Binham Priory must be our most visited historical building in Norfolk, if not in England. During each of our Norfolk holidays, and some of our Norfolk days out, we always happily arrive at the lovely parish church of St. Mary and Holy Cross and its priory ruins. It has been a very popular stopping place on many of our tandem cycle rides!
Apart from “wow” when we get our first glimpse of the church and ruins over the priory precinct, our next conversation always mentions the grand west window above the church entrance and how we would love to see it back in its original glory rather than the current bricked-up affair.
For once, we can't blame the damage on Henry VIII, this architectural vandal of a king and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The west front of the church was completed around 1244 and actually survived intact until 1809 when the window had fallen into disrepair and needed to be bricked up for safety reasons. Perhaps one day, when we’ve got some spare change…
After the Norman Conquest of 1066, William the Conqueror bestowed the manor of Binham on his nephew Peter de Valognes, the Lord of Orford. Peter and his wife founded Binham Priory in 1091 as they, like many other wealthy families at that time, wanted the monks prayers to ease their way into heaven. They also donated all the land and rights of the Manor of Binham so that the priory was able to sustain itself.
Building works started almost immediately, and the new priory buildings - large enough for a prior and up to twelve monks - replaced Binham’s parish church of St. Mary. The priory church was built starting from the east end - the monastic church - and finished at the west end, which housed the parish church. The whole structure took over one hundred and fifty years to complete, but the scale and magnificence would have amazed the local people, who would never have seen anything like this before.
The closure of Binham Priory, during King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, changed the local community forever. For over four hundred years, the priory and local people had prospered by working together. Work, healthcare, and pastoral care disappeared overnight.
The priory, minus the parish part of the church, was sold to royal supporter Sir Thomas Paston in 1539. He turned the west end of the large cruciform priory church into a parish church for the villagers, and arranged for the priory buildings to be dismantled, and the stone sold and re-used for other buildings. In fact, he used the stone to build himself a nice new house in Wells-next-the-Sea!
So why do we like Binham Priory so much?
Binham Priory is one of the most spectacular monastic ruins in Norfolk. The remaining medieval stonework gives a sense of scale and a feeling of the beauty of the buildings, made from quality stonework by highly skilled stonemasons.
Secondly, there is the peace and quiet of the tranquil village of Binham.
Thirdly, there are the views across the priory precinct to St. Mary and Holy Cross Church and its priory ruins.
And finally, the approach along Wareham Road and the entrance into the car park through the ruined gatehouse can very easily put a lump into your throat.
Besides that, Binham has had some wonderful surprises in store for us at times. During one of our May/June holidays, the church was hosting a flower festival and was decorated with a stunning display of flowers. The colours and scent really stood out, and exploring the church gained a wholly new dimension.
Our visit at the end of our Christmas Day trip to the North Norfolk coast brought another surprise. We arrived around sunset, having just walked down to Blakeney Point and back that afternoon, and for the first time we saw the church and ruins lit up. I’m not sure if the church is lit up every night, but that was rather special.
For more information about Binham Priory, its opening times, and current events, please check out the English Heritage website.
Norfolk has no shortage of fabulous holiday accommodation whether you want to spend time on the beach, love boating or want to explore inland. You may covet a tiny fisherman's cottage like the one in Blakeney we kept returning to. You may like something larger and more modern like a loft overlooking the Norfolk Broads, or the right place for you may be a chic city apartment perfectly placed to explore Norwich...
However, if you fancy a hotel how about some of these...
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It's next to impossible to be bored in Norfolk, there's just so much to do and see. The list below includes some of our favourite places