Creake Abbey


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015271

Date first listed: 12-Nov-1928

Date of most recent amendment: 20-Jun-2013

Location Description: Centred at: Abbey Farm, North Creake, Fakenham, NR21 9LF Grid Ref. TF 8560439450

Statutory Address: North Creake, Fakenham, King's Lynn and West Norfolk, Norfolk, NR21 9LF


Ordnance survey map of Creake Abbey
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Statutory Address: North Creake, Fakenham, King's Lynn and West Norfolk, Norfolk, NR21 9LF

Location Description: Centred at: Abbey Farm, North Creake, Fakenham, NR21 9LF Grid Ref. TF 8560439450

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: Burnham Thorpe

County: Norfolk

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

Parish: North Creake

National Grid Reference: TF8554039447


The standing and buried remains of an Augustinian abbey church and conventual buildings, earthwork enclosures and water management features dating from 1217.

Reasons for Designation

Creake Abbey is designated for the following principal reasons:

* Diversity and Group Value: because of the combination of a wide range of surviving features relating to the construction and use of the abbey as well as the social and economic organisation of the wider monastic landscape;

* Potential: the extensive standing, earthwork and buried remains provide much information relating to the use and decline of the abbey with potential for further archaeologically significant deposits, particularly in the water management features where waterlogged deposits may survive;

* Documentation: an extensive documented history of the monastery, its origins, growth and decline combined with archaeological documentation to provide a comprehensive understanding of the abbey and its role in the wider medieval landscape;

* Rarity: Its origin as a hospital founded to commemorate an historic event of national significance is rare and adds considerable interest to the monument.


From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD597 until 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 and 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 C12 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 the many facets of medieval life.

The earliest religious foundation on the site of Creake Abbey was a chapel, which was established in 1206 by Lady Alice de Nerford and her husband, Sir Robert, in a meadow next to the road between North Creake and Burnham. The abbey, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, was founded and endowed originally by Sir Robert in or soon after 1217 as a hospital dedicated to St Bartholomew, to commemorate the defeat of the French off Sandwich in that year by Hubert de Burgh, Justiciar of England and nephew of Lady Alice. Sir Robert, as constable of Dover Castle, had taken part in this action. In 1227 the hospital, under the terms of its foundation provided for the care of 13 indigent men under a master and four chaplains, formally adopted the Augustinian Rule and became a priory of regular canons of the order. Following the death of Sir Robert in 1225, Lady Alice granted the right of patronage of the hospital and its property to the Crown, this included her manor in North Creake, and in 1231 Henry III elevated the priory to the status of an abbey with the right to elect its own abbot. In the taxation of 1291 the annual income of the abbey was assessed at around £60, and an account roll of 1331 gives a total income for that year of c.£160. Later documents record the rebuilding of the east end of the church following a disastrous fire in c.1484. Early in the C16 all the canons died in an epidemic, the abbot last of all in December 1506, and the abbey was dissolved and reverted to the Crown. Its lands and revenues were settled on Christ's College Cambridge, founded by Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort, and parts of the abbey church and other monastic buildings were subsequently adapted for use as a farm house and associated farm buildings.


Creake Abbey is situated in the valley of the River Burn c.625m north of the village of North Creake. The monument includes the standing and buried remains of the abbey church and conventual buildings, together with various earthwork enclosures and water management features which lie to north, south and west of the claustral complex and are believed to be part of the abbey complex.

The standing ruins of the abbey church, which are listed at Grade I and are in the care of the Secretary of State, form the core of the monument. The remains of the conventual buildings ranged around a cloister immediately to the south, survive in the gardens of Abbey Farm which occupy the southern half of the monastic precinct. The gardens are bounded to east and west by walls thought to follow an original precinct boundary. The precinct also included part of a field to the north of the church which contains the buried remains of buildings, and the adjoining part of a meadow to the west in which various water management features, thought to be of medieval origin, are visible as earthworks. This area is bordered on the west side by a shallow linear depression c.6m wide where an C18 map based on a survey of 1600 shows there was formerly a track along the field boundary. On the north side the line of an old boundary ditch can be traced as a narrower linear depression in the meadow, continuing as a buried feature, revealed as a crop mark on aerial photographs, across the field to the east. Entry to the precinct will have been to the west of the church, probably through a gatehouse on the track which still gives access to the farm. The ground beneath the track is therefore included in the scheduling, together with the verges on either side and the ground beneath a post-medieval wall along the south side, up to a point c.200m west of the church. A meadow to the south of the farmyard and gardens of Abbey Farm includes, amongst other earthworks, a ditched enclosure also known to have belonged to the abbey.

The River Burn runs south-north in an artificial channel to the west of the church and the site of the claustral complex. Tradition suggests that the cut stone used to build the abbey was transported from Caen (north-west France) on barges and reached the site of the Abbey via the River Burn but this remains unsubstantiated in the documentation.

The church is c.56m in overall length, with an aisled nave of six bays, the remains of transepts to north and south of a crossing which originally contained the canons' choir, two chapels to the east of both transepts, and a square-ended presbytery flanked by short aisles at the eastern end. The walls to the east of the nave stand in parts almost to their full original height. The walls are constructed of mortared flint rubble with limestone dressings and display evidence of successive additions and alterations, including a drastic remodelling and reduction in the size of the building in the C15. The presbytery, which was the first part to be constructed, was originally without aisles or side chapels and lit by six tall lancet windows on each side. The windows of the two eastern bays do not survive, but those in the four western bays are largely complete, though wholly or partly blocked by masonry in a later-C13 alteration to accommodate the aisles, which were added when the transepts were constructed. In the two westernmost bays the stonework of the arcades on each side is interrupted by an inserted archway between the presbytery and the adjacent aisles. The transepts were each of three bays with an arcade on the east side opening on to the presbytery aisle and chapels, and the original arches of the inner bays, opening onto the aisles, remain intact on both the north and south sides. In the north transept the middle arch of the three also survives intact, and differences in the architectural form suggest that this arch and the outer arch to the north of it may be part of a later modification. In the north-east angle of the north transept is the base of an internal stair to a clerestory level above, which no longer survives. The form of the chapels as they now appear on that side is, however, the result of alterations in the early C14, when the two transept chapels were replaced by a single, larger, chapel of the same length as the inner one which was extended c.1.5m eastwards. This chapel and the presbytery aisle to the south are separated by a wall, with an arcade of two arches and their east walls, which still stand to roof height, include the arched openings of two large windows.

Other surviving features in the enlarged outer chapel include an internal string course below window sill level and an arched recess for a tomb in the north wall, with the blocked and altered opening of a large window above. The plan of the nave and nave aisles is outlined by exposed wall footings, except on the south side where the outer wall of the aisle, which was also the north wall of the cloister, is incorporated in a post-medieval garden wall. The sites of the piers which supported the arcades between the nave and aisles are marked in concrete in the turf.

The nave is presumed to have been demolished following the fire in the later C15 and not rebuilt, and both transepts were also demolished, leaving only the inner bay to either side of the crossing. Wall footings are exposed which shows the original extent of the north transept, and the foundations of the south transept walls, which survive below the ground surface, have been traced by excavation. A new west wall for the church was created by infilling the central arch on the west side of the crossing and the arches on either side of it between the nave aisles and the inner bays of the transepts. The blocking of the southern arch remains intact, containing a reset C13 window with twin lancets, and footings of the blocking in the central arch also survive with an opening for a door flanked by buttresses. The bay to the north of the crossing was converted into a passage or vestry by the insertion of walls which still stand in part to north and south of it. The corresponding bay to the south is closed on the south side by the remains of another inserted wall which includes the lower jambs of a blocked central doorway, with a reset doorway of earlier medieval type to the west of it. The chapels east of the north transept were retained and enclosed to the west by blocking the two arches on that side with masonry, traces of which can be seen in the moulding of the surviving arch. On the south side, however, the two chapels were demolished, and the presbytery aisle reduced in length and enclosed by new walls on the south and east sides, both containing large windows of which the lower parts survive. The stub of the original east wall survives on the outer face of the presbytery wall.

The quadrangular cloister to the south of the church measures c.30m across and now forms a walled garden adjoining the north side of Abbey farmhouse. Parts of the fabric of the conventual buildings which surrounded the cloister are incorporated in the garden walls and in the walls of the house on the south side of the garden, which display evidence of additions and alterations of various dates. The garden walls, which are listed at Grade I, are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them is included. The house, also listed at Grade I, is not included, although the ground beneath it is. The south wing of the house occupies the site of the south claustral range which, according to the usual custom, probably contained the monastic refectory. Original medieval features visible at ground floor level in the north wall include a partly blocked three light window, a single lancet window and a doorway with pointed arch. On the south face of the same wing is a porch with a reset 15th century arch. The standing remains of the east claustral range, which abutted the south transept of the church and will have contained the canons' dorter (dormitory) on the upper floor, are contained in the east garden wall and the east wing of the house. Medieval features in this part of the house include lancet windows of two and three lights. The garden wall continues the line of the west wall of the range and includes a central arched doorway of C13 type which was the entrance to a small room abutting the south transept of the church. Between this room and what is now the north end of the east wing of the house was the chapter house, rectangular in plan with dimensions of approximately 11.5m by c.5m aligned east-west, where the canons met daily to discuss the business of the abbey. The foundations of both survive below ground and have produced parch marks from which the plan has been recorded.

At the northern end of the wall is another medieval doorway which would originally have given access to the south transept of the church. At the western end of the north wall of the cloister is a third doorway which would have opened on to the south aisle of the nave but has been reset so that the inner side, recessed under a segmental arch, now faces onto the cloister. In the wall on the western side there is a blocked opening near the northern end and, at the southern end adjacent to the house, a wide, low arch which appears to have been inserted in its present position and may originally have been part of a gatehouse. This arch is now the entrance to a yard along the north side of the house, separated from the garden by a wall which includes blocked rectangular openings of late-medieval or early post-medieval type with brick dressings.

There are no standing remains of medieval date to the east and south-east of the church and claustral complex, but these areas are likely to contain buried features relating to the monastic cemetery and perhaps also to the infirmary. Buried foundations of structures c.45m to the north of the church have produced crop marks recorded by aerial photography, and the site is also marked by a scatter of building material including mortar and brick on the surface of the field. The crop marks show the outline of two rectangular buildings, both measuring c.18m by c.7.5m, ranged on the south and east sides of a rectangular court, with a smaller, adjoining building on the west side. An C18 map based on a survey of 1600 shows a standing structure on approximately the site of the smaller building - probably a dovecote which was demolished in the early C19 and is recorded in the field name of Dovehouse Close. The larger buildings may have included a guest hall, or been among the more important service buildings such as the granary or barn.

The walls of a barn which stands approximately 92m to the south-west of the farmhouse, on the south side of the precinct, display evidence of additions and alterations of various dates, including blocked openings, and though largely post medieval in date, may incorporate elements of an earlier, medieval building. The barn, which remains in use, is not included in the scheduling, but the ground beneath it is included.

Surrounding the barns to the east, south and west are various earthworks which survive up to a height of approximately 0.7m. These consist largely of linear earthworks corresponding to former water courses. Water for domestic use, including sanitation, and for agricultural and industrial purposes, was supplied by the river. The artificial channel in which it is conducted from the southern side of the inner precinct to a point west of the church is probably of monastic date, and although the straight canal to south and north of this section is comparatively modern, much of the older course, which is shown in the early map, can be traced in surviving linear earthworks and features recorded in aerial photographs.

To the south of the Abbey barns is also an incomplete trapezoidal enclosure bounded by modern drains to the west and north and an old channel to the east.

To the north-west of the barn complex are two small fields divided by a track linking Abbey Farm to the barns. Within these fields features are evident as both earthworks and cropmarks (visible on aerial photographs). The earthworks survive up to a height of 0.4m and consist of a small pond traversed and linked by further earthworks. Both these and the cropmarks are understood to represent buried remains of the wider abbey complex.

A sub-triangular shaped field at the northern end of the monument also contains a series of earthworks which correspond to former water courses. Within the field there is evidence of the former course of the River Burn and a fossil meander and cut off. All these indicate both natural and deliberate changes to the water flow and ultimately how the water management of the abbey complex has been adapted both during and after the medieval period.

To the north of the abbey ruins, on the opposite side of the access track, the earthworks are more varied. Immediately to the north-west of the church there is a raised area with brickwork suggesting the site of an old bridge. Adjacent to this area is a sub-rectangular enclosure which lies within a larger one formed by a ditch. The western boundary of the field to the north-west of the Abbey ruins is marked by a degraded bank and scarp.

Extent of Scheduling

The scheduling is designed to protect the upstanding and buried remains of the abbey church and conventual buildings and the various associated earthworks and other buried remains which are known to survive within or in the immediate vicinity of the monastic precinct. The probable line of the precinct boundary can largely be traced in existing boundary features, and additional boundaries shown on an C18 map, based on a survey of AD1600, which also shows the extent of the abbey manor within the parish of North Creake, including closes adjacent to the precinct. Much of the southern part of the precinct is occupied by the gardens and farmyard of Abbey Farm. The gardens are enclosed on the west and east sides by walls which, although apparently of post-medieval date, probably follow the lines of the precinct boundary and may stand on medieval foundations, therefore, although the walls themselves are excluded from the scheduling, the ground beneath them is included.

Earthwork surveys and aerial photographic surveys have also identified extensive archaeological features surviving beneath the ground surface. These relate to the abbey complex and its water management system and therefore been included in the scheduling.

From the north east corner of the garden, c.49m east of the ruined abbey church, the outline of the scheduled area runs southwards, for approximately 270m. From this point it turns west for 40m then south for approximately 150m until it meets the northern boundary of a small enclosure. At this point the line turns to the west and follows the boundary for 50m and then turns south continuing to follow the boundary for 40m. At this point the line follows a field boundary to the west for approximately 130m crossing the River Burn. The line then turns north for 180m, west for 100m and north again for a further 150m until it meets the southern edge of the track leading to the Abbey Studios. Here the line turns towards the north-west following short stretch of a garden boundary fence until it meets with the main access track to the abbey ruins. At this point the line follows the southern edge of the access track to the east for 20m before turning north for 220m. The line then turns to the east for 180m until it reaches the western bank of the River Burn. Here the line turns north to follow the river until it meets a field boundary which crosses the river. The line then turns to the east following the field boundary across the river for approximately 50m. At this point the line turns due south following the curving field boundary of a small meadow. When it reaches the eastern bank of the river it turns east for 140m then south again until it meets with the remaining eastern edge of the scheduled area.


The farm house and all adjoining outhouses, the barn, all other farm buildings, all garden walls other than those described as relating to the cloister and monastic church, all other garden features, including a greenhouse and cold frames, a tennis hard court on the east side of the garden, all inspection chambers, the surfaces of driveways, paths and the track leading to the farm and along the north side of the church, service poles along the side of the track, all farmyard surfaces, a sunken tank adjacent to the farm buildings, modern foot bridges over the river, all modern fences and gates, and English Heritage information boards, are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is included.


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

Legacy System number: 21419

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Bedingfield, A L, Gilyard Beer, R, Creake Abbey Norfolk, (1970)
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 370-372
Knowles, , Haddock, , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1953), 147
Bedingfield, A L , 'Norfolk Record Society' in A Cartulery of Creake Abbey, , Vol. 35, (1966)
Robertson, D, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in Earthworks of Norfolk, (2003)
Aerial Archaeology Foundation, East Dereham, TF 8539/Z/-, (1978)
Brigadier P Stewart-Richardson, (1996)
Edward, D, NLA TF 8539/F/AEL 25, /AW/DBJ 18, ABD/DQN 4,
Edwards, D, NLA TF 8539/F/AEL 25, /ABD/DQN 4,
from survey of 1600 by W Harward, Norfolk Record Office DN/ADR 10/1 (MF/RO 408/19), (1796)
from survey of 1600 by W Harward, Norfolk Record Office DN/ADR 10/1 (MF/RO 408/19), (1796)

End of official listing