COVERHAM ABBEY is one of the ancient gems of North Yorkshire which combines its history with a love of gardens and plants.

For instance, tomorrow its grounds are open for a plant sale which means visitors will also be able to see a garden inspired by the abbey’s past.

The abbey is a mile or so from Middleham. It was founded in 1190 by Helewise, the wife of Robert of Middleham, at Swainby, near Stokesley, where Helewise was buried in 1195.

Her son, Ranulph Fitz-Robert, moved the abbey to the banks of the River Cover in 1212 and reinterred her body in the new chapter house.

It was a Premonstratensian abbey, run by an order of monks founded at the northern French town of Premontre by St Norbert.

One of the monks was John Gisbourne, and his “common book” which dates from 1484 is now in the British Library.

A “common book” was also known as a “commonplace”, although we today would probably know it as a scrapbook – or even as Facebook. It was where a person jotted down, or stuck, things that were of interest to them, but it wasn’t something as organised or regular as a diary.

Canon Gisbourne was curate of Allington in Lincolnshire, so in his common book he included many tips and thoughts on hearing confessions. Through information gleaned in the confessional box, he saw the parish priest as playing an important role in providing advice to people who are sinning and in settling village disputes.

He also noted down his favourite recipes and some thoughts on becoming a hermit, and he scribbled down a simple knot that caught his fancy.

The abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1536 and began to tumble down – particularly in the late 17th Century when its stone was removed to build a private house nearby. It is that house which is holding tomorrow’s plant fair.

Harriet Corner, who moved into the house with her husband, Nigel, in 1995, discovered Gisbourne’s common book, and its scribbled knot, in 2003.

“It seemed like the perfect template to use in the existing shady, grass area surrounding the abbey ruins to create a garden,” she says. “With the help of garden designer Jane Cordingley, we planted thousands of box plants which eventually knitted together into the design that you see today.”

Somewhere beneath the knot garden must lie Sir Geoffrey Scope, who was buried in the abbey in 1340. He was the son of the bailiff of Richmond who rose to become the chief justice to Edward II and then Edward III – a skilful transfer of allegiance.

At the time of his death, Sir Geoffrey was fabulously wealthy and owned a good portion of north North Yorkshire. One of his duties was negotiating peace with the Scots, who were particularly troublesome in the 1320s. Because of their raids, the landowners of North Yorkshire struggled for money, so Sir Geoffrey offered them loans. When they couldn’t afford to pay him back, he took control of their lands.

Sir Geoffrey was so wealthy that when, in 1340, he sailed to fight alongside Edward III in Flanders, he needed six ships to carry his horses and retinue. He died at Ghent on December 2, 1340, aged in his mid-fifties, and his body was sailed home to be buried at Coverham.

The abbey is nowadays private property, but last year its first plant fair, organised by Flower Power Fairs, proved so popular with gardeners and people interested in history that it raised more than £3,000 for local charities.

An amazing number of the visitors last year were Memories readers enthused by an article, so here is a second chance to have a peek into a usually hidden piece of history.

The second fair is from 11am to 4pm tomorrow, with plenty of free parking. Admission is £4, and it is raising money for a local branch of Riding for the Disabled. Homemade refreshments will be available and will raise money for Coverham church, a wonderful building a few hundred yards from the abbey which is worth a look while you are there.

Satnav users try DL8 4RN.

From the Darlington & Stockton Times of July 27, 1968

THERE was a sensation in Leyburn 50 years ago this week when a Roman Catholic priest arrived at a graveside and refused to conduct a funeral service because the deceased had never been to church.

With the mourners of Charles Blenkinsop, 63, gathered around the gaping hole in the ground, Fr Geoffrey Cooper said: “Charles Blenkinsop has not wanted my prayers or the services of the church during his lifetime, and I see no reason why he should want them now that he is dead.”

The D&S Times said: “With this pronouncement, he turned away and walked from the cemetery.”

Mr Blenkinsop’s family had been Catholics in Leyburn for 200 years, but Fr Cooper had refused to allow him a church funeral because of his poor attendance. The priest had agreed to conduct the ceremony in the cemetery, but had a change of heart when he arrived.

Despite widespread bitterness in the dale, Fr Cooper only had one regret. He said: “It would have been better if it had been some wealthy and prominent person who had died after ignoring the church throughout his life. The point would have had more effect.”

July 27, 1918

THERE was a sensation in Richmond 100 years ago this week when the Methodist minister, the Reverend H Tregoning, accidentally killed a drunken soldier who had broken into his house in Dundas Street.

The minster had grabbed an intruder in the dark by the collar, and by the time a neighbour arrived, his hands had gone cold.

James McWilliam, 34, of Glasgow, was pronounced dead at the scene. McWilliam had served in France, where he had been awarded the Mons Star, and was not known to be suffering shellshock. He smelt of drink.

Coroner Mr Gardiner concluded that he had been suffocated, and added that “there was not a shadow of a shade or an atom of blame attached to Mr Tregoning, who was quite entitled to do what he did and more.”

That same edition reported that the fittings of Picton Steeple Chase Course had been auctioned. The racecourse ten miles from Yarm had hosted its first race on April 19, 1909, on farmland owned by the Casebourne family.

In 1910, it had held three meetings which had concluded with an entertainment in the Station pub, which was less than a mile from the finishing post on the railway line between Northallerton and Yarm. The last meeting was held on March 13, 1915.

The sale report suggests that there was quite a bit of infrastructure at the racecourse, with the grandstand alone selling for £1,010 – that’s £55,000 in today’s values.

We’d love to hear from anybody who knows more about Picton’s horseracing past.

July 25, 1868

THERE was a sensation in West Hartlepool 150 years as gold ore was found on the beach “near to where a large quantity of Spanish dollars were found about six months ago”.

Elizabeth Dawson had been walking on Seaton Sands when “she saw something shining in the water among the rocks”. She fished it out and found it to be a piece of gold ore about two inches by one inch square.

Jewellers in Hartlepool acclaimed it as “one of the best pieces they had ever seen”.

The D&S concluded its report with a sentence that must have sparked a goldrush: “As to how it came there can only be conjectured, and it is supposed that it must have formed part of the cargo of the Duck, wrecked at that place, and that possibly much more is at present embedded in the sand.”

July 28, 1993

DURHAM Police launched the “25” sticker scheme to crack down on twocking – the car crime which blighted everyone’s lives in the early 1990s. As 90 per cent of cars were stolen by people under the age of 25, car owners could stick an official “25” to their windscreens and if a fresh-faced youth was spotted behind the wheel, the police were at liberty to pull him over.

Does anyone still have a “25” sticker from 25 years ago?