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Remains of Blackborough Priory

A Scheduled Monument in Middleton, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.6978 / 52°41'52"N

Longitude: 0.4757 / 0°28'32"E

OS Eastings: 567386.9196

OS Northings: 314003.7512

OS Grid: TF673140

Mapcode National: GBR P5R.T85

Mapcode Global: WHKQL.8GR3

Entry Name: Remains of Blackborough Priory

Scheduled Date: 4 June 1952

Last Amended: 19 March 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016483

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30560

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Middleton

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk


The monument, which is in two separate areas of protection to the north and
south of Country Drain, includes standing and buried remains of a Benedictine
priory situated adjacent to the southern boundary of Middleton parish and
bordering the fen on the north side of the valley of the River Nar. The
visible remains include a ruined wall, identified as part of the priory
church, and the end wall of another substantial building to the south of it.
The extent of the church and adjoining buildings is indicated by a spread of
building materials on the ground surface, and by recorded finds of coffins,
tiles and architectural fragments. The earthwork remains of fishponds,
although no longer clearly visible, have also been recorded in the south
eastern part of the site.

The priory is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St Catherine and the visible
remains are Listed Grade II. It was founded in about 1150 by Roger de Scales,
the Lord of the Manor, and his wife Muriel, with an endowment which included
lands in the surrounding area. Originally it was a monastery for men, but when
the grant was confirmed and extended by Robert de Scales, the son of the
founders, it was functioning as a double house, with a community comprising
both monks and nuns. Subsequently, in 1200, it was assigned to the sole use of
Benedictine nuns, and continued as a nunnery until the Dissolution. According
to the surviving records, it housed up to 11 nuns including the prioress, with
a priest, and lay servants who in the late 13th century numbered more than 30
men and women. In 1535, shortly before the Dissolution, the clear annual value
of the priory holdings was given as 42 pounds, 6 shillings and 7 pence.
Following the Dissolution the priory and its lands were leased to James
Joskyns, and in 1550 they were granted to the Bishop of Norwich and his

The ruins of what is understood to be the south wall of the nave of the church
are located in the first area of protection, approximately 13m to the north
east of Priory Farmhouse. This wall measures about 30m in length and up to 5m
in height and is built of carstone (local brown sandstone), the only visible
features it contains being rows of putlog holes (to hold the horizontal
members of the scaffolding used in construction) and sockets for floor joists.
Evidence for the foundations of the church and its internal structure will
survive elsewhere below the ground surface. The body of the church occupied a
level platform which extends approximately 14m north beyond the line of the
standing wall, from which point the ground slopes gently downward, and the
approximate extent of the eastern end of the church, containing the nuns'
choir and the presbytery, is marked by the spread of building stone and mortar
on the ground surface. The site of the church was investigated in 1834, when a
vault containing three stone and two wooden coffins was discovered, and again
in 1851 by Sir Thomas Beevor and Harrod, a local antiquarian, whose reported
account implies that the church was cruciform in plan, with transepts to the
north and south of a central crossing which divided the main body of the nave
from the east end containing the presbytery. Finds made during this
investigation included stone coffins in the area of the north transept and
fragments of a female effigy from the area of the choir. In 1964 decorated
floor tiles and architectural fragments were found during ploughing in the
area of the east end of the church.

The conventual buildings, including the chapter house where the daily business
of the priory was discussed, the dorter (nuns' dormitory) and the refectory,
are believed to have adjoined the church on the south side and were probably
ranged around a rectangular cloister. There are no window openings in the
surviving church wall because, as on other monastic sites, the lower part
backed onto the north alley of the cloister. To the south of the probable area
of the cloister, and approximately 57m from the east end of the standing
church wall, is the south gable end wall of a substantial medieval building
constructed of carstone with limestone dressings, with supporting angle
buttresses of which three (east, south east and south west) remain intact. A
small lancet window with wide internal splay is set high in the angle of the
gable, and on the north face of the wall can be seen the stubs of the east and
west walls of the building, which was about 8m wide internally. Part of a
floor of black and yellow tiles was found within it in the 1940s.

In the second area of protection, between 25m and 53m further to the south and
immediately above the slope down to the marshy bottom of the valley, another
dense spread of building materials, including fragments of medieval brick and
tile, marks the site of what were probably agricultural, industrial or
domestic service buildings attached to the priory. Among the finds recorded
from this area are part of a millstone and fragments of 13th and 14th century

East of these buildings was an array of five fishponds which, when recorded in
the 1970s, were visible as parallel, linear hollows aligned north-south and
measuring around 0.5m in depth, 26m in length and 7m in width. The two
westernmost ponds were connected at their southern end so as to form a `U'
shape by an east-west hollow containing a small island, and this was linked in
turn to a channel about 5m wide which extended eastwards to the south of the
other three ponds, to which it was probably also connected by sluices. These
features are still visible in part as slight undulations in the ground
surface, and their buried remains will survive below this.

All fences and gates, drinking troughs and their supply pipes, fowl pens and
track surfaces are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath
these features is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A nunnery was a settlement built to sustain a community of religious women.
Its main buildings were constructed to provide facilities for worship,
accommodation and subsistence. The main elements are the church and domestic
buildings arranged around a cloister. This central enclosure may be
accompanied by an outer court and gatehouse, the whole bounded by a precinct
wall, earthworks or moat. Outside the enclosure, fishponds, mills, field
systems, stock enclosures and barns may occur. The earliest English nunneries
were founded in the seventh century AD but most of these had fallen out of use
by the ninth century. A small number of these were later refounded. The tenth
century witnessed the foundation of some new houses but the majority of
medieval nunneries were established from the late 11th century onwards.
Nunneries were established by most of the major religious orders of the time,
including the Benedictines, Cistercians, Augustinians, Franciscans and
Dominicans. It is known from documentary sources that at least 153 nunneries
existed in England, of which the precise locations of only around 100 sites
are known. Few sites have been examined in detail and as a rare and poorly
understood medieval monument type all examples exhibiting survival of
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Blackborough Priory is of interest as one of a group of seven monastic
foundations of different orders and varying size located in or immediately
adjacent to the Nar Valley, the two nearest being Augustinian priories at
Wormegay, some 2.5km to the south west, and at Pentney, 3.5km to the south
west. Although comparatively little remains of the priory buildings above
ground, the buried remains will retain archaeological evidence relating to the
history, organisation and economy of the nunnery, including both the religious
life centred on the church and conventual buildings at the heart of the
complex, and the domestic and agricultural activities which supported it. The
fishponds, constructed for the purpose of breeding and storing stocks of fish
to provide a constant and sustainable supply of food, are representative of a
type associated characteristically with monasteries and high status
residences, and the buried earthworks and the deposits they contain will
provide information concerning their original design and the functioning of
the system.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
'Norfolk Archaeology' in Norfolk Archaeology, , Vol. 4, (1855), 353
Green, B, (1998)

Source: Historic England

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