The Benedictine Binham Priory was founded in the late 11th century by Pierre de Valoines, Lord of Orford, and a nephew of William the Conqueror. The church, in the cruciform plan, took over 100 years to build. In 1212 the priory was besieged by Robert Fitzwalter who claimed the patronage, but was rescued by troops sent by King John. The history of the priory tells of a number of priors who were not quite right in the head.
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The church, built of local flint and Barnack limestone from Northamptonshire, was called the Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Cross because of its dedication to both. The church served the people of the village as a parish church. It had a cruciform shape and a central crossing tower. The west front was built between 1226-1244 and is divided into three parts with a large west window. A decorated pattern is formed by the bar tracery. The window was bricked up in 1809 after suffering the ravages of time. On the west front below the window area is an Early English arcaded screen with dog-tooth ornamentation. Five shafts with crocket capitals flank the doorway.
The original church’s north and south aisles are now gone: the south aisle was dismantled after the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII in May, 1539; the north aisle followed the same fate but not until 1809. The interior reflects various styles of architecture depending on the time period in which it was built or redone. In 1715 the roof was repaired and rebuilt, then in 1903 a new one was built. Surviving in the interior are the first seven bays of the original priory church and the nave arcades. Some of the arches are decorated with billet and zigzag mouldings; some arches are ribbed and pointed.
The east wall dates from after 1540. There are two original doorways, now blocked. A piscina, triple sedilia, and font are of interest as are oak benches with open work backs and two misericord seats. The altar table is Jacobean. A remnant of the early rood screen remains. During the reformation black letter texts were painted over it.
The church organ dates from 1880 while a coat of arms celebrating the victory of Waterloo is from 1815. The bellcote, with its open sides, dates from the 15th century and has one bell. The monastic ruins are extensive but are just that—low ruins. They consisted of the usual chapter house, presbytery, cloister, refectory, kitchen, dormitory, and other domestic buildings.
Binham is a small village with a green with a 15th century market cross shaft.
Binham Priory and church is located ¼ mile north-west of the village of Binham on a minor road off the B1388.
The priory ruins are under the care of English Heritage and are an open site. The church is open from 10am-6pm in summer and until 4pm in winter.
All text and photos © by Barbara Ballard