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Weybourne priory

A Scheduled Monument in Weybourne, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.9437 / 52°56'37"N

Longitude: 1.1415 / 1°8'29"E

OS Eastings: 611176.786852

OS Northings: 343093.005042

OS Grid: TG111430

Mapcode National: GBR T91.FFH

Mapcode Global: WHLQW.H8TN

Entry Name: Weybourne priory

Scheduled Date: 14 September 1933

Last Amended: 22 July 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013096

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21390

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Weybourne

Built-Up Area: Weybourne

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk


The Priory of The Blessed Virgin and All Saints is situated in the centre of
Weybourne village, on the west side of Spring Beck in a small valley which
opens on to the coast c.625m to the north. The standing remains of the priory
are Listed Grade I. The monument includes remains of the priory church dating
from the early 13th to the 15th centuries but incorporating parts of an
earlier church dated to the 11th century, together with the remains of the
conventual buildings to the north of the church and of associated buildings
and water management features, lying to the north and east of these within the
known area of the monastic precinct. The monastic church and the parish church
served by the canons were accommodated within the same building, and the
present north aisle and vestry of the parish church, added in 1886, are built
over the remains of the original nave. The parish church which remains in use
and which is Listed Grade II* is excluded from the scheduling, although the
ground beneath it is included.

The priory was founded as a house of Augustinian canons towards the end of the
12th or at the beginning of the 13th century by Sir Ralph Mainwaring and was
at first subordinate to the priory of West Acre although, following a dispute
in 1314, it was ruled that the canons at Weybourn should have free election of
their prior in return for payment of an annual pension to the senior house.
The priory was endowed originally with the church and manor of Weybourne and
ultimately, as a result of further grants, held property in 30 parishes in
Norfolk. In 1291, its annual value was assessed at 15 pounds, 10 shillings and
1 pence, and in 1535 at 28 pounds, 7 shillings and 2 pence. It was founded for
seven canons, but the recorded numbers in the 15th century do not exceed four,
including the prior, and in 1514 the poverty of the house was said to be such
that it was difficult to sustain more than two. At the time of the suppression
in 1536, the community consisted of the prior and one canon, with three other
persons living in the house. Following the suppression, the priory and the
rectory of Weybourne were granted to John Gresham.

An inventory of the property at the time of the dissolution lists
accommodation in addition to the church including three chambers, a hall,
parlour, buttery, kitchen and brewhouse. The remains of the priory church and
adjacent buildings include both standing and ruined walls and buried wall
footings, some of which are visible as earthworks and others of which were
located in limited investigations carried out variously in the second half of
the 19th century, and in 1930. From this evidence, their overall plan
and something of the sequence of construction are known.

The church which already stood on the site at the time of the foundation of
the priory was adopted as the nucleus of the monastic church, within which
much of it remained preserved. The southern half of its ruined central tower,
measuring c.6m square in plan, built of mortared flint rubble and dated to the
11th century, still stands to full height and displays various original
features. The upper part is decorated externally with blind arcading which,
on the complete southern wall, can be seen to include a blocked central double
opening with gabled heads. Above the arcade the wall is pierced by two double
splayed circular openings, with a third surviving in the remains of the east
wall. Below the level of the arcade, a sequence of three small blocked
openings is visible on the inner face of the south wall, and at the base of
the wall is a large, blocked round headed opening which perhaps gave access to
a porticus (lateral chamber) to the south. The springing of the arch of
another blocked opening between the tower and the nave of the church can be
seen in the remains of the west wall, below part of a later inserted opening
with moulded stone surround. Nothing remains above ground of the original
chancel which was to the east of the tower, although it is likely that wall
footings will survive below the surface. The 19th century north aisle and
vestry occupy the area of the nave to the west, estimated to have been c.15m
in length. The medieval parish church was also provided with a tower at its
western end and, consequently, the monastic tower was allowed to fall into
ruin following the Dissolution.

The original church was adapted and greatly enlarged to accommodate the
different liturgical needs of the monastic community and the parish, and the
standing remains exhibit evidence of several successive episodes of building
and alteration. The earlier chancel to the east of the tower was replaced by
a canons' choir with a square ended presbytery measuring c.23m in overall
length by c.8m in width, and the lower part of the east wall of the tower,
forming the west end of the new choir, was opened up by the insertion of a
large opening with moulded stone surround above a masonry screen pierced by a
door, now blocked. Later additions dated to the 14th century included
transepts to north and south of the choir, with a side chapel to the east of
each of the transepts, and the springing and bonding of a 14th century vault
which can be seen on the inner face of the walls of the tower is evidence for
further remodelling of the early building. The north wall of the choir and
part of the east end, built of coursed flints with stone dressings, still
stand to a height of c.7m. In the north wall there are several inserted
openings, including two 14th century pointed arches, the larger of which
opened into the north transept, and the smaller, to the east of it, into the
adjacent side chapel. Both of them are blocked, although the blocking of the
arch to the transept is pierced by a smaller arched opening which is dated to
the 15th century and links the alteration to a time of documented decline in
the fortunes of the community. There is another window opening of similar
later medieval date in the eastern end of the wall. Above are the headless
openings for a row of seven clerestory windows which are also thought to be a
late insertion. The east wall of the presbytery is ruinous, although it
retains the stone jambs of a large east window. A part of the east end of the
south wall also remains standing, but the remainder is no longer visible. Most
of the standing remains of the west wall of the south transept are now
incorporated in the east wall of the chancel of the present church and so are
not included in the scheduling, but the ruined stub of its continuation to the
south projects from the south east corner of the chancel, and is included. The
footings of the south wall of the south transept and of the south and east
walls of the chapel to the east of the transept are marked by low, grass
covered banks and by parch marks in dry weather, and a fragment of the masonry
of the east wall of the transept remains visible. All that survives above the
ground of the north transept and chapel is a fragment of the east wall of the
transept where it joins the north wall of the chapel, and the ruined east wall
of the chapel, standing to a height of c.1m.

The chancel and nave of the present parish church, which are dated chiefly to
the 13th and 14th centuries, were built, for the separate accommodation of the
parish, along the south side of the early tower and original nave. A small
opening, cut through the angle of the tower to the west of the blocked
original opening in the south wall and still visible from the north, provided
limited access between the early tower and the parish chancel.

The remains of the conventual buildings of the priory are grouped around a
cloister c.20m square abutting the north side of the church. The north range
which, according to the usual monastic arrangement will have contained the
refectory above an undercroft, is the best preserved of the claustral
buildings, with walls of flint and mortar construction which although ruined,
remain standing to a height of up to c.3.5m and include blocked and altered
openings of 14th and 15th century date with moulded stone dressings, as well
as sections of later patching and rebuilding on medieval footings. The range
has an internal width of c.6m north-south. At the eastern end is a chamber or
passage measuring c.2.7m wide east-west, with a barrel vault of flint rubble
and mortar construction, a doorway giving access from the cloister at the
south end, and a wide blocked arch with later opening at the north end. The
wall between this passage and the undercroft to the west is pierced at either
end by blocked door openings. Above this level, in the south wall of the
range, are the remains of a window opening to the upper storey, and in the
external face of the same wall can be seen stone corbels for the support of a
roof over a cloister walk. In the north wall of the range, towards the western
end, is another blocked doorway with intact moulded stone surround, and parts
of the jambs of a corresponding opening can be seen in the south wall
opposite. Another blocked opening is visible in the western end wall. The
western end of the range has been incorporated in a post-medieval outhouse,
the southern and eastern walls and roof of which, being a late insertion, are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

The range on the east side of the cloister includes the remains of the chapter
house, where the business of the community was discussed, and other apartments
which will have formed the undercroft of the dorter (dormitory). Only the west
wall remains visible, standing to a height of up to c.4m, but the survival of
the footings of the other principal walls has been confirmed by excavation. A
wide breach in the standing wall marks the entrance to the chapter house, and
to the south of this is the blocked opening to a passage between the chapter
house and the north transept of the church. The chapter house, as revealed by
excavation, was rectangular in plan, with overall dimensions of c.12m east-
west by 9m north-south. The part of the range to the north includes the
remains of at least two apartments with an internal width of c.6m east-
west, the northern of which projects c.19m beyond the buildings of the
northern range and is of slightly different build, with thinner walls. In it
the excavators found remains of an oven. The buried wall footings of another
building connected to the east wall of the range and extending eastwards
towards the beck are perhaps the remains of a reredorter (latrine block).

Part of the area of the west claustral range is occupied by Abbey Farmhouse
(Listed Grade II) and associated outbuildings which are dated chiefly to the
17th and 19th centuries, although the east wall of the house includes a
fragment of what is thought to be the east wall of the range, it is excluded
from the scheduling. It is recorded that there was a cellar, probably of
medieval origin, located somewhere to the north of the house, and this
structure, which was blocked and infilled, will survive below the ground
surface and is included in the scheduling together with the ground beneath the
house and its outbuilding.

Traces of other masonry buildings believed to relate to the priory have been
recorded to the north of the claustral buildings where it is likely that some
of the domestic, agricultural and service buildings were located. A fragment
of wall was discovered c.8m north of the north claustral range, and a small
rectangular structure measuring c.5m east-west by 2m north-south was excavated
c.19m north east of the east range. Further to the north, at a distance of
c.69m from the north claustral range is a barn built of flint and brick which
is thought to stand on monastic foundations and incorporates part of another
building probably of monastic date. The eastern gable wall of the barn, which
is otherwise dated to the 17th century and is Listed Grade II, is of different
and earlier build, much patched and altered. In it are displayed several
blocked openings at various levels and an arched doorway. This wall forms the
western end of a rectangular building c.7m wide and c.25m long, the buried
foundations of which have been traced to the east. The bonding of the north
and south walls can be seen in the gable end, from which a fragment of the
north wall c.1m high projects for a distance of c.3m. At the west end of
the barn, the ground surface has been lowered so as to expose foundations
which are thought to be earlier than the wall above. The eastern gable wall
and the foundations of the barn, with the ground beneath, are included in the
scheduling, although the rest of the barn is excluded.

Water needed by the priory for domestic and other purposes was obtained from
Spring Beck, and evidence for features such as supply conduits and drains is
likely to be preserved in the ground between the beck and the conventual
buildings. The eastern end of one channel c.2m wide at the bottom with
weathered, sloping sides can be seen in the west bank of the beck due east of
the north east internal angle of the cloister. To the north of this the
stream has been widened to form an irregular pond. A retaining bank up to
0.7m high and c.3.5m wide, which is included in the scheduling, has been
raised along the western side of the pond, probably to control flooding. To
the west of the north end of this bank and c.82m due north of the standing
walls at the north east angle of the claustral buildings are the remains of a
rectangular pond, perhaps used for the conservation of the monastic fish
supply. It is shown on old editions of OS maps as measuring c.30m east-west by
15m north-south and, although now infilled, it is marked by a slight hollow in
the ground surface and will survive as a buried feature.

In addition to the present Parish Church of All Saints, Abbey Farmhouse and
all parts of the 17th century barn not specifically included, all post
medieval outbuildings associated with the farmhouse are excluded from the
scheduling, (with the exception of those parts which incorporate medieval
monastic walling as described above); Post-medieval garden walls associated
with Abbey Farmhouse, modern boundary fences and gates, modern path and yard
surfaces and modern farm buildings and grain storage silos, are also excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both
religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious
communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks,
canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of
religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated
from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England.
These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to
tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide
variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a
result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout,
although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for
the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into
the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship,
learning, and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some
orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were
established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest
of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish
churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 225
of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The
Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of
canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they
came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to
distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th
century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running
almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in
parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their
revenue. The Augustinians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval
life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Weybourne priory is a good example of a relatively small Augustinian
foundation. The core of the monastic precinct survives well and retains a
variety of features, some of which, such as the remains of the early church,
are of particular importance in architectural terms. The extensive standing
remains retain structural evidence for a complex history of development, and
evidence also of the decline of the priory in later years leading, for
example, to a contraction in the size of the monastic church in use. Limited
excavations conducted on the site have demonstrated that much archaeological
information relating to the layout, organisation, economy and history of the
priory is also preserved below the ground surface. The context of the priory
within the village, and the documented relationship between the priory and the
parish and manor of Weybourne give the monument additional interest.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 404-405
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 179
Fairweather, F H, 'Norfolk Archaeology' in The Augustinian Priory of Weybourne, , Vol. 24, (1932), 201-228
Fairweather, F H, 'Norfolk Archaeology' in The Augustinian Priory of Weybourne, , Vol. 24, (1932), 201 - 8
Manning, C R, 'Norfolk Archaeology' in Weybourne Church and Priory, , Vol. 10, (1887), 262-270
Title: Norfolk X NE, 6'
Source Date:

Source: Historic England

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