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Visiting the 12th century Abbey at Wymondham, Norfolk, England: monks and townsfolk disagreeing, building rival towers

Updated on July 30, 2012
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Wymondham Abbey, Norfolk
Wymondham Abbey, Norfolk | Source
View towards Wymondham from Bradman Lane.
View towards Wymondham from Bradman Lane. | Source
Wymondham Abbey - Norman arcading.
Wymondham Abbey - Norman arcading. | Source
Map location of Norfolk
Map location of Norfolk | Source

Bells, towers, disturbing the monks, and a gallows...

The Abbey in Wymondham (1), in England's Norfolk, was founded in 1107, by William d'Albini Senior. It was executed in stone from Caen, Normandy.

So is it, or was it, a church building or some kind of monastic establishment?

Well, no-one seemed conclusively to know. Or, rather, different people thought they knew, but no-one seemed to have a monopoly of viewpoint on who owned the building — or who owned, or could use, which parts.

For centuries, then, there was a deep-seated rivalry between the Abbey's monks and the townsfolk, who felt that the building was at least substantially theirs, as well as the monks'. This rivalry even took the form of separate towers being built by the different parties to the dispute. In fact, four separate towers were built in all, two of which have survived: one intact, and the other in ruins. (There were, altogether, twin west towers, a central octagonal tower which was rebuilt in the 14th century, and a tall, west tower, now measuring 43.6 metres, which replaced the original twin tower.)

Thus, down the years, the two towers were ever present symbols of the lack of empathy between monks and townsfolk. Sometimes the rivalry remained merely at the level of annoyance, when duly annoyed parishioners from the town would ring bells in one of the towers in order to disturb the monks' prayers. (Currently, the west tower has ten bells.) On other occasions, the rivalry descended to physical blows.

After the Reformation, the monks were summarily sent for a career move, owing in no small part to the greater emphasis on Biblical ways of organizing church affairs and on increasingly exercised state jurisdiction.

In 1549, the west tower was used for a macabre purpose: as a gallows for William Kett, brother to Robert Kett executed at Norwich Castle for leading a rebellion. One supposes that in constitutional terms this novel use of the Abbey Tower would be described as exhibiting the primacy of the temporal over the spiritual.

In 1573, some of the deterioration of the building's condition was made more widely known when Queen Elizabeth I visited the Abbey. As a result, funds were made available for repairs. (Curious how a little patronage goes a long way... )

Among the major features of the Abbey is a fine example of Norman arcading in the interior of the building.

July 26, 2012


(1) Make sure you pronounce it 'Wind-ham'!

Also worth seeing

In Wymondham itself, the Market Cross is a remarkable, 17th century structure; Becket Chapel in the town was founded by William d'Albini Junior in 1174 (the Abbey was also dedicated jointly to Thomas à Becket).

Norwich (distance: 15 kilometres) has numerous visitor attractions, including Norwich Castle; Norwich Cathedral; Pull's Ferry; Elm Hill; Norwich Guildhall; and many others.


How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Wymondham 's rail links to London include those to Liverpool Street Station, via Cambridge. Wymondham is 206 kilometers from Heathrow Airport. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

For your visit, these items may be of interest


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    • MJFenn profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Patty Kenyon: Yes, travel can be (as people say) mind broadening, and often the process can start before the actual travel begins. I think people can get so much more from travel if first of all they already know something about where they are going and some of the historical background. Thank-you for your comment.

    • Patty Kenyon profile image

      Patty Kenyon 

      6 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

      One day, I do want to travel....England is on the top of my list as well as Ireland because that is where most of my family heritage started. However, for now, I enjoy reading Hubs that reflect history as well as other cultures...and Hubs that allow me to travel through the mind of the writer!! :)

    • MJFenn profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Patty Kenyon: The Abbey at Wymondham is but one of numerous, historically fascinating places in Norfolk, England. Thank-you for your comment.

    • Patty Kenyon profile image

      Patty Kenyon 

      6 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

      Interesting Hub!! I love reading about history and other cultures!! Keep up the good work!!


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