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St. Benet's Abbey

St Benet's Abbey is one of Norfolk's most iconic landmarks. It stands next to the River Bure south of Ludham - although officially it lies within the parish of Horning.

St. Benet's Abbey

St Benet's Abbey in Autumn

Today the only part of the abbey which remains is the gatehouse - however in the 18th century a brick windmill was rather incongruously built into it. There are also many depressions on the ground which are the remains of the fish ponds dug by the monks.

The Norwich School artist John Sell Cotman famously painted the abbey in the 19th Century when the mill was still in full sail:

St. Benet's Abbey by John Sell Cotman

St Benet's Abby by John Sell Cotman

Not surprisingly, the dramatic riverside location of the Abbey has inspired a number of writers. In Coot Club by Arthur Ransome - Mrs Barrable and the children sail past it on their way to Potter Heigham:

'Dorothea was having her first turn at the tiller when they passed the ancient ruins of St. Benet's Abbey, with the ruin of a windmill in the middle of them. The Admiral explained what those bits of old wall and broken grey stone arch had been, and Dorothea, even with the tiller in her hands, slipped headlong into a story. 'If only it was still an abbey....the outlaw would come panting to the threshold and ask for sanctuary, and the Hulabaloos couldn't do a thing....'

The abbey was also used as a location by Sylvia Townsend Warner (see Sloley) - in her historical novel The Corner That Held Them and by Gladys Mitchell in her Wraiths and Changelings (1978). In Mitchell's story a party of ghost hunters from London visit the site.

The abbey also has another fascinating literary connection - for in 1459 Sir John Fastolf (the character on whom Shakespeare based Sir John Falstaff) was buried inside the abbey and his funeral was attended by John Paston who wrote many of the Paston Letters. In fact, John Paston inherited Caister Castle from Fastolf via a disputed will - which involved the Paston family in a long running legal dispute and a siege of the castle.

On the first Sunday in August each year - the Bishop of Norwich visits St Benet's to hold a service: an event which normally draws a large crowd of worshippers and holidaymakers.

More photographs of Ludham and St Benet's Abbey




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