Merevale Abbey, a Cistercian monastery, associated water control features and industrial remains


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Merevale Abbey, a Cistercian monastery, associated water control features and industrial remains
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Warwickshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 28726 97964, SP 29229 97741

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.


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 remains. 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 features. 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 included.

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.

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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

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