Bromholm Priory ruins


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Abbey Farm, Bacton, Norfolk, NR12 0HA


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Statutory Address:
Abbey Farm, Bacton, Norfolk, NR12 0HA

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

North Norfolk (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


C12 and C13 ruins of a Cluniac priory founded in 1113.

Reasons for Designation

The C12 and C13 ruins of Bromholm Priory, a Cluniac priory founded in 1113, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

* Proportion of original fabric: it retains a significant proportion of original fabric which shows the layout of the principal elements of the priory and provides valuable evidence of how it functioned;

* Architectural interest: the north transept and chapterhouse, which retain some architectural detailing, demonstrate medieval masonry and craftsmanship of a high order as well as the increasing wealth and status of the priory after it became a prominent place of pilgrimage;

* Historic interest: as the remains of a priory founded in 1113. The gun emplacement in the north transept, whilst having had an impact on the historic fabric of the ruins, is in itself a distinctive feature of the post-dissolution evolution of Bromholm Priory when it became fortified against invasion in the early years of World War Two;

* Group value: it has strong group value with the scheduled elements of the priory, the Grade II* listed north gatehouse and the Grade II listed pillbox.


Bromholm Priory was founded by William de Glanville in 1113 as a Cluniac priory dedicated to St Andrew. It was initially subordinate to the Cluniac House at Castle Acre in Norfolk but was emancipated from its control in 1298. Cluniac monasticism originated in the year 910 with the foundation of the abbey of Cluny in Burgundy. The lives of the monks were governed by a set of rules or customs based on the Rule of St Benedict but modified to permit a closer prescription of the daily routine of monastic observance. Cluniac monks did not participate in conventional manual labour, instead considering work such as the copying of manuscripts to fulfil the work requirement of the Benedictine Rule. Thirty-three new Cluniac priories of varying size were founded in England and Wales, beginning with the foundation of Lewes Priory, Sussex, in 1077. This constituted the largest number of Cluniac foundations in any country outside France.

The rise of Bromholm Priory from a provincial monastery to a national pilgrimage site was due to its acquisition of a fragment of the True Cross. The relic was reputedly acquired from an English chaplain who fled the sack of Constantinople in 1204. In the account given by the Benedictine monk and chronicler Matthew Paris (c.1200-59), the priest offered the relic to several monasteries in return that he and his two sons be received as brethren but he was disbelieved until he arrived at Bromholm. Matthew Paris describes it as being at that time ‘very poor, and altogether destitute of buildings’. Miracles were said to take place at Bromholm and pilgrimage was first recorded in 1223. The shrine became a fashionable venue in the early years having been patronised by Henry III and Edward II, and it remained popular with pilgrims until the Dissolution of 1536. The relic at Bromholm was mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Langland’s Vision of Piers Plowman, showing that it had gained a place in national consciousness.

According to Henry Harrod FSA, the original building at Bromholm was very small and no portion of it remains (Gleanings Among the Castles and Convents of Norfolk, 1857, p. 220). The oldest building to survive is the remains of the north transept which dates to the late C12. Early in the C13 the priory was considerably enlarged as a result of the acquisition of the relic. Harrod produced a plan of its layout in 1854 that incorporates a plan made by Mr Spurdens in 1822 depicting the foundations when they were much more distinct. This shows that Bromholm had a typical Cluniac layout, very similar to that at Castle Acre Priory. At the north end is the priory church with the tower flanked by north and south transepts, and the choir at the east end with north and south aisles. To the south of the south transept there is a slype (a covered passageway) and then the chapterhouse. Adjoining the chapterhouse on the south side is the dormitory, and on the west side is the cloister. The refectory is parallel to the cloister on its south side. Spurden marked an enclosure to the east of the chapterhouse and thought it was the cemetery. This is likely as the cemetery is in this position at Castle Acre. In 1935 a stone coffin containing a skeleton was found nearby in the east field. The main entrances were through the north and west gatehouses which both date to the C15.

In 1298 there were 25 brethren at Bromholm but this number was reduced to 18 by the time of a visitation in 1390. There were five masses celebrated daily, three were sung and two were said throughout. The Paston family were great patrons of Bromholm Priory. Paston Hall was about a mile away. When, in 1466 Sir John Paston died in London, his body was brought to Bromholm for burial and everything connected with his obsequies was carried out on a sumptuous scale. According to Harrod, he was buried at the east end of the church, either in the north or south aisle of the choir. Bromholm was dissolved in 1536 and its yearly value estimated at £109 0s. 8d. The following year Robert Southwell, solicitor to the Court of Augmentation, was granted by royal warrant Bromholm Priory with all its manors, lands, advowsons, and pensions. He wrote to Thomas Cromwell saying that he had delivered the cross of Bromholm to the late prior of Pentney.

Little is known of the post-dissolution history of the priory. Finds of Elizabethan and later coins which are concentrated north of the priory church and west of the trackway to the main gatehouse indicate commercial use of the site, possibly the continuation of a market. Any use of the old priory appears to have quickly decreased in the early C17, after which it became a farm. By the time of Buck’s View of 1738 the buildings had become ruinous. The north transept was used as a dovecote and is depicted with a pyramidal roof surmounted by a lantern. The east window in the chapter house still remained at this date, as did part of the west end of the church as high as the clerestory. In 1834 the priory was being used as ‘a quarry for agricultural buildings and edifices’ by Col. Wodehouse (Woodward, S., Correspondence vol. II folio 67v, 1834, p. 59). The Tithe Apportionment of 1845 makes it clear that most of the monastic precinct was under full cultivation. When Henry Harrod visited in 1854, he saw the corn waving high over the position of the altar. He described the south side of the north transept, which originally opened into the main body of the church, as being bricked up, along with most of the windows, and wooden floors put in. The transept was used as storage for agricultural implements and wood, and the lower part was appropriated for a cart-shed (p. 220).

Given the priory’s proximity to the coast, it was heavily fortified during the Second World War. A gun emplacement was built into the ruin of the north transept and a pillbox was built at the north end of the garden to Abbey Farmhouse. A loopholed wall was built to the north of the farmhouse and various spigot mortar bases established around the site. Sections of the priory have collapsed since the 1960s, notably the window at the east end of the south wall of the chapter house and the arch in the east wall of the chapterhouse. More of the dormitory also remained, at least as rough masonry, with walls extending to their original two-storey height in some places and one particularly well preserved window. The priory precinct is currently under arable cultivation.


C12 and C13 ruins of a Cluniac priory founded in 1113.

MATERIALS: coursed flint with ashlar dressings and handmade red brick dressings to some arched openings.

PLAN: the ruins are located just north-east of the centre of the precinct. The remains of the priory church consist of the north transept, a fragment of the west wall of the south transept, and a stretch of the south aisle wall. Further south is the south wall of the south transept which also forms the north wall of the chapter house. Adjoining this on the south side is the dormitory of which the east and south walls partially remain. Of the south-west claustral buildings, only the east wall of the refectory survives.

A later structure built against the south side of the aisle wall, probably during World War Two, is shown on the current Ordnance Survey map but has been demolished.

EXTERIOR: the most substantial fragment of the priory is the north transept. On the north elevation it has flat buttresses, three tall, plain, round-arched upper windows, and a small central doorway which has two chamfered orders, the inner one supported by shafts with foliate capitals. At the north-east corner are the remains of a winder staircase. The east elevation has a large opening with a shallow pointed arch and responds with decorated scallops. It would probably have originally led from the transept to the side chapel. On the right of this is part of the north wall of the choir which cuts across an upper opening in the transept and is therefore probably later in date. On the upper face of the wall are the shafts of a window opening. The west elevation is unrelieved by any openings. On its south corner is the lower section of the arch that would have spanned the north aisle. The south side, which would have originally opened into the body of the church, has been later infilled with flint and red brick, possibly in the C18 when the north transept was used as a dovecote. On the right there is an opening with brick sides and a segmental arch. To the left of this is a small ogee arch which must have been repositioned from elsewhere in the priory.

Inside the transept there is an intermediate concrete floor which was laid to provide a gun emplacement in case of invasion during World War Two. Splayed gun loops associated with this pierce the wall. More architectural detailing survives internally and is of the Transitional period. The west wall has two sets of paired round arched openings, one above the other, the lower pair of which is more elaborate and probably later. All these openings are infilled with flint. On the opposite side, the east wall has a large pointed opening with two orders, and paired shafts supporting the responds. Above, there is a pair of openings which retain the outer part of the moulded arches and a central shaft. The north wall retains more detailing that the others. It is divided into three by double-height shafts. The lower part consists of two pairs of pointed arches at either end forming short sections of blank arcading. The western pair is more severely pointed and has foliated capitals. The eastern pair has coiling volutes. Above, the clerestory has three elaborately moulded round arched openings which have flanking pairs of shafts with foliated capitals. There is an ambulatory at this level. The south wall has two wide arched openings, constructed of brick, which may have been added after 1500 in order to strengthen the structure.

To the south of the north transept there are two lumps of flint rubble (overgrown) which may possibly have been piers in the church. To the south of these is a short stretch of coursed flint wall, about one metre high, which formed part of the west wall of the south transept. Only a portion of the south wall of the nave survives. This shows the remnants of a C12 pier and, to the left of this, there is a later opening, now blocked, which has a pointed arch of red brick. The outer (south) face has been partly covered in concrete render and there are fragments of reinforced concrete on the ground. This is all that remains of a structure erected against the wall, probably during World War Two.

In terms of architectural detailing, the Early English chapterhouse is the second most significant portion of the priory ruins. It has tall blank arcading on the north and south walls with moulded arches springing from plain round capitals. Six arches survive on the north wall, followed by a wider splayed window opening; whilst only four arches remain on the south wall. The east wall was rebuilt at a later date as early drawings show it with a large single opening with a depressed arch. This has now gone and only a section of the wall at the northern end still stands.

The east wall of the dormitory, which extends from the south side of the chapterhouse, survives in some parts to almost two storeys. At the northern end there is an opening without any dressings, and above there is a plain pointed arch window. A further section to the south retains the opening for a hearth with some herringbone brickwork at the back. The south wall of the dormitory has a pointed arch recess and in the south-west corner there is a small portion of the vaulting that would have supported the first floor. The agricultural building that was later built against this wall is not included in the listing.

On the west side of the dormitory is a substantial section of coursed flint wall that formed part of the east end of the refectory.


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

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Books and journals
Coppack, G, Abbeys and Priories, (2009)
Harrod, Henry, Gleanings Among Castles and Covents of Norfolk, (1857)
Page, William, Victoria County History: Norfolk Vol 2, (1906), 359-363
Pevsner, N, Wilson, B, The Buildings of England: Norfolk: 1 Norwich and North-East, (2002)
Pestell, T, 'Using Material Culture to Define Holy Space: the Bromholm Project' in Spicer, S, Hamilton, S, Defining the Holy and Sacred Space in Medieval and Early Modern Europe , (2005), 161-186
Pestell, T , 'New Surveys at Bromholm Priory’' in Church Archaeology, , Vol. 4, (2000), 52-54
Louise Martin, Bromholm Priory, Norfolk: Report on Geophysical Surveys, November 2005 and March 2006 (English Heritage Research Department Report Series no. 83-2010
Norfolk Historic Environment Record 1073 including National Mapping Programme (2005)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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