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.
|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.
|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.
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.
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.