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Shouldham Priory with associated water management features, a section of a Roman road and a Bronze Age urnfield

A Scheduled Monument in Shouldham, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.6578 / 52°39'27"N

Longitude: 0.483 / 0°28'58"E

OS Eastings: 568035.685421

OS Northings: 309564.666673

OS Grid: TF680095

Mapcode National: GBR P6B.8YG

Mapcode Global: WHKQS.DG7B

Entry Name: Shouldham Priory with associated water management features, a section of a Roman road and a Bronze Age urnfield

Scheduled Date: 23 October 1970

Last Amended: 2 March 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1010572

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21335

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Shouldham

Built-Up Area: Shouldham

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Shouldham All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Ely


The site of the Priory of the Holy Cross and the Blessed Virgin, Shouldham,
lies immediately to the north of Shouldham village, on the south side of the
Nar Valley above the valley bottom, which was fen in the medieval period. The
monument includes the buried remains of monastic buildings, together with a
series of earthwork enclosures and remains of an extensive water management
system with fishponds. Within the same, single area there are also remains of
part of a road considered to be of Roman date, and a Bronze Age cremation

Shouldham Priory was founded c.1190, as a double house of canons and nuns of
the Gilbertine order, by Geoffrey Fitzpiers, Earl of Essex and Chief
Justiciary of England. The original endowment, which included the manor and
the Churches of All Saints and St Margaret, Shouldham, was augmented in the
13th century by further gifts made by the founder and his heirs, and the
priory was, for a time, comparatively wealthy. In 1291 its annual income was
recorded as 207 pounds, seven shillings and ninepence and it held property in
London and in 26 parishes in Norfolk. It was surrendered to the Crown in 1538
at which time, according to the evidence of contemporary records, the convent
comprised a prior and nine canons and a prioress and eight nuns. It remained
in the possession of the Crown until 1553, when it was sold to Thomas Mildmay,
and afterwards passed to Sir John Hare.

The remains of the priory church and conventual buildings lie near the centre
of the monument, in and around the area now occupied by Abbey Farmhouse and
garden and the farmyard. To the south of this, and visible under pasture, is
the group of earthwork enclosures, some of them containing traces of
structures likely to have been domestic or agricultural service buildings. The
channels, sluices and ponds of the water management system survive as buried
features in lower ground to the west, north and north east of the conventual
buildings. Documentary evidence, as well as the layout of the remains,
indicates that the entrance and gate to the priory was on the west side,
almost certainly at, or very close, to the modern entrance to the farm.

The main priory buildings stood on a slight ridge of higher ground, on a
platform above an abrupt scarp c.1.5m high on the west and north west side,
where the ground has been artificially terraced. On the north west side, the
scarp was formerly visible as a prominent earthwork under grass and now forms
the south western edge of an irrigation lake which has been dug at its foot.
Although the upstanding ruins were demolished to ground level in or around
1831, the foundations of the conventual church and associated buildings
survive below ground. Evidence for medieval buildings, including stone
architectural fragments and an area of medieval tiled floor, has been observed
on the western side of the terraced platform, in the area in and around the
modern farmyard, at various times during the construction of farm buildings
and in the course of limited fieldwork. These remains, which lie to the west
of the conventual church and opposite the probable site of the priory gate to
the west, are considered to belong to the suite of buildings occupied by the
canons. Abbey Farmhouse, which is not included in the scheduling, is not
known for certain to incorporate any part of the original monastic buildings,
although the unusual thickness of at least one of the internal walls suggests
that parts of it may be of medieval date.

The foundations of the eastern half of the conventual church and the nuns'
accommodation, which adjoined the church according to the usual arrangement
of Gilbertine double houses, extend into a field to the east of the modern
farmstead, where they have produced well defined crop marks. The area of the
buildings is also marked on the surface of the field by a dense scatter of
building materials, including architectural fragments and broken medieval clay
roof tile. The detailed plan of these foundations, which has been revealed by
the crop marks and recorded in air photographs, shows that the church was
rectangular, and was divided longitudinally by a wall into two separate
aisles, for the nuns to the north and the canons to the south. On the north
side of the nuns' choir, at the eastern end of the church, was a rectangular
chapel. The buildings which accommodated the nuns were grouped around the
west, north and east sides of a cloister c.20m square, abutting the north side
of the church. The whole of the eastern range, with the east end of the
northern range, which contained the refectory, can be traced in the air
photographs. The eastern range included the chapter house, where the daily
business of the convent was discussed, and an upper story containing the
dorter (dormitory). The chapter house, aligned parallel to the church, was
rectangular in plan and measured c.16m east-west by c.6m and, to the north
of this, the undercroft of the dorter, c.7m wide, extended for a distance of
c.37m, projecting well beyond the northern range. The air photographs show
the footings of a rere-dorter (latrine block) across the northern end of the
dorter, with a drain running beneath it.

The monastic cemetery lies immediately to the east of the church and cloister,
and the line of its eastern boundary is visible in the air photographs. A
limited excavation of this area in 1954 uncovered the remains of c.22
individuals, male and female. The lid of a stone coffin removed from here in
the same year is now in the garden of Abbey Farmhouse, but since it is no
longer in situ, it is not included in the scheduling. The air photographs show
also the foundations of a large rectangular building south of the cemetery and
immediately to the south east of the church, and another large building which
was probably the infirmary, lying to the east of the cemetery and c.35m east
of the eastern claustral range. Beyond this, buried wall foundations and
ditches define at least two more rectangular enclosures thought to be of
monastic date. A scatter of building materials, including medieval roof tile
and chalk, extends with variable density over the surface of the field for a
distance of c.125m south and c.95m east of the church, indicating the presence
of structural remains in this area also.

The earthworks in the southern part of the monument include a network of
ditches which define a group of five contiguous rectangular and
sub-rectangular enclosures, some with slight internal banks. The enclosures
are laid out three to the east, on a line running southwards from the area of
the conventual buildings, and two to the west. The middle enclosure on the
east side has the character of a moated island measuring c.114m east-west by
c.67m, surrounded by ditches between 8m and 12m wide and up to 1.5m deep. The
larger enclosure to the north of this was evidently similar, although the
ditches on its east and north sides have been infilled and are no longer
visible. The ditches around the south eastern enclosure, however, appear much

The two enclosures on the west side of the group are separated by an east-west
ditch c.0.6m deep and are subdivided internally by slight ditches c.0.3m deep.
The south western part of the south western enclosure underlies a modern
housing development and is not included in the scheduling. The remainder of
the ditch on the south side has also been infilled but will survive as a
buried feature. Both enclosures are bounded on the west side by a bank up to
0.8m high with a hollow way beyond. The bank almost certainly marks the
western boundary of the monastic precinct in this area, and the hollow way the
original line of the road from Shouldham village to the priory.

The remains of a stone building underlie an elongated mound at the northern
end of the north western enclosure, and two slight, parallel linear mounds
towards the southern end mark what are probably the wall footings of a second
building. Near the centre of the north western enclosure there is a mound
c.0.75m high and c.50m long which is considered to be the site of a third,
very large building such as a barn. All these features are aligned east-west.

Within the north western enclosure, on the east side, there is a rectangular
pond, now dry, c.1m deep and measuring c.26m by 12m, with the remains of an
inlet channel to the north. The remains of two more ponds are located side by
side in the north east corner of the south western enclosure, the eastern pond
being linked to the adjacent moat ditch by a short channel.

The priory required a constant supply of water for domestic needs including
sanitation, and to fill the fish ponds, as well as for other agricultural
purposes. This was provided by a spring which still emerges immediately to
the north of the modern farm entrance, on the western side of the monastic
precinct. Water from the spring will have filled the moat ditches and ponds
of the enclosures in the southern part of the monument and was conducted
northwards in artificial water courses which survive as buried features and
can be traced by well defined crop marks and soil marks. Two main water
channels enclose an area measuring c.550m south west-north east by c.125m,
rectangular at either end and curving to follow the contour of the higher
ground to the south and east. The southern channel ran at the foot of the
scarp to west and north west of the monastic buildings, where it was formerly
visible as an earthwork, and supplied a series of ponds and tanks, probably
fish ponds, towards the north eastern end of the enclosure. It must also have
supplied the water for the drain which ran c.30m to the south of it, below the
nuns' rere-dorter. The second, parallel channel, to the north, fed another,
separate but adjacent set of large fish ponds at the northern end of the
enclosure. Some of the sluice channels, by which the flow of water to, from
and between the ponds was controlled, are still clearly visible on the air
photographs. Both sets of ponds drained into the north eastern end of the
southern channel which also took the foul water from the monastic drain. The
two channels converge at the north eastern corner of the enclosure, where the
water was taken by an outlet leading westwards. Alongside the main northern
channel there are traces of an inner ditch, and the area within the enclosure
is subdivided by ditches which run into this and probably served as field

The remains of a medieval tile kiln, chiefly used for the production of roof
tiles and presumably associated with the priory, were found and completely
excavated in 1969-70 in the area between the fishponds and the eastern end of
the northern channel.

The buried remains of a part of a cambered gravel road with chalk metalling
run east-west along the southern side of the monument and are included in
the scheduling. The road, which is thought to be of Roman date, was first
identified in section in the side of a modern drainage dyke along the eastern
boundary of Shouldham Park. It is c.5m wide and c.0.8m thick in the middle,
with a ditch c.2m wide and c.1.2m deep along the north side and probably on
the south, also. The line of the road east of the dyke is shown by traces of
chalk in the ploughsoil of the adjacent field and is visible as a soil mark in
air photographs. Roman pottery has been found on the surface of ploughsoil to
the south of this and both north and south of the projected line of the road
to the east, although the survival of archaeological remains below the surface
in these areas is uncertain and they are not included in the scheduling.

Underlying the priory buildings at the centre of the monument are the remains
of a prehistoric cremation cemetery dated to the Middle Bronze Age (c.1200-
1000 BC). Six cremation burials in pits have been found within a limited
area just to the north of the farm buildings, five of them during the digging
of a soakaway trench. They were below the priory demolition levels, at a
depth of between 1m and 2m. Two of the cremations were in pottery urns, and
the remainder had presumably been interred in perishable containers or without
any container.

In addition to Abbey Farmhouse, all the farm buildings and outbuildings, some
of which contain reused stone, are excluded from the scheduling, together with
the garden wall, driveways, trackways and yard surfaces, the farm bungalow and
associated outbuildings adjoining the farm entrance to the north, various
service poles with their support cables, and all modern boundary fences,
although the ground beneath all these features is included. The modern
irrigation lake and island located to the north west of the platform
containing the remains of the priory church and conventual buildings, is
excluded entirely, since the digging of this feature is considered to have
removed all underlying archaeology.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A post-Conquest double house is a settlement built after the Norman Conquest
to house a community of religious men and women. Its main buildings were
constructed to provide facilities for worship, accommodation and subsistence.
The main elements included one or two churches and domestic buildings,
normally arranged around two self-contained cloisters. One or two outer
courts and gatehouses would accompany the central cloister compound, the whole
complex being bounded by a precinct wall, earthworks or a moat. Outside the
main enclosure fishponds, barns and mills may be found.
The tradition of establishing double houses originated in the early
Anglo-Saxon period. However, early double houses were often re-founded as the
more popular single sex communities. During the 12th century a new order was
founded which revived the concept of the double house. This order was founded
by Gilbert of Sempringham. Within these new foundations the nuns were
supposed to lead an enclosed contemplative life. The houses were under the
supervision of the male founders of the order or their deputies. The male
canons in each house were required to celebrate the mass for the nuns. The
Gilbertines founded 12 double houses; in addition, a small number of such
houses were established by other orders, such as the Fontevraults and the
Bridgettines. In total only 25 sites are known to have existed. As a rare
type of monastery all examples exhibiting significant survival of
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Shouldham Priory is one of only twelve double houses of the Gilbertine order,
founded by St Gilbert of Sempringham. This is thought to have been the only
monastic order to originate in England, and most of the Gilbertine houses were
in eastern England, centred on Lincolnshire. Shouldham Priory is the only one
in Norfolk, and was one of the last of the double houses to be established,
the communities founded later being for men only. The monument retains
archaeological information concerning the layout and the social and economic
organisation of the priory, as well as evidence for its development through
time and the eventual demolition of the buildings. Almost a quarter of the
known area of the monastic precinct is occupied by remains visible as
upstanding earthworks and, although nothing of the priory church and
conventual buildings can be seen above ground, observations made at various
times during works on the farm have demonstrated the survival of extensive
remains below the surface. The crop marks which have been observed and
photographed on the ploughed fields have, in addition, revealed the plan of
parts of the church and claustral buildings in considerable detail. A large
part of the complex water management system of the priory can be traced by the
same means and, where buried features of this system have been exposed in the
sides of modern excavation, they have been seen to contain waterlogged
deposits in which organic materials, including not only artefacts but evidence
of the environment during the monastic period, will be preserved.

The evidence which is contained within the monument for much earlier
occupation of the site, during the Roman period and in the Bronze Age, is of
additional interest for the study of the history of land use in the area.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 412-414
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 196
Messent, C J W, The Monastic Remains of Norfolk and Suffolk, (1934), 72
Wells, C P B, Clarke, R R, C B A Group VII: Bulletin of Archaeological Discoveries, (1954)
White, W, History, Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk, (1843), 622, 63
White, W, History, Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk, (1845), 622,623
Smallwood, J, 'CBA Group 7 Bulletin' in Shouldham TF 68050956, , Vol. 20, (1973)
4255: West Norfolk, Shouldham,
Edwards, D, TF 6809/AC/AUA 1, (1984)
Edwards, D, TF 6809/AM - ABD, (1989)
Edwards, D, TF 6809/AY/DJZ 8, (1989)
Edwars, D, TF 6809/AM - ABD, (1989)
Ms report on watching brief, Rogerson, A, Abbey Farm, Shouldham, (1979)
Ms report on watching brief, Sylvester, R J, Abbey Farm, Shouldham, (1983)
Report in file, Gregory, T, 4255: West Norfolk, Shouldham, (1979)

Source: Historic England

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