St Benets Abbey, Holm

Has been described as a Possible Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameSt Benets Abbey, Holm
Alternative Names
Historic CountryNorfolk
Modern AuthorityNorfolk
1974 AuthorityNorfolk
Civil ParishHorning

Tradition records that c.800 a small company of Saxon monks or recluses led by Suneman erected a church or chapel dedicated to St Benedict at the junction of the Rivers Bure and Thurne. The building was destroyed by the Danes in 870 but a holy man named Wulfric established another community and rebuilt the chapel c.960. An alleged miraculous intervention drew to the community the attention of King Cnut who founded the Benedictine Abbey in 1019 and endowed it with the manors of Horning, Ludham and Neatishead. Further endowments followed and the extensive property of the abbey is recorded in the Domesday Book. The sole dependencies of the abbey were the Priory of St Michael at Rumburgh, Suffolk (founded 1064) and the Hospital of St James at Horning (founded 1153) which is linked to the abbey via a causeway. The only surviving building of the hospital is the chapel which was subsequently converted into a barn (scheduled and listed at Grade IIstar). The abbey buildings evolved over numerous building phases from the late C11 to at least the mid-C15. The number of monks remained fairly constant at around twenty-two to twenty-six.

Virtually all late C11 foundations followed the Rule of St Benedict which made every house autonomous in its government. In total, a minimum of 163 Benedictine houses were eventually founded in England; and the Black Monks, as they were known, were particularly powerful in Norfolk. St Benet's was the only religious house in England not to be dissolved by Henry VIII who appointed William Reppes, Bishop of Norwich, as abbot in 1536, granting to him all its properties in return for those of the bishopric. Reppes stripped the site however, and the last monk left c.1540. The abbey and its demesne lands were thereafter let out to farm, and the precinct was plundered for building materials. In the third decade of the C17 the church, walls and other buildings were described as having fallen down; and by 1702 a map drawn by R

Nicholson shows only a house, barn and stable, together with a mill in the extreme eastern corner but possibly this was actually in the western corner. These remains have since disappeared.

The gatehouse was built in the mid-to late C14 and it survived in a reasonable state until a windmill was erected inside it in the mid-C18. An idea of its appearance prior to this can be obtained from a sketch made by the antiquary John Kirkpatrick, some time before 1722 (reproduced in Pestell, p. 8). The sketch shows the outer entrance of the gatehouse from the west with its lost upper storey which had a large central window flanked by pairs of elaborately carved niches. The first floor was probably lost in the mid-C18 when the drainage mill was erected over the gatehouse in order to benefit from its masonry footings. This allowed the mill to be built higher than most examples of this date in the area. The mill was designed for pumping water to drain the surrounding marshes and improve them for agriculture, although it was probably also used to grind seed and grain. It fell out of commission in the 1860s after the sails blew off. In 2012 repair work was carried out on the gatehouse and windmill which had been damaged by flooding, involving the replacement of c.40% of the brickwork of the mill. (Listed Building Report)

decaied great Abbay called Saint Benet in the Holme, which Knut the Dane built, and the monkes afterward so strengthned with most strong wals and bulwarks that it seemed rather a Castle than a Cloister. In so much that William the Conquerour could not winne it by assault, untill a monke betraied it into his hands upon this condition, that himselfe might be made Abbot thereof. Which was done accordingly: but forthwith this new Abbot for beeing a traitour (as the inhabitants make report) was hanged up by the kings commandement, and so justly punished for this treason. (Camden)

Gatehouse Comments

Of the possible C11 fortifications mentioned by Camden there seem to be no remains but a late C14 gatehouse and part of a crenellated precinct wall, which may relate to a licence to crenellate granted in 1327, does survive. The location of the Abbey, within marsh land, would have made it difficult for cavalry based troops to assault regardless of any artificial defences.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTG383156
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  • Pevsner, Nikolaus, and Wilson, B., 1997, Buildings of England: Norwich and north-east Norfolk (Penguin) p. 561-2
  • Margeson, S., Seiller, F. and Rogerson, A., 1994, The Normans in Norfolk (Norfolk Museums Service) p. 40, 42
  • Knowles, David and Hadcock, R. Neville, 1971, Medieval religious houses in England and Wales (Longmans)┬áp56, 75, 481
  • Cox, J.C., Rev., 1906 'The Abbey of St Benets of Holm' VCH Norfolk Vol. 2 p. 330-336 online copy



  • Coulson, C., 1982, 'Hierarchism in Conventual Crenellation: An Essay in the Sociology and Metaphysics of Medieval Fortification' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 26 p. 69-100 see online copy
  • Rudd, W.R., 1914, Norfolk Archaeology Vol. 18 p. xxxi-xxxiii
  • Loftus-Brock, E.P., 1880, 'The Abbey of St Benet at Holm' Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 36 p. 15-21 online copy

Guide Books

  • Snelling, J., 1971 (revised 1997), St Benets Abbey (guidebook available in Horning church)

Primary Sources

  • Lyte, H.C. Maxwell (ed), 1891, Calendar of Patent Rolls (1327-30) p. 183 online copy


  • English Heritage, 2012, Heritage at Risk Register 2012 East of England (London: English Heritage) p. 60 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2011, Heritage at Risk Register 2011 East of England (London: English Heritage) p. 55 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2010, Heritage at Risk Register 2010 East of England (London: English Heritage) p. 48 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2009, Heritage at Risk Register 2009 East of England (London: English Heritage) p. 56 online copy
  • Linford, P., 1996, The Abbey of St Benet at Holm, Norning, Norfolk, Report on Geophysical Survey, 1996 (English Heritage) online copy