Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Priory of the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre and part of Saxon town

A Scheduled Monument in Thetford, Norfolk

Approximate Location Map
Large Map »
Street or Overhead View
Contributor Photos »

If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.

Coordinates

Latitude: 52.4133 / 52°24'47"N

Longitude: 0.7414 / 0°44'29"E

OS Eastings: 586544.800544

OS Northings: 283015.617816

OS Grid: TL865830

Mapcode National: GBR RD7.N86

Mapcode Global: VHKCC.SLTT

Entry Name: Priory of the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre and part of Saxon town

Scheduled Date: 17 March 1936

Last Amended: 30 August 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014861

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21409

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Thetford

Built-Up Area: Thetford

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Thetford St Cuthbert

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

Details

The monument includes remains of the Priory of the Canons of the Holy
Sepulchre, centred on the ruined nave of the priory church and situated on the
north side of the Brandon Road, 162m south of the Little Ouse River. The
remains of a Dominican friary lie c.225m to the east of the priory and to the
north, on the opposite side of the river, is the much larger Cluniac Priory of
St Mary's. Underlying the remains of the priory, and also included in the
scheduling, are buried features relating to the pre-Conquest town of Thetford.

The priory was founded in or soon after the year 1139, before he departed on
Crusade, by William de Warenne, third Earl of Suffolk, who endowed it with the
Church of St Sepulchre and an area of adjoining land, together with all the
lands, churches, tithes and manorial rights which he held in Thetford south of
the river. This was supplemented by further grants from the Crown and de
Warenne's successors and gifts from lesser benefactors, and the Hospital of
God's House (Domus Dei), situated c.300m to the east, was settled on the
priory in 1347. The house was never wealthy, however, and surviving records
suggest that it declined in later years. A survey of the priory's holdings in
Thetford in 1338 gives the income from these as 62 pounds nine shillings, but
by the early 16th century it was stated to be insufficient for the maintenance
of the priory buildings which were in need of repair. Before the suppression
of the priory in 1536 the clear annual value was assessed at 38 pounds 15
shillings and the commissioners for the suppression reported that the house
was `very Ruyinous ande in Decaye'. During the later medieval period the
recorded number of adult religious in the community ranged from eight to only
three. After the suppression the site passed to Sir Richard Fulmerston. The
nave of the church survived in use as a barn, but by the 18th century the east
end had been demolished. In the 19th century the ruins were adapted as an
ornamental garden feature with a grotto and rockery attached.

The nave of the priory church, which is also Listed Grade I and is in the care
of the Secretary of State, is rectangular, without aisles, and measures c.24m
east-west by c.10m. Traces of foundations were observed in limited excavations
which were carried out to east and north of the nave in 1969, showing that the
church as a whole was originally c.53m in length overall and cruciform in
plan, with rectangular transepts to north and south of a central crossing and
a rectangular east end c.16m in length, and that there was a rectangular
cloister adjoining it on the north side. Surviving buried remains of the west
side of the crossing and south transept are included within the area of
protection.

The nave of the church is of five bays, with external buttresses, and the
walls, which are constructed of mortared flint rubble with ashlar dressings,
stand to a height of c.6m, displaying the remains of various blocked and
altered openings of medieval and post-medieval date. The north wall of the
easternmost bay has been rebuilt, however, and is post-monastic, as is the
adjoining wall across the east end of the nave, which is presumed to date from
the original conversion of the building to a barn. Both internal and external
faces of the medieval walls are decorated with a string course.

The arched opening of the west door of the church, now blocked, survives in
the west wall, below the blocked opening of part of a large window, and in the
adjacent west end of the north wall there is another, smaller doorway which
originally gave access from the cloister. Both entrances are considered to be
original features, since the internal string course is stepped up over them,
but the second doorway shows evidence of alteration, in that the moulding of
the arch, below a relieving arch of alternating brick and ashlar, is clearly a
later insertion and does not match the jambs, which themselves are constructed
partly of reused stone. The north wall also includes the lower part of a row
of window openings at clerestory level, and the blocked, internally splayed
openings of larger windows can be seen in the south wall opposite.

The excavations immediately to the north of the nave revealed traces of a
south cloister walk alongside, and corbels for the support of a pentice roof
over the walk survive on the external face of the north wall, below the level
of the clerestory windows. The conventual buildings, such as the chapter
house, canons' dorter (dormitory) and refectory, would have been grouped
around the cloister, and it is possible that a stub of wall which extends
northwards from the north west angle of the nave and retains some of its
original ashlar facing is a remnant of part of the west range.

Features which date from the period when the nave was in use as a barn include
a large cart entrance cut through the south wall in the third bay, and a
smaller doorway in the north wall opposite. Both are also now blocked. A
round arched entrance in the post-medieval wall across the east end of the
nave was probably inserted when the building was converted into a picturesque
ruin. It is constructed of reused stone which includes many architectural
fragments of 12th century type. The remains of the grotto, constructed of
large flint nodules, can be seen at the east end of the nave, adhering to the
external face of the south wall. Ruined walls which extend southward from the
eastern part of the nave are the remains of a building which abutted the
post-medieval barn and which, in 18th century accounts of the site, is said to
have been in use as a hen house.

The excavations to the east of the nave revealed fragmentary remains of chalk
foundations and robbed foundation trenches which are evidence for a building
predating the church and perhaps relating to the original foundation of the
priory or to the period before the Conquest. Below these were found various
buried features dated to the late Saxon period, including infilled pits and
ditches and evidence for timber structures indicative of intensive occupation.
These relate to the late Saxon town of Thetford which occupied the area south
of the river and was the subject of large scale excavations on the south side
of the Brandon Road opposite. Further remains of late Saxon date will be
preserved in the area of open ground known as School Plain to the south and
east of the remains of the priory church, and this area is also included in
the scheduling.

All modern boundary fences and walls within the protected area are excluded
from the scheduling, together with the surface of the path giving access to
the monument, the remains of an inspection chamber to the south of the nave, a
signpost and information boards, and lamp posts on the south side of School
Plain, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT
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.

The canons of the Holy Sepulchre were a small sub-order of Augustinian canons,
originating with the Crusades and the institution of the canons of the Holy
Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 1114. One of their particular interests was the
provision of hospitality for pilgrims. Only six houses of the order are
known to have been founded in England, some of which were extremely small, and
among these the Priory of the Holy Sepulchre in Thetford is of particular
interest, because it is the only one in which standing remains of monastic
buildings survive. The monument will retain archaeological information
concerning not only the construction and development of the monastic church
and activities in the adjacent area of the monastic precinct but also the
occupation of the site prior to the foundation of the monastery.
Between the mid ninth century and the 11th centuries Thetford developed as a
major centre of commerce, centred on an important river crossing and including
a large defended settlement south of the Little Ouse. The Domesday survey in
the late 11th century shows it to have been among the six largest and most
populous late Saxon towns in England, and at this time it was also, briefly,
the site of a bishopric. From the 12th century onwards, development shifted to
the north bank of the river, and the Late Saxon settlement on the south side
is therefore relatively undisturbed by later activity. The limited excavations
on the site of the priory have demonstrated that remains of the pre-Conquest
settlement underlie the monastic church and will survive well in the area of
open land to the south and east of it, adding to the evidence for the
development of the town and the lives of its people. As a monastic ruin open
to the public and in the care of the Secretary of State the priory itself is a
valuable educational and recreational resource whilst the area to the south
east is dedicated open space and is managed for its amenity value.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 391-393
Dallas, C, 'East Anglian Archaeol' in Excavations in Thetford by B K Davison between 1964 and 1970, , Vol. 62, (1993)
Hare, J N, 'Norfolk Archaeol' in The Priory of the Holy Sepulchre, Thetford, , Vol. 37, (1979), 190-200
Other
5749: Breckland; Thetford,
Rogerson, A, (1995)

Source: Historic England

Other nearby scheduled monuments

AncientMonuments.uk is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact AncientMonuments.uk for any queries related to any individual ancient or schedued monument, planning permission related to scheduled monuments or the scheduling process itself.

AncientMonuments.uk is a Good Stuff website.