Binham Priory was founded as a daughter-house of St Albans Abbey in 1091AD, by Peter de Valoines, along with a retinue of eight monks. Peter was William the Conqueror's nephew, and was granted extensive lands in west and north Norfolk following the Norman Conquest. The priory was endowed with the entire manor of Binham, meaning that the prior was also lord of the local manor. Work on the priory church began soon afer the foundation, and continued until the western front was completed by Richard de Parco between 1227 and 1244AD.
The presbytery, the area under the central crossing tower, the north and south transepts, and the flanking aisles all served as the priory church. The central nave was reserved as a parish church. During the middle ages, a dividing wall was erected (possibly due to tensions between the monks and the parishioners) separating these two areas. The original doorways between these two areas can still be seen - now bricked up - at the eastern end of the church.
When Binham was dissolved in 1539AD, the monastic buildings were sold to Thomas Paston, whose grandson subsequently demolished them and plundered their stone. The parish church was saved due to its use by the secular population, and it is this section of the building that remains standing today. The north and south aisles originally survived (the north aisle was still standing as late as 1810AD), but these eventually fell into ruin.
Although the west front still stands, most of its windows were bricked up at some point during the18th century. However, the 13th Century window that remains is possibly the earliest surviving example of bar tracery in Britain (bar tracery being the ornate stonework patterns created to hold sections of stained glass).
Binham Priory enjoyed a rather colourful history. In 1212AD, the abbot of St Albans removed the prior, leading to Robert Fitzwalter creating a forged deed of patronage alleging that the prior could only be removed with his consent. He laid siege to the priory to remove the abbot's man, and the monks were forced to subsist on bran and water collected from the drain pipes. King John eventually intervened, causing Fitzwalter to flee.
Prior Alexander de Langley was apparently driven to insanity by excessive study. His erratic behaviour led to him being flogged and held in solitary confinement until his eventual death, and which time he was buried in chains.
Today, the nave remains in use as the parish church. Notable monastic ruins include the gatehouse and north and south transepts. The west front of the church is still impressive, despite its bricked-up windows.
Binham priory isn't the most impressive religious houses, but there's certainly enough of historical interest to warrant a visit. The continuity of use between the priory and the present-day church makes it an unusual and rewarding site to visit.