The abbey was founded in 1132 by Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester, who had already brought Benedictine monks from Savigny Abbey in southern Normandy. The abbey became part of the Cistercian Order in 1147. It was a daughter house of Buildwas Abbey in Shropshire. An Earl of Chester gave the manor of West Kirby to the Abbey.
The abbey had extensive links with the English county of Derbyshire. Henry II gave the monks a manor near Glossop. The Monks' Road and the Abbot's Chair in the town are a reminder of the Abbey's efforts to administer their possession. In 1290 the Abbey gained a market charter for Glossop. The monks also got another charter for nearby Charlesworth in 1328.
In 1157, Owain Gwynedd encamped his army at Basingwerk before facing the forces of Henry II at the Battle of Ewloe. The Welsh Prince stopped at the abbey because of its strategic importance. It blocked the route Henry II had to take to reach Twthill, Rhuddlan. In the fighting that followed, Owain Gwynedd split his army routing the English near Ewloe.