Ruins and site of Walsingham Priory


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Walsingham Priory, between the High Street, Holt Road and Church Street

NGR South: TF9344836547 North-west: TF939936859 North-east: TF9361236837
Statutory Address:
Walsingham Abbey, Walsingham, Norfolk


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Statutory Address:
Walsingham Abbey, Walsingham, Norfolk

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

Location Description:
Walsingham Priory, between the High Street, Holt Road and Church Street

NGR South: TF9344836547 North-west: TF939936859 North-east: TF9361236837
North Norfolk (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


The buried and upstanding remains of Walsingham Priory, a house of Augustinian Canons founded in the mid-C12, including the priory church, the Chapel of the Holy House, which enclosed the shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham, as well as the claustral ranges, service buildings and other features relating to the priory within the area of the inner precinct, with the exception of surviving elements incorporated into the house known as The Abbey.

Reasons for Designation

Walsingham Priory, a house of Augustinian Canons founded in the mid-C12, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: the survival of the plan of claustral ranges has been demonstrated by excavation. Significant elements of medieval fabric also survive, including the east end of the church, piers of the west tower and part of the refectory range; * Potential: both upstanding remains of priory buildings and stratified archaeological deposits will inform our understanding of the development of the priory, its plan and architectural detail. Structural remains and artefacts relating to the life of priory over nearly 400 years, as well as post-monastic finds, will provide valuable evidence for domestic and economic activity during monastic and post-monastic occupation. Organic material may also be preserved, with the potential for evidence of environment and land management within the precinct; * Documentation: as home to a popular site of pilgrimage patronised by kings, the priory is well documented historically, providing evidence of its economy and dissolution, as well as its post-dissolution history. Its archaeological documentation is reasonable, allowing a reconstruction of the plan of the church and cloisters, and confirming the survival of the chapel housing the shrine, and its relationship with the church; * Diversity: a diverse range of architectural features surviving both as upstanding and buried remains. Excavation has demonstrated that archaeological evidence of a full range of monastic structures will remain in situ; * Group value: there is a close relationship between the scheduling and other designated buildings and structures around the periphery of the precinct, including buildings which may contain medieval fabric contemporary with the later phases of the monastery. These are occupied and not included in the scheduling.


From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in Britain in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important part of both secular and religious life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities were built to house monks, canons, and sometimes lay brothers, living a communal life under some form of systematic discipline. The Augustinian Canons, an order of regular (as opposed to secular) canons following the Rule of St Augustine, has its origins in the great monastic revival of the late C11, its aim being to combine the orderly life of a religious community with the work of secular clergy. Until the adoption of the Augustinian rule by houses of regular canons in the early C12, all monastic houses in England followed the Rule of St Benedict, their distribution limited mainly to towns and the lowland zone south of the Wash, allowing a great deal of scope for expansion of new orders into more remote and inaccessible areas, where the Augustinians became pioneers.

Walsingham Priory was founded in the mid-C12, close to an existing shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The date of the shrine's founding is given as 1061, but it was probably re-established after the Norman Conquest by Richeldis de Favraches. After her death the shrine passed to her son Geoffrey, and in about 1169 it was granted, with all its appurtenances, to the Augustinian Canons at Walsingham. The canons retained the small chapel without alteration, which suggests that the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham already had an established reputation, although its popularity as a place of pilgrimage only grew in the reign of Henry III, a devoted visitor. As a result of its subsequent success in attracting pilgrims, the priory became the largest house of the order in Norfolk and, at the time of its dissolution, the tenth richest in England and Wales. Its endowments included gifts from regal and noble pilgrims in the form of lands, rents and churches. Edward I, who was a frequent visitor, died here, and both Henry VII and Henry VIII were pilgrims and donors, as was Cardinal Wolsey, who in 1528 granted the priory of Fitcham to Walsingham; in return, the Prior promised to have mass celebrated for Wolsey daily. This close relationship did not, however, save the priory from suppression, a process that was mired in accusations of participation in conspiracy against the suppression of the monasteries, resulting in the execution of the accused conspirators, including the Sub-Prior, Nicholas Mileham. Prior Vowell, however, was compliant, and ultimately rewarded with a pension of £100, having surrendered the priory to the commissioners in August of 1538. The number of canons at the time of the Dissolution was 22, the numbers having remained fairly consistent since 1377, when 20 were recorded.

Immediately after its dissolution the site was acquired by Thomas Sidney, master of the hospital of Little Walsingham, for the sum of £90. In the mid-C17 it was held by the Earl of Leicester, who sold it in 1650, and in 1666 it was sold on to John Warner, Bishop of Rochester. His family owned it in 1720 when the mansion was built, incorporating elements of the monastic buildings, and they would also have been responsible for the substantial rebuilding in 1806. In 1922 the estate was bought by Sir Eustace Gurney. The park seems to have undergone several phases of redesign, including, in the early C19, excavation to widen the River Stiffkey in order to create a serpentine lake to the north-east of the house.

In 1853-54 Canon J. Lee Warner undertook test excavations on the site of the building immediately to the north of the church, identified by him as the chapel built to enclose the shrine; he also explored other parts of the priory. In 1961 Charles Green and A. B. Whittingham carried out excavations and survey with the aim of examining the chapel in order to resolve disputes over its identification, and also to produce a definitive plan of the monastic buildings. These revealed apparently two main phases of building, the first between the C12 and the late C13, with a substantial rebuilding on a larger scale continuing throughout the C14. This phase included the extension of the nave to the west to build a tower, the widening of the aisles, and the remodelling of the east end and claustral ranges. In the mid-C15, probably between 1450 and 1470, a chapel was built to enclose the Holy House, the shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham, although the Dutch scholar Erasmus, who visited from Cambridge in 1511, described the chapel as draughty and open, a state apparently rectified in the C16 when a west porch was added, and the windows possibly glazed.

The priory was scheduled in 1915 under the provisions of the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act of 1913 as Walsingham Abbey (uninhabited portions).


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS The monument includes the buried and ruinous parts of the upstanding remains of Walsingham Priory, a house of Augustinian Canons founded in the mid-C12, and includes the priory church, the Chapel of the Holy House (containing the shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham) and the claustral ranges, set within the area of the inner precinct.

DESCRIPTION Walsingham, a small town about five miles from the north Norfolk coast, lies on boulder clay over chalk. The site of the core precinct of the priory, the area under assessment, lies to the east of the High Street and is bounded to the north by Holt Road, to the south by Church Street and to the east by an early route of the River Stiffkey, diverted to take a more serpentine course through the designed landscape surrounding The Abbey, the house which occupies the centre of the site. Two entrances from Sunk Road open onto drives into the park, crossing the river where it follows its earlier course, into the inner precinct. A third, probably medieval entrance to the inner precinct, known as the Knight's Gate, is set into the north precinct wall, opposite the turning to Knight's Street.

The main entrance to the priory is through the gatehouse to the west, which gives access to the precinct from the High Street. This gatehouse dates to the mid-C15, and with a length of wall to the south, is listed at Grade I (NHLE list entry 1374019). Constructed of flint with stone dressings, the gatehouse is of two storeys and, from the High Street, has a wide, four centred arch with a smaller four centred arch inset. The originally vaulted ceiling has been replaced with brick and concrete. The inner, east face also has a wide, moulded four centred arch, above which a storey band divides the first from the ground floor; a small impish gargoyle leans out from its west end. The first floor has a central window divided into four lights by a mullion and transom, and flanked by niches.

The gatehouse is aligned with the priory church, the east end of which stands to gable height. The church is about 30m to the north of Abbey House, and is within an extensive area of lawn with gravel paths to the west and north. The west porch is beneath a bank rising behind a slightly sunken area that encloses the remains of the west tower pier bases. These were massive compound piers, constructed of stone, the most complete base measuring about 4m across; this stands at the south-east corner of the tower. A substantial part of the south-west pier base also survives, as well as fragments of the south aisle wall. About 40m to the east of the tower is the east end of the church. This appears to have been remodelled as a freestanding feature, and is shown on a mid-C18 engraving, dedicated to Lee Warner Esq., integrated into a formal garden landscape, encircled by low walls with paths radiating from four sides, and viewed framing the gatehouse to the east. Constructed of flint and stone, the arch is flanked by substantial turrets, of four diminishing stages surmounted by octagonal turrets rising to either side of the gable. Each has three concave outer faces, between buttresses, decorated with narrow panels of flint framed by thin bands of stone, those to the second stage designed to imitate arched windows with crocketed pinnacles over. The faces of the buttresses contain niches at stages two, three and four. The window is flanked to the west by buttresses, presumably the truncated walls of the external walls of the sanctuary. The east window has lost its tracery, and there is a circular window immediately above the point of the arch.

The excavations undertaken in 1961 found that the church had a six bay nave, the C14 bays about 5m wide, 0.5m wider than those in the C12 church. There was a tower over the crossing, beyond which was the chancel, of four bays, with a square sanctuary at the east end. Encroaching onto the buttresses on the north side of the church was a small chapel, built in the C15, the alignment of which is slightly askew from that of the church, following that of the Holy House, the shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham, which it was built to enclose. The internal dimensions of the chapel are about 12m x 9m. Neither the C12 nor the C14 churches had transepts, and the excavators' plan shows an entrance from the cloister and east claustral range directly into the south aisle. The plan also shows the chapter house projecting east from the east claustral range, accessed from the cloister via a vestibule. The cloister is about 30.5m square, with domestic ranges to either side, and the refectory to the south. At the south end of the east claustral range are two sections of upstanding masonry projecting from the north wall of the house, parallel to each other and about 7.5m apart. Both are constructed of flint with some brick, and each contains an arch. This is interpreted as a passage between the cloister and the possible royal chambers sited somewhere to the east, their location unidentified, although their presence somewhere in the vicinity of the priory buildings is likely given the royal patronage of the priory over three centuries. A substantial section of cloister wall is attached to the north side of the east arch, and contains a squint. The excavators identify a C15 wall extending east from here. To the south of the passage is the undercroft of the monks dormitory, of two aisles and three bays, rib vaulted, with octagonal piers and semi-circular wall shafts. This and a passage to the north, between the undercroft and the refectory, form part of the house, and are therefore not included as part of the scheduling, but are listed at Grade I as part of the National Heritage List entry entitled 'The remains of St Mary's Priory' (NHLE entry 1171928). This list entry also includes the remains of the refectory, priory church and Norman arch to the well garden east of the church.

To the west of this, and on the south side of the cloister, is the refectory, the south wall and west gable of which stand to almost full height, as well as part of the north wall where it returns from the west gable. The south refectory wall has a four bay, double-height arcade of narrow, lancet-like pointed arches, the first bay to the east incorporated into the C19 house. Part of the second bay is attached to the house on its west side, and has a trefoil-headed inner arch. At the foot of this arch is the entrance to a semi-enclosed stone stair that rises across the third arch (blind) to a raised pulpit, behind which is a two light, pointed arched window. A blank, apparently substantially rebuilt, section of wall joins this to the east gable, which contains a window with curvilinear tracery. The north return wall stands two storeys high and contains an arched entrance. The excavators found evidence of a building attached to the west end of the refectory, possibly part of the kitchen and service ranges that would have been located mainly to the south. The house, listed at Grade I (NHLE list entry 1039369) is said to incorporate medieval fabric. To the south-east of the house were the priory vineyards and gardens. To the east of the priory church are three wells, set within a small square garden entered through a moulded Norman arch aligned with the east end of the church; this is the only fabric from the first phase of the priory to survive, and will have been relocated from elsewhere. The raised beds in the garden are revetted by fragments of carved masonry.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING The scheduled area is intended to capture the core precinct of the priory as far as is possible, given the development of properties and gardens to the east of the High Street and to the north of Church Street since the Dissolution. These do not form part of the scheduled area, which is shown on the accompanying map. From the River Stiffkey the boundary follows the outer edge of the precinct wall travelling west before turning south with the wall where it forms the east boundary of The Bull Inn. It then follows the boundary with Shire Hall, turning south to follow the property boundaries to the east of the High Street. The scheduling includes the gatehouse, to the south of which the boundary follows the High Street property boundaries as far as Church Street and a short section of the precinct wall (listed at Grade II, NHLE list entry 1039371, but excluded from the scheduling, see below) before once again following the boundaries of properties on Church Street, after which it rejoins the road as far as the river, where it turns north to follow the west bank. The east boundary of the scheduling is formed to the south by the current river bank, and further north by the old course of the river, marked by a slight break of slope, excluding the silted serpentine lake between the well garden and the river. The scheduled area is about 6.5 hectares (16.2 acres).

EXCLUSIONS All buildings occupied and in use, including The Abbey and undercroft, are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath them is included. The upstanding precinct walls to the south of Holt Road and the short section to the east of Church Street are also excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them is included; both sections are listed at Grade II. All modern structures, road and track surfaces, and also fence and gateposts, are also excluded, but the ground beneath them is included.


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

Legacy System number:
NF 7
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Page, William, Victoria County History: Norfolk Vol 2, (1906)
Robinson, M, The Geography of Augustinian Settlement in medieval England and Wales: Volumes 1 and 2. BAR British Series, (1980)
Green, Charles, 'The Archaeological Journal' in Excavations at Walsingham Priory, Norfolk, 1961, (1969)


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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