Binham Priory, Binham, Norfolk

Binham Priory is a dramatic sight when come upon unawares and seen across the fields. The combination of massive ruins and a still standing medieval building is intriguing. Closer inspection turns out to be very rewarding.
It is in fact a Benedictine priory founded in 1091 by Peter de Valoines, a nephew of William the Conqueror. The structure is mostly Norman and was started at the east end in the early 1100s, but only finally completed at the west end between 1226 and 1244, and by then in the Early English style. The part still standing is the nave of the larger priory church; the nave always served as the parish church and still does. The ruins seen in the picture to the east are the remains of the transepts, crossing tower and chancel. The full name is The Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Cross. The demolition took place after the Reformation when the site and buildings were granted to the Paston family.

Click on photos below to enlarge

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The south side of the church shows the progression from Norman style (round-arched windows) to Early English (the first period of Gothic, pointed windows). Also visible, in the middle picture, the change from the typical Norman corbel table above the windows to a simple horizontal projection. The church also contains 15th century Perpendicular windows (several vertical mullions and bar tracery at the top).

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According to a 13th century monk, Matthew Paris, the west facade was built when Richard de Parco was prior, i.e. between 1226 and 1244. The great west window was bricked up in 1809 after it fell into disrepair but it had consisted of splendid bar tracery. The two pointed windows below the large foiled circle were each divided in two separated by a foiled circle in exactly the same way as the overall window, and these in turn divided again in the same way. So there were three levels of foiled circles of diminishing size, with four at the lowest level, and eight narrow vertical lights. If the window was indeed constructed under Richard de Parco, it would be the first bar tracery in England, slightly predating Westminster Abbey.
The arcaded screen below contains the main entrance. The arches have dogtooth decoration, a typical Early English decoration, and there are crocket capitals on the columns of the portal.
The fronts of the north and south aisles on either side of the nave frontage still stand but the aisles have gone.
The bell-cote is of about 1432.  

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Interior of the parish church, looking east. This was the nave of the priory church, or, more strictly, seven out of its nine bays. The pulpitum, separating the lay area from the monastic area, stood in front of the two further bays and was built up to form the east wall of the church after demolition of the building beyond. A Tudor domestic-style window was inserted. 
The nave, mostly Norman, consists of ground level arcade, gallery and clerestory with stepped tripartite arcade and wall passage. The arcade has twin shafts rising uninterrupted from floor to roof. Some of the arches of the arcade have typical Norman decorative mouldings, whilst the third arch from the east on the north side is thought to be unique.

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South-east corner of church, showing arch mouldings, triple sedilia, blocked doorways and piscina.

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At the west end the Early English style with its pointed arches appears. On the north wall, for instance, this can be seen on the final bay at ground level, on two bays at gallery level and on three bays at clerestory level.
Visible in the first picture, the large poppy-heads of the 16th century benches.
Octagonal font in the Perpendicular style. The upper step has has panel and quatrefoil decoration. Statuettes against the stem and the Seven Sacraments against the bowl.

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The remnants of the crossing tower piers. Norman, and built prior to the nave, but precise dates unknown. 

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First picture, part of the chancel remains east of the tower. Next two pictures show areas of the priory to the south of the church which included the cloister, refectory, chapter house and domestic buildings.

Sketch of the medieval priory
Ground plan of the priory

- both from the

Parish Website

Aerial photograph
Ground plan with dates of phases

- both from

The Norfolk Archaeological Trust


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