Community archaeology quest begins for remains of 13th century Benedictine Priory in Norfolk

By Ben Miller | 22 June 2015

Medieval lordship and monastic land to be surveyed at complex manorial site in Norfolk

A photo of an area of green woodland under a blue sky
Archaeologists will be examining the earthworks adjacent to the River Wissey during a community archaeology project in Hilgay© CJ Bond 2015
The first meeting has taken place ahead of a public search for archaeological artefacts in an area of Norfolk known for its place in the Domesday Book and medieval manors.

A village and parish with a population of little more than 1,000, Hilgay is home to the former Modney Priory, founded as a Benedictine cell by Ramsey Abbey before 1291 and dissolved in 1539.

“The site is known as a medieval moated manor and is protected and scheduled under the 1979 Ancient Monuments and Areas Act. Location,” says Dr Clive Bond, of the Ouse Washes community archaeology project.

“Hilgay is rather a large fenland island, shared with the village of Southery, adjacent to the River Wissey.

A photo of an area of green woodland under a blue sky
The survey has been funded by a small grant as part of a project extending into Cambridgeshire© CJ Bond 2015
“The pattern of lanes, field shapes and open spaces - some possibly ancient - belie a large village that has grown and shrunk over the centuries.

“Beyond the church, high on the slopes above the houses and river, as might be expected there is evidence of a medieval lordship and monastic or ecclesiastical land ownership, with what may be a manor-house platform.

“There are earthworks, including one in a box or rectangular shape, with a moat in a pasture adjacent the river.”

A butcher’s sausage house is acting as the headquarters for a series of excavations which began with a medieval earthwork survey by the river at the beginning of June.

“The site was surveyed in 1999, but no account of any change in earthworks, layout or erosion from grazing has occurred since,” says Dr Bond.

“The survey will photograph earthworks and measure and take levels of parts of this complex manorial site.

“It may be possible to interpret the function of rooms, buildings and alignments of banks and ditches, more fully.

“The Domesday Book demonstrates a number of rich land owners, one being the King in 1066,” explains Dr Bond.

“Ramsey Abbey also held 240 acres of arable. In 1316, the key landowners were said to be the Abbot of Ramsey, the Abbot of St Edmundsbury and Earl Warenne.

“Ramsey Abbey held land across the river, adjacent to the earthworks at Snore Hall, as stated in the book.

“So, the earthworks, if manorial, may well be those of the Ramsey Manor for Hilgay.”

Test pits, artefacts workshops, a barbecue and a concluding canoe trip are among the plans for the sessions, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Hi, thanks very much for giving exposure to this great project. The West Norfolk & King's Lynn Archaeological Society are delivering a fascinating programme of community-led excavations this summer, thanks to a grant from our Community Heritage Fund, part of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant-aided Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme - for more information, see
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