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Benedictone nunnery, Swaffham Bulbeck, 1930 (photo J H Bullock) (Cambridgeshire Collection)

The Abbey, Benedictine nunnery, Swaffham Bulbeck

History of the abbey / nunnery

Listed Building

C18 house built over the C13 undercroft of a Benedictine Priory.

The Abbey at Swaffham Bulbeck originated as a Benedictine nunnery, probably founded in the second half of the C12, either by Isabel de Bolebec who became the wife of the 3rd Earl of Oxford around 1209, or by her parents. The first contemporary mention of a Prioress of Swaffham is a reference to land held by her in Silverley in 1199. At its foundation the priory was endowed with the church of Swaffham Bulbeck and 4 virgates (a virgate is around 30 acres) of surrounding land; later more land was acquired in the parish.

William Hammond later built a new farm nearby, and by 1835, it was recorded in The Topographical Dictionary of England that the Abbey was occupied by paupers. The Census records in the mid- to late C19 show that the Abbey continued to be let as tenements; in 1871, for instance, the house was occupied by three families, totalling 26 people. In 1910 the land and property was bought by the Allix family, who owned the neighbouring Swaffham Prior House. The Royal Commission for the Historic Monuments of England (RCHME) described the Abbey and carried out an earthwork survey in 1972. The notes mention that the large central room on the first floor had been converted into two rooms but the partition wall was removed during alterations carried out in the 1990s. This wall has since been reinstated by new owners who have restored the Abbey in the early C21. (from Historic England entry)


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