Castle Acre Priory, Castle Acre, Norfolk

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Feature Sets (4)


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.


Exterior Features


NW doorway, nave

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)
First order

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.


Of one order with an angled pseudo-colonnette on each side of the doorway.

Second order

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.

Parlour, door to cloister

Decoration survives on the interior only. The capitals are missing. The arch bears edged chevron, the label, sawtooth decoration.

Parlour, N doorway

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.

SW doorway, nave

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.

3rd order: Basketweave interlace as on the central west doorway, 5th order arch. The label is chamfered with rows of sawtooth on face and chamfer.


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.

W doorway, nave

Round-headed, of four orders in the embrasures and five, plus label, in the arch. The orders of the arch do not correspond, in number and position, to those of the jambs.

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
Arch orders

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.

2nd order: A nook roll carved with double-cone ornament.

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).

Label: Chamfered with two parallel rows of miniature double cones on the chamfer, six or seven per voussoir, and a row of cusping on the face.


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).

Jamb orders

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.

W processional door, interior of SW nave tower

Arch: Five voussoirs still in situ; all centrifugal lateral face chevron of fat roll / thin roll profile, with a cogwheel inner edge.


Church, SW tower, E exterior face

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.

Church, SW tower, S exterior face, 2nd storey

Single, round-headed opening, surrounded by a continuous moulding (profile not recorded).

Church, SW tower, S exterior face, 3rd storey

Single, round-headed opening (profile of surrounding moulding not recorded).

Church, SW tower, S exterior face, top storey

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.

W facade, N bay, top storey

All that survives of the fenestration here is the southernmost jamb: two nook shafts, the outer bearing a capital (illegible), the inner continuous.

W facade, S bay, top storey

Two windows, pointed.

The two window openings survive here, with some damage to the apices of their respective arches. Each is of three orders, the outer orders of each sharing a central shaft and capital.

1st order: Plain and continuous with a chamfer.

2nd order: Continuous with a nook-roll, and decoration outside it in the arch only; possibly double-cone ornament but badly weathered.

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.

Exterior Decoration

String courses

Nave facade, central bay, beneath sill of W window

Supported by a row of corbel heads. Chamfered, with chip-carved saltires on both faces; greater projection than other string courses on the facade.

Nave facade, central bay, flanking the arch of the W portal

Chamfered and decorated wth nested chevron, one unit on the face and half a unit on the lower chamfer.

Nave facade, central bay, surmounting short arcading either side of base of W window

Cable (rather flat in section).

Nave facade, central bay, surmounting tall blank arcading flanking W window

Single roll chevron with cogwheel lower edge.

Nave facade, continuous with the imposts of the W portal

Chamfered with a row of lozenges on the chamfer and two rows on the tall face. Extends across the entire facade.

Nave facade, N and S bays, surmounting the tier of intersecting blank arcading

Chamfered with a row of sawtooth on the face and another on the chamfer. (NB differs from equivalent string course in central bay. See iii above.) Continues across NW and SW buttress.

Nave facade, N bay and S bay, surmounting the low, fourth tier of blank arcading

As (v).

Nave facade, N bay and S bay, surmounting the second tier of blank arcading

Nested chevron as (ii), continuing across the NW and SW buttress.

SW tower, E face, below the blank arcading

Nested chevron as (ii).

SW tower, E face, below the windows

Chevron (damaged).

SW tower, S face, above first tier of blank arcading

As (vi).

SW tower, S face, below pointed windows


SW tower, S face, below top tier of blank arcading

Nested chevron as (ii).


Central bay, 1st tier, N side of W portal

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.

Central bay, 1st tier, S side of W portal

Tall, intersecting blank arcading; the arches with an angle roll, a quirked face hollow and a quirked face roll towards the extrados.

Bases are chamfered with traces of nested chevron on the chamfer, and imposts chamfered with drilled beading on face and chamfer.

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.

Central bay, 2nd tier, flanking W portal

Round headed, four arches and part of a fifth to either side of the portal arch. The arch profile is as 3.b.(i) above.

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.

Central bay, 3rd tier

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.

Central bay, fifth tier of arcading, flanking the Gothic W window

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.

1st order, continuous: Bulbous double-cone ornament with drilled beads between the units.

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.

Central bay, flanking the base of the Gothic W window

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, N side (L to R): 1. cushion; 2. broad leaf with circle ornament; 3. single scallop; 4. broad leaf with trefoil; 5. illegible, with cable abacus; 6. illegible.

Capitals, S side (L to R): 1. mask on each face; 2. interlace; 3. scallop; 4. illegible; 5. scallop; 6. scallop.

Central bay, topmost tier of arcading

A fragment of arcading survives on the N side of the Gothic W window, consisting of the springing of an arch with an inner order possibly carved with fret ornament.

Nave, S wall

Blank arcading.

Arch: Fat nook roll.

N transept, N and W wall

Interlaced blank arcading.

Arch: An angle roll flanked by a hollow chamfer.

NW bay, 2nd tier

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.

NW bay, topmost/3rd surviving tier of arcading

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.

SW bay, 2nd tier

As NW bay (3.b.(ix). The capitals are (L to R): 1 illegible; 2 scallop; 3 broad leaves with prominent, outwardly curving tips. The central bay is pierced by a tall, round-headed opening.

SW bay, 3rd tier

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.

SW tower exterior, E elevation (above roof line)

Six bays of round-headed blank arcading with scallop capitals and impost blocks scalloped on their lower edges. The arches have an angle roll and a face roll with an arris between.

SW tower exterior, S elevation, 2nd storey

Three broad bays of intersecting round-headed arcading; the arches with fat angle rolls, the capitals scalloped and the imposts chamfered.

SW tower exterior, S elevation, 3rd storey

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.

SW tower exterior, S elevation, 4th storey

Five bays of short, round-headed blank arcading. The arches have an angle roll and a face roll with an arris between, and the capitals have broad leaves at the angles.

W facade, N bay, immediately above the NW door

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.

W facade, S bay, immediately above SW door

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.

Corbel tables, corbels

Church, nave, facade, central bay

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.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Prior's chapel, chancel arch

Single order, depressed.

Wide arch with continuous mouldings.

Arch: Innermost, a fat angle roll, then a quirked hollow, then a segmental roll on the face.

Label: Hollow-chamfered with a row of tiny, stacked cones in the chamfer and a row of cusping on the face.

Tower/Transept arches

Tower arch

Church, arch from S nave aisle into SW tower

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.

2nd order: Coursed nook-shafts supporting double-scallop capitals. Imposts are as the 1st order and the arch has an angle roll.

Church, interior of SW tower, nave, arch to stair in SW corner on ground floor

Round-headed, single order.

Continuous and chamfered with a row of pellets in the chamfer on the arch only. The label has a row of raised scallops.

Church, interior of SW tower, nave, W processional door

See III.1.iv (W processional door, interior of SW nave tower) above.

SW tower, nave, N arch

This is also the westernmost nave bay S side and is discussed as such below; see IV.2.c.



N nave arcade

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.

The base of pier 6 has been reassembled. It bears a cable moulding; a spur survives on the NE and SE corners.

S nave arcade

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, W side: As W respond.

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.

Wall passages/Gallery arcades


Nave S aisle, W gallery

The arch from the nave gallery into the SW tower gallery; of two orders and round headed but all the facing stone is gone, leaving only the rubble cores.

Nave, S gallery


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.


Nave S clerestorey


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.

Vaulting/Roof Supports


Nave, S, main vault responds

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.)

Interior Decoration

Blind arcades

Chapter house, N wall

Vestiges of blank arcading.

Shafts: Fillet between two angle rolls.

Capitals: Incised cushions.

Imposts: Scalloped.

Arches: Double roll and arris.

Interior of W facade, central bay, N side of W door, 3rd tier

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.

Interior of W facade, central bay, N side of W doorway, 1st tier

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.

Interior of W facade, central bay, N side of W doorway, 2nd tier

Short blind arcading; one colonnette missing.

Capitals: Broad, pointed leaves.

Imposts: Scalloped.

Arches: Double roll and arris.

Interior of W facade, central bay, S side of W doorway, 2nd tier

Short round-headed blind arcading.

Capitals: Scallops.

Imposts: Scalloped.

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.)

Interior of W facade, central bay, S side of W doorway, 3rd tier

Short round-headed intersecting blind arcading.

Capitals: Scallops.

Imposts: Scalloped.

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.)

Interior of W facade, centre bay, S side of W doorway, 1st tier

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.)

S transept, SW corner

Bays of tall, narrow blind arcading with fat nook rolls on (?) cushion caps with bays of continuous fat nook rolls within.

String courses

Chapter House, interior, N wall

Chamfered string course decorated with intersectingchevron.

Church, interior of the W facade, central bay

Two surviving string courses, flanking the W doorway, one above the other, both quirked and chamfered.

Church, interior of W facade, central bay

Vestigial string course just above the sill of the W window, on the S side (supporting some very tall shafts) chamfered and bearing sawtooth ornament.

Church, interior S elevation of nave, westernmost bay/SW tower

Vestigial string course below the sill of the tribune opening, bearing sawtooth ornament.

Church, N (and S) transept

Parlour, interior

Chamfered string course with a negative scallop on both faces.


Reset fragments, built into small niche structure to E of Necessarium

a. Two fragments of stepped and grooved radial billet (26cm x 9cm and 27cm x 9cm).

b. Impost, quirked and pulvinated.

Loose Sculpture

Base fragments

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)

Capital fragments

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)

Capital fragments

1. Cushion with integral scallop impost (h. 16cm; l. at top 25cm)

2. Nook-shaft capital with hammer motif (h. 17cm; l. at middle 22cm).

3. Waterleaf nook-shaft capital (h. 16cm; l. at bottom 20cm)

Capital fragments

1. Incised scallop (h. 14cm; l. at top 23cm)

2. Cushion/volute with pierced balls on integral impost (h. 14cm; l. 21cm)

3. Nook scallop (h. 17cm x l. at bottom 16cm)

Impost fragment

1. Scalloped (on only three of its four faces?): 29cm x 29cm

Voussoir fragment

Decorated on one face, possibly the soffit, with an eight-petalled flower flanked by a triangular concavity. It may be a through-stone.

Voussoir/string course fragments

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).

4. Voussoir with sawtooth ornament (h. 10cm; l. 32cm). Voussoir with edged chevron (h. 22cm; l. 16cm)

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)


Fernie (2000), 186, comments on the nave pier profiles, noting that they match in responds facing each other under each arch, and that although north and south arcades also match, no base profile is the same as any other in the same arcade. He dates the façade to the 2nd quarter of the 12thc, but McAleer (1984), 471-76, suggests that the façade was not complete at the 1146/48 consecration. The surviving mouldings of the south-west tower indicate that building was ongoing until c. 1160-90.

The decoration of the two elevations of the façade, the internal and the external, corresponds remarkably closely. This is true even when there is some localised discrepancy, as occurs immediately north of the W doorway, both inside and out, where the profile of the arcading differs from anywhere else on the façade ( cf III.3.b.i. and 5.a.i) This confirms that it was the usual practice to build both elevations of a façade simultaneously, even where, or especially where, these were particularly ornate.

Among the Romanesque sculpture fragments on display at the priory (in 1985) is a voussoir (VI.vii above) with a symmetrical floral motif on the soffit. The voussoir is 40cm in length and, as it is decorated at either end with the apex of a right-angle chevron, it is a through-stone, originally part of a free-standing arcade. Assuming that such an arcade would have rested on chamfered imposts, the supporting capitals beneath would have had a top surface of roughly 30cm square, about the right size for single cloister capitals. After the priory buildings were dismantled in the 16thc., voussoirs of the same type, as well as many other carved fragments, found their way to the village of Great Dunham, three miles to the east. There they can be seen reused in great numbers in the house and outbuildings of Rookery Farm, in the garden of the Old Rectory and stored inside the important church c.1100 of St Andrew.

A fragment decorated with syncopated double-disc (VI.vi.1 above) and two 'diabolo' double-cone voussoirs (VI.vi.6 above) at the priory provide intriguing evidence of workshop practice and patterns of patronage in 12thc. Norfolk. The two motifs on these fragments are among those frequently occurring together on a group of decorated doorways in over 20 parish churches, concentrated in a triangle of land lying between the rivers Yare and Waveney in the south-east of the county and NE Suffolk, some 40 miles away from Castle Acre (e.g. St Margaret, Hales, N doorway; All Saints, Thurlton; and in Suffolk, St Andrew, Westhall and St Botolph, North Cove.) This region, the breadbasket of East Anglia, was the most prosperous corner of a wealthy county, populated by large numbers of free men. It was controlled by the Bigods, major post-Conquest landholders in Norfolk like the Warenne family, involved with the foundation of the new cathedral at Norwich and, also like the Warennes, patrons of a Cluniac priory in the county, at Thetford. Examples of the double-disc and double-cone motifs also occur at Norwich Cathedral and Thetford Priory. A single successful sculpture workshop with a distinctive vocabulary of ornament seems, therefore, to have been active in all four corners of the county in the middle decades of the 12thc., working simultaneously for several wealthy patrons, all of whom were presumably equally interested in employing the best sculptors available.


  • 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 Fa├žade 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.

W facade.
W facade.
W facade.
Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk. Ground plan by F. Mackenzie, 1811. Image courtesy of the Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, London.


Site Location
Castle Acre Priory, Castle Acre
National Grid Reference
TF 816 155 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Norfolk
now: Norfolk
medieval: North Elmham (c.950-1071), Thetford (1071-94), Norwich (from 1094)
now: Norwich
medieval: St Mary
Type of building/monument
Monastic church and priory complex  
Report authors
Jill A Franklin 
Visit Date
19 Aug 1985