Castle Acre Priory Norfolk - Katey Jane Photography

Castle Acre Priory Norfolk

Introduction

The castle, priory and massive 12th-century town defence at Castle Acre offer a rare powerful impression of the impact of the Norman Conquest on the ownership, government and even the family of William De Warenne, a Normal Knight who had fought at Hastings. Already rich, in the early 1070s he chose Acre as the headquarters of his Norfolk properties. Here, as at hundreds of sites across the country, the new lord built a castle - a combination of fortress and aristocratic almost unknown in Anglo - Saxon England but vital to the new regime.

In the 1080s, William settled a small band of monks near his Norfolk home, brought from his own foundation at Lewes in Sussen. His son gave the castle Acre monks a new site, wherein about 1090m the existing buildings where begin. In the following generations, the Norma imprint was completed with the fortification of the town itself. Although the Warennes and their successors remained great figures on the national stage, Castle Acre later sank into relative obscurity, and with the closing of the priory in 1537 its days of prominence where over. The result. The result, however, has been its remarkable preservation: the priory buildings are among the most intact in England, the layout of the town sills bears the stamp of the medieval defences, and the castle, abandoned in the Middle Ages, remains one of the most impressive Norman earthworks in the country.

Castle Acre Town

From the priory, the road to the town of Castle Acre skirts the outside of the medieval precinct wall as far as the small house called Abbey Cottage, at the corner at the corner with South Acre road. The cottage was identified in 1734 as a former chapel, perhaps on the basis of other information now lost, but is certainly consistent with it's a large blocked east window. Exactly who would have used it is unknown. Ahead and to the right (south) is the impressive parish church of St James the Great, largely of the 15th century but incorporating earlier fabric. Beyond the western edge of the churchyard, a well-preserved stretch of the town's massive 12th-century earthwork defences can be seen through the hedge. Further on lies the broad three lined stocks green. Today this is the main street, but it lies outside the northern rampart of the Norman town, and the houses to the south stand in it's filed in the ditch. The town was entered by the late 12th century Bailey Gate, from which Bailey Street originally the main thoroughfare leads downhill to where a second gate, now destroyed, passed through the southern rampart, Blocks of stone reused from the priory and castle can be seen in the walls of several houses. 


Click on images to view larger plus descriptions and purchase details