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Binham Priory

A Scheduled Monument in Binham, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.9207 / 52°55'14"N

Longitude: 0.9471 / 0°56'49"E

OS Eastings: 598219.008768

OS Northings: 339988.637296

OS Grid: TF982399

Mapcode National: GBR S7N.S9N

Mapcode Global: WHLQS.JV68

Entry Name: Binham Priory

Scheduled Date: 26 June 1924

Last Amended: 1 August 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014862

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21414

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Binham

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Binham St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Norwich


The Priory of St Mary, Binham, is situated on the north side of Binham
village, on ground which slopes to north and south down to a small tributary
of the River Stiffkey. The monument includes the monastic precinct, the
boundary of which is marked on the south west side by standing remains of a
medieval wall and in parts elsewhere by linear earthworks believed to be of
medieval origin, the entire circuit being followed by existing roads and
tracks. Within the precinct are the upstanding ruins and buried remains of
monastic buildings, and various earthworks which include the remains of a
water mill and fishponds.

The priory, which was a cell of the Benedictine abbey of St Albans, was
founded at the end of the 11th century by Peter de Valoines, and his wife.
According to the foundation charter, it was to pay the sum of one silver mark
annually to the mother house, and the abbot of St Albans, to whom the prior
was subordinate, was entitled to visit once a year. It was, however,
financially independent. The original endowments included the manor of Binham,
which had been granted to de Valoines by William the Conqueror, and tithes
from a number of other manors in Norfolk. In 1291 the annual income was
assessed at 103 pounds 7 shillings and 5 pence, and in 1535 at 140 pounds
5 shillings and 4 pence. Notable deeds of some of the priors and the
occasionally turbulent relations between the priory and its patrons and the
mother house are chronicled in a history of the abbots of St Albans. The
priory was suppressed in 1539 and most of its property, including the manor of
Binham, was granted to Sir Thomas Paston. Dismantling of the monastic
buildings began soon after. In 1553 rubble and stone from the priory was
purchased from Sir Thomas for use in construction of a house in Wells, and
Edward Paston, a descendant of Sir Thomas, carried out further demolition work
with the intention of building a house on the site, only to abandon the
project after a workman was killed by falling masonry.

The priory precinct is entered through a gatehouse, the ruins of which still
stand on the west boundary of the precinct, fronting the road from Binham to
Warham. The partly ruined priory church and the ruined walls and wall footings
of the conventual buildings, which are the core of the monastic complex,
occupy the higher ground in the south western part of the precinct, opposite
and to the south east of the gatehouse, and between these and the western
boundary of the precinct to the south of the gatehouse are the remains of a
walled outer court containing masonry foundations of other substantial
buildings. Adjoining the claustral complex on the east and south east side are
earthworks defining further enclosures, and beyond these, bordering the stream
which flows through the north and north eastern part of the precinct, are the
remains of the mill pond with associated water management features. The
ruined east end and south transept of the church and the area containing most
of the conventual buildings to the south of it are in the care of the
Secretary of State.

The ruined gatehouse, which is Listed Grade I and is included in the
scheduling, is dated to the 15th century and, like the other principal
monastic buildings visible within the precinct, is constructed chiefly of
mortared flint rubble with stone dressings. The standing remains include most
of the south wall together with parts of the stone moulding of the outer
shafts and springing of the main outer gate arch and a smaller arch over a
pedestrian entrance to the north of it, and the hollow chamfered mouldings of
both shafts of the main inner arch. The entrances on both faces are flanked by
the remains of projecting buttresses. Parts of the west, north and east walls
of what was probably a porter's lodge also survive on the north side of the
carriageway, enclosing but distinct from the later walls of a post medieval
farm building which is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground
beneath it is included.

The priory church, c.85m east of the gatehouse, is largely of 12th and 13th
century date and is also Listed Grade I. It measures c.73m in overall length
and is cruciform in plan, with aisled nave and east end and transepts to north
and south of a central crossing. The nave and nave aisles are of nine bays,
the first seven of which were used by the parish and separated from the
eastern end of the church by stone and timber screens, parts of which remain
visible across the nave and below a later blocking wall across the north
aisle. The same section of the nave between the aisles remains intact and in
use as the parish church, and is therefore totally excluded from the
scheduling. The arches of the arcades which separate it from the aisles have
been blocked between their massive piers to create the side walls, and an east
wall has been constructed over the rood screen, in which the blocked arches of
doorways to the eastern end of the church can be seen to either side of the
altar. The construction of the nave is in three stages, with a triforium and a
clerestory above the main arcades. In the three westernmost bays a change in
architectural style from the round, 12th century arches of the rest of the
nave to pointed arches of 13th century type, is evidence of an interruption in
the building, and the west front, including the west ends of the aisles which
stand to full height and are included in the scheduling, is in elaborately
detailed 13th century style.

The rest of the church, including the aisles of the nave behind the west
front, is now ruinous, although the north aisle is known to have remained
largely intact until the early 19th century. The walls, which stand to varying
heights between c.1m and c.14m, display a variety of features, including
original architectural details of 12th and 13th century date, as well as
evidence of later additions and alterations. The outer walls of the south
aisle and the western part of the north aisle of the nave survive to a maximum
height of c.1.3m, but the outer face of the north aisle wall is largely
concealed by the build up of soil in the parish churchyard on that side,
except for the stumps of the external buttresses, which project c.1m above it.
Traces of vaulting are preserved on the internal faces of the walls at the
west end of both, and surviving features in the outer wall of the north aisle
include the lower jambs and sill of a doorway at the western end and the
eastern jamb of the window of the seventh bay. The south aisle is subdivided
by four cross walls which are later insertions. Two, at the fourth and sixth
piers, are probably of late medieval date, to create a chapel in the fifth and
sixth bays, and there are footings of a third wall, with the jambs of a
doorway, across the eastern end of the ninth bay. The fourth is of post-
medieval date and walls off the westernmost bay as a porch for an entrance to
the parish church.

The original plan of the eastern, monastic, part of the church was
symmetrical, with an apsidal presbytery of two bays, flanked by shorter
apsidal aisles c.3m wide and with an apsidal chapel in each of the transepts.
The footings of the apse off the south transept still stand above ground, and
the outlines of the north aisle and the original east end of the presbytery,
which were revealed by excavation in the 1930s, are outlined in concrete. The
central crossing and the two easternmost bays of the nave contained the monks'
choir. The four great piers which supported a tower above the crossing stand
to a height of up to c.14m, and large areas of their original ashlar facing,
including details of the multiple attached half shafts which supported the
springing of the arches, remain intact on the flint rubble core. On the south
side of the choir, immediately to the west of the crossing, are the bases of
the jambs of a processional entrance from the cloister. The two eastern bays
of the north aisle of the nave, adjacent to the choir, were probably used as a
sacristy (for the storage of vestments and church vessels). Here the outer
wall and two 12th century round arches across either end of the two bays
survive to a height of c.8m. On the inner face of the outer wall there is a
hearth with a chimney above it built into the blocking of an original window.
This feature is thought to be of monastic date and was perhaps used for the
baking of mass wafers. A small sunken chamber between the piers of the arcade
opposite was possibly a strong room.

Successive alterations to the east end of the church produced the final plan
which is represented by standing walls and wall footings. The east end of the
presbytery, rebuilt in the first half of the 13th century, is square and c.4m
longer than the original apse, and on the north side of the presbytery is a
rectangular chapel of slightly later date, longer and wider than the aisle
which it replaced. The foundations of another rectangular chapel were found in
excavations to the north of this and are marked out on the ground surface,
although there is no evidence that it was ever completed. The south aisle was
altered in the 14th century by the construction of a new, square end. The
bases of the original piers of the arcades between the presbytery and the
aisles display various modifications relating to these later works.

The transepts also show evidence of alteration, including the demolition of
the apses, as well as original features. In the south transept, the surviving
walls include three recesses for tombs and the base of a stair in the south
west angle. In the north transept, where the walls survive in places to
almost the full original height, there are remains of a stair turret at
clerestory level in the north east angle, and another stair at ground level in
the north west angle, adjacent to an original door opening in the north wall.
In the wall to the east of the door is the eastern jamb of a large window
which is a later insertion, above the blocked opening of an original window.
The conventual buildings are ranged around three sides of a sub-rectangular
cloister measuring c.29m across which abuts the south side of the church. The
standing masonry displays some features of 12th century date, as well as
evidence of later additions and alterations, including extensive rebuilding in
the second half of the 15th century. (According to the documentary record, the
east range was in ruins in 1454, and there is archaeological evidence that
this was the result of a fire).

The main entrance to the cloister was through a vaulted outer parlour at the
north end of the west range, adjacent to the west end of the church. The
parlour, which would have been used for meetings between the laity and monks,
is of four bays to either side of a central arcade. One of the three pillars
of the arcade and the bases of the other two remain, and the corbels which
supported the springing of the vault survive on the north wall, on which the
outline of the arches can also be seen. The west range was of two storeys and,
according to the most usual practice, the upper floor probably housed the
apartments used by the prior and perhaps accommodation for guests also. All
that now survives of this is a part of the north wall above the parlour, with
the remains of two large window openings, one of which retains evidence of
tracery. The lower part of the chute from a garderobe (latrine) in the upper
suite also survives on the outer face of the south wall of the parlour,
adjacent to the south west angle. To the south of the outer parlour are the
remains of a vaulted undercroft which would have been used chiefly for
storage. The earliest part of this is a large room with a row of three massive
piers of mid 12th century type to support a central north-south arcade. The
original west wall was eventually demolished, and the remains of the piers are
incorporated in a later north-south wall. The resulting narrower room contains
bases for a central row of three smaller columns, and the northern end is
partitioned off by an inserted cross wall. To the south of it, and at a lower
level, is a smaller, square undercroft containing the lower part of a central
pillar of late 13th century type. A door opening in the west wall of this
smaller room communicates with an outer passage around the west and south
sides. This passage, in which there are door openings giving access originally
to the exterior of the building, is subdivided by two later walls. The areas
to the west and south include remains of a rectangular building opposite the
southern undercroft and passage, identified as possibly a 13th century larder
mentioned in the records. Among other later additions is a room built across
the northern end of the demolished west wall of the larger undercroft,
abutting the south wall of the parlour.

The east range, which is c.54m in length overall was also originally of two
storeys, although nothing remains of the upper floor which will have housed
the dorter (monks' dormitory). The most important feature at ground floor
level is the chapter house, where the monks met daily to discuss the business
of the priory. This is at the north end of the range, abutting the south
transept of the church. It was built originally with an apsidal east end, but
in the 15th century the apse was replaced by a square end supported by angle
buttresses, and the roof was replaced with a fan vault. The lower parts of the
vertically ribbed half columns which supported the vault are preserved in the
internal angles of the walls, together with the springing of the vault in the
south east angle, where a fragment of wall stands to a height of c.7m. The
bases of the original north jambs of the entrance from the cloister and an
adjoining window also survive.

Immediately to the south of the chapter house is a room which served as a
passage giving access from the cloister to the area beyond, and adjoining that
is the narrow passage which contained the day stairs from the cloister to the
dorter. Beyond are apartments identified as a parlour, and the warming house,
with another undercroft at the eastern end. In the 15th century rebuilding of
this part of the range, the walls were constructed above the levelled debris
of the fire, which buried the interior of the earlier structure to a depth of
up to 0.9m and preserved the remains of various features of 13th and 14th
century date now exposed, including a brick backed fireplace in the east wall
of the warming house, and several internally splayed window recesses
containing stone window seats on either side. The original entrance to the
warming house was a door on the west side, opening off a passage through the
east end of the south range. In the reconstruction, the wall between the
passage and the warming house was not replaced, and an internal buttress
stands over the remains of the earlier door. The remains of the reredorter
(monks' latrine) extend eastwards from the original south end of the range,
which is c.14m beyond the line of the south claustral range. The stubs of the
walls can be seen on the external face of the east wall, and the buried
foundations to the east of this have been traced by parch marks recorded in
air photographs. The east range was extended after the fire by the addition of
another room at the south end, and this contains a kiln lined with brick of
late medieval or early post-medieval type. Running westwards from the south
west corner of this extension is a section of a wall, presumably contemporary,
which probably served to separate this part of the claustral complex from a
domestic service area. Beyond it and on a line with the east range are the
remains of a free-standing rectangular building containing a fireplace in the
east wall with two cisterns behind it - likely to have been one of the
domestic service buildings such as a laundry or brewhouse.

The south claustral range contained the refectory. The blocked opening of the
door from the cloister is visible at the west end of the north wall, and on
the external face of the wall immediately to the west of the door, facing onto
the cloister alley, are the remains of the laver (ceremonial washing place)
visible as a wide, arched recess containing a bench which supported the
trough. An external projection or thickening in the south wall near the east
end of the refectory was to support the pulpit from which readings were given
during meals, and to the west of this is a projecting rectangular cistern to
store rain water from the roof. Alterations to this range in the 15th century
included the insertion of an internal cross wall dividing the refectory into
two. The west end was adapted for use as a kitchen, with a fireplace, oven and
internal water tank. The wall footings of an earlier, detached kitchen
containing a hearth with an adjacent sink and drain are exposed to the south
of it, and to the east of this are masonry footings for a timber framed

The area of comparatively level ground on which the church and conventual
buildings stand continues further to the east and is bounded on the east and
north east side by an earthen bank along the upper edge of a well defined,
scarp which has probably been enhanced by artificial terracing. This
enclosure, which is sub-divided by slighter rectilinear earthworks, is thought
to contain the monks'cemetery, usually located east of the church, and also
the buried remains of the infirmary and infirmary chapel which, according to
documentary sources, were built in the second quarter of the 13th century. At
its southern end is another rectilinear earthwork enclosure which extends
further to the south east, adjacent to the south western precinct boundary. In
the external angle of the junction between these two enclosures is an
elongated mound which may have supported a building.

On the west and north sides of the nave of the church is the parish cemetery
which, with its post monastic boundary walls, is totally excluded from the
scheduling, but below the boundary wall on the north side of the churchyard is
an earthen bank overlying the footings of an earlier wall which is believed to
be of medieval date and is included. The mortared flint rubble and a fragment
of the ashlar plinth of this earlier wall are exposed in two places on the
north side, and regularly spaced spurs extending northward from the eastern
end of the bank may cover the remains of buttresses or the cross walls of a

The outer court was separated from the claustral complex to the east of it by
walls, parts of which remain standing against the west end of the southern
(post-monastic) boundary wall of the churchyard, and between the outer
buildings of the western claustral range and the south west corner of the
earlier, detached kitchen. At the northern end of the outer court, c.30m west
of the entrance to the cloister, earthworks up to c.0.9m in height cover the
masonry footings of a rectangular building measuring c.17m east-west by
c.6.5m. This may have been a detached guest hall. The area immediately west of
this building and south of the gatehouse was a separate court enclosed on the
south side by a wall, the footings of which are exposed in places in the top
of a low earthen bank extending c.30m WSW from the south west corner of the
building to the precinct boundary. The larger area of the outer court to the
south east of this is bounded at the southern end by another low but well
defined bank which probably covers the foundations of another wall. Other
slight, rectilinear earthworks and traces of masonry mark the foundations of a
range of buildings at least 45m in length, adjacent and parallel to the
precinct boundary on the west side of this larger area. These were probably
barns or granaries.

According to the history of the abbots of St Albans, Richard de Parco, who was
prior between 1227 and 1244, built a wall along part of the precinct boundary
and rebuilt a boundary bank around the whole monastery. Part of a medieval
wall, c.187m in length and 1m - 2m in height, still stands alongside Warham
Road, marking the western boundary of the precinct south of the gatehouse.
Parts of the earthwork boundary are also visible, notably along the north
western side of the precinct, to the north of the farmyard which occupies the
area on the north side of the gatehouse. Here it runs alongside a hollow way
which forks from Warham Road and crosses the stream by a ford. To the south
west of the stream, running downslope, it is marked by a ditch c.3m wide which
may once have carried water, and an internal bank c.0.5m high. On the opposite
side and around the northern end of the precinct it is visible as a bank only.
There is another length of bank along the northern end of the western
boundary, bordering a track which runs south to meet Langham Road.

All monasteries required a plentiful supply of water to serve the domestic and
agricultural needs of the community. At Binham the supply for the claustral
buildings and adjacent outer court was evidently obtained from ground and
surface water, supplemented by rain water collected from the roofs, and will
have been channeled by a system of conduits and drains. Part of a north-south
conduit or drain is exposed below and adjacent to the outer parlour at the
north end of the west claustral range, and part of a drain is visible leading
from the cistern against the south wall of the refectory towards the eastern
range. The discovery of an infilled, stone lined well to the south west has
also been recorded. Approximately 95m north west of the church, near a modern
field drain, there are slight hollows which have the appearance of small,
rectangular fish ponds linked by a channel.

Evidence of water management on a larger scale for agricultural and industrial
purposes can also be seen on either side of the stream which runs across the
northern and eastern parts of the precinct, below the claustral buildings and
associated earthwork enclosures. The largest feature is a mill pond on the
east side of the precinct. In its present form it has the appearance of an
ornamental feature, but around the south eastern end there is a pond bay,
visible as a rectilinear scarp up to 0.7m high, which demonstrates that it was
originally much larger. Several large blocks of fallen flint masonry along the
southern side of the pond, near its north western end, are evidence for a
substantial structure or structures on or near the bank. From the north
western end of the pond, the stream is embanked slightly along the northern
side for a distance of c.75m, then bends sharply north east and west around an
earthen platform c.1m in height and 12m wide at the base which is the probable
site of the millhouse. A small area of flint masonry is exposed on the north
side of the stream opposite this feature, and beyond that is a low earthen
bank or dam up to 0.75m in height and 12m wide which continues towards the
precinct boundary on the same south west-north east alignment as the platform.
To the north east of the millpond, alongside the embanked section of the
stream, are the earthwork remains of two fishponds, visible as elongated
rectangular hollows, embanked at the south eastern end and separated by a low
bank c.10m wide.

All post-medieval and modern buildings in the farmyard on the north side of
the gatehouse and entrance, including a Grade II Listed barn and a grain silo,
are excluded from the scheduling, together with the surfaces of the car park
west of the church and all yards and paths; the concrete surface with drainage
channels and inset memorial slabs in the north aisle of the nave of the
church; a wooden hut in the same area are also excluded, as are floodlights
round the church; inspection chambers in the area of the east end of the
church and in the fields to the north east of the church and to the south of
the claustral buildings; a drinking trough also to the south of the claustral
buildings; a wooden stable in the field immediately to the south of the
gatehouse; all post-medieval boundary walls; fences, gates and stiles; the
English Heritage information board and hut; although the ground beneath all
these features is included. The parish church and the parish cemetery are
totally excluded from the scheduling.

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.
Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St
Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not
intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule
came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came
only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as
`black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who
became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over
150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly
successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and
influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance
of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many
facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Binham Priory is one of the few monastic foundations in Norfolk in which the
precinct can be seen to remain essentially intact, and within the clearly
defined precinct boundaries it contains a variety of structural remains and
other features, many of which have been disturbed very little by later
activity. The standing ruins of the church and conventual buildings display
evidence of successive additions and alterations, some of which are documented
in the historical record, and the associated parish church, in which many
impressive architectural features of the monastic church are preserved intact,
is a valuable source of comparative information, though not itself included in
the scheduling. The quality of survival of extensive buried remains, including
other buildings, over most of the surrounding area is demonstrated by the
extent of the visible earthworks. The monument illustrates the layout and
organisation of the monastery as a whole and will retain archaeological
information relating to many aspects of the life and economy of the monastic
community and the history of the site, up to and including the Dissolution and
the subsequent dismantling of many of the buildings. The level of historical
documentation, which is in part the result of the link between the priory and
St Alban's Abbey, give it additional interest. As a site partly in the care of
the Secretary of State and on display to the public it provides a valuable
educational amenity.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Britton, J, Architectural Antiquities III: Binham Priory Church, (1811), 71,72
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 343-345
Harrod, Henry, Gleanings Among Castles and Covents of Norfolk, (1857), 197-210
Aerial Photography Foundation, Dereham, Ref 161/13; NAU TF9839/S/-, (1978)
Aerial Photography Foundation, Dereham, Ref 161/14 NAU ref TF9839/T/-, (1978)
Edwards, D, NAU TF9830/N/PQA 10, (1980)
Edwards, D, NAU TF9839/K/AEL 8, 9, (1976)
Raby, F. Baillie Reynolds, PK & Sherlock, D, Binham Priory, 1985, draft text of unpublished handbook
typescript, Thurlby, Malcolm, The West Front of Binham Priory and the beginnings of Bar Tracery, (1989)

Source: Historic England

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