The ruins of the priory lie approximately a quarter of a mile SW of Castle Acre village on low marshy ground near the river Nar. The remains of the castle keep stand on a motte surrounded by a bailey and earthworks on the east side of the village, and the extensive outer defences of the castle enclosed the priory site as well as the village. In the centre of the village is the Bailey Gate, originally the north entrance to the bailey. The extent of the priory enclosure can be gained from the position of the gatehouse of c.1500, to the north of the priory church. The layout of the monastery is still clearly discernible.
There are impressive standing remains, especially of the facade of the 12thc. church. This had a nave of seven bays and a choir of two, both aisled. The E end was triapsidal. A pair of towers surmounted the westernmost bays of the nave aisles. There was a crossing tower and transepts, the latter with an apsidal chapel apiece. The walls of the nave and transepts stand to a height of several feet in places. The plan, and in some cases, ornament of the nave piers (exceptionally varied, as a group) are still discernible. What survives of the south arcade are the arch, gallery and upper storey of the westernmost bay (bay 7), forming the north face of the SW tower, together with slight remains of bay 6, sufficient to suggest that the elevation of bay 7 was repeated along the length of the nave. For the rest, both nave arcades have been completely destroyed, and what appear to be survivals are in fact reconstructions. In the north arcade, the base and part of the shaft facing of pier 6 has been reconstructed. Further east in the same arcade, a rubble construction representing the cores of piers 1 and 2, with the arch between them and the lower part of the gallery opening above has been erected for educational purposes. Substantial architectural sculpture remains on the W facade, especially in the portal zone, and on the SW tower.
The cloister is to the south of the nave, and although its arcades are gone there are substantial remains of the monastic buildings. On the east range the chapter house stands south of the transept, then come the dorter and rere-dorter, which extend southward beyond the square of the cloister. The refectory was in the south range, and the west was occupied by cellarage below and the guest house and prior's lodging above. The prior's quarters were at the north end of this range, alongside and immediately SW of the west facade of the church. They consist of a parlour and a cellar on the ground floor, and a chapel and solar above. In the centre of the west range is a two-storey porch. The parlour and chapel are 12thc work, but the west cellar and the solar above it belong to a campaign of c.1500, and the porch was also enlarged about this time. The prior's lodging continued in occupation after the dissolution. Further alterations were made including the installation of fireplaces. Both the chapel and the porch were converted to domestic use. Isolated decorated elements survive in situ on the vestigial Romanesque monastic buildings, principally the parlour and the chapter house. A number of carved fragments are (or were in 1985) displayed in the W range of the cloister.
The Cluniac priory at Castle Acre was founded c. 1089 by William II de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey. Monks were transferred there from Lewes Priory in Sussex, the first Cluniac foundation in England, established by William's father, William I, the 1st earl. The church and cloister were consecrated 1146-48 by William Turbus, Bishop of Norwich. William II endowed the priory with the Norfolk churches of Castle Acre, Methwold, Wickmere and Trunch, and Leaden Roding in Essex. Two of the priory's four dependent cells were 12thc. foundations: Broomholm (f.1113) and Slevesholm (f.1135-54), both in Norfolk. With the abolition of the monasteries at the Reformation, the priory site was acquired by the Duke of Norfolk. Some of its buildings were dismantled and the freestone dispersed and used elsewhere as building material.
Now in the care of English Heritage.
Round-headed, two orders.
|max. h.||3.16 m|
|max. w.||2.25 m (between outer edges of label)|
|min. h.||1.71 m (between outer edges of jambs)|
Attached half-shafts on double hollow-chamfered bases with foliage capitals. The N capital is badly damaged and its main face is cut back, but it has remains of a folded leaf and stem. The S capital is similarly cut back on its main face, but retains traces of foliage and a cable necking. The impost is chamfered, with drilled beading on face and chamfer.
The arch has a fat half-roll on the soffit, and the face of this order is decorated in two bands with a shallow step between them. The inner band has a row of shallow zig-zag, and the outer two rows of double-roll profile chevron intersecting to form lozenges with a pellet in each. This band is badlly worn towards the N side of the arch.
Originally with detached nook-shafts, both now lost. The bases are as the 1st order and the badly eroded capitals were originally of the Green Man type with angle masks with foliage issuing from their mouths. Imposts are as the 1st order. The arch has an angle roll and a quirked face roll of similar diameter. The label is chamfered (almost square), with thin point-to-point chevron on face and chamfer forming a quasi-dogtooth moulding along the arris.
Round-headed, two orders.
1st order: Attached half shafts with double hollow-chamfered bases, eroded waterleaf capitals and damaged imposts, apparently stepped. The arch has a double roll on the soffit with a thin roll between the two rolls, and single roll lateral chevron with a cogwheel edge on the face.
2nd order: Originally on detached nook shafts (both lost). Only the R capital and impost survive; a waterleaf capital with a stepped impost, as on the 1st order. The arch has rolls on face and soffit separated by a very slender angle roll. The label is double chamfered and carved with nested chevrons, alternately roll and hollow.
Round-headed, two orders in the jambs, three in the arch.
|h. of opening||2.45 m|
|max. h.||3.06 m|
|w. between outer edges of jambs||1.77 m|
|w. between outer edges of label||2.18 m|
|w. of opening||1.02m|
1st order: Point-to-point chevron forming a row of lozenges on the soffit, each enclosing four-petalled flowers, and a lobed cross with balls (cf the W portal). On the front face of the order is a row of hollow-profile frontal chevron.
2nd order: A fat nook-roll of double-cone form.
The interior has a stilted rere-arch with fat angle roll flanked on either edge by an arris, and a hollow-chamfered label with a row of drilled beading in the hollow and a row of scallops on the face.
1st order: Paired coursed angle-rolls separated by a thin roll. Each element has its own pseudo-base, of double hollow chamfered profile, and its own roll necking at the top, but there is just a single capital on each jamb. These are similar, with broad angle volutes and a fan-shaped trilobed leaf in the centre of the face. The imposts are notionally chamfered, the chamfer filled with a cable moulding and the face decorated with a row of drilled beading.
2nd order: Lost detached nook-shafts, bases and imposts as 1st order. Both capitals are block-type with ridged, broad leaves on the angles and small tripartite leaves in the interstices. The S capital has a profile leaf in each corner.
|max. w.||4.64 m (between outer edge of jambs)|
|max. w.||5.25 m (between outer edges of label)|
|min. w.||2.99 m|
1st order: On the soffit, two rows of lateral chevron arranged point-to-point and forming a sequence of lozenges, each containing a grooved cross or a cusped and lobed cross, with a pierced ball in the interstices. One four-petalled flower, rather than a cross. On the west face, three rows of lateral centrifugal chevron.
3rd order: Two rows of lateral centrifugal chevron, a roll inside a quirked hollow.
4th order: An angle-roll with a contiguous half-roll of the same diameter on the face.
5th order: A nook-roll in the form of a fat single cable with an anti-clockwise twist. On the face outside this is a basketweave design with pellets in the interstices, the innermost row of pellets being on the soffit. (cf Barton Bendish; also the ornament surrounding the Haddiscoe relief).
A single order of coursed shafts in the embrasures, carrying plain block capitals, a chamfered impost with reeded face and an arch decorated with triple chevron, as on the 1st order of the exterior face. The segmental rere-arch has a nook- roll and a row of scalloping on the face to the extrados. Outside this is a round-headed superarch carved with two rows of lateral centrifugal chevron, a roll inside a quirked hollow, with a cogwheel inner edge. Finally the chamfered label is carved with nested single-roll chevron, two units wide (cf Haddiscoe S door).
All orders have chamfered bases and block capitals with plain neckings. Imposts are chamfered with a row of lozenges on the chamfer and two rows on the tall face, and are continuous with the string course running across the facade at this level.
1st order: Slender, attached half-shafts.
2nd - 4th orders: Originally detached nook shafts, now all lost.
Arch: Five voussoirs still in situ; all centrifugal lateral face chevron of fat roll / thin roll profile, with a cogwheel inner edge.
Two windows, pointed.
A pair of windows similar in design to those at (ii) above. There is a fragment of (?) nail head on the left-hand side.
Single, round-headed opening, surrounded by a continuous moulding (profile not recorded).
Single, round-headed opening (profile of surrounding moulding not recorded).
Two windows, pointed.
A pair of windows similar in design to those at (ii) above, except that the third order is either continuous or its capitals are entirely worn away.
Two windows, pointed.
3rd order: Coursed angle-shafts to the outer embrasusures and a coursed half-shaft in the centre, from whose capital both arches spring. The arch has a damaged roll and the remains of a chamfered label. The imposts are all worn. The three capitals are (L to R) 1. (?) beaded cushion; 2. illegible; 3. (?) cushion.
Supported by a row of corbel heads. Chamfered, with chip-carved saltires on both faces; greater projection than other string courses on the facade.
Chamfered and decorated wth nested chevron, one unit on the face and half a unit on the lower chamfer.
Cable (rather flat in section).
Single roll chevron with cogwheel lower edge.
Chamfered with a row of lozenges on the chamfer and two rows on the tall face. Extends across the entire facade.
Nested chevron as (ii), continuing across the NW and SW buttress.
Nested chevron as (ii).
Nested chevron as (ii).
Tall, intersecting blank arcading; the arches with a quirked angle roll and a quirked face roll. NB: profile differs from that on S side, lacking the hollow roll of the latter. Bases are chamfered, and imposts chamfered with drilled beading on gace and chamfer. Capitals (from L to R): 1. broad-leafed volute; 2. as 1; 3. stringy asymmetrical interlace; 4. a (?) volute with a cavity carved on each face.
Capitals (from L to R): 1. bulbous with fine, fleshy, upright acanthus; 2. cushion with two-tiered tripartite leaves; 3. block with chamfers, angle ridges and a vertical leaf; 4. fine acanthus with cable necking.
The bases are worn, apparently chamfered, and the imposts are heavy blocks scalloped on their lower edges.
Capitals (from L to R): 1. badly weathered (cf c. and d.?); 2. interlace; 3. and 4., smooth, pointed outward curving leaf on the angles; 5. double row of broad, rounded leaves; 6. cushion; 7. and 8. scallops; 9. cushion; 10. scallop.
Across the entire width of the bay, 19 bays of intersecting blank arcading with continuous mouldings: a roll on the soffit and another on the face, with a sharp arriss between them. This arcading is much damaged.
Round headed, two orders. Tall blank arcading, the tallest surviving on the facade. One complete bay and the fragment of a second survive on either side of the window. The wall surface contained within the arcades bears an infill of diaper consisting of rows of sawtooth forming lozenges. Its effect is not unlike that in the tympanum of the N transept doorway in Norwich Cathedral, though achieved here much more simply. It is more complex than the diaper on the Cathedral facade.
2nd order: Coursed nook-shafts supporting cushion capitals with damaged chamfered imposts. The arch face is decorated with lateral chevron consisting of an angle roll, face hollow and face roll, with a cogwheel inner edge. The label is chamfered with a row of billet on the face and another on the chamfer.
Round headed, 5 bays to either side of the window. The arches are decorated with lateral face chevron; a quirked angle roll and quirked face hollow. Bases are not visible, and imposts are worn, some plain chamfered, others apparently scalloped blocks as in 3.b.(iii).
Capitals, S side (L to R): 1. mask on each face; 2. interlace; 3. scallop; 4. illegible; 5. scallop; 6. scallop.
Interlaced blank arcading.
Round-headed, single order, three bays, the northernmost damaged. The central bay was originally an opening, now partly blocked. The arch has a fat angle roll and a nailhead label. The capitals are (L to R): 1. broad pointed volutes; 2. cushion; 3. cushion.
Round headed, single order, four bays. The arcade is short, and its arches have an angle roll and a face roll with an arriss between. Capitals are (L to R): 1. broad leaf; 2. illegible; 3. illegible; 4. grooved broad leaf; 5. illegible.
The impost blocks are scalloped on their lower edges.
Six bays of short round-headed blank arcading as NW bay (3.b.(x)).
All capitals are scalloped, and the impost blocks are scalloped on their lower edges.
Three broad bays of intersecting round-headed arcading; the arches with fat angle rolls, the capitals scalloped and the imposts chamfered.
Three tall bays of round-headed arcading, the central bay enclosing a window. The capitals have broad volutes, the arches fat angle rolls with nailhead labels, and the imposts are thin and flat.
Six bays of tall, intersecting blank arcading. The arches have an angle roll and a face roll with an arriss between. Capitals have thin flat imposts and are as follows (L to R): 1. cushion; 2. illegible; 3. broad, smooth leaf with outward-curved tip; 4. as 3; 5. beast mask (cat?); 6. illegible; 7. cushion.
The lunettes under the arches are carved in relief as follows (L to R): grooved foliage; beast; mask with foliage; beast mask; foliage; human mask with foliage issuing.
As N bay (3.b.(viii).
All capitals are cushions or double scallops. The imposts are weathered; nos 1, 3, 4, 6 and 7 scalloped, the rest chamfered.
Projecting corbel table extending the width of the centre bay, constituting a major horizontal division of the facade. Beneath, large chip-carved panels bearing saltires or flowers or wheel rosettes or lozenge. The corbels support a string course described above in III.3.a.iii.
Corbels: Badly weathered, mostly beast masks. Also: a bearded man; interlaced serpents; a winged creature with talons; an acrobatic figure.
Single order, depressed.
Wide arch with continuous mouldings.
Round-headed, two orders.
1st order: Paired applied half-columns supporting a double capital with four scallops on the main gace and two on the side faces. The impost is chamfered with horizontal reeding on the face and the arch has angle rolls to east and west.
Round-headed, single order.
See III.1.iv (W processional door, interior of SW nave tower) above.
This is also the westernmost nave bay S side and is discussed as such below; see IV.2.c.
Originally of seven bays, round-headed.
No original fabric survives in-situ, but fragments of pier and base facing have been assembled at the west side of a rubble core in the position of pier 6. The pier respond thus suggested is of the type of the west side of pier 6 of the S arcade, and it is similar in all respects except the surface decoration of the respond itself, which is decorated with nested lateral chevron.
Originally of seven bays, round-headed, two orders.
The arch of bay 7 and the springing of the W side of bay 6, all that survive of the arcade, is stilted; the nave-side 1st order with two rows of chevron intersecting on the face to form lozenges and a row of sawtooth on the soffit cut point-to-point with the face chevron. On the aisle side, the 1st order arches have plain angle rolls. The 2nd order arches of bays 6 and 7 are decorated on the nave face with a row of single roll lateral chevron on the face, point-to-point with a row of sawtooth on the soffit. The nave-side label is double-chamfered with a row of billet on each chamfer. The arch is plain on the aisle side with no label.
W respond: The 1st order jamb has triple applied half columns on single-cable bases, carrying multi-scallop capitals (five scallops on the main faces, one on each side face). The imposts have a row of cusping on the face and a row of double-strand cable below, beading alternating with hollows. The 2nd order is carried on attached nook-shafts with bases as the 1st order and cushion capitals with imposts as the 1st order.
Pier 6, E side: The 1st order is carried on a broad segmental-sectioned applied shaft decorated with incised double-spiral grooving. The base is decorated with single cable, and the capital is a five-shield scallop with beading around the shields. Imposts are as the west respond. The 2nd order is carried on attached nook-shafts with beaded cushion capitals and bases and imposts as the 1st order.
Again the only evidence is in bay 7, the gallery to the SW tower, and the west side of bay 6. These indicate large single openings with coursed nook-shafts to the nave side only, carrying cushion capitals with imposts decorated with scallops. The arch face has two rows of lateral centrifugal chevron, roll, quirked hollow, with a cogwheel edge. The label is double-chamfered and decorated with nested lateral chevron two units wide running across it. In bay 6, only the west part of the label and the west impost survive.
Again evidence must be combined from bays 6 and 7. The clerestorey arcade had two blind arches flanking a central window arch, apparently all of two orders. The side arches had continuous rolls in the inner order, and nook rolls with foliage capitals supporting lateral chevron arches in the outer. The arches suvive only on the west side of bay 6, and second-order capitals on the far western shafts of bays 6 and 7.
Across the angle between the arcade wall and the west front, a cluster of three diagonally-disposed shafts runs up the wall from the level of a string course just below the arcade gallery capitals. Between the easternmost and the middle shafts is an arris. The shafts supported capitals, now worn or lost. The other surviving respond runs up the face of pier 6. Its profile is unusual, consisting of a half-roll between squared blocks and a nook-shaft to either side. Bases survive, and are similar to the arcade bases, but at the top are only remains of capitals of indeterminate form. In the absence of more evidence the form of the vault cannot be elucidated with certainty, but a quadripartite rib vault with transverse arches between the bays is not impossible. (Ed.)
Vestiges of blank arcading.
Shafts: Fillet between two angle rolls.
Capitals: Incised cushions.
Arches: Double roll and arris.
Short interlaced blind arcading. All as for the equivalent to the S side of the W portal (IV.5.a.iii above), except:
Capitals: Broad, pointed leaves (rather than scallops).
Imposts: Damaged, but not apparently scalloped.
Tall intersecting round-headed blind arcading; some colonnettes and voussoirs missing.
Bases: One bears a double row of scalloping.
Capitals: Broad, smooth leaves, with a pointed trefoil in between.
Imposts: Pierced balls.
Arches: Double roll and arris.
Short blind arcading; one colonnette missing.
Capitals: Broad, pointed leaves.
Arches: Double roll and arris.
Short round-headed blind arcading.
Arches: Ubiquitous Castle Acre profile (double roll and arris); (ubiquitous, apart from first tier of blank arcading on facade int. and ext., centre bay, north side; see III.3.b.i above.)
Short round-headed intersecting blind arcading.
Arches: A half roll on the plane, flanked by an arris, with an angle roll on the innermost edge. (The profile of the arch is essentially the same as that in the equivalent position on the exterior of the facade, where, however, the arches aren't, as here, supported on coursed colonnettes, but are continuous mouldings.)
Tall, intersecting blind arcades, colonnette and some voussoirs missing. (The blind arcading in the central bay on the interior of the W facade is similar in type, size and disposition to that in the equivalent location on the exterior.)
Bases: Decorated, badly weathered. One bears a plaited rope motif.
Capitals: Smooth, broad leaves with a volute enclosing a whorl/bud.
Imposts: Quirked and chamfered.
Arches: Angle roll, then a hollow and a half-roll on the face (i.e. the same profile as the arcading in the corresponding position on the exterior of the facade, and unlike that on the N side of the central doorway.)
Bays of tall, narrow blind arcading with fat nook rolls on (?) cushion caps with bays of continuous fat nook rolls within.
Chamfered string course decorated with intersectingchevron.
Two surviving string courses, flanking the W doorway, one above the other, both quirked and chamfered.
Chamfered string course with a negative scallop on both faces.
a. Two fragments of stepped and grooved radial billet (26cm x 9cm and 27cm x 9cm).
1. Double hollow chamfer (h. 15cm; l. at top 19cm)
2. With cable moulding (h. 20cm; l. at middle 23cm)
3. With volute spurs (h. 15cm; l. at bottom 30cm)
1. Cushion with integral scallop impost (h. 16cm; l. at top 25cm)
1. Incised scallop (h. 18cm; l. at top 28cm).
2. Fluted, incised scallop (h. 13 cm; l. at middle: 24cm)
3. Double capital (h. 19 cm; l. at bottom 44 cm)
1. Incised scallop (h. 14cm; l. at top 23cm)
3. Nook scallop (h. 17cm x l. at bottom 16cm)
1. Scalloped (on only three of its four faces?): 29cm x 29cm
Decorated on one face, possibly the soffit, with an eight-petalled flower flanked by a triangular concavity. It may be a through-stone.
The fragments were photographed when on display and are identified here by means of their exhibition number.
1. Radial billet (h. 9cm; l. 61cm)
2. Voussoir with narrow chevron (h. 10cm; l. 38cm).
3. String course fragment with interlace (h. 10cm; l. 58cm).
5. Voussoir with relief criss-cross ornament (h. 11cm; l. 30cm)
6. Two diabolo-cone voussoirs cinched by pierced balls (each, h. 20cm; l. 16cm, displayed end-to-end)
7. Zigzag fragment with pierced beading (no measurements)
8. Voussoir with face chevron (h. 23cm; l. 20cm)
Victoria History of the Counties of England: Norfolk, London 1906, ii, 356-58.
B. Cherry, 'Romanesque Architecture in Eastern England', Journal of the British Archaeological Association, cxxxi, 1978, 12-14.
E. C. Fernie, The Architecture of Norman England. Oxford, 2000.
J. P. McAleer, The Romanesque Church Façade in Britain, PhD, Courtauld Institute, London, 1963, published New York and London 1984.
F. J. E. Raby and P. K. Baillie Reynolds, Castle Acre Priory, London 1986/1952.
W. H. St John Hope, 'Castle Acre Priory', Norfolk Archaeology, xii, 1895, 105-57.
N. Pevsner and B. Wilson, The Buildings of England: Norfolk: North-West and South, Harmondsworth 1962, revised 1999, 2:244-48.