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Bromholm Priory: north gatehouse and attached precinct wall

A Grade II* Listed Building in Keswick, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.8463 / 52°50'46"N

Longitude: 1.4856 / 1°29'8"E

OS Eastings: 634811

OS Northings: 333335

OS Grid: TG348333

Mapcode National: GBR XGM.JDZ

Mapcode Global: WHMSK.SQLB

Entry Name: Bromholm Priory: north gatehouse and attached precinct wall

Listing Date: 11 May 1987

Last Amended: 17 June 2016

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1049146

English Heritage Legacy ID: 224217

Location: Bacton, North Norfolk, Norfolk, NR12

County: Norfolk

District: North Norfolk

Civil Parish: Bacton

Built-Up Area: Keswick

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Bacton

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

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Ruin of C15 north gatehouse at Bromholm Priory and part of precinct wall.


Ruin of C15 north gatehouse at Bromholm Priory and part of the precinct wall.

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

PLAN: the gatehouse is located at the north end of the precinct. Adjoining it on the east side is a length of the precinct wall. Abbey Bungalow, which adjoins the gatehouse on the north-west corner, is not included in the listing.

EXTERIOR: the gatehouse was originally two bays deep with two four-centred arches of which only the inner (north) one remains. This has ashlar piers with lesenes but only the upper part of the lesene on the right survives. The arch has three moulded orders and the spandrels have flushwork consisting of a heraldic shield and trefoils. On its south side, the arch is chamfered and is edged with brick. All that remains of the outer (south) arch is the right pier and a small section of the arch ring. On the south side facing into the precinct, the gatehouse is faced with knapped and squared flint.

To the east and west there were originally two-storey chambers. The walls of the west chamber mostly survive to the height of the archway except for the west wall which has been reduced to about one metre at the northern end. The west wall contains an opening that was probably a fireplace. The south wall has a buttress on the west corner and two depressed pointed arch openings of red brick, and on the east wall there is an opening with ashlar quoins which must have been an entrance. In the east chamber, the south wall survives to the height of the archway and has two depressed pointed arch openings of red brick. The west archway has been heightened, and both are blocked. A section of the west and north walls survive roughly to the height of the springing point of the main archway. The gatehouse is overgrown with vegetation.

Adjoining the east chamber is the precinct wall which is constructed of flint. It survives in places to a height of around two metres and extends eastwards, running parallel to Back Lane. The wall is overgrown with vegetation.


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, and 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.

Reasons for Listing

The ruin of the C15 north gatehouse at Bromholm Priory and part of the precinct wall are listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Survival of original fabric: despite its ruinous state, a significant proportion of the original fabric of the gatehouse survives which reveals its original plan form and includes a considerable length of the precinct wall;

* Historic interest: gatehouses have survived in higher numbers than any other monastic building. They were invested with great significance as they presented the first impression of the priory to visitors and controlled access into its precinct;

* Architectural interest: the north gatehouse retains some architectural detailing, notably the flushwork above the north arch, which demonstrates 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;

* Group value: it is an integral element in the scheduled site of Bromholm Priory with which it has strong group value.

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