In the autumn of last year when we could get in the car and have a trip out, we went to visit Binham Priory. We’d been before some years ago before we moved to Norfolk and found the place fascinating.
Binham is easy to find, just a few miles inland from the north Norfolk coast between Wells-next-sea and Blakeney and the priory lies just to the north of the village set behind tall stone walls. It’s hard to miss as the ruins and church dominate the landscape.
A bit of history for you – Binham Priory (the Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Cross) was founded in 1091 by Peter des Valoines, a nephew of William the Conqueror. Built in the Benedictine period, a time in history where reform of monasteries was carried out to replace secular clergy who were often married with celibate contemplative monks, it is one of the most complete and imposing monastic ruins in Norfolk. It was home to a community of monks for over 400 years until it’s suppression in 1539 under the reign of Henry VIII, and was a place of almost continuous scandal with one Prior going mad, being flogged and kept in solitary confinement until his death when he was buried in chains in the churchyard and another running up so much debt from his spending on the study of alchemy he resorted to selling off precious silver and gold rings, chalices and cups and spoons until his suspension from the altar.
The priory was built of flint and Barnack limestone brought from Northants via the river Stiffkey, and construction took nearly 150 years. The building was then adapted through the medieval period. The nave of the original priory church is now used as Binham parish church and it is the western façade of this that faces you as you enter the grounds and you can see the huge arched window which was bricked over in the early nineteenth century presumably to cut down on glazing costs.
To the east of the church are the remains of a tower, four massive piers that rise up to an enormous height, the monks would sit in wooden stalls beneath this tower separated from the nave by a stone screen. It seems amazing that these structures have survived, they are truly massive to look at.
The outline of the Presbytery can be seen east of the tower ruins with the high altar at the far end.
The area to the south of the church has numerous ruined walls that show the outline of the cloisters, the refectory, chapter house, kitchen and other rooms which are interesting to walk round and great for children to explore.
Inside the church are the remains of a rood screen dating to around 1500, the mediaeval paintings were covered with another layer of paint and biblical texts and over the years as this layer began to flake away the colourful illustrations were gradually revealed.
Binham Priory is a fascinating place to visit and being so close to the coast it’s only a short drive to the pretty village of Blakeney with a lovely coastal walk to Morston Quay, or alternatively visit Wells-next-sea for a fish and chip supper by the quayside.