Extraordinary medieval treasures saved for people of Norfolk

The Commonplace Book world map.

The Commonplace Book world map. - Credit: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

Two extraordinary medieval treasures - giving a remarkable insight into life in Norfolk hundreds of years ago - have been preserved for the people of the county.

The remarkable manuscripts from the 15th and 16th centuries, one of which includes delicate diagrams of the solar system and a fold-out world map, can be carefully conserved, following a funding boost.

They will then go on display when the Norwich Castle Keep transformation scheme is complete.

The Castle Acre Processional

The Castle Acre Processional. - Credit: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

The Castle Acre Processional is a rare and exquisite 15th century manuscript, probably made and used by monks at Castle Acre Priory.

Castle Acre Priory, Castle Acre, Picture: English Heritage

Castle Acre Priory, Castle Acre, Picture: English Heritage - Credit: English Heritage

Its leaves record the music and chants used for sacred ceremonies and feast days in the Christian calendar, marking where, at what time and on which date the songs would be sung.


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And the Commonplace Book of Henry Appleyard gives a fascinating glimpse into the intellectual, moral and spiritual legacy of one Norfolk family in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Mythological creatures in the Commonplace Book

Mythological creatures in the Commonplace Book. - Credit: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

It was probably begun around 1560 by Henry’s father John Appleyard, owner of the manor at Dunston.

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Both father and son penned information on a vast range of subjects, including the deeds of Roman emperors, lists of mayors and sheriffs of Norwich, science, astronomy and more.

An illustration in the Commonplace Book.

An illustration in the Commonplace Book. - Credit: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

The pages are beautifully illustrated, including delicate diagrams of the solar system and a breath-taking fold-out world map.

The book was adopted by the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News as part of the Keep Adopting scheme to raise funds for the Norwich Castle: Royal Palace Reborn project.

That £13.5m project will see the castle's keep transformed to reflect its origins as a Norman palace.

The National Manuscripts Conservation Trust has supported the conservation, interpretation and display with a grant of £20,350.

Following Norwich Castle Keep’s grand transformation through the Norwich Castle: Royal Palace Reborn project, they will join more than 1,000 objects in new permanent displays supported by the British Museum telling the story of medieval Norfolk.

Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery will re-open in August, with the exact dates still to be confi

The manuscripts will go on show at Norwich Castle Museum. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Currently in fragile bindings, extensive conservation will protect them for generations to come, enabling visitors to see them on display in the transformed Keep.

Digital displays will invite visitors to ‘turn’ the pages of the Castle Acre Processional – whilst also listening to the recreated music of the monastic chants for the first time since the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

A tour of the castle museum's keep before it closes for a complete redesignDr Tim Pestell Byline: So

Dr Tim Pestell. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Dr Tim Pestell, senior curator of archaeology and lead curator for the Royal Palace Reborn project, said: “As well as being beautiful objects in their own right, these two manuscripts – one religious, one secular – give us a fascinating insight into the thoughts and lives of real people in medieval Norfolk.

"We are very grateful to the NMCT for their support which will enable us to conserve, display and interpret these precious documents, at last making them properly accessible to our audiences.”

John Ward, chairman of the Norfolk Joint Museums Committee, said: “It’s wonderful to think that these texts, written and decorated painstakingly by hand hundreds of years ago, will be conserved through advanced laboratory techniques and shared with our communities and visitors through digital means.

"Norfolk County Council is delighted that the NMCT’s generosity will enable us to preserve them for current and future generations.”

Professor David McKitterick, chairman of the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, said: “We are delighted to support the conservation of these two important manuscripts with a major grant.

"The conservation will ensure that they are preserved for the future and can be made accessible once more.”

Work on the National Heritage Lottery Fund backed Royal Palace Reborn project started in August last year and has been continuing while Norwich Castle is closed.

One of the largest and most ambitious schemes under way in the United Kingdom, it will recreate the city landmark’s Keep back to its original 12th century lay-out.

A visualisation of the recreated Great Hall on the prinicpal floor of the keep of Norwich Castle. Pi

A visualisation of the recreated Great Hall on the prinicpal floor of the keep of Norwich Castle. Pic: Haley Sharpe Design. - Credit: Archant

All five levels - from the basement to the battlements - will be made fully accessible for the first time.

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