Weybourne priory


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Weybourne priory
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Norfolk (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TG 11175 43097

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.

Weybourne priory is a good example of a relatively small Augustinian foundation. The core of the monastic precinct survives well and retains a variety of features, some of which, such as the remains of the early church, are of particular importance in architectural terms. The extensive standing remains retain structural evidence for a complex history of development, and evidence also of the decline of the priory in later years leading, for example, to a contraction in the size of the monastic church in use. Limited excavations conducted on the site have demonstrated that much archaeological information relating to the layout, organisation, economy and history of the priory is also preserved below the ground surface. The context of the priory within the village, and the documented relationship between the priory and the parish and manor of Weybourne give the monument additional interest.


The Priory of The Blessed Virgin and All Saints is situated in the centre of Weybourne village, on the west side of Spring Beck in a small valley which opens on to the coast c.625m to the north. The standing remains of the priory are Listed Grade I. The monument includes remains of the priory church dating from the early 13th to the 15th centuries but incorporating parts of an earlier church dated to the 11th century, together with the remains of the conventual buildings to the north of the church and of associated buildings and water management features, lying to the north and east of these within the known area of the monastic precinct. The monastic church and the parish church served by the canons were accommodated within the same building, and the present north aisle and vestry of the parish church, added in 1886, are built over the remains of the original nave. The parish church which remains in use and which is Listed Grade II* is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included.

The priory was founded as a house of Augustinian canons towards the end of the 12th or at the beginning of the 13th century by Sir Ralph Mainwaring and was at first subordinate to the priory of West Acre although, following a dispute in 1314, it was ruled that the canons at Weybourn should have free election of their prior in return for payment of an annual pension to the senior house. The priory was endowed originally with the church and manor of Weybourne and ultimately, as a result of further grants, held property in 30 parishes in Norfolk. In 1291, its annual value was assessed at 15 pounds, 10 shillings and 1 pence, and in 1535 at 28 pounds, 7 shillings and 2 pence. It was founded for seven canons, but the recorded numbers in the 15th century do not exceed four, including the prior, and in 1514 the poverty of the house was said to be such that it was difficult to sustain more than two. At the time of the suppression in 1536, the community consisted of the prior and one canon, with three other persons living in the house. Following the suppression, the priory and the rectory of Weybourne were granted to John Gresham.

An inventory of the property at the time of the dissolution lists accommodation in addition to the church including three chambers, a hall, parlour, buttery, kitchen and brewhouse. The remains of the priory church and adjacent buildings include both standing and ruined walls and buried wall footings, some of which are visible as earthworks and others of which were located in limited investigations carried out variously in the second half of the 19th century, and in 1930. From this evidence, their overall plan and something of the sequence of construction are known.

The church which already stood on the site at the time of the foundation of the priory was adopted as the nucleus of the monastic church, within which much of it remained preserved. The southern half of its ruined central tower, measuring c.6m square in plan, built of mortared flint rubble and dated to the 11th century, still stands to full height and displays various original features. The upper part is decorated externally with blind arcading which, on the complete southern wall, can be seen to include a blocked central double opening with gabled heads. Above the arcade the wall is pierced by two double splayed circular openings, with a third surviving in the remains of the east wall. Below the level of the arcade, a sequence of three small blocked openings is visible on the inner face of the south wall, and at the base of the wall is a large, blocked round headed opening which perhaps gave access to a porticus (lateral chamber) to the south. The springing of the arch of another blocked opening between the tower and the nave of the church can be seen in the remains of the west wall, below part of a later inserted opening with moulded stone surround. Nothing remains above ground of the original chancel which was to the east of the tower, although it is likely that wall footings will survive below the surface. The 19th century north aisle and vestry occupy the area of the nave to the west, estimated to have been c.15m in length. The medieval parish church was also provided with a tower at its western end and, consequently, the monastic tower was allowed to fall into ruin following the Dissolution.

The original church was adapted and greatly enlarged to accommodate the different liturgical needs of the monastic community and the parish, and the standing remains exhibit evidence of several successive episodes of building and alteration. The earlier chancel to the east of the tower was replaced by a canons' choir with a square ended presbytery measuring c.23m in overall length by c.8m in width, and the lower part of the east wall of the tower, forming the west end of the new choir, was opened up by the insertion of a large opening with moulded stone surround above a masonry screen pierced by a door, now blocked. Later additions dated to the 14th century included transepts to north and south of the choir, with a side chapel to the east of each of the transepts, and the springing and bonding of a 14th century vault which can be seen on the inner face of the walls of the tower is evidence for further remodelling of the early building. The north wall of the choir and part of the east end, built of coursed flints with stone dressings, still stand to a height of c.7m. In the north wall there are several inserted openings, including two 14th century pointed arches, the larger of which opened into the north transept, and the smaller, to the east of it, into the adjacent side chapel. Both of them are blocked, although the blocking of the arch to the transept is pierced by a smaller arched opening which is dated to the 15th century and links the alteration to a time of documented decline in the fortunes of the community. There is another window opening of similar later medieval date in the eastern end of the wall. Above are the headless openings for a row of seven clerestory windows which are also thought to be a late insertion. The east wall of the presbytery is ruinous, although it retains the stone jambs of a large east window. A part of the east end of the south wall also remains standing, but the remainder is no longer visible. Most of the standing remains of the west wall of the south transept are now incorporated in the east wall of the chancel of the present church and so are not included in the scheduling, but the ruined stub of its continuation to the south projects from the south east corner of the chancel, and is included. The footings of the south wall of the south transept and of the south and east walls of the chapel to the east of the transept are marked by low, grass covered banks and by parch marks in dry weather, and a fragment of the masonry of the east wall of the transept remains visible. All that survives above the ground of the north transept and chapel is a fragment of the east wall of the transept where it joins the north wall of the chapel, and the ruined east wall of the chapel, standing to a height of c.1m.

The chancel and nave of the present parish church, which are dated chiefly to the 13th and 14th centuries, were built, for the separate accommodation of the parish, along the south side of the early tower and original nave. A small opening, cut through the angle of the tower to the west of the blocked original opening in the south wall and still visible from the north, provided limited access between the early tower and the parish chancel.

The remains of the conventual buildings of the priory are grouped around a cloister c.20m square abutting the north side of the church. The north range which, according to the usual monastic arrangement will have contained the refectory above an undercroft, is the best preserved of the claustral buildings, with walls of flint and mortar construction which although ruined, remain standing to a height of up to c.3.5m and include blocked and altered openings of 14th and 15th century date with moulded stone dressings, as well as sections of later patching and rebuilding on medieval footings. The range has an internal width of c.6m north-south. At the eastern end is a chamber or passage measuring c.2.7m wide east-west, with a barrel vault of flint rubble and mortar construction, a doorway giving access from the cloister at the south end, and a wide blocked arch with later opening at the north end. The wall between this passage and the undercroft to the west is pierced at either end by blocked door openings. Above this level, in the south wall of the range, are the remains of a window opening to the upper storey, and in the external face of the same wall can be seen stone corbels for the support of a roof over a cloister walk. In the north wall of the range, towards the western end, is another blocked doorway with intact moulded stone surround, and parts of the jambs of a corresponding opening can be seen in the south wall opposite. Another blocked opening is visible in the western end wall. The western end of the range has been incorporated in a post-medieval outhouse, the southern and eastern walls and roof of which, being a late insertion, are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

The range on the east side of the cloister includes the remains of the chapter house, where the business of the community was discussed, and other apartments which will have formed the undercroft of the dorter (dormitory). Only the west wall remains visible, standing to a height of up to c.4m, but the survival of the footings of the other principal walls has been confirmed by excavation. A wide breach in the standing wall marks the entrance to the chapter house, and to the south of this is the blocked opening to a passage between the chapter house and the north transept of the church. The chapter house, as revealed by excavation, was rectangular in plan, with overall dimensions of c.12m east- west by 9m north-south. The part of the range to the north includes the remains of at least two apartments with an internal width of c.6m east- west, the northern of which projects c.19m beyond the buildings of the northern range and is of slightly different build, with thinner walls. In it the excavators found remains of an oven. The buried wall footings of another building connected to the east wall of the range and extending eastwards towards the beck are perhaps the remains of a reredorter (latrine block).

Part of the area of the west claustral range is occupied by Abbey Farmhouse (Listed Grade II) and associated outbuildings which are dated chiefly to the 17th and 19th centuries, although the east wall of the house includes a fragment of what is thought to be the east wall of the range, it is excluded from the scheduling. It is recorded that there was a cellar, probably of medieval origin, located somewhere to the north of the house, and this structure, which was blocked and infilled, will survive below the ground surface and is included in the scheduling together with the ground beneath the house and its outbuilding.

Traces of other masonry buildings believed to relate to the priory have been recorded to the north of the claustral buildings where it is likely that some of the domestic, agricultural and service buildings were located. A fragment of wall was discovered c.8m north of the north claustral range, and a small rectangular structure measuring c.5m east-west by 2m north-south was excavated c.19m north east of the east range. Further to the north, at a distance of c.69m from the north claustral range is a barn built of flint and brick which is thought to stand on monastic foundations and incorporates part of another building probably of monastic date. The eastern gable wall of the barn, which is otherwise dated to the 17th century and is Listed Grade II, is of different and earlier build, much patched and altered. In it are displayed several blocked openings at various levels and an arched doorway. This wall forms the western end of a rectangular building c.7m wide and c.25m long, the buried foundations of which have been traced to the east. The bonding of the north and south walls can be seen in the gable end, from which a fragment of the north wall c.1m high projects for a distance of c.3m. At the west end of the barn, the ground surface has been lowered so as to expose foundations which are thought to be earlier than the wall above. The eastern gable wall and the foundations of the barn, with the ground beneath, are included in the scheduling, although the rest of the barn is excluded.

Water needed by the priory for domestic and other purposes was obtained from Spring Beck, and evidence for features such as supply conduits and drains is likely to be preserved in the ground between the beck and the conventual buildings. The eastern end of one channel c.2m wide at the bottom with weathered, sloping sides can be seen in the west bank of the beck due east of the north east internal angle of the cloister. To the north of this the stream has been widened to form an irregular pond. A retaining bank up to 0.7m high and c.3.5m wide, which is included in the scheduling, has been raised along the western side of the pond, probably to control flooding. To the west of the north end of this bank and c.82m due north of the standing walls at the north east angle of the claustral buildings are the remains of a rectangular pond, perhaps used for the conservation of the monastic fish supply. It is shown on old editions of OS maps as measuring c.30m east-west by 15m north-south and, although now infilled, it is marked by a slight hollow in the ground surface and will survive as a buried feature.

In addition to the present Parish Church of All Saints, Abbey Farmhouse and all parts of the 17th century barn not specifically included, all post medieval outbuildings associated with the farmhouse are excluded from the scheduling, (with the exception of those parts which incorporate medieval monastic walling as described above); Post-medieval garden walls associated with Abbey Farmhouse, modern boundary fences and gates, modern path and yard surfaces and modern farm buildings and grain storage silos, are also excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all 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.

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Books and journals
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 404-405
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 179
Fairweather, F H, 'Norfolk Archaeology' in The Augustinian Priory of Weybourne, , Vol. 24, (1932), 201-228
Fairweather, F H, 'Norfolk Archaeology' in The Augustinian Priory of Weybourne, , Vol. 24, (1932), 201 - 8
Manning, C R, 'Norfolk Archaeology' in Weybourne Church and Priory, , Vol. 10, (1887), 262-270
Title: Norfolk X NE, 6' Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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.

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