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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Kirkstall Abbey: Lands


The Coucher Book of Kikrstall abbey
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Couchers book

The Cistercians sought to live simply by the fruits of their own labour and each abbey required a variety of possessions, such as arable and pastoral lands, woodland, mills, fisheries and mineral rights, to sustain a self-sufficient community. Every Cistercian abbey was endowed upon its foundation with the resources necessary to establish monastic life. Thereafter, the monks acquired additional lands and rights to support the growth of the community and perhaps also the foundation of a daughter-house.

Kirkstall Abbey acquired most of its lands during the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, following the community’s relocation from Barnoldswick to Kirkstall in 1152. The monks’ possessions stretched from Clitheroe in the west to Bessacar and Cantley in the south east. Most of their holdings were concentrated in the immediate vicinity of the abbey, namely in and around Leeds. However, it was not until the later Middle Ages that the community obtained any significant holdings in the township of Leeds. The Coucher Book of Kirkstall, a compilation of the abbey’s holdings that was begun c. 1210, provides extensive information about the location and nature of the abbey’s holdings. The Coucher Book is not a complete record of Kirkstall’s possessions, but contains almost four hundred documents and shows that by the early thirteenth century the community had received about 138 grants, almost all of which were gifts of land.(1)

Read more about Kirkstall's sources

In this section you can read more about how the community acquired and consolidated its holdings, and where these were located; the various kinds of lands and rights that they held, namely, arable and pastoral lands, woodland, mills, fisheries and mineral rights.