About Castle Acre Priory
Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk was an 11th century monastery founded by William de Warenne, the Second Earl of Surrey. Like many of the country’s monasteries it was dissolved under Henry VIII, however its picturesque ruins today provide a glimpse into the thriving world of monastic Britain.
Castle Acre Priory history
Inspired by the French monastery of Cluny, William de Warenne built Castle Acre Priory in 1090 in the image of the eminent religious house. de Warenne had fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, and had benefitted substantially from the following Norman Conquest, gaining much land in East Anglia.
What resulted from his building scheme in Castle Acre was an impressive and ornately decorated monastic structure, with its opulent priory church built slightly later in the 12th century. Its flamboyant decoration was highly characteristic of the Cluniac order, however their dependence on Cluny would not always serve in their best interest. During the wars with France in the late 13th and 14th centuries, Castle Acre Priory suffered restrictions and punitive taxation, before eventually securing ‘English’ status in 1325.
The Priory survived until 1537, when it became one of many monasteries to be dissolved by Henry VIII. Its monks were likely pensioned off, and its church almost immediately demolished.
Castle Acre Priory today
Today, Castle Acre Priory is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public. Its atmospheric ruins form one England’s largest monastic sites and offers visitors an insight into the history of the order of the Cluniacs.
There are several exhibitions at Castle Acre Priory, including a recreation of the monks’ herb garden and displays of original artefacts. Audio guides are available, making the site easy to navigate and understand, with visits usually lasting around a couple of hours.
Getting to Castle Acre Priory
Castle Acre Priory is located in the village of Castle Acre in Norfolk, just off the A1065 around 5 miles north of Swaffham. There is free parking next to the site’s shop, with additional parking in the village. The nearest train station is 14 miles away at King’s Lynn, while the West Norfolk Community Transport 32 service stops at the Pyes Lane Stop, a 10-minute walk to the site.