Not to be confused with the priory, I wanted to write about the chapel that stood inside the bailey.
Or did it?
Castle Acre is a hugely important medieval site in Norfolk, including the castle, the Cluniac priory and a much wider defensive landscape around the village today. The castle and the priory are in ruins today, but you can visit both, which are cared for by English Heritage. They sit at opposite ends of the village (unsurprisingly called Castle Acre) which was a centre of power and trade for the Warrene family from the eleventh century. By the fourteenth century however, the castle was deserted.
From the interpretation board above, my imagination was totally caught up, particularly when it became clear that there were some clear earthworks to be seen in the bailey that corresponded with the illustration.
I left feeling sure that I had just had the good fortune to stand on the footprint of an eleventh century chapel that belonged to the castle.
Careful investigation of the molehills was undergone – I am always hopeful but have more luck on my allotment! In the 1970s much of the site was excavated and these archives are now with Norfolk Museums Service. They have a lovely easy-to-use collections online, but not all the archaeological archive is on there. These are just a few of my favourites from the search:
Other reports online list these buildings as thirteenth or fourteenth century vernacular buildings. Not a chapel.
But when the Cluniac monks first arrived they were housed in the castle bailey, as the priory was completed by the 1090s. Where was their place of worship? Would it be more accurate to describe it as a church? This is one of the future research questions that EH put forward for the site, but with the caveat that further survey work is needed first.
Antiquarian accounts show the earthworks on plans, but do not suggest a religious use. The theory is however referenced in the recent guidebook by Edward Impey. It is also put forward on Pastscape.
This is the Blomfield map of the site and to the left side, you can see the circle of the motte and above it several rectanglular features – these are the same earthwork features I was struck by.
Castles and their practical religious lives is a subject that clearly needs much more targeted research. Hopefully a greater understanding of religious life within castles will emerge.
Until then, these places and their absences from the record can continue to inspire – I’ll leave you with this painting of the bailey by Helen Breach ans some of Historic England’s aerial shots.