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Flitcham Priory, medieval settlement and 16th century great house

A Scheduled Monument in Flitcham with Appleton, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.8083 / 52°48'29"N

Longitude: 0.5744 / 0°34'27"E

OS Eastings: 573617.195903

OS Northings: 326522.004999

OS Grid: TF736265

Mapcode National: GBR P4J.VDH

Mapcode Global: WHKQ1.SNPY

Entry Name: Flitcham Priory, medieval settlement and 16th century great house

Scheduled Date: 12 March 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020770

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30614

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Flitcham with Appleton

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Flitcham St Mary the Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Norwich


The monument includes earthworks and buried remains of Flitcham Priory and of
a 16th century great house built on the site of the priory after its
dissolution, together with adjoining remains of an abandoned area of medieval

The site of the priory lies on the west side of the village of Flitcham and
north of the headwater of the Babingley river, which formed the southern
boundary of the monastic precinct. Towards the western end of the precinct a
later drain cuts off the original loop of the river to the south, and the
drain and the area to the south of it are not included in the scheduling. The
eastern and western boundaries of the precinct are recorded on maps dated to
around 1600 and 1655, and the western boundary is still clearly defined by an
earthwork. A modern field boundary corresponds approximately to the limit of
the precinct on the east side, although it does not follow the line of the
original boundary exactly. The line of what is thought to be the northern
boundary is shown on the 17th century maps and is followed for most of its
length by Abbey Road, although the road itself is post-medieval in date,
replacing an earlier road which ran about 180m to the north.

The foundations of the priory church and claustral buildings, which formed the
core of the monastic complex, lie beneath and to the south of Abbey Farmhouse
and adjacent outbuildings, and parts of what were probably walls of the church
are incorporated in the house. Elsewhere within the precinct there are buried
remains of other buildings thought to be of monastic date, earthworks which
define a series of rectilinear enclosures and other features also thought to
relate to the medieval priory, together with a series of water management
features of various dates, some of which probably have a monastic origin.

The priory was founded around 1217 by Sir Robert Aguillon, who was lord of the
manor of Flixton. It was a small cell or subsiduary of the much larger and
wealthier Augustinian priory of Walsingham, and it housed around six canons,
including the prior. The annual income from its possessions was valued in
1291 at 27 pounds, 10 shillings and 7 pence, and this income increased as a
result of further endowments and gifts in the 14th century. In 1535, shortly
before the dissolution of the monasteries, the annual value was assessed at
55 pounds, 5 shillings and 6 pence. The priory was surrendered with Walsingham
Priory in 1538. After the Dissolution it was granted to Edward, Lord Clinton,
and the following year passed to Sir William Hollis. Sir William's son,
Thomas, conveyed it to Henry Ward in 1556, and subsequently it passed into the
possession of Thomas, Duke of Norfolk.

In dry weather the buried foundations of the cloister and conventual buildings
produce parch marks which have been recorded on aerial photographs. These show
that the cloister was approximately 28 sq m, with buildings about 7m wide
ranged along the the west, south and east sides. According to monastic custom,
the western range would have probably have contained the prior's apartments
and accommodation for guests above an undercroft used for storage, and the
canons' refectory would have been in the south range. The chapter house, where
the canons met daily to discuss the business of the priory, would have been in
the east range, centrally placed in relation to the cloister, with other
apartments to the south of it and the dorter (dormitory) above. The church was
evidently aligned east-west along the north side of the cloister. The
recorded parch marks reveal no details of the plan of the church, but it is
likely to have included an aisled nave, transepts to north and south of a
crossing on a line with the eastern claustral range, and a presbytery flanked
by chapels extending to the east of this. The south wall of Abbey Farmhouse
coincides with the probable line of either the north wall of the church or the
arcade which divided the nave from a north aisle.

The monastic precinct would also have contained domestic service buildings,
such as the bakehouse and brewery, as well as stables, barns and granaries.
Parch marks and traces of exposed masonry mark the position of one building
believed to be of monastic date, situated about 76m west of the claustral
complex. The foundations of another building, measuring about 40m in length
WSW-ENE and 6m in width, are visible approximately 76m to the south of this,
alongside the river. The map of 1655 shows a building close to this position,
but it appears to have been smaller, on a different alignment, and slightly
further to the west.

The earthwork which marks the western boundary of the precinct is a broad
linear depression around 15m wide and up to 1m deep which may be interpreted
as a hollow way or track running alongside the boundary itself. A ditch,
visible as a narrower depression about 0.3m deep runs eastward from the
northern end of this, corresponding to the southern boundary of a tenement
shown on the 17th century maps and probably delineating also the northern
boundary of the precinct where it diverges southward from the modern road.
Approximately 18m to the south of this are the remains of a second, parallel
ditch which forms the northern boundary of two roughly rectangular enclosures
divided by a slightly sinuous north-south ditch. The level of the eastern
enclosure is noticeably higher than that to the west, probably as the result
of deliberate terracing. At its southern end there is a sub-rectangular
depression over 1m in depth and measuring about 36m east-west by 9m, with the
remains of a bank along the southern side. This is thought to have been a
pond, probably constructed for the purpose of conserving fish stocks, and
another pond-like depression which extends eastwards from the ditch which
forms the eastern boundary of the enclosure was perhaps part of an
interconnected system. Further enclosures are indicated by the remains of
banks and ditches to the south and east.

The remains of rectilinear enclosures similarly divided by ditches and banks
can also be seen in the eastern part of the precinct, bounded on the north and
north east side by the remains of a bank running parallel to the road. Close
to this boundary and about 380m east of the site of the claustral complex, is
a well-defined, sub-rectangular platform about 0.5m high and measuring 28m
north-south by 10m which probably supported a building.

Monasteries required a constant and abundant supply of water for domestic
and agricultural use, and the systems constructed to control this supply
and to carry off foul water are generally an important feature of monastic
precincts. The principal drain would normally be sited so as to flow
beneath or alongside the rere dorter (latrine block) located at the end of
the eastern claustral range, and the kitchens located near the refectory.
The remains of such a drain and associated water management features are
probably represented by a broad, water filled channel which runs east-west
about 16m to the south of the site of the south claustral range, expanding
immediately west of the claustral complex into a long, irregular pond which
continues along the same alignment and issues into the stream through a short
channel with a sluice at the western end. A second, broader channel, extends
southward to the stream from near the eastern end of the pond. The pond is a
comparatively modern feature, resulting from successive modifications and
enlargement of earlier features which are depicted on an early 18th century
estate map and on the tithe map of 1838, but elements of those earlier
features survive within it. In place of what is now the western end of the
pond, the 18th century map shows a regular channel, of similar width to that
which still survives to the east of the pond, issuing into the stream, and the
southward projection near the eastern end of the modern pond is shown to have
been the western arm of a D-shaped, looping channel, the eastern end of which
was also connected to the stream. On the tithe map a narrower channel links
these two features, but only the western half of the loop is shown, now
expanded into an inverted L-shaped pond. The eastern end of the loop is still
visible, however, as a relatively dry depression 6m to 8m wide running
southward from the channel to the east of the pond, and about 46m to the east
of this there are remains of another, parallel ditch.

A pond to the east of the farm buildings is shown on both the 18th and 19th
century maps but is probably a post-medieval feature, although there is
evidence for an earlier channel or leat to north and south of it, leading
into the east-west drain. Beyond this, the earlier of the 17th century maps
indicates two rectangular features, probably fishponds, located about 85m east
of the modern farm buildings, in the area of what is now a quarry containing a
pond. The quarry is a comparatively modern feature, not shown on any of the
early maps. The pond, however, extends south of the quarry and then westward,
the western end being connected to the east-west drain by a sluice, and this
perhaps represents the remains of a leat which carried water from the
fishponds into the drainage system.

The area of medieval settlement adjoining the western boundary of the
monastic precinct is divided by an interconnected series of east-west and
north-south ditches, low scarps and banks into at least six rectangular
enclosures of varying size which have the appearance of tofts (homestead
enclosures)and associated crofts. Evidence for at least one building is
provided by a sub-rectangular platform about 0.5m in height situated
approximately 52m west of the hollow way along the precinct boundary, and 38m
north of the modern drain. The enclosures were evidently abandoned before the
end of the 16th century, as they are not shown on the early maps.

The 16th century great house which was built on the site of the monastery is
depicted on the earlier 17th century map in some detail. It was of open
E-plan, with a central block facing north onto an inner courtyard flanked by
wings to east and west. To the north of this was an outer court with a conical
roofed building, probably a dovecote, in the north west corner. Both inner and
outer court were entered by gabled gate houses, and it is possible that the
gatehouse of the outer court was that which had originally been the entrance
to the medieval priory. The inner and outer courts occupied the area of what
is now a garden to the north of the farmhouse, and foundations of what was
probably the east wing of the great house have been observed in digging
flowerbeds. The remains of what is believed to be part of the east wall of the
outer court stand about 7m to the east of the garden wall of the farmhouse,
running on a line southward from the modern road with sections of later
masonry to the south and north. This length of wall, measuring about 20m, is
constructed of flint and reused stone blocks, with evidence of later patching
and repairs and it is included in the scheduling.

By the time the map of 1655 was compiled this house had been largely
demolished, retaining only a portion of the main block as the southern end of
a new house which extended north into the area of what had been the inner
court. This building forms the eastern half of the present house, which was
extended westward and refaced in the early 19th century. Some faint parch
marks recorded within the area of the monastic cloister and to the west of it
may relate to other buildings shown on the mid-17th century map.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are; the
farmhouse and associated outbuildings, the later masonry north and south of
the surviving section of the east wall of the 16th century outer court, the
surface of driveways and yards, garden walls and furniture, the retaining wall
of a ha-ha around a lawn to the south of the farmhouse, inspection chambers,
sluices, fences and gates and a bird watchers' hide among trees to the east of
the house; the ground beneath these features is, however, included.

The quarry is 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. 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 Flitcham Priory include a variety of features which illustrate
the layout of the monastic precinct as a whole and which will contain
archaeological information concerning the history and organisation of the
priory and its function as the centre of a monastic estate. The buried remains
of the claustral complex and other buildings will retain evidence for their
original construction and their use during the medieval period. The
associated earthworks and archaeological deposits in the surrounding areas of
the precinct will provide information on the domestic and agricultural
activities and the economy which supported the religious life of the priory.
Organic materials, including artefacts and evidence for the local environment
in the past are also likely to be preserved in waterlogged deposts within
features in the lower lying parts of the site.

The remains of medieval settlement adjacent to the monastic precinct are of
particular interest in that they relate to the wider community of which the
priory was an important part.

Following the Dissolution and the acquisition of monastic estates by wealthy
laymen, great houses were sometimes built on the sites of monasteries, often
incorporating some part of the monastic buildings. Such houses were the
residences of high status households and many were notable for the high
quality of the architecture and the opulence of their furnishings. Some
details of the 16th century great house which was built on the site of
Flitcham Priory are documented in an early 17th century map, on which it is
depicted in a perspective drawing, and a small part of it is known to be
incorporated in the later farmhouse. Other remains of it are known or believed
to survive beneath the house and gardens and will provide further information
relating to its construction, history and architecture.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Blomefield, F, An Essay towards a Topographical History of Norfolk , (1808), 413
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906)
copy in Norfolk SMR 3492, Cross, E, Proposal to alter drainage pattern ...of meadows at Abbey Farm, (1999)
Cushion, B, Flitcham SMR 3492, (1994)
Edwards, D, TF 7326/R, TF3726/S, TF3726/U, (1989)
NRO Ref. MS 4293, Description of Flitcham.. parcell of ye Possessions of John Coke, (1655)
NRO Ref. MS 4293, Description of Flitcham.. parcell of ye Possessions of John Coke, (1655)
Title: Flitcham Tithe Map
Source Date: 1838
NRO ref. DN/TA 166
Title: Map of Flitcham (untitled)
Source Date: 1600
NRO Ref. MS 4290 M7/1
Title: Map of Flitcham (untitled)
Source Date: 1600
NRO Ref. MS 4290/1
Title: Map of the Manor of Flitcham
Source Date: 1728
NRO ref. MS 4295

Source: Historic England

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