Welcome to Week 8 of Traveling Through History.
To all those of you who have messaged or emailed me about how much you are enjoying the newsletter, I wanted to say a big thank you! If makes me feel that the big effort of a weekly publication is worth it when others also enjoy it.
As I finalise this week’s issue, I am on the EuroStar to Paris. We are away for the next five days (four nights) and next week I will be doing a very special Paris Issue for you all.
This issue is also the last week of our look into a very small number of priory ruins that dot the English countryside. There are so many more to see and I hope to tick off a few more before we return to Australia in a couple of years.
August will see us dive into some of the magnificent Abbeys that played such a significant role in the fabric of English society especially throughout the Middle Ages.
As always, I hope you enjoy Traveling Through History with me, and I’ll see you next week.
Savvy Travel Historian
July Theme – Priories
Castle Acre Priory
Located in the northeast corner of Norfolk, this Cluniac priory was one of the largest monastic sites in Britain and is also one of the most well preserved.
William de Warenne and his wife Gundrada, chose the area of Castle Acre, where a priory, castle and Norman town were already established, as their headquarters for all of their Norfolk properties.
De Warnne, who was already rich before he fought in the Battle of Hastings, relocated here around 1070.
Castle Acre is 45 minutes north east of Norwich and around 25 minutes east of King’s Lynn (where the Royal Family’s Sandringham Estate is situated).
When William the Conqueror invade England in 1066, the site of Acre already had a settlement, church and a wealthy landowner called Toki. However, like most men of his class at that time, his lands taken from him and given to William’s supporters.
De Warenne Family
The de Warnne family had a long history in Normandy (which lasted until 1261) and were already wealthy prior to extending their fortunes in England after the conquest.
William I de Warenne was a key political ally of the new regime, and he was one of only four magnates appointed to govern in William the Conqueror’s absence in 1067.
The family were likely to have obtained the property between 1070-1071 through de Warenne’s marriage to Gundrada, whose brother was given Acre after it was taken from Toki.
By the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, de Warenne was listed as having vast estates showing how much more wealthy he was, than before the Conquest.
Castle Acre Castle & Priory to 1138
The Acre area was fairly central to all of de Warenne’s land holdings, and this is likely why he built a castle here before 1085, which we know because de Warenne’s wife died here in childbirth in that same year.
Fortified castles were almost unheard of in England prior to the Conquest but by 1100, almost 500 of them had been built. Their defensive role consolidated the Norman Conquest and provided the ability to block or delay an enemy’s progress.
Between 1081 – 1085 William granted lands to establish a Cluniac monastery, first allowing them use of St Mary at Acre Church with 30 acres of land and then later an additional 240 acres were given to them.
Additional provision was made in 1088 by way of revenue and was situated within the castle bailey for protection.
Following de Warenne’s death in 1088, his son, William II, gifted new estates to the monks in 1089, with increased resources that allowed them to begin constructions of some of the buildings we can see today.
However, (and not dissimilar to today), building works progressed slowly and the church was not consecrate until 1146-8 and the western end not until the 1160s.
When the east end of the church was finished early, around 1100, and this is likely where the monks relocated to. The rest of the priory was completed over the following 50 years.
The priory was strengthened during the later middle-ages, attracting many benefactors and further gifts from other de Warenne descendants. The last ‘gift’ was granted in 1315 by the sixth earl, with much of the expenditure going on the buildings and provision of maintenance for the monk community, which now numbered 36 plus servants.
Like Wenlock Priory that we discussed last issue, Castle Acre also had to pay heavy taxes during the wars with France (being subject to the Abbot of Cluny in France), but eventually secured ‘English’ status in 1325.
After the death of the third earl, his daughter inherited the estate and ultimately married Hamlin Plantagenet and through this, ultimately, the Earl’s of Arundel inherited Castle Acre, which included the priory. King Henry III visited Castle Acre on at least four occasions, and it attracted its fair share of pilgrims, due to a relict supposedly of the arm of the Apostle Philip.
The Prior leading up to the Suppression
The priory had landholdings (given mostly as gifts) dotted over the Norfolk countryside and it was from these endowments they sourced most of their income. By 1534 its income was assessed at £306/yr, which was about mid-range for monasteries at the time.
Like many later middle-ages monasteries, improvements were made to the priory that increased the comfort level of those living there. In the early 16thC the Prior’s lodgings were extended and improved.
The deed to surrender Castle Acre was signed by the prior, Thomas Malling and the 10 remaining monks on 22, November 1537. The lands were granted to Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, after prior arrangement with Thomas Cromwell.
By the summer of 1538, the buildings were starting to be demolished but the prior’s lodgings were maintained for a house, and it was still being used well into the next century.
In 1558 the castle and priory were sold by the family to a London diplomat, Thomas Gresham, who’s widow then on sold it to Thomas Cecil, son of Elizabeth I’s lord high treasurer and in 1615, it was sold again to Sir Edward Coke an outstanding lawyer and politician.
Coke set about ensuring the longevity of what remained at both the prior and castle, by trying to preserve what remained. During the 18thC, enough interest was shown by visitors to the ruins that the tenants started to show people around.
In the late 1880’s the buildings had been excavated and studied by local historians that enabled a full-time caretaker to be appointed and a charge of sixpence levied against each visitor.
The main buildings were taken into state guardianship by 1929 and a massive repair and preservation programme began, which include the publication of the first official guidebook.
A visitor centre was added and now includes an introductory display that has allowed historic images and local artifacts to be put on display.
Castle Acre Priory followed the standard layout of Cluniac priories in England but had a few distinct feature pieces.
Built in the early 16thC, while now roofless, the gatehouse stands almost complete. It’s of brick and flint construction, with a double doorway that allowed for horses and carts to pass through and a smaller one for pedestrians.
The West Front
The magnificent west front façade is one of the most famous in England. It is meant to be an uplifting statement to the glory of God. Based on other churches in nearby areas, construction can be dated around 1140 for the lower portions, with the upper stories over the next 20 years.
The large central window was added in the 15thC.
Entering through the front western door, we can see the length of the nave, which was the heart of the church.
The elevated rocks in the centre of the picture would have been where the Rood screen was placed, dividing the 12thC church in two.
The south-west tower included a spiral staircase that lead to the scarcity, where vestments and liturgical equipment was stored and the lower level, linking the nave with the choir galleries.
Kitchens & Refectory
The remains of the early kitchens dating back to the 12thC and 13thC can be seen in front of the Refectory where the monks ate their daily meals.
The Dormitory building contained two floors. The monks slept above and a long-vaulted day room below.
The Chapter House was the area where the monks gathered after church to listen to a reading on a chapter of the Bible. It was also where the business of the prior was discussed.
As mentioned previously, the Prior’s lodgings had been converted into a substantial house and remains largely intact today and is a magnificent testament to the work undertaken at the time.
The Prior’s Chapel was improved over the years and the only 12thC remaining piece are the arches shown on the right-hand side in the image above. The walls had elaborate wall paintings that have mostly disappeared now.
Relevant Travel Information:
English Heritage now maintain the site.
Full details about Castle Acre Priory can be found here:
Open every day from 10am – 5pm until early November, when winter hours see it open only on the weekends from 10am -4pm.
Further information on its history can be found here:
Out & About
Buckingham Palace – Summer Opening
Each year Buckingham Palace is open for the summer to allow visitors to see the State Rooms and tour the gardens.
You can explore 19 rooms in total and each year a different display is set up to give visitors an insight into royal life. Last year was a celebration of Her Late Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee (and we were fortunate to see it before she died, when the palaces were closed) and this year had a display about King Charles’s Coronation in May.
The Royal Collection Trust (RCT) oversee the 10-week summer opening each year, usually from mid-July until late September (see their website to confirm dates each year).
If you are in London during this time, you MUST book ahead if you wish to do the tour, because they can sell out as on the day tickets can be very limited.
The Coronation display was fabulous this year. The King and Queen’s robes were on display, including their shoes! As well as the drafts and final invitations sent out, the stole worn by the King during the anointing ceremony, the thrones sat on and the anointing screens (which were magnificent up close, compared to seeing them on television).
This was our third time visiting, (2018, 2022 & 2023) and I never get tried of it. The Picture Gallery is my favourite space, as well as the wing added by Queen Victoria, which has a collection of paintings that show her Coronation, wedding, and the christening of her first-born son (the future Edward VII).
Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take any photos inside, but the White Drawing Room can be seen here from the Royal Family’s website, the magnificence and splendour is truly on display in this room.
This link is to a commentary on the features of the room:
And the following link allows you to do a 360-degree scan of the room.
Details and virtual tours of many of the state rooms can be found here:
Tickets can be purchased via the following link:
This Week in History
306 - Constantine declared Roman Emperor
1446 - Foundation stone laid for King’s College Chapel in Cambridge
1794 - Robespierre is overthrown in a coup in Paris
1890 - Vincent Van Gogh shoots himself in Auvers, France
1148 - The Crusaders abandon their siege of Damascus leading to the failure of the Second Crusade
1588 - The Spanish Armada is defeated by Elizabeth I's navy
1907 - Baden-Powell forms the Boy Scouts in England
1954 - Publication of the 1st volume of 'Lord of the Rings', Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien in London
1498 - Christopher Columbus discovers Trinidad
1620 - Pilgrim Father's depart the Netherlands on their way to America via England
30BC - Octavian enters Alexandria in Egypt bringing it under the control of the Roman Republic
1086 - The results of Domesday inquiry are presented to Willian the Conqueror in Salisbury.
1834 - Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 comes into effect, abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire
Michelle is a speaker, author, content marketer, historian and mother of 3 boys.
After 25 years in business and as the ‘Content Marketing Queen’ for the past 12 years, she has helped countless small businesses understand and develop their content strategies and focus on a customer first approach.
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