Monument record MDM 005 - St Mary's Priory; Mendham Marshes

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The site of the medieval Cluniac Priory of St Mary can be seen as as cropmarks on aerial photographs alongside possible post-medieval garden features, Mendham parish.


Grid reference Centred TM 2613 8182 (253m by 310m)
Map sheet TM28SE


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

St Mary's Priory (site of). Remains largely destroyed last century. Stone robbed and built into walls of Mendham Priory House, its walled garden and Priory Farm. Only isolated fragments of masonry remain (S1). Norman arcading removed to Mendham Place (old SAU card). Site shows as a cropmark (S2).
A Cluniac Priory, founded as a daughter house to Castle Acre in Norfolk by William de Huntingfield (died 1155) with a prior and 2 monks; enlarged by his son Roger to a cell for 8 monks. Had 11 monks when the priory was suppressed in 1538 (S3) (S4).
Foundation charter calls the proposed site of the priory 'insulam sanctae Marie de Mendham'; another charter by the founder calls it 'Insulam de Bruniggeshurst'(S5).
Perhaps the 'island of St Mary' was the site of the 1/2 church in Mendham at Domesday (1/8 owned by R Malet, 1/4 by Roger of Poictou, 1/8 by Bishop of Thetford (S6); Roger of Poictou's holding is alleged to have passed to the Huntingfield family (S7).
After the Dissolution the priory was granted to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and converted into a house (either by him or his treasurer, Richard Freston; the Duke's arms appeared over the entrance and over a fireplace). Princess Mary (later Queen Mary) appears to have stayed at the house (then known as Mendham Hall) in 1548 (for an inventory of the furniture in the house at the time see PSIA 2). House later became a farmhouse and was demolished in 1815 (S8).
Site under plough except for standing remains which form an island in the field, these grass covered. Quantity of flint and tile over whole area. Spoke to Mr Daniels. Land direct drilled for sugar beet. Ploughing never more than 8-9 inches deep. No subsoiling or drainage envisaged (S9).1988: Broads ESA monitoring: Arable. Two humps in the middle of the field standing on generally higher land than the surrounding marsh. The humps contain remains of old flint walls. Neglected, partly overgrown (S11).
1988: Broads ESA Monitoring: Arable. Two humps in the middle of the field standing on generally higher land than the surrounding marsh. The humps contain remains of old flint walls. Neglected, partly overgrown (S11).
1991: Said to be unmaintained, ploughed and at risk (S12). 1994: Broads ESA Monitoring: Wheat crop standing. One small area of masonry, probably part of the Chapter House, standing in the middle of field. Remains partly weed covered and some rabbits present. Examination of `tram-lines' through the crop in the area of the church revealed broken tile, a piece of flint with mortar adhering and a small piece of limestone (S11).
The site of St Mary's Priory and possible post-medieval garden features can be seen as cropmarks adjacent to the River Waveney on aerial photographs from the 1970s and 1980s, the main complex of claustral buildings being centred on circa TM 261818 (S14-S19). The outline of the church and cloister are clearly visible, the latter also visible as an area of disturbed ground. The interior of the structure cannot be plotted in any detail but several internal areas display evidence for disturbed surfaces. These can be seen at the eastern end of the church, the south-eastern end of the claustral range (possibly an entrance?) and within the nave. Possible burials within the church must be considered for the latter. A track, leading to the site from the B1123, currently provides access from the south. It is possible that a road or causeway continues from the track before taking a dog-leg north-west at the west of the priory buildings. Ephemeral negative cropmarks to the west of this possible road may be caused by a compressed floor surface and there is slight evidence for a structure in this area; this may be the location of previously unknown guest quarters and gatehouse, or belong to buildings associated with the post-dissolution house. To the south of this area, a number of 3-4 metre wide ditches (formerly recorded as MDM 099) can be seen enclosing a very narrow area. These are adjacent to a scatter of 16th century roof tile (MDM 047) which may have originated with the possible buildings to the north, and may also provide circumstantial evidence for their post-dissolution date. A possible function for the ditch as post-medieval garden features is suggested here. The 6-7 metre wide ditches visible to the south and north-east of the priory are interpreted primarily here as possible medieval fish ponds, but their regularity and the evidence for insubstantial structures within the area defined by the northern example, may also suggest a later, more formal aesthetic role. The transcription and interpretation by Horne of the north-eastern ditch features as a possible moat is not supported by the photographs seen during this survey, but further reconnaissance my support this suggestion (S20). A network of narrower channels, mostly visible to the north of the priory complex, are of unknown date and function, but probably post-date the priory. A large area of quarrying activity, probably peat extraction, can be seen to the west of the priory, with smaller pits visible to the east. The remains of a small possible structure adjacent to a circular ditched feature about 70 metres in diameter, centred on circa (see 'Not to be published on web' tab for finder/s and/or findspot/s), may be the evidence for a monastic warren or coneygre. Scheduled
2007: Stone slab fragment with writng along edges in Gothic abbreviated Latin on ground in pile of stones on mound.
2020:Burial in Lead coffin (see not to be published).

Sources/Archives (25)

  • --- Photograph: Air Photographs. NAU, TM 260 818/OFV 1-2, 20 July 1992.
  • <S1> (No record type): Messent, C.J.W.. 1934. The Monastic Remains of Norfolk and Suffolk. Messent C J W, Monastic remains of Norfolk & Suffolk, 1934.
  • <M1> Unpublished document: Suffolk Archaeological Service. Parish file. Parish file: photocopy of (S8).
  • <M2> Photograph: CUCAP. CUCAP aerial photograph. APs: ADE 19, ADE 21, ADF 21 6 July 1976, AGH 05 21/7/1977; CUCAP CPG 16 1981.
  • <S2> (No record type): Horne E A, Air Reconnaissance 1975-7, Aerial Archaeol,1, 1977, 16-17.
  • <S3> (No record type): Knowles, D. & Hadcock, R.N.. 1971. Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (2nd ed). Knowles D & Hadcock R N, Med Relig Houses of Eng and Wales, 1971, 100.
  • <M3> (No record type): NAU, TM 2681/A/ARN1 14 September 1981; S.93/5/14 22 July 1993.
  • <M4> (No record type): SAM file:.
  • <S4> Bibliographic reference: Victoria County History of Suffolk (Vol I 1911; Vol II 1907). VCH, Suffolk, 2, 1907, 86-87.
  • <S5> (No record type): Dugdale W, Monasticon Anglicanum, 5, (1846 edit), 58, number I & II.
  • <S6> Bibliographic reference: 1911. Victoria County History, Suffolk (VCH). 1911, 468, 485, 504, 516.
  • <S7> Bibliographic reference: Copinger W A. Manors of Suffolk. Copinger W, Manors of Suffolk, 4.
  • <S8> (No record type): Gentleman's Magazine 1808 ii, pl 1, 969 & 1836 ii.
  • <S9> Unpublished document: Department of the Environment. Scheduling information.
  • <S10> Bibliographic reference: Suffolk Institute of Archaeology. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology. Archaeol in Suff 1984, PSIA, 36, 1985, (1), 47-48.
  • <S11> (No record type): Broads ESA file, 30.12.15.
  • <S12> (No record type): Suff Pres Soc, (Paul Edwards) Survey, Table of Results, 1991.
  • <S13> Photograph: Air Photographs. NAU, TM 261 818/HYB1-3 & HYA 13, 2 July 1996.
  • <S14> Photograph: National Monuments Record. Air Photograph. NMR TM 2681/1 (SFU GH/5) 21-JUL-1977.
  • <S15> Photograph: National Monuments Record. Air Photograph. NMR TM 2681/2 (137/14) 04-AUG-1977.
  • <S16> Photograph: National Monuments Record. Air Photograph. NMR TM 2681/3 (137/15) 04-AUG-1977.
  • <S17> Photograph: National Monuments Record. Air Photograph. NMR TM 2681/7 (SFU DE/21) 21-JUL-1976.
  • <S18> Photograph: National Monuments Record. Air Photograph. NMR TM 2681/8 (SFU DF/21) 21-JUL-1976.
  • <S19> Photograph: National Monuments Record. Air Photograph. NMR TM 2681/16 (NLA 14290/6) 15-JUL-1980.
  • <S20> Article in serial: Eileen A. Horne. 1977. Air Reconnaissance, 1975-1977. Aerial Archaeology, Volume 1, 1977, pp 16-20.. P.16-17.

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Record last edited

Jun 26 2020 8:53AM

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