Castle Acre Priory was founded as a Cluniac religious house in 1089AD, by William de Warenne, the second Norman Earl of Surrey of that name. Originally founded within the walls of Caste Acre town, the priory was soon relocated to a new site outside the walls, allowing it space to expand.
Work on the church and cloister was well advanced by the middle of the 12th Century, and they were consecrated by William Turbus, bishop of Norwich, sometime between 1146 and 1148AD. The west end of the church was completed in 1160AD. Further buildings continued to be added throughout the life of the priory.
The priory prospered during the middle ages, but like other religious houses, a severe toll was inflicted upon it by the arrival of the black death. At its peak, Castle Acre Priory housed around 35-40 monks. By 1350AD, the numbers had fallen to just 20. The ravages of the plague were having their effect on discipline, and in 1351AD, Edward III ordered the arrest of those monks who had "Spurned the habit of their order and were vagabonds in England in secular habit."
The priory never fully recovered, and although 26 monks were in residence by 1390AD, this number had fallen to 10 by the time of the dissolution in 1537AD.
Today, although little remains of the priory church, the magnificent west front has survived, along with an impressive array of other monastic buildings. The Cluniac order believed in aesthetic beauty as an expression of religious devotion, and this principle is in evidence amongst the ruins of Castle Acre priory.
The 15th Century prior's house is of particular note, surviving in almost complete form. Indeed, it remained in use following the dissolution, and was occupied as late as the 18th Century. The priory latrines are also worth a mention - a two-storey affair, impressive in scale, offering a substantial insight into monastic waste disposal.
The site of the priory is secluded and peaceful. When combined with the nearby castle, it's absolutely unmissable. The village is also pleasant, with a good variety of eating establishments and watering-holes on offer. On the whole, highly recommended for a day out.