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


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015725

Date first listed: 08-Feb-1915

Date of most recent amendment: 29-Apr-1998


Ordnance survey map of Coverham Abbey Premonstratensian monastery and precinct including Holy Trinity Church and medieval bridge
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: North Yorkshire

District: Richmondshire (District Authority)

Parish: Coverham with Agglethorpe


National Grid Reference: SE 10681 86358


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. 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.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


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 later. 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.

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: 28228

Legacy System: RSM


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)

End of official listing