Moated site of Wormegay Priory, fishponds and associated enclosures


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1009987

Date first listed: 21-Dec-1994


Ordnance survey map of Moated site of Wormegay Priory, fishponds and associated enclosures
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Norfolk

District: King's Lynn and West Norfolk (District Authority)

Parish: Wormegay

National Grid Reference: TF 65193 12709

Reasons for Designation

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.

Wormegay Priory is the westernmost of six religious houses, including three foundations of the Augustinian order, located on either side of the River Nar, and is unique among them in being on an island in the fen. One of the other two Augustinian houses is the priory at Pentney, 4.75km to the east, with which it was eventually united. It is given additional interest by its proximity to the motte and bailey castle at Wormegay (1km south east), held by the Bardolph family, who were patrons of the priory. The earthworks on the site are indicative of the layout and organisation of the monastic precinct, and the monument will retain archaeological information concerning many different aspects of monastic life. Foundations of the conventual buildings will be preserved below the ground surface on the moated site, and evidence for domestic and economic arrangements and activities will be contained in archaeological deposits here and in the outer enclosures, fishponds and associated water management features. Organic and environmental remains will be preserved in waterlogged deposits in the lowest parts of the site, and evidence of earlier land use will be preserved in the ground surface beneath the raised central platform of the moated site


The monument includes a moated site, fishponds and associated ditched enclosures on the site of Wormegay Priory, and is located 1km north west of the village of Wormegay, on a low promontory of an island in the peat fen, between the River Nar, 500m to the north, and an old tributary which drained the fens to the south. During the medieval period the priory was isolated from the main island, to the east, by shallow peat which covered the neck of the peninsula. Wormegay Priory was a house of Augustinian canons, founded towards the end of the 12th century by William de Warenne, and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Holy Cross and St John the Evangelist. The documentary record suggests that it was a small and relatively poorly endowed house. In 1291 the priory was valued at thirty-seven pounds, eight shillings and sixpence, and the number of canons probably never exceeded seven. In 1468 it was united with the neighbouring Augustinian priory of Pentney as a cell of that house, and it was dissolved in 1537. The moat defines the inner precinct of the priory, within which stood the conventual buildings. To the west of the moat is a much smaller, rectangular enclosure, surrounded by two concentric ditches, and beyond this is a series of fishponds with associated water management features. On the north side is a large, outer enclosure bounded on the north and west sides by a pair of ditches which run parallel to the northern and western arms of the moat. The moated enclosure, which is trapezoid in plan, has overall maximum dimensions of 180m north east - south west by 155m north west - south east and the moat ditches are a minimum of 2m in depth and range from 12m to approximately 16m in width. The western and southern arms of the moat have become partly silted, although they are seasonally wet, whereas the northern and eastern arms are incorporated in a working system of modern drainage dykes. A silted channel approximately 4m wide leads southwards from the south west corner. The moat is interrupted by causeways at the northern end of the western arm, at the eastern end of the northern arm, and across the middle of the southern and eastern arms. The surface of the central island bounded by the moat is raised up to 1m above the prevailing ground level, forming an uneven platform, highest at the northern end. In the south western corner is a shallow, rectangular, internal pond bay, created by the widening of the adjacent moat and measuring approximately 30m north west - south east by 13m north east - south west. The monastic buildings which stood on the central platform have been demolished, and no record exists of their exact location. Building material, including dressed limestone, carstone, flint and bricks of medieval type, is, however, to be found on the ground surface, and is evidence for the existence of substantial structures. Reused limestone blocks are included, also, in the visible foundations of farm buildings which once stood at the northern end of the moated site. Adjoining the western side of the moated site, towards the southern end, is a rectangular close surrounded by two concentric ditches and having overall dimensions of approximately 62m north-south by 55m east-west. The ditches, whose chief function was probably drainage, are spaced approximately 5m apart and the central area has internal dimensions of approximately 30m north-south by 25m east-west. Channels leading into the inner ditch at the four angles connect it to the outer ditch and to the adjacent western arm of the moat, and the outer ditch is linked, in turn, to channels which form part of a series of fishponds, immediately to the west. The ditches, which have become partly infilled and are now dry, are visible as linear hollows up to 7m wide and between 0.25m and 0.5m deep. The fishponds and associated channels have been partly infilled, but are visible as dry hollows between 0.2m and 0.7m deep, and the plan of the system as a whole is clearly apparent in air photographs. Four rectangular ponds ranging in length from approximately 28m to 40m and in width from 5m to 16m are set parallel to each other in series east to west, and are connected by channels and sluices which controlled the flow of water between them. Other channels are visible which will have incorporated sluices to regulate the flow of water to and from a ditch bordering the ponds around the west, north and south sides. South of the fishponds and adjacent enclosure, at a distance of approximately 8m, are the remains of two parallel east-west ditches, approximately 6m apart and visible as linear hollows approximately 0.3m deep and 7m wide. The southern of these two ditches appears to have led from the south west corner of the moat. To the north and north west of the moated site is an enclosure defined by a double ditch which runs roughly parallel to the arms of the moat at a distance of 75m on the north side and 55m on the west, surrounding what was probably the outer court of the monastic precinct. The ditches, which are approximately 12m apart, are traceable as very slight, linear hollows in the ground surface, more clearly visible from the air. Within this enclosure are traces of other ditches and internal features, some of which are on a different alignment, indicating that the arrangement of this part of the site may have altered during the period of its use. All field boundary fences and gates are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

Legacy System number: 20824

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 407
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 180
Messent, C J W, The Monastic Remains of Norfolk and Suffolk, (1934), 96, 99
Dossier for H B M C, Davison, A, Fenland Evaluation Project, Norfolk, (1990)
NAU TF 6512 A-T, (1980)
NAU. TF 6512 A-T, (1980)
West Norfolk: Wormegay 3456,

End of official listing