Norton Priory Museum and Gardens has gone through a massive recent refurbishment and rebuilding (2016), with new and exciting displays of the medieval archaeology within its gallery. There is also a new shop, cafe and re-display of the famous St Christopher sculpture. I’ve recently discussed the ‘public mortuary archaeology’ of Nortion Priory – how mortuary and memorial traces are displayed, both outside among the ruins where there are many in situ stone coffins, and inside via the sarcophagi, grave-covers and other memorial tarces as well as human remains within the museum.
Together, these aspects show how dying, remembrance and mortality more broadly can be conveyed and constituted through ruins and their display.
Wrapping up but extending this discussion, I present other features of the museum and gardens that hold mnemonic dimensions. These are fourfold: one within the museum display, three within the gardens.
First there is a memorial column, set up by Sir Richard Brooke (1785-1865), the 6th Baronet (long-term residents of Norton who purchased the monastic ruins in the 16th century), to commemorate his wife, Harriot (d. 1825). It was originally situated at Windmill Hill close to Norton Priory. It originally had an urn on its top and a large commemroative base: what is on display is only a fragment of the original monument to a women who died aged 37 leaving ten children.
Until recently the column was dispalyed within the surviving medieval undercroft. Following the re-display, it has been integreated into the exhibition, helping to chart the possession of the post-medieval house and estate of the Brooke family into the early 20th century.
Commemorating the Medieval Monastic
We now move to the commemroation of the Middle Ages, evoked most explicitly in the sculpture of the Kneeling Monk by Thompson William Dagnall, unveiled in 1987 by the excavator of Norton Priory: J. Patrick Greene.
Then there is the art, much of it also dating to the establishment of the gardens in teh 18. Throughout the monastic gardens is a wide range of sculpture.No water features and botanical dimensionswhile not overtly mnemonic. Still, they punctuate and add meaning to the gardens. Moreover, there is an historic (and pagan) dimension in at least one sculpture: Coventina by Phil Bews, evokes the Roman water deity.
Finally, the gardens are replete with a series of memorials to those affiliated with and who affined to, the ruins and gardens. These are fixed to benches or else free-standing plaques.
Putting all this together gives us a wider sense of how death in the past, and death in the present, coalesce and find material traces in the museum and gardens at Norton Priory. Heritage sites have contrasting policies and practices regarding memorials and art; at some you’ll see none at all, at others a catalogue of installations and commemorations. Considering how memorials and art interact with the heritage environment alerts us to how we set apart places that are ‘from the past’ as places of contemplation, meditation and reflection on the dead and mortality in contemporary society. Death and memory accrue in and around these ruins and ancient monuments.