Uncovering the History of Thetford Priory

The Cluniac Monks and their Legacy

Thetford Priory is an incredibly impressive former ruin located in Thetford, the town where you spend your first night before embarking on the Peddars Way National Trail.

If you have the time when you arrive in Thetford, I would highly recommend a short stroll over to the Priory and have a wander around these striking ruins.

Thetford Priory ruins

Founded by Roger Bigod (a close associate of William The Conqueror) in 1103, it’s one of the most important religious sites in England and has been a significant part of English history ever since.  

This impressive priory ruin is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is part of the English Heritage National Register.

The priory is also the largest and most important Cluniac monastery in the country, followed closely by Castle Acre Priory which you’ll also walk pass on your Peddars Way trail. Lots of history to see!

The Early History of Thetford Priory

Thetford Priory ruins towards the Prior's Lodging

Thetford priory was dedicated to Saint Mary and was part of the religious order of the Cluniac monks.

Originally it was built on the site of an earlier Norman chapel but became too confined so was moved to the present site. It was home to a small community of 24 monks and became one of the largest and richest foundations, growing in size and importance over the centuries.

The Cluniac Monks and their Role

Thetford Priory impressive ruins

These Cluniac monks were a religious order that was founded in 910 and were devoted to prayer, contemplation, and service to others. The monks were also known for their strict discipline and their commitment to the ideals of the Benedictine rule.

They were responsible for the day-to-day running of Thetford priory and they were also responsible for the religious ceremonies that took place there. The monks also managed the finances of the priory and were responsible for the maintenance of the buildings.

The Layout and Architecture of Thetford Priory

Thetford Priory ruins

Thetford Priory is huge, and the aerial photograph on the English Heritage website is worth looking at. You’ll then understand why it’s such an impressive ruin.

It was built in the traditional Cluniac style and is one of the best-preserved examples of this style in England. The priory ruins are made up of several buildings, including a church, cloisters, dormitory and refectory, and you can see all these areas marked out clearly  from what's left of the flint stone walls.

It also had a hospital and a Prior’s Lodging, the shell of which you can also still see.

Thetford Priory ruins Priory Gatehouse

The Dissolution of Thetford Priory

Thetford Priory was dissolved in 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.

Thetford Priory ruins arch

However, due to its importance as the burial place of the Earls and Dukes of Norfolk, it was one of the last priories to be dissolved.

The dissolution of the priory was a major blow to the town of Thetford and the area as a whole. The priory had been an important part of the local community and its closure had a major impact on the economy and culture of the area.

Where is Thetford Priory?

Thetford Priory ruins wall

Thetford Priory is open to the public, is free to enter and can be found at:

Water Lane, Thetford, IP24 1BB

Thetford Priory ruins steps

The Cluniac monks were an important part of the history of Thetford Priory and their legacy can still be seen today.

So if you're looking to explore one of England's most important religious sites, book your walk on the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path to make sure you get a chance to see these amazing historical ruins and uncover the fascinating history of Thetford Priory.

The magnificent Thetford Priory ruins

I think that The Priory is one thing that is often overlooked when staying in Thetford because you can’t see it from the road, but it’s well worth a visit as the ruins really are very impressive.

It’s also a lovely place to enjoy some peace and quiet. I would say it’s one of the gems of Thetford.


Thetford has a few other gems too!

The town of Thetford is actually a very historic one and during the Anglo Saxon times was one of the most important towns in England. Maybe it’s not quite so much today (!) but it still has a lot of fascinating history attached to it.

Take a wander to the ancient Castle Mound. This was once a Norman Castle and if you walk to the top of it, you get amazing 360 degree views over Thetford and the surrounding countryside.

Thetford Castle Mound

There are a few museums that you may also like to visit.

Dads Army Museum

Historically, the Ancient House Museum is housed in a Tudor timbered merchant’s house and gives you all you need to know about the history of Thetford and the area called the Brecks

The Dad’s Army Musuem is a fantastic little museum run by volunteers and showcases the highly amusing TV series. The reason it’s situated in Thetford is that they did most of their filming in and around Thetford. 

The Charles Burrell museum is also close to here. This is a steam museum and also houses Jones’s van from the Dad’s Army TV sitcom.

All these can be seen when you stay in Thetford before you start the historic Peddars Way walking trail.


Suzy Watson
+44 (0)7765 668188

Feel free to contact me and we can discuss further