Augustinian Priory of the Order of Peterstone founded in the early C13 by Margaret de Cressy, her daughter-in-law Isabel de Rye is also credited with the foundation.
Reasons for Designation
Beeston Regis Priory, an Augustinian Priory of the Order of Peterstone founded in the early C13 by Margaret de Cressy or her daughter-in-law Isabel de Rye, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity: although some 225 Augustinian houses are known in England the Order of Peterstone is very localised, with Beeston Regis being one of only four known examples;
* 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 Augustinian community within the wider medieval landscape;
* Diversity: for the range and complexity of features such as the church, gatehouse, cloister, ponds, priors lodgings 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 standing remains of the church, which retain some architectural detailing, demonstrate medieval masonry and craftsmanship, and incorporate very early use of brick;
* Group value: for the strong group value with the Grade I listed priory ruins and the Grade II listed Abbey Farmhouse.
Beeston Regis Priory was founded in the early years of the C13, although there is some debate around the identity of the founder. The prior, in a plea of Quo Warranto dated 1284, quotes Margaret de Cressy as the foundress, but her daughter-in-law Isabel de Rye is credited with the foundation by Blomefield. It is quite possible that both were responsible in part for supporting the monastery in its early days. The foundation is thought to date to 1216 and this accords well with the architectural detailing. It belonged to what has been described as a local congregation known as the Order of Peterstone, not coming under the Augustinian general chapter. The small houses belonging to this local group were Peterstone itself (Burnham Overy), Great Massingham, Weybridge (Acle) and Beeston. Beeston being a small priory of Austin Canons differs from others in so far as it supplemented its income by providing accommodation for travellers. The four houses belonging to this order were in the same region, each house having no more than 5 canons and it may have been advantageous for them to join forces over certain activities.
The number of Canons at Beeston varied between two in 1494 and six in 1520, and was undoubtedly small in relation to some other Augustinian houses. The church did not have a parochial status as well as monastic, but the canons were clearly not the only inhabitants of the convent. Accommodation had to be provided for the many servants, and possibly farm workers, as well as for guests and travellers. The size of the foundation is in accordance with the requirement for a community of 5 canons.
Various documents dating from C13 - C16 give snap-shots of life at the Priory: in 1291 it was inspected for tax and was recorded as having an annual value of £25 5s; 10 ¼ d for its possession in Norfolk and £2 10s 10 ½ d for those in Suffolk. In 1317 it is documented that a Canon at the priory, John de Walsam, attacked the Bishop with a sword, a matter which was referred to Pope John XXII, and de Walsam was sent to Rome. The Bishop recovered and de Walsam was absolved, but the Pope instructed the Bishop to arrange for him to perform penance. On 25th August 1494 the priory was visited by James Goldwell, Bishop of Norwich. The visit revealed that, although there were other priests present, the prior John Poty was the only canon as the other, Thomas Taverner, had ‘gone absent without leave’ and the Bishop instructed Prior Poty to find two new canons as soon as possible. On 18th July 1514 the priory was again visited this time by Richard Nykke, Bishop of Norwich. Canon Thomas Taverner was again absent without leave, but was thought to be in Norwich. The other canons were listed as Canon Nicholas Wodforth, Canon Robins, Canon Daume and Canon Rump. This visit revealed potential financial impropriety as the prior could not produce the priory’s accounts. Other concerns were that the school wasn’t operational and that Matins were not being conducted at the correct time. Bishop Nyyke visited again in August 1532, on the election of Prior Richard Hudson and found all the accounts and affairs of the priory to be in order.
In 1535 the Valor Ecclesiasticus lists the priory as having an income of £43 2s. 4 ¾ d. and debts of £20. At this time the priory was recorded as being in good repair and was home to the Prior and three Canons, six boys (boarding at the school) and seven servants. The lead and bells at the priory were valued at £60, more than the annual income of the establishment. The priory avoided immediate suppression when Prior Richard Hudson and his four canons, Nicholas Wodforth, William Wusbarow, James Fysser and Robert Swyer accepted Henry VIII’s supremacy over the church, but the Priory was finally dissolved in 1538, at which time prior Hudson was awarded an annual pension of £5, of which he was still in receipt in 1553.
A detailed building analysis and architectural history of the church has been produced by Stephen Heywood (1989). The depth of detail and explanation will not be replicated here but is summarised to give an overview of the site. The church was built in flint with Limestone ashlar dressings although much of the Limestone has been removed. Three different techniques of flint construction have been identified and interpreted as three building phases; the earliest parts of the building, to the east and south, are in broken flints with galletting of flint and limestone chips whilst the western and northern parts are in large coursed whole flints. A short intermediate phase uses small flints without galletting. The earliest phase includes the construction of the chancel, the first phase of the north-east chapel, the south transept, the south wall of the nave, the remains of the cloister walls, the north transept up to the level of the north window, to the same height on the west wall and half the length of the north wall of the porticus. The second phase is associated entirely with the construction of the porticus. Work then ceased for an indeterminate number of months or years. The Chancel, the eastern aisles and the first phase of the north-east chapel were complete whilst the transepts were unfinished and open to the skies. During the third phase of work, the south and east walls of the porticus were built and the roof of the porticus realigned. The third phase also included the north and west walls of the nave, the upper parts of the north transept, the heightening of the north-east chapel and the blocking of the south crossing arch.
Associated with the earlier phase of masonry is the use of brick. The lower sections of all the internal quoins including those formed of angel buttresses, are of brick. Similar bricks also indicate the position of the former south transept arcade. It has been suggested the bricks have been imported from the Low Countries or north Germany possibly as ballast in ships returning to the north Norfolk coast. They represent a very early use of bricks preceded only by Little Coggeshall priory in Essex.
Late-medieval alterations to the church include the construction of a stair turret around the south-east crossing pier, although this collapsed in 1903 and only the base survives. Its position implies the whole of the south transept was completely demolished except for the wall bordering the cloister and chapter house and that the south crossing arch and aisle entrance were blocked. Only a narrow section of the late-medieval blocking survives, the opening having been replaced in modern times with a semi-circular brick and stone archway. Another late-medieval alteration was the heightening of the north-east chapel. The windows in the north wall of the chapel were also heightened and provided with Y tracery, suggesting a C14 date for these alterations. Given that the nave is contemporary, it is believed that the building of the priory church was drawing to a close during the early years of the C15. The perpendicular tracery in the west window corresponds with this date.
Less is known of the post Dissolution history of the site but following the Dissolution much of the limestone ashlar dressings were robbed out, while the rest of the structure survived virtually intact, suggesting it was reused, possibly as a farm building. In the early C19 the fashion for romantic ruins possibly explains a number of alterations, including the rebuilding of the central section of the façade incorporating a brick arch and re-establishing the west window. Several C19 drawings, engravings and photographs survive which indicate that is was a well-known beauty spot.
Abbey Farmhouse, the first phase of which is understood to have served as the Prior lodgings, stood empty and derelict for many years and the church ruins were totally overgrown when Norfolk County Council bought the site in 1983 and subsequently acquired the ruins. The farmhouse was restored under the supervision of the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust and Norfolk County Council became the guardian of the ruins. A programme of conservative repair included the removal of ivy and the consolidation of the flint masonry.
In 1984 the cloister and chapter house were excavated in advance of being landscaped and incorporated into the garden of Abbey Farmhouse, and the standing remains of the priory were surveyed and recorded. The excavation (Davies 1989) established the positions of the cloister walks, uncovered the footings of the same range and recorded the size of the chapter house.
The remains of Beeston Regis Priory are both listed Grade I (NHLE 1373641) and scheduled (NHLE 1004021). Abbey Farmhouse was listed in 1952 at Grade II (NHLE 1049522).
Beeston Regis Priory is situated in a low lying area to the east of the town of Sheringham, bounded by the North Norfolk Railway (Poppy Line) to the north, Cromer Road to the south (although a small area of the precinct lies to the south of the Cromer Road), Beeston Common to the west and fields to the east. The priory survives as a series of standing and buried remains; the standing remains being roughly central to the area under assessment. The ruins of the church are considerable in scale; the chancel, north transept and north and west sides of the nave survive almost to full height, only the east wall of the south transept and the north-east crossing pier are not evident above ground. The plan of the church provides evidence of an aisleless nave, a regular crossing of which one originally freestanding pier survives, a north transept with an eastern aisle and one projecting square-ended chapel and a large square-ended chancel. In the angle between the north transept and the nave is a rectangular porticus accessible from both the nave and the transept. Although the south transept is less visible above ground, the architectural detailing of the standing fabric indicates the original south transept was in most respects similar to that to the north. Both transepts had eastern aisles although there is no visible sign of a chapel having projected from the south-east aisle, as in the case of the north transept, but there is significant archaeological potential for below ground remains here.
Part of the cloister and the chapter house were excavated in 1984 (Davies 1989) which established the positions of the cloister walks and uncovered the footings of the same range. The size of the chapter house was also established. The cloister area now lies in the garden of Abbey Farmhouse and measures approximately 30m by 20m. A farm building to the east and a wall to the west now join the cloister to the farmhouse. A small, square, flint and brick shed, with pantiled roof and an entrance to the west has been constructed in the north-west corner of the cloister. The cloister walls within the existing walled garden have mainly been removed, although the footprint of these are exposed in many cases and fragments of standing fabric within the existing walls are evident. The potential for significant archaeological deposits to survive beneath the ground is extremely high.
Archaeological evidence beyond the church and cloister is both extensive and diverse in terms of its form. The earliest phase of Abbey Farmhouse is believed to be one of the priory buildings possibly the prior’s lodging, and one of several buildings within the precinct which would have served the priory. In addition, a building towards the southern edge of the scheduled area, on the east side of the current (2017) drive can be seen on aerial photographs. The late-medieval barn, believed to be one of the priory outbuildings, was demolished in 1981 but the footprint is evident in the terracing of the front garden of a second barn, now converted to a dwelling, known as Priory Farm. On the western boundary of the priory complex, adjacent to a field boundary and what is understood to be the precinct boundary, is the site of the gatehouse, currently visible as a small terraced area within the grounds of Priory Maze and Gardens with evidence of stone rubble exposed on the surface. This controlled access to the complex from the west and is understood to lie at the western end of a roadway or driveway running east to west towards the priory church. South of this driveway, further earthworks are visible in areas of lawn to the south of landscaped ponds and gardens, some of which appear to form enclosures or the earthwork remains of structures. The precinct boundary on the western side takes the form of a bank up to 1.5m high and 1.25m wide with an inner ditch approximately 1.5m wide. Flint and stone rubble is evident in eroded patches along its length. The boundary bank extends south of the Cromer Road, curving around to the east following the northern edge of a lay-by track (formerly the line of the road), eventually linking back with the Cromer Road directly opposite the entrance to the Priory Maze and Gardens. This stretch of the bank and ditch is exposed in sections, displaying a mortared, cut-flint wall standing up to 1m in height with an inner ditch c1.5m wide. It is unclear where the line of the precinct boundary runs around the south-east corner and east side of the priory complex but this may have been lost to post-medieval changes in land use.
The priory church ruins and Abbey Farmhouse are bounded around the north-east corner and east side by two ponds which are interlinked by a narrow channel and a sluice. These are understood to be part of the original priory complex, and fishponds are generally common on such sites, providing a vital food source. Water lain organic silts, identified during the excavation of a drainage trench along the eastern garden wall of Abbey Farmhouse, mark the site of a third pond lying south of the farmhouse and have potential to preserve significant organic artefacts within waterlogged deposits.
There are further earthworks in the surrounding fields including possible ridge and furrow, banks and ditches and some apparent enclosures, including possible building platforms. The ridge and furrow, centred at NGR TG1681 4290, covers an area of approximately 75m by 30m. The largest linear ditch appears to run up to the northern pond and is thought to represent a hollow way or track, which may predate the pond and therefore the priory too. Alternatively the track may represent an eastern entrance route.
Priory Maze and Gardens has been established in the western half of the precinct, between the church and the precinct wall and gatehouse. The landscaped gardens incorporate some of the earthworks, previously identified through aerial photographs. Two ponds are situated between Abbey Farm and Priory Maze but these are not shown on earlier Ordnance Survey maps and are therefore of relatively recent date, having been created from the natural spring fed stream which runs through the precinct. Planting of trees within the Priory Maze and Gardens may have caused limited root damage to the monument in these areas but earthworks are still evident. The café associated with the gardens is a timber structure sitting on a concrete base, the construction of which will have had minimal impact on the buried archaeology. Tarmacked areas of the car park, paths and sales areas will again have required minimal disturbance to the below ground archaeological deposits.
EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: along the east and south-east boundary, crossing the Cromer Road to the south, the area of protection includes a 10m buffer between the field boundary (and earthwork remains of the precinct wall) and the edge of the monument which was felt necessary for the support and preservation of the archaeological remains. North of the Cromer Road the line follows the northern edge of the road before turning north again 10m east of the field boundary fence marking the eastern edge of the property known as Abbey Farm and Priory Farm. It continues 10m east and then south of field boundaries. The area north and north-east of the priory ruins is included to incorporate the earthwork and buried archaeological features identified from aerial photographs during the National Mapping Programme (NMP). Along the extreme north-eastern edge the line follows a field boundary; along the northern edge it runs across the field before turning south to meet the southern edge of the track leading to the Priory ruins. The scheduling does not include the property known as Priory Pebbles.
EXCLUSIONS: within the area of protection all modern field boundary fences, path and road surfaces, hard standings, drain covers, signage, Priory Maze and Gardens Café, Abbey Farmhouse, Priory Farm, Priory Cottage and Granary Cottage, are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is included.