I have probably visited Binham Priory, near Wells Next The Sea, more than a dozen times in the last 40 years and I see something new or different every time I am there. Either this says something about my poor powers of observation or it says something about this wonderful building.
The Priory Church of St.Mary and Holy Cross was a Benedictine foundation and was a 'cell' of St.Albans Abbey founded in 1091 by Peter De Valoines, a nephew of King William the Conqueror. The priory was later endowed by King Henry I. King Edward I visited here and stayed for several days in 1285.
Being remote and away from the centre of English life it was inevitable that corruption might set in and Binham suffered from a number of unscrupulous or eccentric priors who quarrelled with the Abbot at St.Albans, sold the priory silver and indulged in lawsuits.
In 1212 the priory actually suffered a siege from Robert Fitzwalter. The Abbot had removed the prior so Fitzwalter produced a forged deed of patronage and said the prior could not be removed without his consent. The monks were reduced to eating bran and drinking water from the drain pipes before King John heard about their plight and swore: "By God's feet, either I or Fitzwalter must be King of England". The king sent an armed force to their relief and Fitzwalter fled.
In 1433 the prior and monks resisted a visit by the Bishop of Norwich but the villagers were on bad terms with the priory at the time - so the villagers made the Bishop welcome instead.
The end for the priory came in 1539 when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and Binham was confiscated from the church and sold to the Paston family. The huge priory church was cut in half with the forepart retained as the parish church [it had always been so] and the afterpart including the transept and tower being much demolished and used for building stone elsewhere. The transept remains as gaunt ruins today but demonstrate it was once a major building.
An appeal in The Times newspaper in 1900 raised £2,300 which paid for a new roof on the parish church and saved that half from utter ruin. It now receives funding from English Heritage [who also look after the adjacent priory ruins], The Historic Churches Preservation Trust and the Norfolk Churches Trust.
Architecturally Binham is very unusual. If correctly dated to 1226 to 1244, the bar tracery of the bricked up west window could be the earliest in Britain. This style had first been used at Rheims in 1211 and did not appear at Westminster Abbey until sometime after 1245.
Internally the nave arcades were started in 1130 in Norman style but - as building work was slow - the arcades are finished in the distinctive Early English style. In places this change is diagonal showing that the lower arcades were built first in the earlier style.
Another striking feature inside is the remains of a former rood screen of 1500 showing Christ as the Man of Sorrows. This only survived because a Biblical text was painted over it later. The later paint has slowly flaked off over the years revealing the rich medieval illustrations between the letters.