Bromholm Priory


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Statutory Address:
Abbey Farm, Bacton, Norfolk, NR12 0HA


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Statutory Address:
Abbey Farm, Bacton, Norfolk, NR12 0HA

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
North Norfolk (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Upstanding and buried remains of a Cluniac priory founded in 1113.

Reasons for Designation

Bromholm Priory, a Cluniac priory founded in 1113, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Rarity: Cluniac houses are relatively rare, with some forty-four houses known in England, and Bromholm Priory was one of three principal priories of the order established in Norfolk;

* Survival: for the standing, buried and earthwork remains which depict the form, plan and architectural detail of the priory;

* Potential: for the stratified archaeological deposits which retain considerable potential to increase our understanding of the physical characteristics of the buildings. Buried artefacts and sediments will also have the potential to increase our knowledge of the social and economic functioning of the Cluniac community within the wider medieval landscape;

* Diversity: for the range and complexity of features such as the church, dormitory, gatehouses and precinct wall which, taken as a whole, provide a plan of the priory and retain significant stratified deposits which provide details of the evolution of the monastic site;

* Architectural importance: the north transept and chapterhouse, which retain some architectural detailing, demonstrate medieval masonry and craftsmanship of a high order as well as the increasing wealth and status of the priory after it became a prominent place of pilgrimage;

* Historic importance: the fortifications, namely the pillbox, gun emplacement, loopholed wall and spigot mortar bases, are distinctive features of the post-dissolution history of Bromholm Priory when it became fortified against invasion in the early years of World War Two, and collectively represent a significant phase in its evolution;

* Group value: for the strong group value with the Grade I listed priory ruins, the Grade II* listed north gatehouse and the Grade II listed pillbox.


Bromholm Priory was founded by William de Glanville in 1113 as a Cluniac priory dedicated to St Andrew. It was initially subordinate to the Cluniac House at Castle Acre in Norfolk but was emancipated from its control in 1298. Cluniac monasticism originated in the year 910 with the foundation of the abbey of Cluny in Burgundy. The lives of the monks were governed by a set of rules or customs based on the Rule of St Benedict but modified to permit a closer prescription of the daily routine of monastic observance. Cluniac monks did not participate in conventional manual labour, instead considering work such as the copying of manuscripts to fulfil the work requirement of the Benedictine Rule. Thirty-three new Cluniac priories of varying size were founded in England and Wales, beginning with the foundation of Lewes Priory, Sussex, in 1077. This constituted the largest number of Cluniac foundations in any country outside France.

The rise of Bromholm Priory from a provincial monastery to a national pilgrimage site was due to its acquisition of a fragment of the True Cross. The relic was reputedly acquired from an English chaplain who fled the sack of Constantinople in 1204. In the account given by the Benedictine monk and chronicler Matthew Paris (c.1200-59), the priest offered the relic to several monasteries in return that he and his two sons be received as brethren but he was disbelieved until he arrived at Bromholm. Matthew Paris describes it as being at that time ‘very poor, and altogether destitute of buildings’. Miracles were said to take place at Bromholm and pilgrimage was first recorded in 1223. The shrine became a fashionable venue in the early years having been patronised by Henry III and Edward II, and it remained popular with pilgrims until the Dissolution of 1536. The relic at Bromholm was mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Langland’s Vision of Piers Plowman, showing that it had gained a place in national consciousness.

According to Henry Harrod FSA, the original building at Bromholm was very small and no portion of it remains (Gleanings Among the Castles and Convents of Norfolk, 1857, p. 220). The oldest building to survive is the remains of the north transept which dates to the late C12. Early in the C13 the priory was considerably enlarged as a result of the acquisition of the relic. Harrod produced a plan of its layout in 1854 that incorporates a plan made by Mr Spurdens in 1822 depicting the foundations when they were much more distinct. This shows that Bromholm had a typical Cluniac layout, very similar to that at Castle Acre Priory. At the north end is the priory church with the tower flanked by north and south transepts, and the choir at the east end with north and south aisles. To the south of the south transept there is a slype (a covered passageway) and then the chapterhouse. Adjoining the chapterhouse on the south side is the dormitory, and on the west side is the cloister. The refectory is parallel to the cloister on its south side. Spurden marked an enclosure to the east of the chapterhouse and thought it was the cemetery. This is likely as the cemetery is in this position at Castle Acre, and in 1935 a stone coffin containing a skeleton was found nearby in the east field. The main entrances were through the north and west gatehouses which both date to the C15.

In 1298 there were 25 brethren at Bromholm but this number was reduced to 18 by the time of a visitation in 1390. There were five masses celebrated daily, three were sung and two were said throughout. The Paston family were great patrons of Bromholm Priory. Paston Hall was about a mile away. When, in 1466 Sir John Paston died in London, his body was brought to Bromholm for burial and everything connected with his obsequies was carried out on a sumptuous scale. According to Harrod, he was buried at the east end of the church, either in the north or south aisle of the choir. Bromholm was dissolved in 1536 and its yearly value estimated at £109 0s. 8d. The following year Robert Southwell, solicitor to the Court of Augmentation, was granted by royal warrant Bromholm Priory with all its manors, lands, advowsons, and pensions. He wrote to Thomas Cromwell saying that he had delivered the cross of Bromholm to the late prior of Pentney.

Little is known of the post-dissolution history of the priory. Finds of Elizabethan and later coins which are concentrated north of the priory church and west of the trackway to the main gatehouse indicate commercial use of the site, possibly the continuation of a market. Any use of the old priory appears to have quickly decreased in the early C17, after which it became a farm. Some of the farm buildings were built on the foundations of priory buildings and others incorporate reused material. By the time of Buck’s View of 1738 the priory buildings had become ruinous. The north transept was used as a dovecote and is depicted with a pyramidal roof surmounted by a lantern. The east window in the chapter house still remained at this date, as did part of the west end of the church as high as the clerestory. In 1834 the priory was being used as ‘a quarry for agricultural buildings and edifices’ by Col. Wodehouse (Woodward, S., Correspondence vol. II folio 67v, 1834, p. 59). The Tithe Apportionment of 1845 makes it clear that most of the monastic precinct was under full cultivation. When Henry Harrod visited in 1854, he saw the corn waving high over the position of the altar. He described the south side of the north transept, which originally opened into the main body of the church, as being bricked up, along with most of the windows, and wooden floors put in. The transept was used as storage for agricultural implements and wood, and the lower part was appropriated for a cart-shed (p. 220).

Given the priory’s proximity to the coast, it was heavily fortified during the Second World War. A gun emplacement was built into the ruin of the north transept and a pillbox was built at the north end of the garden to Abbey Farmhouse. A loopholed wall was built to the north of the farmhouse and various spigot mortar bases established around the site. Sections of the priory have collapsed since the 1960s, notably the window at the east end of the south wall of the chapter house and the arch in the east wall of the chapterhouse. More of the dormitory also remained, at least as rough masonry, with walls extending to their original two-storey height in some places and one particularly well preserved window. The priory precinct is currently under arable cultivation.

A structured and methodical survey of the precinct has been undertaken using fieldwalking and metal detecting to recover finds from the ploughsoil (Tim Pestell, ‘Using Material Culture to Define Holy Space: the Bromholm Project, 2005). Historical maps and aerial photographs have been analysed as part of the National Mapping Project (NMP), revealing numerous cropmarks believed to pertain to buried building foundations, roadways, fishponds and field systems (English Heritage 2005a). In 2005-6 geophysical surveys were conducted over most of the original precinct which has furthered the knowledge of the buried archaeology and provided comparison with the material culture patterns so far deduced.


Bromholm Priory, founded in 1113, survives as upstanding and buried remains. It is situated in low-lying countryside about 0.30 miles south-west of the sea, and occupies a knoll or ‘holm’ at a height of just above 10m OD with a shallow valley to its south-west. The 28 acre precinct (of which only part is scheduled) is vaguely heart-shaped.


The monument includes the upstanding remains and buried archaeological deposits associated with the priory. These include the Grade I listed ruins of the church, chapter house and dormitory; the Grade II* listed north gatehouse including a length of the precinct wall; the Grade II listed pillbox, and part of the precinct.

The precinct boundary has been partially retained in modern field boundaries. It is defined by a length of the precinct wall extending eastwards from the north gatehouse, parallel to Back Lane. The wall is constructed of flint and survives in places to a height of c2m. Along the eastern boundary, some low level flint walling survives within the bank, otherwise the precinct wall survives as a well-defined earthwork except where it has been breached c200m south of the north-east corner by a track to the farm. South of the breach a section of flint wall stands c1.7m high but appears to be post-medieval. The southern boundary of the monument runs from 30m south of the breach and then westwards from the corner of the agricultural building to 90m south of the L-shaped drain (near the west gate house). The precinct is bounded on the west by a drain and the west gatehouse, and on the north by a brick wall south of Walcott Road which turns south along Abbey Street to the north gatehouse.

The north and west gatehouses formed the main entrances into the precinct and both date to the C15. The north gatehouse is constructed of flint with ashlar dressings and handmade red brick dressings to some arched openings. It was originally two bays deep with two four-centred arches of which only the inner (north) one remains. This has ashlar piers with lesenes but only the upper part of the lesene on the right survives. The arch has three moulded orders and the spandrels have flushwork consisting of a heraldic shield and trefoils. On its south side, the arch is chamfered and is edged with brick. All that remains of the outer (south) arch is the right pier and a small section of the arch ring. On the south side facing into the precinct, the gatehouse is faced with knapped and squared flint.

To the east and west there were originally two-storey chambers. The walls of the west chamber mostly survive to the height of the archway except for the west wall which has been reduced to about one metre at the northern end. The west wall contains an opening that was probably a fireplace. The south wall has a buttress on the west corner and two depressed pointed arch openings of red brick, and on the east wall there is an opening with ashlar quoins which must have been an entrance. In the east chamber, the south wall survives to the height of the archway and has two depressed pointed arch openings of red brick. The west archway has been heightened, and both are blocked. A section of the west and north walls survive roughly to the height of the springing point of the main archway. The gatehouse is overgrown with vegetation. The west gatehouse survives only as two lumps of flint, one standing at approximately 2m and the other 3m, both overgrown.

The C12 and C13 ruins of the priory are located just north-east of the centre of the precinct and occupy a natural raised terrace. They are constructed of coursed flint with ashlar dressings and handmade red brick dressings to some arched openings. The remains of the priory church consist of the north transept, a fragment of the west wall of the south transept, and a stretch of the south aisle wall. Further south is the south wall of the south transept which also forms the north wall of the chapter house. Adjoining this on the south side is the dormitory of which the east and south walls partially remain. Of the south-west claustral buildings, only the east wall of the refectory survives.

The most substantial fragment of the priory is the north transept. On the north elevation it has flat buttresses, three tall, plain, round-arched upper windows, and a small central doorway which has two chamfered orders, the inner one supported by shafts with foliate capitals. At the north-east corner is the remains of a winder staircase. The east elevation has a large opening with a shallow pointed arch and responds with decorated scallops. It would probably have originally led from the transept to the side chapel. On the right of this is part of the north wall of the choir which cuts across an upper opening in the transept and is therefore probably later in date. On the upper face of the wall are the shafts of a window opening. The west elevation is unrelieved by any openings. On its south corner is the lower section of the arch that would have spanned the north aisle. The south side, which would have originally opened into the body of the church, has been later infilled with flint and red brick, possibly in the C18 when the north transept was used as a dovecote. On the right there is an opening with brick sides and a segmental arch. To the left of this is a small ogee arch which must have been repositioned from elsewhere in the priory. There is flint rubble and sections of moulded stone lying at the foot of the transept.

Inside the transept there is an intermediate concrete floor which was laid to provide a gun emplacement in case of invasion during World War Two. Splayed gunloops pierce the walls. More architectural detailing survives internally and is of the Transitional period. The west wall has two sets of paired round arched openings, one above the other, the lower pair of which is more elaborate and probably later. All these openings are infilled with flint. On the opposite side, the east wall has a large pointed opening with two orders, and paired shafts supporting the responds. Above, there is a pair of openings which retain the outer part of the moulded arches and a central shaft. The north wall retains more detailing than the others. It is divided into three by double-height shafts. The lower part consists of two pairs of pointed arches at either end forming short sections of blank arcading. The western pair is more severely pointed and has foliated capitals. The eastern pair has coiling volutes. Above, the clerestory has three elaborately moulded round arched openings which have flanking pairs of shafts with foliated capitals. There is an ambulatory at this level. The south wall has two wide arched openings, constructed of brick, which may have been added after 1500 in order to strengthen the structure.

To the south of the north transept there are two lumps of flint rubble (overgrown) which may possibly have been piers in the church. To the south of these is a short stretch of coursed flint wall, about one metre high, which formed part of the west wall of the south transept. Only a portion of the south wall of the nave survives. This shows the remnants of a C12 pier and, to the left of this, there is a later opening, now blocked, which has a pointed arch of red brick. The outer (south) face has been partly covered in concrete render which, together with some fragments of reinforced concrete on the ground, indicate that a structure was erected against the wall, probably during World War Two.

In terms of architectural detailing, the Early English chapterhouse is the second most significant portion of the priory ruins. It has tall blank arcading on the north and south walls with moulded arches springing from plain round capitals. Six arches survive on the north wall, followed by a wider splayed window opening; whilst only four arches remain on the south wall. The east wall was rebuilt at a later date as early drawings show it with a large single opening with a depressed arch. This has now gone and only a section of the wall at the northern end still stands.

The east wall of the dormitory, which extends from the south side of the chapterhouse, survives in some parts to almost two storeys. At the northern end there is an opening without any dressings, and above there is a plain pointed arch window. A further section to the south retains the opening for a hearth with some herringbone brickwork at the back. The south wall of the dormitory has a pointed arch recess and in the south-west corner there is a small portion of the vaulting that would have supported the first floor. On the west side of the dormitory is a substantial section of coursed flint wall that formed part of the east end of the refectory. To the east there is a spigot mortar pedestal, located at approximately TG 34755 33225.

Any remains of the cloister lie beneath the current farm yard surfaces and barn floors. Some of the farm buildings, which date to the C18 and C19 centuries, appear to incorporate the medieval walls of some former priory buildings, and others may have been built using salvaged medieval fabric. The farmhouse was also built on the terrace and its garden to the south is c1m above the surrounding ground level. This may in part be due to the natural slope of the ground but does also suggest a depth of archaeological deposits some of which are evident as slight earthworks within the garden. At the south-west corner of the garden is a World War II Type 22 pillbox camouflaged with a facing of flint with red brick dressings. On the west side of the pillbox is the base of a spigot mortar which has been displaced as it would normally be in a pit and surrounded by ammunition lockers.

The precinct has long been under arable cultivation which has established a deep plough soil. Although any earthworks have therefore been destroyed, the analysis of the cropmarks visible on aerial photographs as part of the National Mapping Programme, a geophysical survey, fieldwalking and metal detecting, has provided considerable evidence of the layout and use of the priory site, including former buildings, enclosures, ditches and walls. The combination of structural and artefactual evidence provides a clear indication of the architectural potential of the precinct. To the north of the standing priory remains cropmarks of linear ditches, possible walls, and pits have been recorded. A 4m linear cropmark located at TG 34740 33275 is thought to represent part of the north wall of the nave while another to the west of this is understood to represent the west wall. To the east of the priory remains linear cropmarks and earth resistance anomalies probably relate to further buried wall foundations. To the east of the chapter house a cropmark is thought to correspond to the cemetery identified in Mr Spurden’s plan of 1822. Further to the east a concentration of medieval book bosses and clasps have been recorded following the fieldwalking survey, leading to the interpretation that this area represents the site of a former building related to the use of books. To the south-west of this area positive magnetic anomalies indicate metal working activity. Coins and medieval unglazed ware sherds have also been found in the east field.

To the west of the priory ruins are cropmarks representing possible buried wall foundations, including three sides of a rectangular enclosure centred at TG 34635 33295. An artefact scatter including a concentration of horse furniture has been found in this area leading to the interpretation that this is the site of stables. Around the west gatehouse positive magnetic anomalies have been recorded and in the same area unglazed medieval pottery sherds recovered during the fieldwalking survey. The combined evidence has led to the interpretation that this was a kitchen area for visiting pilgrims. Further to the north two broad bands of raised magnetic readings, located approximately at TG 34638 33345, are perhaps geomorphological in origin but could relate to a former boundary or other archaeological feature. The track leading from the north gatehouse to the farmstead is medieval in origin. Coins minted during the lifetime of the priory have been found on the west side of the track, and post-medieval coins have been found on either side of the track, indicating that this area of the precinct was the site of a market or other trading area. To the north-west of the track linear cropmarks on a roughly west to east alignment between TG 34620 33385 and TG 34680 33372 follow the line of the north wall of the priory precinct and could well represent the eastwards continuation of the original precinct wall. In the northern corner of the area under assessment, collections of anomalies are suggestive of a former structure.

In addition to the two pillboxes, other World War Two defences in the precinct include a spigot mortar base to the east of the north transept, and just north of the farmhouse a loopholed wall with gun emplacements below the ground and sealed over with concrete, located at TG 34659 33240.


A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are Abbey Farmhouse, Abbey Bungalow, all associated farm buildings and outbuildings, all surfaces of drives, garden paths and yards, paving, concrete surfaces, garden and other walls (except those of medieval origin), fences and gates. The ground beneath all these features is, however, included.

There is considerable potential for undesignated (but potentially nationally important) remains to survive outside the scheduled area, particularly in the southern part of the precinct.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
NF 169
Legacy System:


Books and journals
The Religious Houses of Norfolk: A History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, , (1906), 359-363
Coppack, G, Abbeys and Priories, (2009)
Harrod, Henry, Gleanings Among Castles and Covents of Norfolk, (1857)
Pevsner, N, Wilson, B, The Buildings of England: Norfolk: 1 Norwich and North-East, (2002)
Pestell, T, 'Using Material Culture to Define Holy Space: the Bromholm Project' in Spicer, S, Hamilton, S, Defining the Holy and Sacred Space in Medieval and Early Modern Europe , (2005), 161-186
Pestell, T, 'New Surveys at Bromholm Priory' in Church Archaeology, , Vol. 4, (2000), 52-54
Louise Martin, Bromholm Priory, Norfolk: Report on Geophysical Surveys, November 2005 and March 2006 (English Heritage Research Department Report Series no. 83-2010
Norfolk Historic Environment Record 1073 including National Mapping Programme (2005)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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