HampshireCam Travels ~ Norfolk Odyssey - Page 3

The village of Castle Acre is sited on the ancient Peddars Way, and has a Roman trackway to the North which until recently remained an important route to the north Norfolk coast. The sign shows the Cluniac priory as it would have been in the 7th century, and a Cluniac monk.


The Bailey Gate was built in about 1200 to defend the north entrance to the fortified town. In front of it was a deep ditch, crossed by a bridge and to either side were the massive earthwork ramparts that continued around the town.


The Castle which gives the village its name is closely linked with the fortunes of the Norman Earls of Surrey. Little is known about the village before the Norman Conquest. Before and after the Battle of Hastings it was owned by the Bishop of Ely, but in the Domesday Book it is listed as being held by William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey. In the early 1070s he chose Acre as the headquarters of his Norfolk properties and built a castle, a combination of fortress and aristocratic residence. Over the centuries the castle has been robbed of most of its stonework but the ruins are impressive and give an idea of how huge the castle would have been. The above picture shows the Inner Bailey where the earliest defences date from about the 1070s and consisted of a low bank carrying a palisade surrounded by a ditch. At a similar time a massive two-storey stone building was put up in the inner ward, with walls six feet thick.


The west gate to the outer bailey. This was the most important of the three gates (north and east being the other two) as it provided the principal access from the town. The gate was approached across the moat (now filled in here) by a bridge, and defended by a massive stone gatehouse fronted by semi-circular turrets, the bases of which survive. It is thought that the close similarities to the Bailey Gate in the town suggest this gatehouse was an improvement developed in the 12th or early 13th century.


Another view of the inner bailey, with the countryside beyond.


Picturesque cottages in the area behind the Bailey Gate many of which were built with stone taken from the castle and priory sites.


Castle Acre Priory ~ In the 1080s William de Warenne settled a small band of monks from his own foundation in Sussex near his Norfolk castle. His son later gave the monks a new site and the construction of the buildings you see today were begun. The priory remained active and important until 1537 when it was closed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. However, the priory buildings are among the most intact in England, and the sight of the west front of the church (above) as you approach the priory is stunning. Although the church was built in the mid-12th century, the magnificent central window wasn't added until the early 15th century.


West Range and Priors Lodgings, this building provided the priory's main storage cellar, the guesthouse and the lodgings for the prior, which included his chapel and study. In the later 12th century a two-storey porch was placed in front of the original entrance, which was concealed when the existing outer porch was added in the 15th century.


Looking towards the west door from inside the church. The stone wall in the centre of the picture is the remains of the 14th century rood screen which separated lay people from the monks.

Looking from the church towards the prior's lodgings. The window is in the prior's study, see below. Right, part of the cellar below the prior's lodgings. This would have been used to store the bulk of the provisions required by the monks living at the priory, and would have been managed by a cellarer.

The prior's study situated in his lodgings. This was part of the two-storey extension which was added in the mid-14th century. At ground floor level was a vaulted room possibly intended as an office linked to the outer parlour where monastic officials could do business with laymen. In the corner is a spiral staircase which leads to the prior's chapel and study. A fireplace was originally provided on the north wall, but was replaced in the early 16th century with the large bay window overlooking the approaches to the priory.


The model of Castle Acre Priory in the Visitors Centre.

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