Record Details

NHER Number:296
Type of record:Monument
Name:The Priory of St Mary of Carrow (Carrow Priory) and Carrow Abbey house and grounds


Although the former residential dwelling that stands on this site is known as Carrow Abbey, it in fact stands on the site of Carrow Priory – a Benedictine nunnery. The priory was founded in 1146, following a gift of land from King Stephen. The priory church was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and was part of a substantial monastic complex. Carrow Abbey was originally an early 16th-century prioress' house: the only building not to fall into ruin after the dissolution. The house was presented by Henry VIII to Sir John Shelton and passed through various hands, before eventually being acquired by J.J. Colman in 1878. By this time the Colman firm had already established a substantial factory complex to the north (Carrow Works, NHER 26409) and also owned nearby Carrow House (NHER 26478).
J.J. Colman converted Carrow Abbey into a library for his growing collection (now in the care of the City), and the building was significantly modified and extended between 1899 and 1909. Carrow Abbey is now a Grade I listed building.
The surviving foundations of the Priory Church and east range of the monastic buildings were subject to extensive excavation in the late 19th-century and are a Scheduled Monument.
This record outlines the history of the priory and the development of Carrow Abbey during the post-medieval period. It also provides information on the present character and historical significance of the Carrow Abbey grounds. See NHER 385 for further information on the monastic remains, and NHER 58529 for a more detailed description of Carrow Abbey itself.

Images - none


Grid Reference:TG 2423 0740
Map Sheet:TG20NW

Full description


Carrow Priory was founded in the mid 12th century, following a grant of land by King Stephen to the Priory of St. Mary and St. John of Norwich - a small nunnery the location of which remains unknown. The extent of the land originally granted to the priory is uncertain, although according to (S1) a medieval roll describes it as having extended from the Ber Street Gates, along the main road as far as Trowse Bridge. It is therefore possible that the priory’s lands north of Bracondale incorporated much of the area bounded by the city walls to the west and the River Yare to the east.
Construction of the priory at Carrow is recorded as having been started in 1146-7 by two Sisters named Seyna and Lescelena. The house was initially for a prioress and nine nuns, although this subsequently increased to twelve (S2). Various 15th and early 16th century sources also make reference to an ‘anchoress of Carrow’, who appears to have been named Juliana Lampet. Rye (S1) saw this Juliana as the same person as the famous anchoress Julian of Norwich, although this seems unlikely given that the latter is said to have received her mystical visions in the 14th century. Anchorite cells were generally attached to the north wall of a church and the anchorage at Carrow is indeed recorded as having been near ‘the church’ (S3). This presumably refers to the priory church itself rather than the parochial church of St James. It has been suggested that, as at many other nunneries, girls from local families were apparently boarded and educated in the convent (S4), although there appears to be a degree of debate about whether this was in fact the case.
The priory appears to have been relatively wealthy, holding land in Norwich and many other parishes as well as the rectories of nearly a dozen Norwich churches. These possessions are listed in (S1). Carrow priory appears to have had particularly close ties to the nearby church of St James (NHER 58508), which served the small medieval parish of Carrow. According to (S1) it also provided the priests who served the Norwich Market Cross (NHER 651). It appears the community had a lively exchange in wool and corn with the city, especially at the time of Carrow fair (S5). This annual fair was held around the time of the Nativity of Mary (8th September) and had first been granted by King John in 1199 (S6), (S7). From 1385 the Saddlers and Spurriers also held their Guild in Carrow Priory (S1).
We know, principally from archaeological work, that Carrow Priory was a substantial monastic complex that at its height included a chapter house, dorter range, cloisters and a number of other buildings. The priory church, dedicated to ‘St. Mary of Carhowe’, was a particularly substantial building and had 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, much of the church and the east range is of Norman and Early English work (i.e. of 12th- to 13th-century date). There is however evidence for several 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) was substantially reworked in the early 16h century, when a new prioress’ house was built by the last but one Prioress, Isobel Wygun (1503-1535). The ruins of a separate medieval building have also been identified in the south-eastern corner of the precinct, which has long been identified as the site of a hospital associated with the priory (NHER 58523). This has also been previously identified as the site of the Priory of St. Mary and St. John, although there appears little evidence to support this assertion.
The precinct boundary is thought to be marked by a wall that, in the late 19th century at least, could be traced to the south, east , and west of the priory (S1). Elements noted in 1954 (S8) included an eastern wall of flint and mortar at the edge of the Carrow Abbey grounds (TG 2434 0747 to TG 2431 0733) and a renovated southern wall that may incorporate part of the original priory wall (TG 2431 0732 to 2420 0733 and TG 2419 0733 to TG 2416 0733). A section of the western wall was also observed, which was similar in form to the eastern wall (TG 2415 0733 to TG 2416 0743). Excavations in the late 19th century identified underground features to the north-east of the church that were believed to be the remains of a gatehouse (NHER 58524), although it is unclear how this poorly-dated structure related to the wall described above.
At the time of its dissolution the suppression commissioners reported that there were eight religious individuals, two priests and fifteen other individuals present (S9). After the dissolution most of the priory gradual fell into ruin, the only exception being the 15th century Prioress’ house, which was by given by Henry VIII, to Sir John Shelton (an uncle-in-law to Anne Boleyn), who maintained it as a residence. Over time this dwelling came to be known as Carrow Abbey.
The surviving remains of Carrow Priory (which are now a Scheduled Monument) are described in more detail in NHER 385, which also includes information on the various archaeological investigations and discoveries on this site.


Over the years Carrow Abbey and its estate passed through various hands and in 1811 it was sold to Philip Martineau (although neither he nor his heirs ever resided there). By this time it is possible that the house was in a fairly poor state, being omitted from Faden’s map of 1797 (S10) and depicted John Crome in the early 19th century (perhaps with a certain degree of artistic licence) as in ruins (S11). J. J. Colman rented the house before building Carrow House nearby (NHER 26478) and in 1878 the Colman firm acquired the Abbey estate. After this date this house was occupied by a Mr J. H. Tillet, before becoming the home of Laura Colman and her husband James Stuart. The Stuarts significantly reworked and extended Carrow Abbey between 1899 and 1909. Upon the death of Laura in 1920 the house passed to her sisters, Ethel and Helen Colman. After the death of Helen in 1948 the house ceased to be a used as a residential dwelling, being leased to the Red Cross and then converted into offices. A large dining hall was erected over what was the priory nave, to the north of Carrow Abbey in the 1960s. New buildings were also constructed around this time to the south-west of the house (see NHER 474 for details of finds recovered during this work). Commercial buildings now also cover what was the main kitchen garden to the east of the priory grounds (beyond the mapped extent of this record). See NHER 58529 for more information on Carrow Abbey itself.

The history and present condition of the Carrow Abbey grounds are summarised in (S12). It is known that the ornamental landscape around Carrow Abbey site was significantly reworking in the late 19th century, when, amongst other alterations, the main approach to the house was moved from the previous path that took it past Carrow House (S1). The arrangement of the grounds prior to this time is somewhat uncertain. Maps from the early part of the 19th century do though depict an enclosed garden on the site of the priory cloisters and planting to the west and east of the house, along with an enclosed service court to the south. By 1887 the priory ruins had been exposed, with an open lawn established on the site of the cloister. Curving walks led through a shrubbery to the south, forming an approach to a formally laid out area with geometric bed just inside the perimeter wall. Around 1890 formal gardens were also laid out to the south-east of the new extension to Carrow Abbey. By 1900 a series of new glasshouses and a boiler house had been built on the site of the formal garden to the south of Carrow Abbey. Most of these architecturally significant glasshouses are still standing (NHER 58521). In 1924 an inscribed stone that had formerly been part of the city wall was removed from the grounds of Carrow Abbey to Norwich Castle Museum (NHER 58526).
According to (S12) a number of other notable features survive within the grounds of Carrow Abbey, including a belt of mature ornamental timber at the north-east corner of the ruins. To the west of the house there is a low flint wall that was the boundary of the site from at least the 19th century. To the west of this wall there are a number of mature lime tree (probably added after the house was extended) and a series of pet memorial stones dating from the 1860s to the 1900s. A oval sunken formal garden lies to the north-west of this area. According to (S12) the predominant ethic is Arts and Crafts and this may have been the work of Boardman. The gardens to the east and south of the house continue to be formally managed, with a wide shrubbery belt to the south of the mown meadow that covers much of this area. Much is of 20th century date, although some plants may be survivals from the late 19thcentury gardens.
See (S1), (S6), (S13), (S14), (S15) and (S16) for early accounts of Carrow Priory and Carrow Abbey. The history of this site is also summarised in a wide range of later sources including (S17) (S18), (S19) and (S20). A useful particularly useful summary of the history of Carrow Abbey can be found in (S12).

P. Watkins (HES), January 2013 (based in part on information compiled by NCM and NAU staff)

Monument Types

  • ANCHORESSES CELL (Medieval - 1066 AD? to 1539 AD?)
  • BENEDICTINE MONASTERY (12th Century to 16th Century - 1146 AD to 1538 AD)
  • BENEDICTINE NUNNERY (12th Century to 16th Century - 1146 AD to 1538 AD)
  • HOUSE (12th Century to 19th Century - 1146 AD? to 1900 AD?)
  • PRECINCT WALL (12th Century to 16th Century - 1146 AD? to 1536 AD?)
  • PRIORY (12th Century to 16th Century - 1146 AD to 1538 AD)
  • GARDEN (Post Medieval to 21st Century - 1540 AD? to 2100 AD?)

Associated Finds - none

Protected Status

  • Scheduled Monument
  • Section 17 Agreements

Sources and further reading

---Aerial Photograph: TG2407 Q,R,AB-AF,AW,AY-ABB,ABE-ABK.
---Monograph: Jennings, S. 1981. Eighteen Centuries of Pottery from Norwich. East Anglian Archaeology. No 13.
---Designation: [unknown]. Ancient Monuments Form. SAM Record. DNF392.
---Record Card: Ordnance Survey Staff. 1933-1979?. Ordnance Survey Record Cards. TG 20 NW 64.6 [2]; TG 20 NW 64.7; TG 20 NW 64.8; TG 20 NW 64.9; TG 20 NW 64.10 [2].
---Monograph: Pevsner, N. and Wilson, B. 1997. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. The Buildings of England. 2nd Edition. pp 336-337.
---Record Card: NCM Staff. 1973-1989. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card - Norwich.
---Record Card: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Norwich - Post Roman.
---Secondary File: Secondary File.
---Slide: Various. Slide.
---Collection: Norfolk Historic Environment Record Staff. 1975-[2000]. HER Record Notes. Norfolk Historic Environment Service.
<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>Publication: Knowles, D. and Hadcock, R. N. 1971. Medieval Religious Houses of England and Wales. pp 254, 262.
<S3>Publication: Taylor, R. C. 1821. Index Monasticus.
<S4>Publication: Power, E. 1922. Medieval English Nunneries c. 1275 to 1535.
<S5>Publication: Dent, J. I. 1995. King Street. A Guided Walk.
<S6>Publication: Dugdale, W., Caley, J., Ellis, H. and Bulkeley, B. 1817 [1655]. Monasticon Anglicanum: A history of the abbies and other monasteries, hospitals, frieries, and cathedral and collegiate churches, with their dependencies, in England and Wales. Originally published in Latin by Sir William Dugdale. Vol IV. p 71.
<S7>Publication: Letters, S. 2003. Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs in England and Wales to 1516.
<S8>Record Card: Ordnance Survey Staff. 1933-1979?. Ordnance Survey Record Cards. TG 20 NW 64 [3]; TG 20 NW 64.1 [2]; TG 20 NW 64.2; TG 20 NW 64.4; TG 20 NW 64.5 [2].
<S9>Monograph: Page, W. (ed.). 1906. The Victoria History of Norfolk. The Victoria History of the Counties of England. Vol 2.
<S10>Publication: Faden, W. and Barringer, J. C. 1989. Faden's Map of Norfolk in 1797.
<S11>Illustration: Crome, J. 1805. Carrow Abbey, Norwich. Oil on canvas.
<S12>Unpublished Document: Taigel, A. 1997. Norfolk Gardens Trust: Town Gardens Survey - Norwich. pp 18-20.
<S13>Monograph: Blomefield, F. 1806. The History of The City and County of Norwich, Part II. An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk. Vol IV.
<S14>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. First Series Vol XXXVIII pp 165-177.
<S15>Article in Serial: Phipson, R M. 1884. Notes on Carrow Priory, Norwich. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol IX pp 215-225.
<S16>Article in Serial: 1921. The Proceedings of the Society during the year 1917. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XX pp i-xiii. pp vi-x.
<S17>Article in Serial: Colman, H. C. 1934. Carrow Abbey. Snapdragon: The Norwich Hospitals' Annual. pp 41-47.
<S18>Publication: Edgar, S. H.. Unknown. The story of Carrow Abbey.
<S19>Article in Serial: Fernie, E. 1980. Carrow Priory. The Archaeological Journal. Vol 137 pp 290-291.
<S20>Article in Serial: Norwich Heart News. 2011. A History of Carrow Abbey. Norwich Heart News.

Related records

58529Parent of: Carrow Abbey (Building)
58521Parent of: Glasshouses and associated boiler house in grounds of Carrow Abbey (Building)
58526Parent of: Medieval inscribed stone (originally from city wall), grounds of Carrow Abbey (Find Spot)
58523Parent of: Site of medieval ?hospital near Carrow Priory (Monument)
58524Parent of: Site of possible gatehouse near Carrow Priory (Monument)
385Parent of: The ruins of Carrow Priory (Monument)
474Parent of: Upper Palaeolithic flint blades, Carrow Works (Find Spot)
MNO3760Related to: Carrow Abbey Bracondale NORWICH (Revoked)

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