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Still lessons to be learned about Castle Acre Posted On 19 November 2021

Conservation the watchword at historic Norfolk village

For many, Castle Acre is a signpost on the A47, a left turn as they hurtle towards Norwich and Great Yarmouth. For natives from the other parts of the sprawling county that is Norfolk, it’s on a long list of “yes, I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never found the right time to go there” destinations. 

Those of us from mid-Norfolk, however, are more than familiar with the tranquil, yet extraordinary, village and its historical significance. 

English Heritage describe it as “a rare and complete survival of a Norman planned settlement including a castle, village, parish church, and one of the best-preserved monastic sites in England, Castle Acre Priory”. 

And it was all the work of one family, the Warennes, mainly during the 11th and 12th Centuries.

The castle itself was founded soon after the Battle of Hastings by the first William de Warenne, a close ally of William the Conqueror, and it remains one of the most impressive Norman earthworks in the country.

The stunning priory is one of the largest and best-preserved monastic sites in England and was the home of the first Cluniac order of monks  – there are extensive remains which reflect their love of decoration – while the parish church of St James the Great is a grand, flint construction including a ‘wine-glass’ pulpit and the remains of the rood screen panels of the 12 Apostles.

And the main road to the village still runs through the Bailey Gate, one of two stone gatehouses which were added in 1200.

So much for the history lesson but there is still much more to learn, particularly about the area’s wildlife. It’s why the parish council pursued, and secured, a substantial grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to fund a one-year project and investigation into other areas of the conservation village. 

As well as conducting archaeological surveys and researching old documents, the working party will be looking to complete practical conservation tasks such as recording birds, plants and insects that could, ultimately, lead to new or improved habitats. 

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