Summer Outing: Coverdale and beyond

14 July 2004
Leader - David Johnson
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

After meeting in Middleham's Market Place the party went to Coverham Lane. On climbing up the hill out of town, over the wall to the left can be seen William's Hill, the motte and bailey built as Middleham's first Norman stronghold by Alan the Red, lord of Richmond, in the late 11th century, but soon granted to his brother Ribald. It was in use until replaced about 100 years later by Ribald's descendants with the present stone-built castle.

Coverham Lane runs along the lower edge of Middleham Low Moor and a brief orientation stop was made at Pinker's Pond before heading to Holy Trinity church at Coverham. This church has been in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust since 1985. It probably dates from the 13th century with additions from the 14th, 16th and 17th. As with so many churches, Victorian restoration has left its mark everywhere.

A very short walk through the churchyard brought the group to Coverham Bridge and the now blocked entrance to Coverham Abbey. This house was founded by the Premonstratensian Order of White Canons in 1202 or 1212. Since the Dissolution of the monasteries much of the stone has been robbed for later buildings but there are enough fragments to be able to discern building layouts and sizes. In 1535, a year before the abbey was dissolved, Miles Coverdale, a local man, translated the Bible into English. Four years later he was commissioned by Henry VIII to see to the production of the Great Bible, the first authorised version in English. A century or so earlier the then abbot of Coverham, John, was brought before the Court of Common Pleas for illegally "taking hares, rabbits, pheasants and partridges" from a lordly estate.

From the abbey a short drive was made to Braithwaite Hall, which is in the care of the National Trust. It is first recorded as a grange for Jervaulx Abbey but was rebuilt, extended and altered many times and it has had a chequered history. The front - or is it the back? - dates from the mid 17th century.

A lunch stop was made at Middleham with ample time allowed to go on a self-guided tour of the castle or the town. The Swine Cross and the church are well worth seeing. Next to the Old School by the Swine Cross is a house with a sundial and an inscription which reads "so time slips away".

After lunch the group drove south, over the historic Cover Bridge and past the village of East Witton, probably laid out as a planned settlement by the monks of Jervaulx who established a market and cattle fair here in 1307, 82 years before Middleham achieved the same status.

The next stop was Jervaulx Abbey, established soon after 1145. In 1887, on the death of the owner, the 3rd Marquess of Aylesbury, the estate was leased and then sold to Hector Christie of Langcliffe High Mill. The family owned it until 1962.

The next destination, also ecclesiastical and a real gem, was St.Michael's church at Well. The final destination was St.Michael's daughter chapel at Snape Castle. There has been a building here since 1250 but the present castle was put up by George Neville, first Lord Latimer, in the 15th century. It later became the home of Lady Latimer who is better known as Katherine Parr, the surviving wife of Henry VIII. She had already buried two husbands but the tables were turned on her, though, with her fourth husband Lord Thomas Seymour. She died a year after their marriage, in childbirth. The castle eventually passed by marriage to the powerful Cecil family who owned it until 1798 when it was sold to the Milbanks of Thorp Perrow, whose tombs were seen at Well. The interior of the castle is not open to the public and much of the ruins are unsafe, but there is a view from the road, or the farmyard or the path to the rather splendid chapel.

Coverham Abbey drawn by sarah Nash.   © D.S.Johnson

Coverham Abbey drawn by sarah Nash.   © D.S.Johnson