Record Details

NHER Number:385
Type of record:Monument
Name:The ruins of Carrow Priory


The remains of Carrow Priory, a Benedictine nunnery founded in the mid 12th century. The priory church was dedicated to ‘St. Mary of Carhowe’ and was part of a substantial monastic complex of a form typical for the Benedictine order. At its height it included a chapter house, dorter range, cloister and a number of other buildings. At least two buildings to the north of the church have been suggested as the location of an Anchorite cell believed to have existed at the priory. The church itself was a particularly substantial building with chapels dedicated to St. Catherine and St. John the Baptist to the north and south of the chancel. Although it is not known how long it took to build the priory, the fabric of the church at least is of Norman and Early English work. There is however evidence for later phases of building work, with, for example, the nave and aisles of the church being 13th-century additions. The west range (which probably incorporated a guest hall and other accommodation) was substantially reworked in the early 16th century, when a new Prioress’ house was built by the last but one Prioress, Isobel Wygun (1503-1535).
After the dissolution the majority of the priory buildings fell into ruin - the only exception being the prioress’ house, which became a secular dwelling known as Carrow Abbey (NHER 58529). The priory ruins had largely disappeared from view by 1880, when a major excavation, undertaken by J. J. Colman, exposed the surviving elements of the church, the chapter house and the eastern range. Fragments of a number of other buildings were also identified, along with a boundary wall to the north of the church that enclosed an area containing several features that were probably cesspits and/or wells. Several graves were also indentified, these indicating the presence of graveyards both to the north of the church nave and to the east of the chapter house. The presence of a cemetery to the north of the nave had been suggested by earlier discoveries and further burials were encountered in this area on several occasions during the 20th century.
Further consolidation work was undertaken during the early 1980s, when a number of graves were excavated within the church, including that of a priest buried with a pewter chalice and paten. A geophysical survey undertaken at this time revealed evidence for buried walls on the site of the cloister and the remains of several buildings beyond the east range.
The site of the priory had been Scheduled by 1953 and the majority of the remains exposed in the late 19th century can still be seen. This record deals principally with the physical remains of Carrow Priory and the various investigations and discoveries on this site. See NHER 296 for further information on the origins and development of the priory.

Images - none


Grid Reference:TG 2425 0741
Map Sheet:TG20NW

Full description

This record principally concerns the ruined portions of Carrow Priory, which are a Scheduled Monument (1004031; see file for scheduling report and plan of extent). It should be noted that the Scheduled area extends beyond the mapped extent of this record, incorporating virtually the full extent of the monastic precinct. The following list summarises all known archaeological investigations and discoveries.

1862 Chance discoveries
According to (S1) in around 1862 ‘several skeletons’ were dug up during the cutting of a new path through the gardens that lay to the north of the priory church.

1879 Site visit
Visit to Carrow Abbey and the priory site by the British Archaeological Association (S2). The ruins were found to be largely undisturbed and a number of the flint rubble and mortar walls could be traced, although they were partly overgrown, with only a speculative reconstruction of the monastic complex possible.

1880-1881 Excavations
Major excavations on the site were funded by J. J. Colman, soon after he acquired Carrow Abbey and its grounds in 1878. This work was supervised by a Mr A. S. King. The extent to which the ruins survived below ground was first recognised in 1881, when, according to (S3), workmen “…struck down on a Norman column.” The excavations were focused on exposing the surviving footings, in order to reconstruct the form and position of the monastic buildings. It proved possible to reconstruct much of the plan of the church, including all but the western end of the nave, the north and south aisle, the south transept, the chancel and its adjoining chapels, and the presbytery. Much of the eastern range was also exposed, including the chapter house and the ‘day-room’ (now referred to as the dorter range). The latter was found to have been vaulted, with a number of vaulting ribs found during the excavation. It was concluded that the majority of the remains exposed were of relatively early 12th- to 13th-century date, with only limited evidence for later work. There was however some evidence for alterations of the floor-level in parts of the church and some elements were clearly later additions. Little was detected within the area of the cloister, the only visible remains of which were a small portion of the southern wall. A holy water stoup could also be seen in the wall in what would have been its north-east corner. The probable location of the south range (which most likely incorporated the priory rectory and kitchen) could not be investigated due to the presence of what was then part of the Carrow Abbey gardens. A number of other structure were however identified on the site, including traces of a small building to the north-east of the church, tentatively interpreted at the time as the anchoress’ cell. More substantial foundations were note to the east of the chapter house, these following a different alignment to the other priory buildings.
Other features indentified during this work included fragments of a boundary wall that appears to have enclosed a rectangular block of land to the north of the church. To the north of the eastern end of the church two plaster-lined features described as ‘cesspool-like pits’ were identified; these contained within short length of wall aligned parallel to the church. It is unclear whether this wall was part of an extention to the church’s northern chapel or a separate building. A deep shaft covering by a brick dome was identified to the west of these features, close to a wall that projected northwards from the north aisle of the nave. These shafts, all of which were probably either cesspits or wells, were between 6 ft (1.8m) and 12ft (3.6m) deep. Another feature, identified at the time as a well, was found within the eastern side of the wall bounding this area.
A number of graves were identified outside of the church: including one immediately to the north of the nave and several to the east of the chapter house. Acording to (S4) only one of the burials by the chapter house was excavated, while another was found to be covered by a ?13th-century stone slab inscribed with cross. A stone coffin containing the skeleton of a young woman was also found immediately to the south of the presbytery
Although no complete list of finds from this work was ever published, according to (S3), a catalogue was made by Sir Hercules Read of the British Musuem in 1915. It appears that the objects recovered from these excavations were amongst items donated to the Norwich Castle Museum in 1949 (NWHCM : 1949.84). The earliest objects found were two Early Saxon amber beads. Medieval artefacts recovered included pottery, tiles, a bone pin (originally identified as Roman), stained glass and various metal objects including jettons and a silver coin of Henry V. A range of post-medieval artefacts were also found including pottery, tiles, and a large assemblage of metal objects that comprised various fittings, household items, horse equipment and tools. Amongst the post-medieval pottery was a number of delftware vessels, including a complete drug pot. As would be expected, numerous carved and moulded architectural fragments were also recovered (the majority relating to the earlier phases of construction), though what ultimately happened to this material is unclear.
A number of medieval and post-medieval tokens apparently from ‘Carrow Abbey’ were donated to the Norwich Castle Museum by H. Boardman in 1962 (NWHCM : 1962.55). These are listed as having been found in ?June 1949 during an excavation. However, no such work appears to have taken place in this year and it seems likely that these tokens were found during the 19th-century excavations. A medieval cruet discovered in the museum stores during 1999 is also likely to have been found during these excavations (NWHCM: 1999.63 : A).
See (S2) and (S4) for contemporary accounts of these excavations. These articles both include (slightly different) reconstructed plans of the priory and illustrate various architectural features and worked stone objects. These excavations and the ruins are also discussed in (S1) and (S3).

Pre 1915. Stray find
Medieval silver penny of Henry I (Norwich mint) found at ‘Carrow Abbey’ some time prior to 1915. The object is held by the British Museum, having been donated by Spinks and Son in 1915 (BM: 1915,0407.62; Coins and Medals catalogue no: 406.27A), see (S5).

Pre 1949 Stray finds
The objects donated to the Norwich Castle Museum in 1949 included a number of finds recorded as having been casual finds at Carrow Abbey. These included a figure of Christ from a crucifix (NWHCM : 1949.84.10 : StP), a 13th century silver ring (NWHCM : 1949.84 : C) and a number of clay tobacco pipes (NWHCM : 1949.84.1-14 : S)

1967. Watching Brief
Monitoring of ground works associated with the construction of a works canteen on the site of the priory church nave. Human skeletal remains found following removal of Elm Tree just north of west end of nave (TG 2424 0746). More bones were found nearby when foundation trenches were dug. These discoveries were made by staff from the Norwich Castle Museum, which now holds these remains (NWHCM : 1967.214 : A). The bones are recorded as being (or at least including) those of a ‘fused skeleton’. Information from notes made by R.R. Clarke; see also record sheets in file for NHER 296.
This discovery lies relatively close to the grave identified to the north of the nave during the 19th century excavations. suggesting a number of inhumations are probably present in this area.
According to the museum records a single sherd of post-medieval pottery was also recovered. It is noted that this sherd was tested for comparison with other early Delft-type products, although there may be some confusion here, given that complete Delft-type pot were recovered during the late 19th century excavations.

1968. Stray find
Workmen excavating a sewer uncovered a large 13th-century cooking pot (TG 2428 0745), which was complete apart from three small holes. It is of a thin, hard grey fabric with sagging base and four vertical applied strips. Although sooted, mortar adhering to this vessel suggests it may have been reused as an acoustic jar. An inscription scratched on the shoulder after firing reads ADAM and below WERM (possibly a medieval contraction of Wereham in West Norfolk). See (S6) for a brief description of this discovery. See also copies of record sheets in file for NHER 296. This object was amongst items donated to the Norwich Castle Museum in 1997 (NWHCM : 1997.91.1 : A)

24 May 1978. Excavation
Excavation by M. Atkin (Norwich Survey) on possible site of priory reredorter (TG 2428 0741). According to the very brief notes made on this work a single cess pit was excavated. Medieval pottery recovered during this work is held by Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 1997.734 : A).

1981 Consolidation works, excavation and geophysical survey
During the earlier 1980s a programme of consolidation work was undertaken, principally to lay out the site for display. An excavation was undertaken to expose the remaining portions of the chancel, choir and south transept: work supervised by the Norwich Survey. The intention was to clear the site to three inches below the original floor level and to re-lay it with Breedon gravel. Although the late 19th century excavations had cleared much of the site to foundation level, this work nevertheless exposed several areas of intact late medieval tiled floor and a series of burials. Eleven burials of late 12th- to late 15th-century date were discovered within the choir and side chapels of the priory church. Two further burials of possible 13th –century date were found in what would have been the graveyard to the north of the 12th-century priory church, cut by an extension to the north aisle. These burials presumably lay in the same graveyard as those that had been exposed during earlier phases of work in this part of the site. As would be expected, the majority of the burials were adult females; including one with a severe case of osteo-arthritis. The exceptions were a child in the graveyard and an adult priest buried in the chancel. The priest’s grave was brick lined and presumably contained a coffin - although a handful of coffin nails were the only evidence for this. A pewter chalice and paten were found in an upright position to the right of the head, with the latter lying over the bowl of the former. Other finds included a sherd of 13th- to14th-century Grimston ware pottery, a fragment of medieval glass and fragments of 14th-century Flemish floor tiles. This work is summarised in (S7) and the priest’s burial and its associated finds are fully described in detail by (S8). For further information see also description of medieval vessel recorded under NHER 25893.

Consolidation works were also undertaken in the area of the dorter range and the chapter house, although no further excavation appears to have taken place. Some recording was however clearly undertaken, with the most notable feature identified being the remains of vaulting in the south-western corner of the dorter range. See notes, plan and photographs in file.

A resistivity survey was also conducted in the grounds of Carrow Abbey around this time. The area to the east of Carrow Abbey was investigated with several walls associated with the cloister identified. A large area was also surveyed to the east of the dorter range, revealing a number of additional buildings. Several walls were also identified between the main priory complex and the eastern boundary of the site. See (S9) and copy of results in file.

1985 ?Stray find
Two pottery bases recovered from 'Carrow' in 1985. Both are stoneware from the middle Rhine area of Germany (S10). It should be noted that there is no evidence for any form of investigation on the site of Carrow Priory in this year and its is entirely possible that these objects were recovered from some other site in the area.

List of findspot of Spanish medieval pottery made by John Hurst after his 1977 article (S10) includes Carrow Abbey as a findspot of mature Valencian lustreware. Information from Lincoln Musuem. Note by E. Rose (NLA) 4 Jan 1994.

P. Watkins (HES) January 2013 (based in part on information originally compiled by R. R. Clarke and other NCM staff)

March 2014.
Section 17 agreement set-up covering repair and consolidation to the ruins.
See (S11).
D. Robertson (HES), 3 March 2014.

Monument Types

  • FINDSPOT (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)
  • FINDSPOT (Early Saxon - 411 AD to 650 AD)
  • ANCHORESSES CELL (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • CEMETERY (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • CESS PIT (Medieval - 1066 AD? to 1539 AD?)
  • FINDSPOT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • FINDSPOT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • FINDSPOT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • FLOOR (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • INHUMATION (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • STOUP (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • WALL (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • WELL (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • BENEDICTINE MONASTERY (Medieval - 1146 AD to 1538 AD)
  • BENEDICTINE NUNNERY (Medieval - 1146 AD to 1538 AD)
  • PRIORY (Medieval - 1146 AD to 1538 AD)
  • FINDSPOT (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)

Associated Finds

  • CHALICE (Undated)
  • PATEN (Undated)
  • POT (Undated)
  • BEAD (Early Saxon - 411 AD to 650 AD)
  • COFFIN FITTING (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • COIN (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • COIN (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • CRUET (RELIGIOUS) (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • JETTON (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • LAMP (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • MOUNT (Medieval to Post Medieval - 1066 AD to 1900 AD)
  • NAIL (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • PIN (Medieval - 1066 AD? to 1539 AD?)
  • POT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • POT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • POT (Medieval - 1066 AD? to 1539 AD?)
  • QUERN (Medieval to Post Medieval - 1066 AD? to 1900 AD?)
  • THIMBLE (Medieval to Post Medieval - 1066 AD? to 1900 AD?)
  • TILE (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • TILE (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • TOKEN (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • VESSEL (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • WEIGHT? (Medieval - 1066 AD? to 1539 AD?)
  • POT (Medieval - 1200 AD to 1299 AD)
  • RING (Medieval - 1200 AD to 1299 AD)
  • FIGURINE (Medieval - 1400 AD to 1499 AD)
  • AWL (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • BRICK (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • BRIDLE FITTING (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • BUCKLE (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • BUTTON (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • CHAIN (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • CLAY PIPE (SMOKING) (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • COFFIN FITTING (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • DOOR FITTING (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • FITTING (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • FORK (UTENSIL) (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • HARNESS MOUNT (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • JETTON (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • KEY (LOCKING) (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • KNIFE (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • LINCH PIN (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • PIN (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • PLAQUE (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • POT (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • POT (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • POT (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • SHEARS (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • SHEARS (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • SPUR (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • SPUR (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • SPUR (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • STRAP FITTING (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • SWORD BELT (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • TILE (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • TOKEN (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • WEIGHT (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)

Protected Status

  • Scheduled Monument
  • Section 17 Agreements

Sources and further reading

---Unpublished document: NCM Staff. 1973-1989. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card - Norwich.
---Secondary File: Secondary file.
<S1>Article in serial: Rye, W. and Tillett, E. A. 1883. Carrow Abbey. Norfolk Antiquarian Miscellany. Series 1 Vol II Pt II pp 465-508.
<S2>Article in serial: Brock, E. P. L. 1882. On the Excavation of the Site of Carrow Abbey, Norwich, by J. J. Colman, Esq., M.P., in 1880-1881. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. Vol XXXVIII pp 165-177.
<S3>Article in serial: 1921. The Proceedings of the Society during the year 1917. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XX pp i-xiii. pp vi-x.
<S4>Article in serial: Phipson, R M. 1884. Notes on Carrow Priory, Norwich. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol IX pp 215-225.
<S5>Publication: Brooke, G. C. 1916. The Norman Kings. Vol 2 British Musuem Catalogue.
<S6>Article in serial: Wilson, D. M. and Hurst, D. G. 1971. Medieval Britain in 1968. Medieval Archaeology. Vol XIII (for 1969) pp 230-287. p 247.
<S7>Article in serial: Youngs, S. M. and Clark, J. 1982. Medieval Britain in 1981. Medieval Archaeology. Vol XXVI pp 164-227. p 196.
<S8>Article in serial: Atkin, M. and Margeson, S. 1983. A 14th-century Pewter Chalice and Paten from Carrow Priory, Norwich. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XXXVIII Pt III pp 374-380.
<S8>Unpublished document: Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England. Ancient Monuments Record Form.
<S9>Unpublished document: Atkin, M. and Gater, J. A. 1983. Carrow Priory, Norwich, Resistivity Survey.
<S10>Illustration: Jennings, S.. 21 Oct 1985. The pottery bases from Carrow.
<S10>Article in serial: Hurst, J. G. 1977. Spanish Pottery Imported into Medieval Britain. Medieval Archaeology. Vol XXI pp 68-105.
<S11>Unpublished document: Norfolk County Council. 2013-2014. Norfolk Monuments Management Project Section 17 agreement.

Related records

296Part of: The Priory of St Mary of Carrow (Carrow Priory) and Carrow Abbey house and grounds (Monument)

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