December 12 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
A hidden gem of Norfolk’s ancient past has been unearthed from its leafy cover after undergoing a restorative makeover.
■ The Priory dates back to 1216, making it nearly 800 years old.
■ It was founded by Margery de Cressy and dissolved in 1536. The canons living in the priory belonged to the Order of Peterstone, a small and somewhat mysterious Norfolk-based religious order.
■ The building was struck by disaster when the south transept collapsed, which is believed to have happened during floods in 1400. A staircase was built in its place but this also collapsed in 1910.
■ During the Victorian ea the priory was a much-visited beauty spot and appeared on post cards. During this ‘romantic’ period in the building’s history a set of heavy metal gates were installed.
■ The church and part of the cloisters are in ruins, but a monastic building survives having been converted into a house during the 16th and 19th centuries.
It is now owned by the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust and managed with the support of Norfolk County Council.
Beeston Regis Priory, which sits up high in a tucked away corner of the coastal village, was swathed by tree branches, overgrown undergrowth and wild plants that had sprung up on its centuries-old walls.
But its antique architecture, which dates back to 1216, has been uncovered once more after £13,000 of works were carried out to clear it of its leafy cloak, and repair the most vulnerable parts of its impressive structure.
History buffs at Norfolk County Council (NCC), which helps manage the site, feared they would have to close the historic ruins, as some of the ancient flints within its towering walls had become so weathered they were in danger of coming loose.
Vandalism and ever encroaching vegetation were also threatening its structure so county hall bosses stumped up the five-figure sum to carry out the works, the first repairs in 10 years, which were completed this month.
David Robertson, historic environment officer at NCC who led the restoration project, said he was “thrilled” with the results.
“The repairs mean we can keep it open to the public, it’s safe. We’re very pleased,” he added.
“It’s an important site in its own right and as a historical monument the public use it and enjoy it.
“There’s real interest in the site but it goes beyond the local area.
“When the builders were here they have been talking to people from America and Canada. They see it on an Ordnance Survey map and want to come and have a look.”
The priory and its two neighbouring ponds - which made up part of the monastery - are popular with dog walkers, tourists and nature lovers as its quiet surroundings have become a haven for wildlife.
Kingfishers, kestrals and jackdaws are among the winged visitors that have been spotted at the site and on the
ponds, and they had a part in dictating when and where the repairs could be carried out.
Mr Robertson said: “As well as the historic interest we have got the wildlife interest. We know various bird species use this site and when we were doing the repairs that’s something we had to think about as well.
“We wouldn’t want to repair a piece of the fabric but have a detrimental effect on breeding birds, so that was one of the reasons we left the repairs to the end of the summer.”
Bodham based builders F Woodrow and Son, who have experience with historic buildings, carried out the restoration work using materials in keeping with the priory’s heritage.
They matched the original mortar as closely as possible and any fallen
flint and stone was reused wherever possible.
A set of heavy metal gates, installed in the 19th century, were also reinstated as part of the work. The gates were damaged and their hinges ripped from the ancient walls, after vandals tried to remove them from the site.
The council transferred them into storage to protect them from thieves but there are now back in their rightful home.
The repairs have since been revealed to residents, members of the parish council and parochial church council, who praised the restoration.
Mr Robertson added: “Norfolk has a rich heritage and wonderful ruins like this deserve to be saved for future generations to enjoy.”