Hot on the heels of my previous posting, which as good as asked for this, here we have some quicker and brasher drawings of St Benet’s Abbey. There are few landmarks in the area so rich in history or sheer energy. The abbey was founded in the 9th century and in its pomp was one of the largest and most impressive money establishments in the country; work and cash from the abbey was instrumental in the subsequent construction of the Norfolk Broads. Sadly, with Dissolution it met its end and almost all of the buildings were demolished, the last monks leaving in the 1540s (though to this day, the Bishop of Norwich remains the Abbot of St Benet’s and holds an annual service there). Only the (relatively late) gatehouse remained, inside which a windmill was erected in the 1700s, originally to crush colza seed for lamps, but later on it was converted to a windpump until it was retired after suffering gale damage in the late 19th century.
Today the site is a popular tourist attraction and probably one of the most artistically-exploited sites in the county, dominating a number of paintings and no doubt starring in many a home movie. Criminally, I don’t think I’ve ever been closer to it than the other side of the river. I must rectify this sooner rather than later, as it looks wonderful. I do like a good ruin.
Its ruins are, unsurprisingly, the stuff of much inspiration and there are many legends of gruesome and ghostly nature. The monks of St. Benet’s surveyed the building of Ranworth church – which was not finished before the Dissolution – across the River Bure, and on calmer nights, one can still allegedly see the ghost of a monk rowing slowly across the river in a little boat, accompanied by his dog.
William the Conqueror was reputed to have experienced great difficulty in taking the abbey, and in desperation resorted to bribing one of the monks to open the gate on the condition he would be appointed the new Abbott. The Normans did not care for traitors, and once they had gained entry, they seized him, dressed him up in alb, cope and mitre and strung him up above the gate. It is said that on 25th May each year, terrible screams can be heard and a ghostly image of a writhing monk can be seen hanging over the ruined archway.
So, anyone want to take a trip out there with me one night? We should take a ouija board.
I had a lot of fun doing these drawings – and that’s the main thing – mainly because I didn’t take so long on them as I have been with my portraits and other stuff – they were significantly quicker jobs, and pack more of a punch as a result, I think. They were certainly more exciting to make. Woo-hoo!
Thanks to Norfolk Mills for the majority of historical and anecdotal information. If you’d like an alternative history, try the Norfolk Archaeological Trust’s account of the site.