Flitcham Priory, medieval settlement and 16th century great house


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020770

Date first listed: 12-Mar-2003


Ordnance survey map of Flitcham Priory, medieval settlement and 16th century great house
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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: Flitcham with Appleton

National Grid Reference: TF 73624 26531


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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.

The remains of Flitcham Priory include a variety of features which illustrate the layout of the monastic precinct as a whole and which will contain archaeological information concerning the history and organisation of the priory and its function as the centre of a monastic estate. The buried remains of the claustral complex and other buildings will retain evidence for their original construction and their use during the medieval period. The associated earthworks and archaeological deposits in the surrounding areas of the precinct will provide information on the domestic and agricultural activities and the economy which supported the religious life of the priory. Organic materials, including artefacts and evidence for the local environment in the past are also likely to be preserved in waterlogged deposts within features in the lower lying parts of the site.

The remains of medieval settlement adjacent to the monastic precinct are of particular interest in that they relate to the wider community of which the priory was an important part.

Following the Dissolution and the acquisition of monastic estates by wealthy laymen, great houses were sometimes built on the sites of monasteries, often incorporating some part of the monastic buildings. Such houses were the residences of high status households and many were notable for the high quality of the architecture and the opulence of their furnishings. Some details of the 16th century great house which was built on the site of Flitcham Priory are documented in an early 17th century map, on which it is depicted in a perspective drawing, and a small part of it is known to be incorporated in the later farmhouse. Other remains of it are known or believed to survive beneath the house and gardens and will provide further information relating to its construction, history and architecture.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes earthworks and buried remains of Flitcham Priory and of a 16th century great house built on the site of the priory after its dissolution, together with adjoining remains of an abandoned area of medieval settlement.

The site of the priory lies on the west side of the village of Flitcham and north of the headwater of the Babingley river, which formed the southern boundary of the monastic precinct. Towards the western end of the precinct a later drain cuts off the original loop of the river to the south, and the drain and the area to the south of it are not included in the scheduling. The eastern and western boundaries of the precinct are recorded on maps dated to around 1600 and 1655, and the western boundary is still clearly defined by an earthwork. A modern field boundary corresponds approximately to the limit of the precinct on the east side, although it does not follow the line of the original boundary exactly. The line of what is thought to be the northern boundary is shown on the 17th century maps and is followed for most of its length by Abbey Road, although the road itself is post-medieval in date, replacing an earlier road which ran about 180m to the north.

The foundations of the priory church and claustral buildings, which formed the core of the monastic complex, lie beneath and to the south of Abbey Farmhouse and adjacent outbuildings, and parts of what were probably walls of the church are incorporated in the house. Elsewhere within the precinct there are buried remains of other buildings thought to be of monastic date, earthworks which define a series of rectilinear enclosures and other features also thought to relate to the medieval priory, together with a series of water management features of various dates, some of which probably have a monastic origin.

The priory was founded around 1217 by Sir Robert Aguillon, who was lord of the manor of Flixton. It was a small cell or subsiduary of the much larger and wealthier Augustinian priory of Walsingham, and it housed around six canons, including the prior. The annual income from its possessions was valued in 1291 at 27 pounds, 10 shillings and 7 pence, and this income increased as a result of further endowments and gifts in the 14th century. In 1535, shortly before the dissolution of the monasteries, the annual value was assessed at 55 pounds, 5 shillings and 6 pence. The priory was surrendered with Walsingham Priory in 1538. After the Dissolution it was granted to Edward, Lord Clinton, and the following year passed to Sir William Hollis. Sir William's son, Thomas, conveyed it to Henry Ward in 1556, and subsequently it passed into the possession of Thomas, Duke of Norfolk.

In dry weather the buried foundations of the cloister and conventual buildings produce parch marks which have been recorded on aerial photographs. These show that the cloister was approximately 28 sq m, with buildings about 7m wide ranged along the the west, south and east sides. According to monastic custom, the western range would have probably have contained the prior's apartments and accommodation for guests above an undercroft used for storage, and the canons' refectory would have been in the south range. The chapter house, where the canons met daily to discuss the business of the priory, would have been in the east range, centrally placed in relation to the cloister, with other apartments to the south of it and the dorter (dormitory) above. The church was evidently aligned east-west along the north side of the cloister. The recorded parch marks reveal no details of the plan of the church, but it is likely to have included an aisled nave, transepts to north and south of a crossing on a line with the eastern claustral range, and a presbytery flanked by chapels extending to the east of this. The south wall of Abbey Farmhouse coincides with the probable line of either the north wall of the church or the arcade which divided the nave from a north aisle.

The monastic precinct would also have contained domestic service buildings, such as the bakehouse and brewery, as well as stables, barns and granaries. Parch marks and traces of exposed masonry mark the position of one building believed to be of monastic date, situated about 76m west of the claustral complex. The foundations of another building, measuring about 40m in length WSW-ENE and 6m in width, are visible approximately 76m to the south of this, alongside the river. The map of 1655 shows a building close to this position, but it appears to have been smaller, on a different alignment, and slightly further to the west.

The earthwork which marks the western boundary of the precinct is a broad linear depression around 15m wide and up to 1m deep which may be interpreted as a hollow way or track running alongside the boundary itself. A ditch, visible as a narrower depression about 0.3m deep runs eastward from the northern end of this, corresponding to the southern boundary of a tenement shown on the 17th century maps and probably delineating also the northern boundary of the precinct where it diverges southward from the modern road. Approximately 18m to the south of this are the remains of a second, parallel ditch which forms the northern boundary of two roughly rectangular enclosures divided by a slightly sinuous north-south ditch. The level of the eastern enclosure is noticeably higher than that to the west, probably as the result of deliberate terracing. At its southern end there is a sub-rectangular depression over 1m in depth and measuring about 36m east-west by 9m, with the remains of a bank along the southern side. This is thought to have been a pond, probably constructed for the purpose of conserving fish stocks, and another pond-like depression which extends eastwards from the ditch which forms the eastern boundary of the enclosure was perhaps part of an interconnected system. Further enclosures are indicated by the remains of banks and ditches to the south and east.

The remains of rectilinear enclosures similarly divided by ditches and banks can also be seen in the eastern part of the precinct, bounded on the north and north east side by the remains of a bank running parallel to the road. Close to this boundary and about 380m east of the site of the claustral complex, is a well-defined, sub-rectangular platform about 0.5m high and measuring 28m north-south by 10m which probably supported a building.

Monasteries required a constant and abundant supply of water for domestic and agricultural use, and the systems constructed to control this supply and to carry off foul water are generally an important feature of monastic precincts. The principal drain would normally be sited so as to flow beneath or alongside the rere dorter (latrine block) located at the end of the eastern claustral range, and the kitchens located near the refectory. The remains of such a drain and associated water management features are probably represented by a broad, water filled channel which runs east-west about 16m to the south of the site of the south claustral range, expanding immediately west of the claustral complex into a long, irregular pond which continues along the same alignment and issues into the stream through a short channel with a sluice at the western end. A second, broader channel, extends southward to the stream from near the eastern end of the pond. The pond is a comparatively modern feature, resulting from successive modifications and enlargement of earlier features which are depicted on an early 18th century estate map and on the tithe map of 1838, but elements of those earlier features survive within it. In place of what is now the western end of the pond, the 18th century map shows a regular channel, of similar width to that which still survives to the east of the pond, issuing into the stream, and the southward projection near the eastern end of the modern pond is shown to have been the western arm of a D-shaped, looping channel, the eastern end of which was also connected to the stream. On the tithe map a narrower channel links these two features, but only the western half of the loop is shown, now expanded into an inverted L-shaped pond. The eastern end of the loop is still visible, however, as a relatively dry depression 6m to 8m wide running southward from the channel to the east of the pond, and about 46m to the east of this there are remains of another, parallel ditch.

A pond to the east of the farm buildings is shown on both the 18th and 19th century maps but is probably a post-medieval feature, although there is evidence for an earlier channel or leat to north and south of it, leading into the east-west drain. Beyond this, the earlier of the 17th century maps indicates two rectangular features, probably fishponds, located about 85m east of the modern farm buildings, in the area of what is now a quarry containing a pond. The quarry is a comparatively modern feature, not shown on any of the early maps. The pond, however, extends south of the quarry and then westward, the western end being connected to the east-west drain by a sluice, and this perhaps represents the remains of a leat which carried water from the fishponds into the drainage system.

The area of medieval settlement adjoining the western boundary of the monastic precinct is divided by an interconnected series of east-west and north-south ditches, low scarps and banks into at least six rectangular enclosures of varying size which have the appearance of tofts (homestead enclosures)and associated crofts. Evidence for at least one building is provided by a sub-rectangular platform about 0.5m in height situated approximately 52m west of the hollow way along the precinct boundary, and 38m north of the modern drain. The enclosures were evidently abandoned before the end of the 16th century, as they are not shown on the early maps.

The 16th century great house which was built on the site of the monastery is depicted on the earlier 17th century map in some detail. It was of open E-plan, with a central block facing north onto an inner courtyard flanked by wings to east and west. To the north of this was an outer court with a conical roofed building, probably a dovecote, in the north west corner. Both inner and outer court were entered by gabled gate houses, and it is possible that the gatehouse of the outer court was that which had originally been the entrance to the medieval priory. The inner and outer courts occupied the area of what is now a garden to the north of the farmhouse, and foundations of what was probably the east wing of the great house have been observed in digging flowerbeds. The remains of what is believed to be part of the east wall of the outer court stand about 7m to the east of the garden wall of the farmhouse, running on a line southward from the modern road with sections of later masonry to the south and north. This length of wall, measuring about 20m, is constructed of flint and reused stone blocks, with evidence of later patching and repairs and it is included in the scheduling.

By the time the map of 1655 was compiled this house had been largely demolished, retaining only a portion of the main block as the southern end of a new house which extended north into the area of what had been the inner court. This building forms the eastern half of the present house, which was extended westward and refaced in the early 19th century. Some faint parch marks recorded within the area of the monastic cloister and to the west of it may relate to other buildings shown on the mid-17th century map.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are; the farmhouse and associated outbuildings, the later masonry north and south of the surviving section of the east wall of the 16th century outer court, the surface of driveways and yards, garden walls and furniture, the retaining wall of a ha-ha around a lawn to the south of the farmhouse, inspection chambers, sluices, fences and gates and a bird watchers' hide among trees to the east of the house; the ground beneath these features is, however, included.

The quarry is totally excluded from the scheduling.

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: 30614

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Blomefield, F, An Essay towards a Topographical History of Norfolk , (1808), 413
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906)
copy in Norfolk SMR 3492, Cross, E, Proposal to alter drainage pattern ...of meadows at Abbey Farm, (1999)
Cushion, B, Flitcham SMR 3492, (1994)
Edwards, D, TF 7326/R, TF3726/S, TF3726/U, (1989)
NRO Ref. MS 4293, Description of Flitcham.. parcell of ye Possessions of John Coke, (1655)
NRO Ref. MS 4293, Description of Flitcham.. parcell of ye Possessions of John Coke, (1655)
Title: Flitcham Tithe Map Source Date: 1838 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: NRO ref. DN/TA 166
Title: Map of Flitcham (untitled) Source Date: 1600 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: NRO Ref. MS 4290 M7/1
Title: Map of Flitcham (untitled) Source Date: 1600 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: NRO Ref. MS 4290/1
Title: Map of the Manor of Flitcham Source Date: 1728 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: NRO ref. MS 4295

End of official listing