14th and 15th century
additions and originally constructed as a gatehouse chapel of Merevale Abbey,
is Listed Grade I but is not included in the scheduling.
In the southern part of the precinct are two large pools of water which date
from the period of monastic occupation. They were created by damming the
stream in the valley bottom. The water in Black Pool is held behind a 14m wide
dam situated 190m to the south west of the monastic church. It is connected
via a sluice within this dam to Abbey Pool, lying to the north east,
immediately to the south of the conventual buildings. The dam forming this
pool has been greatly modified but survives as a broad earthwork platform to
the south east of the refectory ruins. Both pools are thought to have been
enlarged and landscaped since the Dissolution, but they continue to represent
the monastic layout. Below the dam to Abbey Pool the water was carried away
from the conventual buildings by a large drainage channel. This earthwork
feature is visible to the east of the refectory and defines the eastern side
of the spur.
The valley to the north of the conventual buildings on the spur was also
dammed to create two large ponds. These are now dry but their dams, built
across the stream channel, remain visible as substantial earthworks. The
dam to the north east of the conventual buildings is up to 3m high and would
have originally created a large body of water along the northern boundary of
the monastery. This earthwork is included in the scheduling together with a
sample area of the deposits on the floor of the pond to the west. The upstream
pond would have provided a constant water supply to this eastern pond and its
1.5m high dam is also included in the scheduling within a separate area.
Approximately 100m to the east of the claustral buildings and on the other
side of the stream, is a triangular area, known as the Double Pans, 160m north
west-south east by 150m north east-south west and 2m deep, which is divided
into two sunken areas by a raised causeway running north east-south west along
the central axis. The Double Pans is the site of open-level workings where
iron ore and coal were extracted directly from surface outcrops using
relatively simple methods. The central causeway provided access to these
workings. At the northern end of the causeway are the remains of two brick-
lined sluices which indicate that the Double Pans was reused as a pond,
probably during the post-medieval period.
The workings lie immediately outside the bank which represents the eastern
precinct boundary. Documentary evidence indicates that the monastery owned an
iron-mill or smithy at the time of the Dissolution. Immediately to the north
of the Double Pans, running northwards as far as Merevale Lane, is an
earthwork hollow way or waggon way which was used to carry the ore from the
outcrop to the iron-mill. As a group these features represent a particularly
rare example of early industrial working on a relatively large scale and are
included in the scheduling.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are Abbey
Farmhouse (Listed Grade II) and its associated outbuildings and agricultural
buildings, of which a barn and a stable, to the north west and north of the
farmhouse respectively, are Listed Grade II; the surface of the modern road
along with all fence posts and modern walls; the surfaces of all paths and
driveways; the electricity poles and a septic tank; the tombstones and grave
markers north of the Church of Our Lady, one of which, 5m north of the nave,
is Listed Grade II, although the ground beneath all these features is
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 21571
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Warwickshire, (1908), 75-8
Salzman, LF (ed), The Victoria History of the County of Warwickshire: Volume IV, (1947), 144
Salzman, LF (ed), The Victoria History of the County of Warwickshire: Volume IV, (1947), 147
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing