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St Mary's Carmelite Friary and holy well

A Scheduled Monument in Burnham Norton, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.9509 / 52°57'3"N

Longitude: 0.7358 / 0°44'8"E

OS Eastings: 583893.252446

OS Northings: 342787.065443

OS Grid: TF838427

Mapcode National: GBR R5N.T17

Mapcode Global: WHKPK.83N2

Entry Name: St Mary's Carmelite Friary and holy well

Scheduled Date: 17 December 1929

Last Amended: 22 July 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013095

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21389

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Burnham Norton

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Burnham Market

Church of England Diocese: Norwich


St Mary's Carmelite Friary is located on the east side of a minor road
connecting two roads which run from Burnham Norton village, c.1.25km to the
north west, and from Burnham Overy Town, 350m to the east, to Burnham Market,
c.500m to the south west. The site is c.100m south west of the River Burn and
c.1km inland from the river estuary and Overy Creek, on ground which slopes
down to a marshy valley bottom. The monument includes the friary precinct,
c.2.3ha in extent, which is enclosed by the remains of a boundary wall and
contains the upstanding masonry and earthwork remains of the friary church and
other buildings, together with a spring identified as a holy well and the
remains of water control features adjoining the walled precinct.

The friary was the earliest Carmelite house to be established in Norfolk,
following the departure of the order from Mount Carmel in Palestine in 1238.
It was founded in 1242 by Ralph Hempnale and William Calethorpe on a site at
Bradmer, east of Burnham Norton village and adjacent to the coastal marshes,
and was moved to the present site in 1253. The friary was enlarged in 1298,
when a quarter of an acre of meadow was taken in, and again in 1353 by the
gift of an additional three acres, and there are records of various bequests
to the friars during the 15th and early 16th centuries. The terms of one of
these, in 1505, indicate that there were then about 15-17 friars living here,
including the prior and novices. Robert Bale, a distinguished Carmelite
scholar who wrote a history of the order, was prior at the end of the 15th
century, and died and was buried at Burnham in 1503. In 1537, two Carmelites
from Burnham were among those arrested and convicted for complicity in a
planned uprising against King Henry VIII, and one of them, John Peacock, was
executed at Lynn. When the friary was dissolved in the following year, there
were only four friars remaining. The buildings were left standing, and the
land was sold eventually in 1554 to Lady Anne Calthorpe. It later passed to a
local branch of the Pepys family, relatives of the diarist Samuel.

The precinct is now occupied partly by a field and partly by the garden of
Friary Cottage which adjoins the western end of the field on its north side.
The principal entry to the precinct was through a gatehouse which still stands
fronting the road on the western boundary. The remains of the church, which
was the focus of the friary, lie in the north west part of the precinct, with
the west door directly opposite the gate arch and only 7.5m from it. Evidence
for the conventual buildings can be seen to the north of the church. The outer
area of the precinct, to south and east of the church and conventual
buildings, is subdivided into rectilinear closes by low earthen banks which
are thought to be of medieval origin. The wall on the north boundary of the
precinct skirts an area of low lying, marshy ground and, to the north east of
the friary buildings, turns for a short distance to follow the upper edge of a
steep, north east facing scarp. Below this scarp and beyond the projected
line of the wall are the holy well and the remains of artificially cut water
channels believed to be associated with the friary.

The ruined and partly ruined boundary wall, built of mortared flint rubble, is
visible on the east, north and west sides of the precinct. On the east and
north sides it stands to a height of between 0.5m and 2.4m and measures up to
0.9m thick at the base, and near the centre of the eastern side there is a gap
c.2.5m wide which may mark an original opening. On the west side the remains
are visible to the north of the gatehouse for a distance of c.80m, and traces
of masonry in the roadside bank indicate that it probably extended for a
further 20m. The upstanding part shows evidence of extensive patching and
rebuilding with random chalk, brick and reused stone, but there is an opening
with the remains of a stone jamb c.10m north of the gatehouse. South of the
gatehouse, the continuing line of the wall alongside the road is marked by a
well defined bank in which traces of masonry can be seen. The bank stands to a
height of c.1m on the inner, eastern side, although the road to the west is
raised to almost the same level. Along the southern side of the precinct, the
line is preserved in a field bank which is less prominent except at its
eastern end, where further traces of underlying masonry are visible.

The gatehouse, which is Listed Grade I and included in the scheduling, is
dated to the 14th century and is of two storeys built of flint rubble, faced
on the east and west walls with knapped flint and galetting (flint chips set
in mortar) and with dressings of imported limestone. On the west face, a high,
segmental arch frames the arch of the gate opening and a wide recess which
surmounts the opening and contains stone pedestals for three statues, now
missing. In the wall on either side of the outer arch is a trefoil headed
niche, and above is the opening, now blocked, of the large west window of the
chamber above the gate, flanked by blind traceried windows. The tracery of the
central window fell out in the 1950s, although records of it survive. The arch
on the inner, east face of the gate is supported by triple attached columns,
and to either side of it are trefoil headed niches similar to those on the
west face. Above the arch is another niche, flanked by blind traceried
windows. The interior of the gate arch is of two bays with wall shafts
supporting ribbed stone vaulting, and there is a door opening in the south
wall. The chamber above the gate arch was evidently used as a chapel, since it
is recorded that in 1392 the friary received alms `for the conservation of the
chapel situate over the gate'. It is entered by a door at first floor level in
the north wall. A late 18th century engraving depicting the gatehouse shows
the upper storey roofless and partly ruinous. The gables, which include three
lancet windows in the west gable, were repaired, the upper part of the north
and south walls were restored and the upper chamber was reroofed in the mid
19th century.

The proximity of the church to the gatehouse is unusual and may be explained
in part by the fact that the land available for building was limited by the
marshy ground to the north east, but it also emphasises the accessibility of
the church to the surrounding lay community, and the function of the friary as
a centre for preaching and evangelism.

Until the late 18th century, a part of the church was still in use as a farm
building, although the west gable wall is now the only part of the structure
which stands above ground. The general plan of the remainder, which is typical
of a friary church, is revealed by linear earthworks which mark the buried
remains of the principal walls. It has an overall length of c.39m and is
essentially rectangular, divided into two parts of almost equal length by a
cross wall which will have been pierced by a chancel arch. The nave, to the
west of the cross wall, is c.17m in length and c.8m wide, with a single aisle
to the south. The eastern end of the church, which contained the friars'
choir, is subdivided by two low banks c.1.5m wide and c.2m apart, covering
relatively slight masonry footings. The buried footing of the main east wall
of the church is visible as a substantial earthwork, but beyond this, slighter
banks define an extension of identical width and measuring c.5m east-west.

The standing west wall, which is Listed Grade II* and included in the
scheduling, is constructed, like the gatehouse, of flint rubble with stone
dressings. It includes a central doorway with chamfered stone arch and jambs,
flanked by niches similar to those on the gatehouse. Above the doorway is the
blocked opening of the lower part of the west window.

The plan of the conventual buildings of the friary cannot be traced in detail,
but the evidence of the earthworks and standing fragments of wall shows that
they were grouped around a rectangular cloister abutting the north wall of the
church, with additional courts adjoining to the north and east, and probably
to the west. The east and west sides of the enclosure identified as the
cloister are defined by low banks c.3m-4m wide. The western bank runs
northwards from the west end of the north wall of the nave and at right angles
to it, and a parallel earthwork c.26m to the east covers what are probably the
remains of one wall of the eastern claustral range. According to the usual
arrangement, the latter would have included a chapter house, where the daily
business of the friary was discussed, and an upper storey housing the dorter
(dormitory). The north side of the square is defined by a ruined flint wall
which runs east-west along the boundary of Friary Cottage garden, parallel
to the north wall of the church and c.20m from it. From the north east angle
of the square, a substantial flint wall, standing to a height of c.2m, extends
northwards c.6m, perhaps marking the east end of the north claustral range.
Another length of wall, offset to the east, continues on the same alignment to
the south east angle of Friary Cottage and includes at its northern end a
blocked opening with stone jambs. Both sections of wall are thought to be
medieval in origin, although patched and altered, and are included in the

Within the square of the cloister, abutting the north wall of the church,
there are traces of a rectangular structure of uncertain date measuring c.8m

Friary Cottage, which is dated partly to the 18th century with 20th century
alterations and additions, includes substantial remains of a medieval building
identified as part of the friary, perhaps an infirmary or guesthall. On the
north, east and south sides there are extensive areas of flint rubble walling,
much patched and altered but with at least one blocked opening in the north
wall and with stone quoins at the north east angle. At first floor level in
the eastern gable wall there are two small rectangular windows with stone
surrounds and mullions, one on each side of the blocked opening for a large
chimney (the details of the northern of the two are largely or wholly a modern
reproduction). There is a also a massive stone buttress against the north end
of the east wall. Friary Cottage, which is Listed Grade II, is excluded from
the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included. Masonry and brick
foundations of other buildings are known to survive below the ground surface
to the north of the house, and have been observed in the course of excavations
for service trenches, although nothing of them is visible above ground.

The area to the east of the church and cloister square is enclosed by the
remains of another substantial flint wall which projects eastwards from the
east end of the south wall of the church for a distance of c.4m, then returns
northward, running c.18m from, and parallel to, the wall on the east side of
the cloister. Within this court, the grass covered masonry footings of part of
a rectangular building can be seen, abutting the inner face of the eastern
wall. Another length of wall, partly ruined and containing at least two
blocked openings, runs southward from the western boundary wall of the
precinct towards the north west corner of the cloister, so as partly to define
a court to the north of the gatehouse and the west door of the church.
Although it is of later construction than the precinct wall, it is likely to
be of medieval origin and is included in the scheduling.

The areas of the precinct to the south and east are likely to have been used
for domestic and horticultural or small scale agricultural activities and to
have included yards and/or paddocks, gardens and perhaps an orchard, as well
as stables and other service buildings. A broad east-west bank, c.0.5m in
height, and two lesser banks which run northwards at right angles to it define
the series of closes into which the area is divided. Other, smaller mounded
areas, including one against the western precinct wall c.70m south of the
gatehouse, perhaps mark the sites of buildings.

The water supply for the friary was provided by springs rising at the foot of
the scarp to the north east of the conventual buildings, and in the marshy
ground immediately to the east of this there are also various features
constructed to control the flow of water. One of the springs, located c.40m
north of Friary Cottage, is identified in local tradition as a holy well or
wishing well and is marked on old editions of OS maps as `Our Lady's Well'.
The spring, which produces a steady flow of fresh water, lies in a
waterlogged hollow and is surrounded by a submerged brick or masonry kerb
forming a small rectangular cistern. The cistern has internal dimensions of
c.0.4m east-west by 0.5m north-south and overall dimensions of c.0.8m square.
The water, overflowing the kerb, runs eastwards in the bottom of a straight
channel c.0.5m wide, which connects with a second second channel running
northwards from just below the northern boundary wall of the precinct to the
river. There is a tradition that this channel was used for the transport of
building stone to the friary. The two channels at right angles to one
another, with the scarp to the south west of them, enclose a roughly
triangular area with maximum dimensions of c.63m north-south by 73m east-
west. Within this area are other features which are thought to include the
remains of part of a system of drainage from the friary buildings.

In addition to Friary Cottage, an outbuilding to the north east of the house
is excluded from the scheduling, together with the surfaces of driveways and
paths within the surrounding garden, and track surfaces in the adjoining
field, all modern boundary fences and gates, a service pole with its support
cable near the southern boundary of the field, an inspection chamber near the
western edge of the field, and an information board with its supports within
the gatehouse, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A friary is an institution housing a community of friars. The friars (from the
Latin "frater" meaning "brother") were a novel religious movement which began
in Italy in the late 12th century and which advocated a "mendicant" life-
style. Owning no property of their own, they lived by moving from community to
community begging for the alms and gifts of benefactors as they went. Unlike
the older monastic orders, who were dedicated to a continuous round of prayer
within a single monastery, the friars main concerns were preaching, evangelism
and learning as they moved from friary to friary. Friaries were established in
England from the early 13th century onwards, the first houses being founded in
Canterbury, London and Oxford during 1224. By the time of the dissolution of
the religious orders in the 1530s approximately 189 friaries had been founded
for a number of different groups of friars, each with their individual
missions. The most important groups were the Franciscans (the Greyfriars), who
eventually established some 60 houses, the Dominicans (the Blackfriars -
represented by 50 houses), the Carmelites (the Whitefriars with 41 houses) and
the Augustinians or Austin Friars who had a similar number. In addition to
these large groups there were a number of smaller ones: the Crutched Friars (9
houses), the Friars of the Sack (17 houses), the Pied Friars (3 houses) and
the Trinitarian Friars (5 houses).
The sites chosen by or for friaries were usually within towns, often in the
less valuable, marginal areas. Here the friars laid out groups of buildings
with many components found on older monastic sites, though the restricted
sites sometimes necessitated unconventional building plans. The buildings were
centred on a church and a cloister and usually contained a refectory (dining
hall), a chapter house and an infirmary (for the care of the sick). The
buildings were set within a precinct defined by other properties or by its own
purpose built wall, but the public were not totally excluded. The naves of the
friary churches, in particular, were designed to accommodate large public
gatherings assembled to hear the friars preach.
Friaries made a great contribution to later medieval life, in the towns
particularly, and their remains add greatly to our understanding of the close
inter-relationship between social and religious aspects of life in the high
Middle Ages. All examples which exhibit significant surviving archaeological
remains are worthy of protection.

St Mary's Carmelite Friary is unusual in its rural setting and in the survival
almost intact of its precinct boundary. The precinct as a whole has not
undergone the kind of extensive encroachment or redevelopment which has
obscured the remains of most friaries on urban sites, and disturbance by later
activity, including agriculture and building, has been slight over most of the
area. The gatehouse, which is the most complete of the surviving medieval
structures, is considered to be one of the finest friary gatehouses remaining
in the country and is of great architectural interest. The monument includes a
range of other visible structural remains and features which illustrates the
general layout and organisation of the friary, and the remains which are known
to be preserved below the ground surface are likely to include evidence for
structures and activities relating to its earlier history and development, as
well as for the final form of the buildings and for their later use and
demolition. Although holy wells are quite common features in the landscape it
is quite rare in Eastern England for religious orders to adopt them and
incorporate them within their precincts. The fact that, in this case, the well
was only taken up in this way in the 13th century, and then by an order of
friars, is most unusual. The damp and waterlogged conditions associated with
the springs and water control features in the northern part of the monument
will preserve organic materials including environmental evidence which will
allow an insight into the use of the wells through time as well as some
understanding of the economy of the friary and the landscape in which it was

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Copsey, R, Carm, O, The Medieval Carmelite Friary at Burnham Norton, (1987)
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 425,426
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 234
Copies with Norfolk County Council, Architects Drawings,
Davison, C, 1991, typescript
Philips, M & Smith, J, (1994)
Philips, M, (1994)
Photo with Norfolk County Council, View of Friary from Friary Lane (engraving),
Title: 1:10560 Norfolk VII NE
Source Date:

Source: Historic England

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