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Remains of Pentney Priory at Abbey Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Pentney, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.6792 / 52°40'45"N

Longitude: 0.5156 / 0°30'55"E

OS Eastings: 570155.120381

OS Northings: 312022.961281

OS Grid: TF701120

Mapcode National: GBR P65.54H

Mapcode Global: WHKQL.WXPF

Entry Name: Remains of Pentney Priory at Abbey Farm

Scheduled Date: 7 January 1932

Last Amended: 9 March 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019666

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30590

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Pentney

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Pentney

Church of England Diocese: Norwich


The monument includes the known extent of the standing and buried remains of
an Augustinian priory, situated on a low ridge which, in the medieval period,
formed a peninsula surrounded on the west, south and east sides by fen. The
area of the former monastic precinct is bounded on the south side by the River
Nar, which is thought to have been canalised in its present course during the
monastic period.

The priory, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, St Mary and St Mary Magdalen, was
founded around 1130 by Robert de Vaux and endowed with various properties
including the manor of Pentney. It was among the larger religious foundations
in Norfolk, and moderately wealthy, and in 1468 the much smaller Augustinian
priory of Wormegay, situated some 4km to the west, was united with it as a
subordinate cell. The annual value of the priory was assessed in 1291 at
68 pounds 1 shilling and 9 pence, and in 1535 at 170 pounds 4 shillings and
9 pence. During the late 15th and early 16th centuries the number of canons
recorded in residence ranged from 9 to 18, including the prior and sub-prior.
In 1536, the year before the Dissolution, 83 other persons, including
labourers and household servants, were also recorded as living there. The
priory was reported at this time to be well run and in good repair, and was
commended for its work in feeding the indigent of the locality. After the
Dissolution the site of the priory, with a water mill and the manor of
Pentney, was granted to Sir Thomas Mildmay, auditor of the Exchequer.

The gatehouse, which was the principal entry to the monastic precinct, is the
only monastic building standing above ground, but buried foundations and
associated remains believed to be of the church and conventual buildings are
known to survive to the south east of it. An extensive series of buried
features, including water supply channels, drains, ditched enclosures and
various smaller enclosures probably associated with agricultural, industrial
or service buildings, has also been revealed by crop marks (lines of
differential crop growth) over a wide area of the precinct to the west, south
and south east.

The gatehouse, which is a Listed Building Grade I, is dated to the mid-or late
14th century and displays little evidence of post-medieval alteration. It is
built chiefly of flint rubble and local carstone with limestone plinths and
dressings and, although it is now roofless and the internal floors have gone,
all but one of the walls stand to their full original height and display much
architectural detail. The structure includes a wide central gate passage of
two bays with a chamber above it, on either side of which is a narrower three
storey block. On the northern, external face the arch of the gate opening is
flanked by polygonal turrets which front the chambers on either side of the
passage, and beyond the turrets the facade extends symmetrically, fronting a
rectangular stair turret on the east side and a garderobe (latrine) shaft on
the west. The outer arch is set beneath a rectangular frame with tracery
incorporating shields for coats of arms in the spandrels. The inner gate arch
is flanked by buttresses and lacks the frame and associated decorative detail,
although the form and moulding of the arch itself are similar. The internal
wall on the west side of the gate passage retains many architectural features,
but the wall on the east side has partly fallen. The passage was vaulted, and
the springing of the ribbed vaults can still be seen in the angles, together
with the outline of the arches of the vaults where they were keyed in to the
wall on the west side. Opposing door openings in the northern end of the walls
of the passage give access to the ground floor rooms on either side. The
apartment on the east side was occupied by the porter. The room to the west of
the gate passage and the first floor chamber above it were connected by a
stair in the bay of the turret at the northern end, traces of which can be
seen in the inner face of the turret wall, and these two rooms formed a small
suite, probably for the accommodation of guests or their retainers. The large
chamber above the gate passage, the second floor chamber in the eastern block
and the first and second floor chambers of the western block, above the
porter's lodge, form another and much larger suite of rooms with connecting
doorways, although all that survives of the door opening between the central
and western chambers is the north jamb. Access to this suite was by way of a
spiral stair in the stair turret on the west side. The stair was entered by an
external arched doorway in the southern wall of the turret and doorways open
off it at first and second floor levels. Other door openings give access to
the garderobes adjoining the chambers at all three levels on the western side.
The central chamber was heated by a fireplace with brick surround in the wall
on its eastern side, and there is another, better preserved fireplace with
chamfered brick arch in the outer wall of the first floor chamber in the
western block, as well as a recess for a hearth in the wall of the ground
floor chamber beneath. The chimney stacks in the east and west walls are
constructed externally of brick and may have been later insertions.

The windows in the gatehouse survive intact for the most part and are arranged
in regular fashion. The ground floor rooms in the east and west blocks were
each lit by a window with two narrow, trefoil headed lights and a square head
in the south wall, and a single, trefoil headed lancet in the side wall. In
the north wall of the porters lodge there were also two slots through which
the porter could observe visitors approaching the gate. The first and second
floor lateral chambers each had a window in the south wall with two trefoil
headed lights under an arched hood mould, and a single, trefoil headed lancet
in the north wall. They also had a single, square headed window in the side
wall, those of the first floor chambers being small, with two quinquefoil
headed lights, and those of the second floor chambers being much larger, with
trefoil headed lights. The central chamber was lit by two windows centred
above the north and south gate arches respectively, and of the same pattern as
the south windows of the second floor lateral chambers.

At the north east and north west angles of the gatehouse there are two short
stubs of broken wall extending east and west. The wall on the east side may
have turned northwards, along the eastern side of the approach to the gate, to
meet the western end of a length of wall which survives approximately 45m to
the north. This wall, which extends for a distance of about 45m eastwards, is
constructed of carstone, stands to a height of about 2m and probably marks
part of the northern boundary of the monastic precinct on that side. Two more
short sections of a ruined carstone wall survive about 48m and 72m to the west
of the gatehouse respectively. These stand to a maximum height of about 1.5m
above a low bank, on a line east-west but offset slightly to the south of the
corresponding stub of wall on the gatehouse.

The plan of the monastic church and conventual buildings, which were the heart
of the monastic complex is not known in detail but, according to the usual
arrangement, would have included three ranges of buildings grouped around a
rectangular cloister abutting the church. The western claustral range normally
contained an undercroft for storage and an outer parlour, with lodgings for
the prior or guests above. The south range would have contained the canon's
refectory, and the east range would have included the chapter house, centrally
positioned, where the canons met daily to discuss the business of the priory,
with adjacent apartments, and the dorter (dormitory) above. Nothing is visible
above ground, but the foundations of the buildings would have been substantial
and remains of these, with associated archaeological deposits, will survive
below ground. Foundations have been observed in the area to the south east of
the gatehouse, and associated finds have included fragments of medieval
painted glass and of locally made floor tiles. Abbey Farmhouse and various
associated farm buildings which occupy part of the site also include much
reused dressed stone and medieval architectural fragments believed to be from
the monastic buildings. The farmhouse, which is a Listed Building Grade II,
dates to the early 18th century. Approximately 80m to the south west of the
gatehouse there is a rectangular raised platform on which a house or cottages
formerly stood. If, as is most likely, the conventual buildings were to the
south of the church, this feature may mark the site of the reredorter (latrine
block), which was normally located at the projecting southern end of the east
claustral range.

The buried features revealed by crop marks cover an area of approximately
13.5ha extending towards the river. Approximately 95m to the south of the
gatehouse, aerial photographs of the crop marks record linear features thought
to represent the foundation trenches of walls and buildings around a yard
measuring about 30sq m. Evidence of domestic or agricultural activity in and
to the north of this area has been recorded in the form of medieval pottery,
shell and bone found on the surface during field walking of the site. Two
other rectangular enclosures of similar size are partially defined to the east
and south east of the raised building platform. Larger enclosures defined by
buried ditches are likely to have been paddocks, gardens or orchards.

Many of the ditches are of substantial size and have the appearance of an
elaborate water management system such as was often constructed to supply
water needed for domestic use and sanitation and for agricultural and possibly
industrial purposes within the monastic precinct, as well as for drainage. A
group of rectangular features about 105m south west of the gatehouse were
perhaps fishponds linked to this system.

Also included in the scheduling is the emplacement for a World War II spigot
mortar located in a hedge bank approximately 118m west of the priory
gatehouse, sited to cover a bridge across the river approximately 145m to the
west. All that is visible of this is the top of the mounting for the mortar,
consisting of a concrete drum or `thimble' about 0.9m in diameter, with a
convex upper surface in which is set a central, stainless steel pin. This
would have stood within a dugout which will survive as a buried feature.

The farmhouse and associated buildings, the installations of a clay pigeon
shooting range with floodlights to the east of the farm buildings together
with all fences, gates and stiles, service poles, footpath signs, surfaces of
tracks, paths and yards, inspection chambers, water troughs and supply pipes
and supports for oil tanks are excluded from the scheduling, 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

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 remains of Pentney Priory include a particularly fine and well-preserved
example of a 14th century monastic gatehouse and, although little else of the
priory is visible above ground, there is evidence for the survival of
extensive buried remains which will retain archaeological information for the
layout and organisation of the monastic precinct, not only in relation to the
religious and conventual life of the priory, but to the domestic and economic
activities which sustained that life. The need for a plentiful supply of water
for domestic and agricultural purposes was an important factor in the siting
of medieval monasteries, and the remains of the elaborate water management
system revealed by crop marks is therefore of great interest. Some of the
leats and drains of this system are also likely to contain waterlogged
deposits in which organic materials, including evidence for the local
environment in the past, will be preserved.

The priory has additional interest as one of at least seven monastic
foundations situated in or adjacent to the Nar valley, of which two others,
including the associated Wormegay priory, were of the Augustinian order.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
RCHME, , Historic Buildings Report: Pentney Priory, (1992)
Silverster, R J, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in The Fenland Project 3: Norfolk Survey, Marshland and Nar Valley, , Vol. 45, (), 131f
Edwards, D, NAU TF 7012/ABB, (1989)
Title: Pentney: Enclosure Award Map
Source Date: 1807
NRO Ref C/Sca 2 129

Source: Historic England

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