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Pentney Priory Gatehouse

A Grade I Listed Building in Pentney, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.6804 / 52°40'49"N

Longitude: 0.5147 / 0°30'53"E

OS Eastings: 570095

OS Northings: 312154

OS Grid: TF700121

Mapcode National: GBR P5Z.YS5

Mapcode Global: WHKQL.WW9J

Entry Name: Pentney Priory Gatehouse

Listing Date: 19 October 1951

Last Amended: 30 June 2015

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1342419

English Heritage Legacy ID: 222004

Location: Pentney, King's Lynn and West Norfolk, Norfolk, PE32

County: Norfolk

District: King's Lynn and West Norfolk

Civil Parish: Pentney

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Pentney

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

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Augustinian Priory gatehouse, built late C14. The steel stair and modern red-brick wall are excluded from the listing.


Augustinian Priory gatehouse, built late C14.

PLAN: Roughly rectangular in plan, with two polygonal-plan turrets to the north elevation, a projecting square-plan turret to the north end of the east elevation, and a projecting garderobe to the north end of the west elevation.

MATERIALS: The gatehouse was constructed using a variety of materials found in the immediate vicinity and sourced from neighbouring counties. The main body of the gatehouse was built of locally sourced rubble flint, with ashlar Barnack limestone dressings sourced from a quarry outside Peterborough. Local carstone is used throughout the building as infill and repair. The chimneystacks on the east and west elevation were constructed of red brick, and most likely date from the C16. The roof structure was constructed in 2012-13, and comprises a new oak frame with a lead covering. Plain glass was introduced to all windows during restoration works in 2012-13.

On the interior, chalk or clunch was used as infill, with red brick for window and door arches, jambs and fireplaces, and later as infill throughout the building. A section of carstone cobble survives on the ground floor of the west block and has been preserved in situ. In 2012-13, the following materials were introduced to the interior: a limecrete floor on a porous base on the ground floor of the west block; a steel stair on a concrete base rising to second floor level; and laminated timber floor boards to the second floor of the east, central, and west blocks.

EXTERIOR: The north elevation is composed of three bays, with a central two-storey bay flanked to either side by a polygonal three-storey turret and a full-height stepped buttress. The crenellated parapet is raised and angled to the central bay, with carved trefoil-headed arcading and recently replaced stone to the merlons. A string course under the parapet bears a gargoyle head to the north-east elevation of the east polygonal turret. The second floor of the central bay bears a sill course, and there is a continuous moulded plinth course to the ground floor. The central bay has a pointed-arch window opening to the second floor, containing two trefoil-headed lights under a carved hood-moulding. The polygonal turrets each have a pointed-arch window opening to the first and second floors containing a trefoil-headed window under a round-arched hood-moulding. The north and north-east elevations of the east turret each have an arrow loop to the porter’s lodge. The most easterly bay has a lancet window opening under a hood-moulding, providing light to an internal stair turret. The central entrance has a camber-headed arch with a moulded surround and reveals, having carved roundels to the spandrels, each containing a blank shield in a quatrefoil frame. The arch contains a replacement double-leaf gate with raised-and-fielded timber panelling (replaced 2012-13). There are short stubs of broken wall projecting east and west of the north elevation, showing evidence of the former precinct wall. The north elevation measures approximately 20m in length.
The east elevation has a square-plan turret stair to its north end, a central red brick chimneystack rising from the ground floor to the parapet, and a moulded sill course to the second floor south of the chimneystack. The crenellated parapet has replacement stone to some merlons, and a continuous string course, featuring a carved gargoyle head near the south corner. The second and first floors each have a square-headed window opening under a hood-moulding, the second floor having two trefoil-headed lights, and the first floor having two cinquefoil-headed lights. The ground floor has a single trefoil-headed light in a pointed-arch surround, with a pointed-arch hood-moulding. The square-plan turret contains a single lancet window opening on its east elevation under a hood moulding. The turret has a pointed-arch door opening on its south elevation, with a carved hood-moulding, chamfered reveals and a replacement door. The east elevation measures approximately 10m in length.
The south elevation has a central two-storey bay, flanked to either side by a three-storey bay. Each bay is flanked by a stepped buttress, and the walls have a stepped sill course to the second floor and a continuous plinth course to the ground floor. The angled crenellated parapet is raised to the central bay, with trefoil-headed arcaded carving to the merlons of the central bay only. A number of merlons have recently been restored and some stone replaced. The central bay has a pointed-arch window opening containing two trefoil-headed lights, with a carved hood-moulding and chamfered reveals. The east and west bays each have a pointed-arch window opening to the first and second floors and a square-headed opening to the ground floor, each of the three windows having a carved hood-moulding and two trefoil-headed lights, increasing in size with each storey. The central ground floor arch is pointed, with a moulded surround and reveals. The south elevation measures approximately 15m in length.
The west elevation is three-storeys in height, with a sloped return from the north elevation containing a garderobe, a central red brick chimney stack rising from the ground floor to the parapet, and a sill course to the second floor. The parapet is crenellated with some merlons recently replaced, and features two carved gargoyle heads to the stringcourse, one at the junction with the north return and one near the south corner. The second and first floors each have a square-headed window opening under a square-headed hood-moulding, that to the second floor having two trefoil-headed lights, and that to the first floor having two cinquefoil-headed lights. The ground floor has a single trefoil-headed light in a pointed-arch surround, with a carved pointed-arched hood-moulding. A camber-arched opening with red brick voussoirs on the ground floor of the angled return granted access to a basement level. The west elevation measures approximately 10m in length.

INTERIOR: The internal walls are constructed of rubble flint and clunch, with later brick infill. The central ground floor archway was formerly covered by two ribbed vaults, which supported the large central chamber above. The east and west walls of the archway each have two blind pointed arches with rubble flint infill, and each bay is divided by a moulded engaged pier, from which there are remnants of the springing arches of the vaults. The east and west walls each have a door opening at their north end to the east and west blocks respectively, with a chamfered ashlar surround and replacement timber door. Where sections of the walls have collapsed, the fabric was substituted in 2012-13 by modern red brick laid in Flemish bond. The window openings throughout the building have red brick voussoirs to the interior.
The west block has a porous limecrete floor to the ground floor, with a section of original carstone cobbling to the north-west corner. A steel stair* on a concrete foundation* was introduced in 2012-13, and grants access from the ground floor to the second floor. The ground floor has a red-brick fireplace on the west wall, with some brick replaced in 2012-13. The west wall of the ground, first and second floors each have a door opening to a garderobe, the openings on the ground and second floors having an ashlar limestone surround with some replacement stone. The east wall of the first and second floors is composed of modern red brick* laid in Flemish bond (replaced in 2012-13). The second floor has laminated timber floor boards, a steel-panelled balustrade to the stair landing, and a roof hatch* allowing access to roof level. A pointed–arch door opening at the north end of the east wall grants access to the central chamber.
The central chamber is a rectangular-plan room with a door opening at the north end of the east and west walls. The west wall of the central chamber is composed of modern red brick*, and shared with the west block. The north, east and south walls are all of original construction, and the east wall has an original fireplace with a brick surround, and a pointed-arch door surround granting access to the east block. The central block has recent laminated timber floor boards.
Similar to the west block only the ground floor and second floor of the east block are accessible today. The ground-floor room (formerly the porter's lodge) is accessed via the door on the east wall of the central archway. It contains a red-brick fireplace on the east wall, and a porous limecrete floor. The floor of the first-floor level is no longer present, but the first floor may be viewed from the door opening of the turret stair at this level. The second-floor room of the east block has a moulded pointed-arch door surround to the central chamber, and a chamfered pointed-arch door surround with deep reveals to the turret stair. As with the second-floor room of the west block and central chamber, the second floor room of the east block has recent laminated timber floor boards.
The turret stair at the north-east corner of the east block is of stone construction with stone treads, and features historic graffiti on its internal wall. A skylight* and some replacement treads were introduced in 2012-13.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the aforementioned features marked by an asterix are not of special architectural or historic interest.


From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England. These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout, although all possess the basic elements of a church, domestic accommodation for the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship, learning, and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 225 of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the C12 onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their revenue.

Pentney Priory was founded c1130 by Robert de Vaux for Augustinian canons, and was dedicated to the Holy Trinity, Blessed Virgin Mary and Mary Magdelene. The priory was granted the manor of Pentney in the Isle of Eya, a mill, two salt-works and various other lands and churches in the region to support it financially. It was a large establishment that increased in size in its amalgamation with neighbouring Wormegay Priory in 1468. In 1492 there were 18 canons, though this number had fallen to 13 by 1532. The abbey was dissolved in 1537, and the lands were granted to Thomas Mildmay, Earl of Rutland. Many of the priory buildings, including the monastic church, were subsequently demolished or fell into ruin. Although only the C14 gatehouse remains standing, extensive buried archaeology will retain information regarding the layout and organisation of the monastic precinct, not only in relation to the religious and conventual life of the priory, but to the domestic and economic activities which sustained that life. The need for a plentiful supply of water for domestic and agricultural purposes was an important factor in the siting of medieval monasteries, and the remains of the elaborate water management system revealed by crop marks is therefore of considerable interest. Some of the leats and drains of this system are also likely to contain waterlogged deposits in which organic materials, including evidence for the local environment in the past, will be preserved.
A number of sources suggest that the gatehouse was built in the late C14, and its layout survives mostly intact. A porter’s lodge was located on the ground floor of the eastern block, with two small peep holes on the north wall. A small accommodation suite occupied the ground and first floors of the west block, with an internal turret stair to the north wall, and a garderobe to the north corner of the west wall. The smaller suite was accessed via a door on the north wall of the central porch, and did not have direct access to the priory precinct. A larger accommodation suite occupied the first and second floors of the east block, the second floor chamber over the arch, and the second floor of the west block, which also contained a garderobe. This larger suite had direct access to the priory precinct via the stair turret at the north-east corner of the east elevation.

Following the dissolution of the priory in 1537, the gatehouse was used as a domestic dwelling, and it is likely that the red brick chimneystacks to the east and west elevations date from this time. An etching by Millicent and Kirkhall, published in 1750, shows the gatehouse from the south, and an accompanying note remarks that the building still had a lead covering at this time. The etching shows the ruins of the precinct wall, running east of the gatehouse, the trace of which is still discernible at the north-east corner of the building. It is likely that the gatehouse became vacant in the late C18, and the lead roof covering was removed at this time. The ruinous gatehouse is depicted in a sketch by Norfolk artist John Sell Cotman, published in Architectural Remains in 1817, showing the building from the south-west and without a roof. The neighbouring farmhouse was constructed to the south-east sometime between 1817 and 1845, and is depicted in a painting by Mr C Winter in 1845. The painting also shows the ground-floor windows of the gatehouse blocked, perhaps to reduce the amount of window tax before the tax was repealed in 1851. The brick vault over the archway of the gatehouse collapsed sometime in the early C20, followed by the collapse of the western archway wall in the late C20. During the 1980s, a lightning strike caused further internal collapse, and scaffolding was erected c1990 to support the deteriorating structure. In 2012, a Project Development grant was issued by English Heritage for restoration works carried out in 2012-13, which saw the addition of a new oak roof structure with lead covering, and internal flooring to the second floor, accessed by a steel stair.

The gatehouse was first listed at Grade I in 1951 and was added to the Buildings at Risk Register in 1998. After careful restoration the gatehouse was removed from the at Risk Register in 2014.

Reasons for Listing

Pentney Priory Gatehouse, built late C14, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

* Historic interest: Pentney Priory was founded as an Augustinian priory in the C12, and was dissolved during the Reformation in 1537. The priory buildings were dismantled, but the gatehouse survives as a reminder of the wealth and prominence of the Order of St Augustine in this remote parish;

* Architectural interest: the gatehouse retains a significant proportion of medieval masonry and craftsmanship of a high order. It provides a key visual component of the surviving complex of monastic structures and extensive buried archaeology at Pentney Priory;

* Group value: for the considerable group value the gatehouse holds with the other Pentney Priory designations: Abbey Farmhouse (NHLE 1077622, listed at Grade II), and the scheduled remains of Pentney Priory (NHLE 1019666).

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