Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Great Gatehouses

There were once several medieval abbeys in Norfolk, situated on sheltered, level sites usually near water.  Some are well known such as Castle Acre or Binham, which have extensive remains showing above ground and are therefore attractive to visitors.  A feature of most priorys or abbeys is the great gatehouse, which formed the main entrance to the site and usually had some form of accommodation on the upper floors. 

One of the largest is the only surviving element left of Pentney Abbey, which stands at the entrance to Abbey Farm just outside the village.  It stands on low lying land and was connected to the River Nar by a canal, which served the needs of the community for fresh water and removal of waste. 

Pentney Priory was founded around 1130 by and was one of the richest monasteries in Norfolk, as the size of the gatehouse, which was built in the late 14th century, shows.

After the Priory was dissolved in 1537 by Henry VIII, the stone was used to build Abbey Farm and some of its outbuildings. Norfolk does not have a source of stone apart from flint, which cannot be cut to form corners, string courses or windows, so it was common for the new owner of a dissolved monastery to profit from selling the materials.  Many of the houses in the area have chunks of the Barnack stone within their walls. 

Ruth Brennan Architects is currently commissioned as architects for the repairs by the owners of Abbey Farm, and the work has just started on site with the building contractors, Universal Stone.  The gatehouse is covered in scaffolding, so it's grandeur can only be guessed at by its size.  English Heritage with the Heritage Lottery Fund are providing a grant and the work should be complete in the Autumn.