Record Details

NHER Number:5749
Type of record:Monument
Name:Ruins of the Priory of the Holy Sepulchre, Late Saxon occupation debris and possible site of Late Saxon or early medieval church


This priory was founded in around 1140 and was in operation until 1536 when it was dissolved. Excavations have revealed that it was situated on the same site as a Late Saxon urban settlement which was identified by the presence of ditches, post holes, pits, building remnants and pottery sherds. All that currently stands on the site are the ruins of the nave of the Priory Church and the foundations of the tithe barn. The area has been scheduled as part of the Late Saxon town and this area was extended in 1996 to include School Plain. Archaeological observations were undertaken in 2005 during restoration of the Priory as a visitor attraction. This work recorded a mortar floor surface within the eastern end of the nave and some stratification was found to survive in a previously unexcavated area external to the eastern wall of the building.


  • Barn standing near the ruined Priory of the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre, Thetford.  © Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service


Grid Reference:TL 8653 8302
Map Sheet:TL88SE

Full description

This small and poor Augustinian Priory was dissolved in 1536. (S1) states that it was founded by William de Warenne around 1146-8, but (S2) suggests an earlier date of around 1139.
See (S1) for a detailed history of the priory.
See (S3) in file for details of the standing remains of the nave and tithe barn, recorded in 1982.
E. Rose (NAU), 21 April 1982.

1969. Trial trenching in response to proposed housing development.
Underlying the priory occupation and cut into the natural sand and gravel were a series of pits, ditches and post holes. They contained a fine black sandy fill as well as much animal bone, shells, a stone spindle whorl and large quantities of pottery. The pottery was Late Saxon and included much Thetford ware along with Stamford and St Neots wares.
These remains have not been assessed in detail, but it is clear that there was intensive occupation in the areas to the east and north of the nave of the priory in the Late Saxon period. See also NHER 5865 for further Late Saxon occupation debris within this area.
Excavations to the east of the nave were intended to investigate the plan of the eastern part of the church. The position of the east wall of the church was located, but most other walls had been robbed out. The south wall of the choir was also located, and the priory church was found to have a transept. Almost nothing was found to indicate the internal arrangements within the priory. To the north of the church lay the south wall of the cloisters. No further investigation of the claustral area was carried out, but it is possible that the house that stood in this area until the 1950s had developed on the site of the eastern range of the cloister.
The excavations also revealed an earlier phase of building on this site which was represented by some substantial chalk footings. These footings pre-date the priory church as they were overlain by the transept wall and by the south wall of the nave. Equally, the excavator argues, the close proximity of the Late Saxon pits and other features suggest that the footings post-date these. The scale of the footings suggest that they were designed for a substantial building, but there are no definite indications as to its exact size. The excavator suggests that the scale of the footings and their alignment with the south walls of the nave and choir suggest that these footings belong to an earlier church building, perhaps a temporary church constructed at the time of the foundation of the priory, or a previously unknown church built during the later stages of the Saxon town when the town was already shrinking.
Information from (S1).
See also (S12) and see (S14) for short Summery.
A. Cattermole (NLA), 21 August 2008.

April 1982. Visit while restoration and some excavation in progress.
See (S3) for further details.
E. Rose (NAU), 21 April 1982.

(S4) refers to a stone coffin found at NHER 5748 being placed "temporarily in Canons Farm Chapel".

The stone coffin found at NHER 5868 was later taken to Canon's Close according to R.R. Clarke (NCM). [1] states that this was in fact in 1943 as recorded in (S5), when it was reinterred within the ruins at a service.
E. Rose (NAU), 17 November 1986.

April 1987. Visit.
Late Saxon and post medieval pottery sherds found.
A. Rogerson (NAU), 25 September 1987

June 1987.
Area east of ruins, presumably the site of the east end of the church, destroyed by installation of footings for a garage and the excavation of a large house-sized hole.
See (S6) in file.
A. Rogerson (NAU), 8 June 1987.

1995. Visit.
Interior of building has been cleared and is accessible to the public.
E. Rose (NLA), 10 May 1995.

Scheduled area greatly extended to include School Plain to east as probable covering of Late Saxon layers.
See (S7).
E. Rose (NLA) 19 September 1996.

July 2005. Watching Brief. Contexts 10-13 used.
Monitoring of works associated with the relocation and replacement of an information lectern. A mortar floor surface was observed within the eastern end of the nave and some stratification was found to survive in a previously unexcavated area external to the eastern wall of the building.
See report (S8) and (S11). The results of this work are also summarised in (S13).
The associated archive has been deposited with the Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 2016.31).
J. Allen (NLA), 28 April 2006. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 17 May 2019.

The site was converted to a farmstead in the post medieval period. When it was described in the 18th century by Thomas Martin (S9) the nave of the church had been converted into a barn and a large house lay to the north-east of this. A stone building serving as a hen house abutted the south of the nave and to the south-west lay a stone barn. Little of the choir of the church survived. Blomefield (S10) confirm's Martin's description, and explains that the ruins of the choir are heaped together to form a large hill known as Canon's Hill.
Information from (S1).
A. Cattermole (NLA), 21 August 2008.

Monument Types

  • CHURCH? (Late Saxon - 851 AD? to 1065 AD?)
  • DITCH (Late Saxon - 851 AD to 1065 AD)
  • PIT (Late Saxon - 851 AD to 1065 AD)
  • POST HOLE (Late Saxon - 851 AD to 1065 AD)
  • SETTLEMENT (Late Saxon - 851 AD to 1065 AD)
  • FLOOR (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • PRIORY (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • TITHE BARN? (Medieval - 1066 AD? to 1539 AD?)
  • BARN (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)

Associated Finds

  • POT (Middle Saxon - 651 AD to 850 AD)
  • POT (Late Saxon - 851 AD to 1065 AD)
  • UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT (Late Saxon - 851 AD to 1065 AD)
  • COFFIN (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)

Protected Status

  • Scheduled Monument
  • Listed Building

Sources and further reading

---Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.. 1989. NHER TL 8688ABN-ABP (NLA 237/DMF14-15) 12-JUL-1989.
---Designation: [unknown]. Ancient Monuments Form. SAM Record. DNF178.
---Record Card: Ordnance Survey Staff. 1933-1979?. Ordnance Survey Record Cards. TL 88 SE 53 [9].
---Record Card: NAU Staff. 1974-1988. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card.
---Monograph: Pevsner, N and Wilson, W. 1999. Norfolk 2: North-West and South. The Buildings of England. 2nd Edition. p 709.
---Record Card: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Medieval. Thetford.
---Secondary File: Secondary File.
---Collection: Norfolk Historic Environment Record Staff. 1975-[2000]. HER Record Notes. Norfolk Historic Environment Service.
---Designation: English Heritage. 1990-2013. English Heritage Scheduling Notification. Notification. DNF178.
<S1>Article in Serial: Hare, J. N. 1979. The Priory of the Holy Sepulchre, Thetford. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XXXVIIPt II pp 190-200.
<S2>Publication: Knowles, D. and Hadcock, R. N. 1971. Medieval Religious Houses of England and Wales. pp 144, 175-176.
<S3>Unpublished Document: Rose, E.. 1982. Building Report.. Building Report.
<S4>Newspaper Article: Thetford and Watton Post. 1907. Finding of a Stone Coffin at Thetford. 18 July.
<S5>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1987. Duke due to visit ruins. 2 July.
<S6>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1987. Priory ruin destroyed for housing. 11 June.
<S7>Designation: English Heritage. 1994? -2011?. English Heritage Digital Designation Record. Record. DNF178.
<S8>Unpublished Contractor Report: Boyle, M. 2006. An Archaeological Watching Brief at the Priory of the Holy Sepulchre, Thetford, Norfolk. NAU Archaeology. 1092.
<S9>Monograph: Martin, T.. 1779. History of Thetford.. pp 12, 13.
<S10>Serial: Blomefield, F.. 1805. An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk.. Vol II.
<S11>Slide: Various. Slide. 2-5.
<S12>Slide: Davison, A.. 1969. NHER 5749 Slide 1. Canon's Barn prior to demolition, Priory of the Holy Sepulchre, Thetford..
<S13>Article in Serial: Gurney, D. and Penn, K. 2006. Excavations and Surveys in Norfolk in 2005. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XLV Pt I pp 124-136. p 134.
<S14>Article in Serial: Wilson, D. M. & Hurst, D. G. 1971. Medieval Britain in 1969. Medieval Archaeology. Vol XIV (for 1970) pp 155-208. p 169.

Related records

5865Related to: Late Saxon road, ditches and pits, School Plain (Monument)

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