October 31 2014 Latest news:
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
A restored medieval gatehouse in West Norfolk which has been described as a piece of “monastic bling” will soon be open to the public, after the completion of a huge restoration project that included structural repairs and a new roof.
Restoration work at Pentney Priory, near King’s Lynn, was one of English Heritage’s most ambitious restoration projects in the East of England, with work starting two years ago, partly funded by a £200,000 grant.
The three-storey, 14th century gatehouse is the only surviving monastic building from the once powerful priory, which would once have included several monastic buildings including a grand church.
The gatehouse would have provided luxury accommodation for high-status visitors and their entourages as well as security for the monastery.
The Grade I listed gatehouse and scheduled monument had been on the English Heritage “at risk” register, and it was recently found to be in danger of imminent collapse, with falling masonry and leaking walls.
The owners of Pentney Priory, Howard Barber and Dita Lee, who bought the property in 2010, hope the site will become a popular tourist attraction.
Mr Barber, a former airline pilot, said: “When we bought it the building was a complete ruin, an empty shell, and was in imminent damage of collapse.
“But now it will, hopefully, be a substantial asset for West Norfolk and bring people into the area.”
He said the gatehouse had to be a functional building to make it sustainable for the future.
He added: “We will be running guided tours throughout the year, with the website ‘Invitation to view’, starting in May.
“There will be a visitors’ centre with a model of how the priory would have looked at its peak, and we will also be running business courses here and weddings.
“The work has been carried out by craftsmen from the local area and last weekend there were rows of people from the community coming to look. It is back on the radar for people in West Norfolk.”
John Ette, English Heritage’s principal heritage at risk advisor for the East of England, said the restoration project had hopefully secured the site for hundreds of years.
He said: “But we only caught it just in time. If the owners had not been so supportive and imaginative, then it would have been left as a ruin. But it has been possible to bring it back from the brink. It was one of the top 10 priority sites in the East of England. Sites like this are what Norfolk’s all about.
Robert Parkinson, English Heritage historic buildings architect, said dukes and members of the Royal Family would have probably visited the site, which was once a piece of “monastic bling” showcasing the wealth of one of Norfolk’s richest monasteries.
He said: “The Howard Dukes of Norfolk and the Brandon Dukes of Suffolk both had land in the area, so it would have been surprising if they had not visited.”
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Pentney Priory was founded around 1130 by Robert De Vaux, and was one of the wealthier monastic communities in Norfolk. It was built on low-lying land in the Nar Valley and the site was linked to the river by a canal. The gatehouse was built in the 14th century as the main entrance to the priory complex. The external walls stand to their full height and retain important architectural detail.
Pentney was one of three Augustinian houses in the Nar Valley, with the smaller Wormegay Priory being absorbed by Pentney in 1468. The priory was dissolved in 1537 by Henry VIII as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and sold to the Earl of Rutland. Stone from the priory was used in the building of Abbey Farm and on a number of the nearby outbuildings.