Barnham Broom’s ‘Old Hall’

By Haydn Brown

The Old Hall is a medieval manor house situated on the Honingham Road in Barnham Broom, just south of Norwich in the county of Norfolk – it has quite a history!

Old Barnham Ryskes Hall2
Approach to the Old Hall. Photo: Savilles.

Origins:
Long before the present Old Hall was built, there had been settlements on the Hall’s grounds since prehistoric times. During the Roman period, it is believed that the site was used as a military camp on a conjectured military route from the West to Brancaster, possibly to stem the Iceni uprisings lead by Boudicca. Indeed, many aspects of the moated enclosure in the grounds of the Hall resemble a typical Roman Castra (or camp) – but much of this needs further research. There may also have been a buried Saxon settlement, just to the South of the moat; the site calls out for an excavation for, certainly, some timbers have already been discovered. In medieval times there was also a stockade within the moat boundaries.

Mortirmer Coat of Arms

In the 13th Century, the land was owned by William Mortimer, the then Lord of Attleborough who also had manors at Scoulton, Little Ellingham, Rockland Tofts, Stanford and Little Buckenham in Norfolk; clearly this branch of the ‘Mortimer’s’ were wealthy and powerful land owners in the eastern region. William was to resist King John, along with his father, Robert, in 1205 and 1215, for which both lost their lands – and after which, neither man appeared in the Book of Fees for 1212. However, in 1216-17, the Sheriff of Norfolk was ordered to return the Barnham land to William; then by early 1250, William received Charters for free-warrens in his manors of Attleborough, Barnham Broom and Scoulton. He died soon afterwards – certainly before 29 May 1250.

In 1347, or thereabouts, ‘Barnham Ryske’ – the former name of Barnham Broom, was decimated by the Plague with many cottages, lying between the current Hall and the local church of St. Peter and St. Paul, were abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin. This was the time when the land, on which very little stood, may have passed into the ownership of Roger Chamberlayne (b.1380), originally from Gedding in Suffolk. During his ownership, at least a gate house and drawbridge existed on the site, leading to what was probably the timber Great Hall; today, nothing remains of these structures, and it may have been the case that this great wooden hall burned down in the late 14th Century, with the gatehouse finally being demolished in 1849.

Chamberlain Coat of ArmsRoger’s son, Sir Robert Chamberlayne entered the story of the Barnham estate around the time of the Wars of the Roses, circa 1455. He, unfortunately, became embroiled in that war – but chose the wrong (Yorkist) side! He was subsequently tried and convicted for plotting against Henry VII; the charge of high treason ensured that he was executed on Tower Hill in 1491 – forty-four years and sixteen battles after the savage assault against his father at Bury St. Edmunds. In these incidents the Chamberlayne family were pawns in both the opening and closing of a bloody chapter in English history. Robert left the family with very little money or land. On 14 May 1496, Sir Ralph Shelton, as a Commissioner of the Peace in Norfolk, was directed to assay the lordships, lands and manors of the rebel and traitor, Sir Robert Chamberlain. This resulted in the forfeiture of his Estates. It was at this point when his family moved to Barnham Broom, where Sir Robert’s widow, Elizabeth Fitz-Ralph, daughter and co-heiress of Sir John Fitz Rafe (Ralfe/Ralph), held inherited possessions that had escaped the confiscation. Fifty years later, on the 11 March, 1541 and during the reign of Henry VIII [1509-1547], Sir Robert’s son, Sir Edward Chamberlayn obtained a reversal of his father’s attainder, but without the restitution of any property.

It was this same Edward Chamberlayne, born around 1470, who was eventually in a position to build the present Old Hall on the site of the former Barnham Ryskes Hall; this was made possible by way of his wife, Jane Starkey’s (of West Acre) dowry.  He was neither rich enough, nor influential enough, to profit from the Dissolution of the Monasteries’ and, by the turn of the 17th century, the family fortunes has declined appreciably.

Diaperwork_Brigitte Webster
False ‘Diaper work built into the external walls of the Hall. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The building of the Barnham Old Hall was started in 1510 and completed in 1550; its South wing being completed in 1514 and the porch tower around 1540. The style of the manor, whilst modest in proportions, featured numerous very fashionable elements. For example, the white mortared entrance arch and window pediments were designed to mimic the fashionable marble examples of the Italian Renaissance. The North wing (and crow step gables) were completed in 1614. Again, attempts were made to keep things fashionable with “false” diaper work being applied to most brick walls. Traditional diaper work, that is the dark crosses in the brick work is made from darker, usually burnt bricks. The diaper work here follows the lesser but more common practice of staining select bricks.

Jacobean Ceiling_Brigitte Webster
Plaster relief ceiling in the Jacobean Parlour. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

From 1514 until 1663 the Old Hall was the local Manor House with the manorial court held there during this period. Plaster relief in the Jacobean Parlour indicates the manorial court duties. It was during this period that Edward’s mother, Lady Elizabeth FitzRalph – an influential woman in her own right, successfully petitioned King Henry VIII to reverse the attainder of her late husband, Sir Robert Chamberlayne, in 1531; however, Henry did not restore any of the family’s assets and the family never regained any appreciable wealth, missing out in the dissolution of the monasteries.

In 1522 Edward succeeded his brother Sir Francis, who had died without issue, in the possessions of their mother, Elizabeth Fitz-Ralph, which had escaped the confiscation consequent upon Sir Robert’s attainder; this included the Barnham Broom estate. He was over fifty-two years of age. On the 11 March 1541 Edward obtained a reversal of his father’s attainder, but without restitution of property. He died on the 15th July 1541 and was buried at Barnham Broome in Norfolk. Ultimately the Old Hall was sold to the Wodehouse Family of Kimberley in 1644 who used it as the principle farm house on their extensive estates.

Approaching the Present Day:
By the 19th century, the Tudor South wing of the Old Hall doubled as the village rectory from about 1815 until 1849. Unfortunately, in 1849 the moat’s drawbridge and porter’s lodge were demolished but otherwise very little was remodelled or changed. The current farm house is next door to the Old Hall and is owned and farmed by the Eagle family who also owned the Old Hall from 1923 until 1963. The house and, in particular, the Jacobean parlour were, at this time used for agricultural storage including hay bales and fencing. Many of the windows lacked glass and the increased dampness caused the magnificent plaster ceiling in the Jacobean parlour to sag with increasing severity over this period. Luckily the parlour had been subdivided into two rooms with a stud work partition wall across the centre. The ceiling finally came to rest, propped up by this partition wall.

After the Second World War a number of restoration and preservation societies sought buyers for the Old Hall – because to its historic importance. However, due to a combination of the Hall’s sad state of repair, combined with owners’ relative poverty in the form of sweeping death duties, it was not until 1963 when a buyer was found – one who was prepared to invest considerably in the restoration. In the meantime, a number of tenants came and went, including members of the Lincoln family, said to be directly related to the US president, Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln family graves are in the neighbouring village of Hingham – for their story see “The Lincolns, Gurneys and a President”

The next owners were the Hawker family who owned the house from 1963 to 1973. They undertook extensive but very sensitive renovation work and, according to Brigitte Webster the present owner, it is thanks to them that so many of the original features were saved. Unfortunately, the octagonal staircase tower on the West facing South wing was beyond repair by this time and had to be dismantled. However, the magnificent plaster ceiling in the Jacobean parlour was largely salvageable by the expedience of fitting hundreds of threaded rods to its reverse surface and ever so slowly screwing them up thus jacking the ceiling back into place. An article in the February 23rd, 1967 edition of Country Life magazine details the restoration process.

Old Barnham Ryskes Hall (Country Life)

In 1973 the house was briefly owned by a Mr. Walwork until 1977, though nothing is known about his tenancy. Then the Hall was purchased by Dr. Hartley Booth (who was related to the founding Booths of the Salvation Army) and his wife Adrianne. Theirs was the start of a 41-year programme of restoration and improvement, which included a long-running battle against death-watch beetle and dry rot. Over time, they rewired and re-plumbed, restored the large, arched, 16th-century window in the dining room, restored a number of other original features such as the Tudor fireplace in the dining room (of original hall) and the Tudor ceiling that lay concealed under a lower (probably) Victorian false ceiling. They also dredged and restored the spring-fed moat, a special feature of the Tudor-themed gardens laid out around the house by Mrs Booth, and they bought more land to protect the setting of the Hall.

John Evelyn Book

In 2001 the Booths also established a John Evelyn (1620-1706) memorial arboretum to the front of the Hall’s East Side. John Evelyn was a founder member of the Royal Society and author of its first ever work being “Sylva: or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions” published as a paper in 1662 and as a book in 1664. The book, in trying to redress the widespread destruction of natural forests in England (due to the Civil War) catalogued all tree types native to England in the 17th Century; the arboretum comprised only trees that were mentioned in the book.

Then, in late 2018, Tom Webster was searching the internet for a suitable house for a friend of his and, as is so often the case when one is online, found himself going down various “rabbit holes” culminating in him discovering that the Old Hall was ‘For Sale’. Against the will of his wife, Brigitte – who reckoned she was never going to move from Parsonage Farm, their previous abode, an appointment was made to view the property. Approximately 5 minutes after arriving at the front of the house both Tom and Brigitte Webster were convinced that this was the house for them. It took almost 12 months to turn that conviction into a successful purchase.

Present Day:
Today, the Old Hall at Barnham Broom is the home of the Tudor and 17th Century Experience. Its surviving features include:

The Front Porch_Brigitte Webster)
The Front Porch of the Old Hall showing the Italianate Renaissance style of archway. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Front Porch: This leads into the porch tower and displays many interesting period features. For example, the white archway and window surrounds were intended to mimic the Italianate renaissance use of marble and had been made fashionable by Henry VIII. However, the “crows’ steps” at the gable were probably added during Elizabethan times as a fashion, introduced by the Dutch and Flemish protestant immigrants. Inside the porch there are left and right stone benches upon which the property’s tenant cottagers would have waited to pay their rent. One benefit of the large covered porch is that the huge early Tudor linenfold front door has remained remarkably intact with its Tudor rose motif. Though this door is the current front hallway with the Hall’s oldest furniture item, an original French or Flemish oak dressier dating circa 1485.

The Great Hall (Dining Room_Brigitte Webster)
The ‘Great Hall’ Dining Room. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Dining Room: (Great Hall – as the Tudors called such a dining room): This is narrower than when it was built in 1514, the Victorians having added the corridor to the rear. However, it still retains its original oak ceiling mouldings and large inglenook style fire place. The original lintel was largely damaged and now a reproduction frontispiece adorns the original woodwork to give a clearer idea of what it would have looked like. At one time there would have been a minstrel’s gallery at the North end and indeed the original gallery window is still visible on the outside of the house.

View From Library_Brigitte Webster
The view from the Library. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Library: This was also part of the 1514 wing of the house, and was probably the ladies withdrawing room now containing the family antiques, places of interest and history library. The room also features interesting “squint” windows to allow occupants to observe people approaching from the side – it is yet to be discovered their true purpose. All the furniture in the library dates before 1600 and includes some superb Italian Renaissance “Cass bancas” – being an Italian take on the idea of a bench married to a sofa.

The Staircase Tower: To the rear of the entrance hallway is the grand staircase in a tower that makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look like it was levelled with a spirit level. It is of a solid oak construction outwardly clad in bricks. One very interesting feature is an original “dog gate” at the foot of the stairs. This was intended to keep the family’s deer hounds downstairs and dates circa 1620?

Old Barnham Ryskes Hall (Tudor Door)3
Door leading into the Jacobean Parlour. Photo: Savilles.

The Great (Jacobean) Parlour: At the top of this staircase is a fine Jacobean door leading into the Great Parlour, dating from 1614. This room sports arguably one of the finest plaster ceilings in all of England! It was once used as the manorial courtroom as the winged angel motif on one of the frieze panels attests. In the centre is an inverted finial with the remains of Jacobean courtiers and wild boar motifs.

Jacobean Parlour_Brigitte Webster
The Jacobean Parlour. Photo: Courtesy Brigitte Webster.

Sir Robert Chamberlayne Chamber: Through the side door of the Great Parlour is the Sir Robert Chamberlayne ensuite bedroom or chamber (as they referred to bedrooms in Tudor times). The room is named after the patriarch of the family. As already mentioned, Sir Robert was executed for treason by Henry VII in 1491 but his attainment was reversed posthumously by Henry VIII in 1531. In the 17th Century this was the master bedroom and still bears the Chamberlayne crest above the fireplace. This currently houses one of the nicest examples of a 17th century four poster bed to be found. It is largely original and in superb condition. The views from the ensuite bathroom across the water meadow to the river Yare to the West are stupendous!

Tudor Games Room_Brigitte Webster
Tudor Games Room showing rare Tudor wall painting. Photo: Courtesy Brigitte Webster

Tudor Games Room: The other door from the Great Parlour leads to the Tudor Games Room. Dating from the early 16th Century this was originally an oratory where the resident priest would hold mass every day for the family. The original wall recessed bible box is still present. The walls were once all painted and one still retains near perfect original wall painting. This date to circa 1590 and is intended to represent the blood of Christ (possibly remembering the family’s Roman Catholic past in a now protestant England). The room is now used for the Hall’s collection of Tudor board and card games.

Chapel: Leading up from the Games Room is a narrow spiral staircase to the household chapel. This was once the bedroom for the resident priest, the last being Father Richard Chamberlayne who died in 1570. Currently still being restored it is intended that authentic Tudor wedding services will be performed here.

Sir Edward Chamberlayne Chamber: This is the first bedroom in the South Wing of the Hall and was so named after the man who oversaw the construction of the house from 1510. The bed in this chamber is an original “truckle bed” dating to the early 17th century.

Great Chamber_Brigitte Webster
The Great Chamber. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Great Chamber: This bedroom is also in the South Wing and is so named because it is located directly above the Great Hall below. It is a generously proportioned room and contains an original four poster bed dating to either late Elizabethan or early James I. It boasts fine views to the front of the Hall. This room is the only other room in the house with a lockable bible box set into the wall.

Duke & Duchess Bedroom_Brigitte Webster
Duke an Duchess of Suffolk Chamber. Photo: Courtesy Brigitte Webster.

The Duke and Duchess of Suffolk Chamber: The final bedroom in the wing is currently the master bedroom, which has the most magnificent panoramic window overlooking the front garden and reproduced early Tudor knot garden. The bed is an original early Tudor four poster bed of modest proportions. The room also boasts a fine heavy beamed fireplace complete with impressive apotropaic fire scorch marks. The furniture in this room is all 16th Century and includes a rare example of a “Dante Chair” and an exquisite Cassone (or chest).

THE END

Cardinal Adam Easton – of Easton!

Who was Adam Easton? Well, in a nutshell, he was a man who helped change the course of English history. A 14th century scholar, said to be born to a family of peasants at Easton in Norfolk, England, who rose to become the most powerful Englishman in the Catholic Church, second only to the pope. So why (except for a few scholars of 14th century church history) have many never heard of him – even in Norfolk itself?

Easton (Signs of a Norfolk Summer)1
The red robes and galero worn by the person on this village sign at Easton identifies him out as a cardinal. This person is Adam Easton who was born in the village in the 14th Century. The keys he carries represent St Peter, after whom the local church is dedicated. The book he holds is a symbol of learning. It could perhaps be one of his own: he was a renowned scholar of both Greek and Hebrew and wrote some learned tomes during his lifetime. Equally, the book could be one from the library he left to the monks of Norwich after his death. Photo: Signs of a Norfolk Summer.

Well, Adam was born in the village of Easton in Norfolk, just half a dozen miles to the west of Norwich. Almost certainly the son of peasants, he was taken in and educated by the church. After applying to join the monastery of St Leonards on the Hill overlooking the river Wensum, he was spotted for his potential and moved downhill to the mother Benedictine monastery attached to Norwich Cathedral.

Easton (St Leonard's Priory)
Remains of St Leonard’s Priory.
Kett’s Heights is situated on a hillside between Kett’s Hill and Gas Hill in Norwich. Here at its highest point, overlooking Bishop Bridge and the Cathedral, a flint wall is all that remains of the chapel of St Michael-on-the-Mount. According to the Registrum Primum of Norwich Cathedral Priory, in 1101 Herbert de Losinga, the first Bishop of Norwich, was granted the manor of Thorpe and Thorpe wood by Henry I. There he built the church and priory of St Leonard and, nearby, the chapel of St Michael. St Leonard’s priory was a cell to the Cathedral. Photo: George Plunkett.

As one of the brightest scholars of his generation, Adam was sent by the Norwich Monastery to study at Oxford. There, the Benedictines had their own college, Gloucester College – today known as Worcester College. There, the monks were split into houses, sharing quarters with those monks sent from the same monastery. Some of the old buildings of Gloucester College still survive as ‘the cottages’ and can be seen in the grounds of Worcester College today (see left in photo. below)……. Meanwhile his friend and fellow student from Norwich, Thomas Brinton, was enjoying life at the papal court or curia, in Avignon and Rome acting for the Benedictine Order in England.

Easton (Worcester College)
The main quadrangle of Worcester College; on the left are the medieval buildings known as “the cottages”, the most substantial surviving part of Gloucester College, Worcester’s predecessor. Photo: Wikipedia.

Adam himself soon moved to Avignon and the papal court also, there to replace the same Thomas Brinton as a proctor acting on behalf of the English Benedictines. However, his first major task there did not make him popular in his country of birth; it was to send a message from the Pope telling the English King to restrain the activities of his men at arms in Italy. Fortunately, on his way back to London his route took him through Canterbury where he met with the Archbishop, Simon Langham. Langham was also a Benedictine monk from Westminster Abbey and he persuaded Adam to enter his service. From this moment until Langham’s death, Adam’s fortunes were linked to that of his new master.

Easton (Simon Langham)2
Simon Langham, Archbishop of Canterbury

It was while at Oxford, that Adam first came across fellow student John Wycliffe. They shared a common interest in attacking the successful and increasingly wealthy Friars. Adam owned copies of the writings of both William of St Amour and Richard FitzRalph attacking the Friars and Wycliffe had certainly read both works himself. Adam may even have loaned Wycliffe his own copies while they were at Oxford. Yet increasingly, in the years that followed, the broad thrust of Wycliffe’s life was to attack not just the Friars, but every aspect of the Church, both spiritual and temporal. He raged against the hierarchy, wealth and the power over secular life that the Church had established – he was far from alone.

Easton (John Wycliffe)
Fictional portrait of Wycliffe, c. 1828. Image: Wikipedia

Yet the Church had other things to worry about and just as Wycliffe produced his most vociferous attack in 1376, the Pope packed up the papal Court in Avignon to return to Rome and try and re-establish his secular authority over the states of central Italy that had risen in open rebellion against him. The fact that once again fiscal matters seemed to be governing the fate of the Church rather than matters spiritual gave extra poignancy to Wycliffe’s attacks.

Adam now found himself in strident opposition to his former fellow student. He may not have approved of everything the pope was doing, he may have had doubts about the motives behind the Pope’s return to Rome, but he was now entrenched in the same church hierarchy that Wycliffe attacked. He planned his defence of the Church in two stages. The first was vicious but effective, simply to identify the key elements of Wycliffe’s philosophy that could be identified as heretical, and get him condemned by the Church both in England and Rome. The second and perhaps the more interesting part of the enterprise was to try and set out in writing, through argument and debate, a definitive defence of the power of the Church. This became the vast Defence of Ecclesiastical Power and it was a volume that would have a profound impact in denying the truth of Wycliffe’s argument.

Cardinal Adam Easton, following the death of Simon Langham, really began to find his feet, and his reputation, as a scholar and canon lawyer, grew at the Roman Court or Curia. But then the smooth progress of his life was interrupted by the unexpected death of Gregory XI in 1377. This would mean the one thing that the papacy had dreaded for 100 years and more – an election in the full view of the Roman mob. The honourable way in which Adam defended this election and the selection of Urban VI marked him out. The way he spoke out against the (mostly French) defectors, who finding Urban less generous than they hoped, went off and selected a new (French) pope who might help them more, made the Norwich monk one of the most ardent supporters of Urban VI. The reward for his fidelity was not long in coming.

Easton (Urban VI)
Pope Urban VI

Downfall and Restoration of Adam Easton:
In 1385 as the actions of Urban VI became ever more irrational, he moved his court to the castle above the dusty town of Nocera in Campania. Adam was involved with several other senior cardinals, in a plot to restrict the power of the Pope. However, the plotters were betrayed and the full wrath of the demented pontiff fell upon their shoulders. The situation was made even more uncomfortable when Charles Duzazzo arrived with his army and laid siege to the castle.

Easton (Easton's residence)However, following the demise of Pope Urban VI, the Cardinals loyal to Rome immediately elected the youthful Neapolitan, Pietro Tomaselli who took the name Boniface IX. One of the first acts of Boniface as Pope was to restore Adam to freedom, readmit him to the college of cardinals and restore his power within the Papal Curia. Adam rapidly established himself with a court in Rome and lived close to his titular church of St Cecilia. The 14th century house (pictured left) opposite the church may well have been the sort of establishment the cardinal would have run. Today the colonnade on to the street is bricked in but it gives a flavour of how Adam’s residence might have looked over the plotters were betrayed and the full wrath of the demented pontiff fell upon their shoulders. The situation was made even more uncomfortable when Charles Duzazzo arrived with his army and laid siege to the castle.

Once Adam had been restored to a position of eminence in the Church, he set about building up his wealth and those of his followers in Rome. In this confused time with two popes to choose from, many of the benefices that he would try to get his hands on were contended. This led to a morass of legal disputes which, at least, helped in keeping track of Adam’s activities in his later years.

Easton (St Cecilia)
Church of St Cecilia

Around 1394 Adam, having established a court near his titular church of St Cecilia, several English and German churchmen attached themselves to him and he was obliged to lobby hard to get livings for them from Pope Boniface – not least, if they had funds of their own whereby they could set themselves up at Adam’s court without costing him a fortune! Now,  an essential ingredient of a successful cardinal’s court, was permission for his ‘hangers-on’ to gain a benefice without actually suffering the inconvenience of having to visit it, or worse still live in it. This meant they could make a living from the fruits of the vicarage, without the necessity of having to do the work, whilst remaining at the centre of Church power, be it Rome or Avignon. As to the cure of souls, they could pay a clerk to do that out of their profits as absentee landlords!

Easton (Adam's World)This system was also good for the cardinal as he would be saved the expense of having to pay a salary to his courtiers from out of his own pocket. The courtiers in turn had a good chance of getting a lucrative benefice, as their master, the cardinal had plenty of incentive to get them one. Once they had an income, they could attend on the cardinal and concentrate on studies in his libraries or else working as part of the papal administration, without needing a salary. The fact that Adam was granted this privilege in 1394, suggests that this was the first time that he ran a substantial court in Rome. His was a small world at the centre of power, the image (above left) shows the tower of St Ceclia in the foreground and the great dome of the Vatican in the distance. These two buildings formed the boundaries of Adam’s world, and that of his courtiers, in the final stages of his life.

Easton (Richard II_ Wikipedia)
Richard II

After his restoration by Boniface IX in 1389, Adam tried to regain the income from his two benefices, Somersham in Huntingdonshire and the deanery at York. Unfortunately, Richard II (left) had provided his own candidates to occupy the benefices whilst Adam was been languishing in prison. Although it appears that neither of Richard’s men had yet succeeded in getting hold of the fruits of the benefices, neither was inclined to surrender his claim just because Adam had been released. Both men were courtiers and close confidantes of their king, John Boore who was awarded Somersham and Edmund Stafford the deanery of York, and relied upon Richard’s support in maintaining their position.

By 1394 increasingly heated correspondence passed between the King, Adam, Pope Boniface and Stafford. Meanwhile Adam appears to have been successful in holding on to the cash but Stafford must have felt he would be completely out of favour with his religious superiors. So, when Richard decided that he would like to appoint Stafford as bishop of Exeter he must have feared the worst. Boniface would never accept the appointment without the ‘say so’ of the Cardinal of England.

However, Adam was quite prepared to separate the principle of the authority of the Church over matters clerical, from the authority of the monarch over matters clerical. Stafford had been granted York by his sovereign, but York was not in his sovereign’s gift. By contrast when Richard put forward Stafford for the Bishopric of Exeter, he began by seeking papal approval. There was for an advocate of Adam’s standing, a very clear distinction between the two sets of circumstances. However, much to Stafford’s surprise his appointment was confirmed and he could hardly restrain his gratitude to the English Cardinal. He duly served as Bishop of Exeter until his death and his tomb (below) can still be seen in Exeter Cathedral.

Easton (Exeter Tomb of Stafford)

By 1394 Adam was gradually building his portfolio of livings as he was appointed to more and more churches around Europe and in the process, he started to accumulate considerable wealth. In the text below, taken from ‘The Segreto Archivo’, the Pope grants Adam the Church of Hasselt (pictured below) in Belgium which fell vacant when one of Adam’s own courtiers died:

Easton (Hasselt)
Church of Hasselt
“May your holiness also grant to your faithful servant Adam (cardinal priest of St Cecilia through your decree and also priest of the church of St Severus at Cologne ) the living of the diocese of Hasselt at Liege , the total earnings of which do not exceed 35 silver marks a year , which has fallen vacant through the death of Theoderici Bukelken , Adam’s longstanding companion at the Roman Curia. May you also grant to him anything else which has fallen vacant through Theoderici Bukelkens death. May this be enacted by personal decree and dispensation. Given at St Peters , Rome , Nones of October, twenty first hour, fifth year (of Boniface’s reign)”.

Easton (St Agnes Ferrara)By 1396 Adam was starting to enjoy considerable wealth and prestige and Boniface IX was proving very generous to his senior cardinal. When a significant benefice came up in Ferrara, Adam was given the fruits. 200 gold florins was quite a significant sum and the Benedictine priory an appropriate reward for a Benedictine Cardinal. The monastery no longer stands today but there the parish church of St Agnes (pictured left) stands on the same site.

Easton’s Death etc:
As with so much of Adam’s history, the details surrounding his death are not entirely clear. That he died peacefully of old age is not in dispute, the more interesting question is when? The date is not without significance for the events surrounding the usurpation of Henry IV…… Adam died in Rome, his adopted city, aged around 70. There is some confusion about the date of his death not least because of the inscription on his tomb which can still be seen in the Church of St Cecilia in Trastavere, Rome. An inscription can be found on the tomb today suggesting Adam died in 1398. But the tomb used to have a canopy over it, removed in the 17th century and that tells a rather different story! The inscription on the canopy of Adam’s tomb is preserved in a drawing made of his tomb before the canopy was removed. The drawing can still be found in the Vatican Library records. Roughly translated the Latin inscription read:

“Skilled in all things, renowned father Adam. The great theologian, who was cardinal of England, which was his fatherland, the title of St Cecilia was given to him. He died and ascended to heaven in the year 1397, in the month of September.”

In 1641, Felice Contelori wrote about Adam and once again we have to acknowledge two things. Firstly, that even in the 17th Century Adam was still regarded as one of the more venerated of the cardinals and secondly that already, just 250 years after his death his life story was becoming confused – to say the least.

“On Saturday the 18th day of December in the year 1389 Boniface IX created cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, among the undersigned were: restored to the dignity of Cardinal, Adam of England Bishop of London with the title of St Cecilia. He died on 20th September in the year 1397.”

As stories about Adam’s life were passed on within the Church, within Rome and at a considerable distance from the place of Adam’s birth and early life, so the written record of his life became obscure and increasingly distorted. By 1714 George Eggs was able to write, somewhat implausibly, that Adam was a Welshman who was brought up in Norwich! It is the rare facts that form a common thread in the eulogies of Adam and his work that have enabled some sort of factual historical record to emerge from the biographies of the cardinals in which he is so often featured. Here, even the inscription on his tomb has moved on and his date of death is now shown as November 1397!

In 1792, Cardella, the 18th century Italian historian, also wrote a well renowned history of some of the more reputable Cardinals of the Catholic Church, its title ‘Memorie de Cardinali’. His entry on Adam is fascinating in that it contains a detail of Adam’s legend that is not found anywhere else! Perhaps though it is a tribute to the enduring enigma of Adam’s story, that the account by Cardella contains many factual errors and creates nearly as many questions as it answers. This is also the only biographical account that mentions Adam’s body being uncorrupted when the tomb was moved. It comes from Volume II:

“Adam Easton was born, according to the distinguished Auberius, Ughiello and, most reliably Godwin, to humble parents, in the English county of Herefordshire! He was admitted to the order of St Benedict, where, having distinguished himself at the monastery of Norwich in both piety and learning, he became public professor of theology at the University of Oxford and was nominated by Richard II to be bishop of London, or according to others, of Hereford. At the request of the same monarch, he was created priest cardinal of St Cecilia.

He was suspected of conspiring against the Pope, was taken in chains to the city of Nocera in 1385, together with 5 other cardinals and cruelly tortured. The basis for this suspicion was certain letters written in code (a skill in which he excelled) to Charles Durazzo, King of Naples, which were intercepted by Cardinal Medesimo. The most skilled codebreakers were unable to penetrate their meaning. Some assert that he had spread rumours about the Pope’s cruelty and rich living, others that he had not revealed the plot against Urban, of which he was aware. Whatever it was, one certainty is that despite various requests from the above-mentioned king he was put under the supervision of an official of French nationality and stripped of his office of cardinal.

However , Boniface IX restored him to the honours he had lost and as well as holding him in high esteem, sent glowing letters in his favour to the English parliament, in which he called him a great priest, worthy of the office of officiating cardinal…….He (Adam) produced a prodigious number of works, mainly about the divine scriptures and the others included a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin…….He was able to do this with both ease and erudition because of his exceptionally high level of competence in oriental languages. Almost all the authors are agreed in writing that the subsequent Urban both understood and expressed the innocence of that Cardinal.

Easton (Easton's Tomb_Wikipedia)
Cardinal Adam Easton’s tomb in the church of St Cecilia. Photo: Wikipedia.

He did not reach old age, but ended his days gloriously in Rome in 1398 as can be read in the epitaph on his tomb in the church of St Cecilia…….. after 20 years office as cardinal, he remained buried in the tomb to which he was entitled. Then 200 years after his death, the floor of the church was dug up on the order of Cardinal Sfondrati to create a new pavement and the confessional, as they call it of that virgin and martyr [St Cecilia], and they discovered the body of that devout cardinal, whole and uncorrupted. This is confirmed by the chronicles of the time. The body was carried, with grand ceremonial, to the left side of the aforementioned church, where one can see the ancient tomb with the statue representing the cardinal in his priestly robes, lying on the sepulchral urn. Together with a brief epitaph, there is a representation of his family crest.

It is to the great credit of this pious and learned cardinal that he is praised with sincerity by Bale and Godwin, both heterodox and implacably opposed to the religious orders. The eulogy which these two writers make of Cardinal Easton is reported in full by Ziegelbaver in part 3 of his history of the Benedictine order, page 187ff, in which he gives us an exact catalogue of the many works written by him.”

THE END

Readers please note the following (including the NTM&M Notice at foot:
Most of the above detail is from our Source (below) and contains original material that illustrate events in Adam Easton’s life; much is illustrated with 14th century art from across Europe. However, the images are illustrative of the text themes only; they are NOT necessarily exact of persons or events within the text!

The original material from our source constitutes a Picts Hill Publishing Project – to find out more go to Picts Hill Publishing.

Main Source Used:
https://sites.google.com/site/cardinaladameaston/home
https://sites.google.com/site/pictshillpublishing/home
Feature Heading Photo of the Easton Village Sign: © Copyright Adrian Cable

Useful Suggested Links:

Cardinals of the Catholic Church
Brilliant site listing all the cardinals of the Catholic Church by date of appointment. For many an in-depth biography is also provided together with useful links to other historical information. This is a really valuable tool, for the historian.

 Julian of Norwich and 14th century spirituality
This site contains a great deal of very interesting material, book reviews and theories about the world of Adam Easton and more particularly, Julian of Norwich and the other female mystics of the 14th century. It will be evident that the author of that site, Julia Bolton Holloway is not always in agreement with the content of the site from which the above ‘NTM & More’ version comes. However, it is always useful to compare conflicting theories and accounts and her site offers a number of interesting and detailed perspectives and deserves much more than a cursory glance.

Biography of Adam Easton
Entitled the Most Ungrateful Englishman, this is to date the only substantive biography of Adam Easton, published by Corpus Publishing of Lydney in Gloucestershire.

 Wikipedia entry
The Wikipedia entry on the subject of Adam Easton, the entry does contain a few errors but is a good synopsis for all of that.

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permissions to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

Ber Street’s Two Lost Churches.

Nearly four centuries separate the desecration, or violent disrespect, of two churches that once stood along Ber Street, in Norwich – namely the church of St Michael-at-Thorn and the church of St Batholomew. Read on:

Norwich’s ‘Berstrete’ was named after the Anglo-Saxon road which was the Northern Conesford sub-leet’s backbone. It ran along a ridge above a long slope which ran down to the river on the western side of the ridge; below, the Great Cockey ran through a natural valley. In time, the road became Ber Street, placing itself between present-day Queens Road and King Street. Ber Street formed one of two major routes into Norwich that ran through the Conesford area; the second was the Royal Conesford Way – the present-day King Street. Today, Ber Street is a fragmented mix of historical buildings and post-war WW2 industrial buildings; the result of a 1950/60’s slum clearance scheme which followed extensive war bomb damage.

Back in the Middle Ages, Norwich and Bristol were judged to be second to London in size. Consequently, Norwich still had 36 parish churches in its city centre when the Reformation took place; a couple were quickly demolished, but most lingered on into the 21st century. Over the centuries, the function of some parishes fell into disuse, but a surprising number were still parish churches of the Church of England within the minds of many Norwich people.

City Medieval Towers (Illustration)
An artist’s impression of the complete Norwich City walls and gates in the 14th century. Ber Street (Berstrete) Gate is depicted centre at foot, with the two churches referred to in this post towards the Castle.
Image courtesy of Aviva Group Archive

Any mention of Ber Street would be incomplete without mention of its medieval Gate, one of a series of gates that, together with an almost continuous wall, surrounded the city. Early references to Ber Street Gate, which was built on a corner of the city wall which runs southeast and southwest from the gate, are contained in documents from the reign of Henry III in the second and third quarters of the 13th century. The gate itself was demolished in 1808 but the street remained busy and densely populated and was known locally as “Blood and Guts Street”, due to its many slaughterhouses and butcher shops; also, because cattle were driven down the road into the city.

Two Ber Street Churches1
The outside of Ber Street Gate from the south by H Ninham from an early-18th century drawing by John Kirkpatrick.  Image: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.
Two Ber Street Churches2
The inside of Ber Street Gate from the north by H Ninham from an early-18th century drawing by John Kirkpatrick.  Image: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

1. The church of St Michael-at-Thorn:
St Michael at Thorn was once the most central of Norwich churches but was lost in the World-War-Two blitz of January 1942. When it did exist, it stood about 200 metres south of St John Timberhill at the edge of the Ber St ridge, and overlooking the Wensum valley. Next to the church, on its south side, Thorn Lane led steeply downhill into King Street, but since the area was redeveloped in the early 1960s it now terminates at Rouen Rd. From the 1840s onwards the whole area between Ber Street and King Street was densely populated and consisted of many yards and courts leading off from Ber Street. This whole area was known locally as the ‘Village on the Hill’ and the three roads of Mariners Lane, Horns Lane and Thorn Lane, led into the district. It became the settlement for a small Italian community.

St Michael's (Church)1
The south side of the former church of St Michael at Thorn from Ber Street. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1938-03-18.

St Michael at Thorn was described by Ian Hannah as being only ‘partly built in 1430 but largely modern’. Completed, it consisted of a square west tower, nave with north aisle, a south porch, and a chancel. The original tower collapsed in 1886 and was rebuilt the following year. Sillett’s ‘Norwich Churches’, published in 1828, showed that the style of the Victorian work followed very closely to that of the old.

The historian Francis Blomefield, writing of St Michael at Thorn, said that it: “was anciently a Rectory appendant to the Castle, until the Conqueror gave it to FitzWalter along with St Martin at the Bale.” The church of St Martins, also known as St Martin-in-Balliva, once stood on a triangular piece of ground close by the entrance to Golden Ball Street – near to, what once was, the principal entrance to the barbican of the Castle. The apparent strange title of this church stemmed from it having been built within the bailey, which once was the outer courtyard of the castle. St Martins church was demolished in 1562 when the parish was united to that of St Michael at Thorn; and in the latter’s church registers, which date from that year, are records of burials of many of the criminals who were executed on the Castle hill. In 1926 a chapel in St Michael’s was dedicated to the patron saint of the Bale to perpetuate this association with St Martin’s.

With regard to the dedication – or rather the “surname” – of St Michael’s church, Blomefield mentions that it is:

“called in antient evidences, St Michael in Ber Street, and ad Spinas or at the Thorns, and even to this day, a very large Thorn remains growing in the Churchyard. I find it also in the most ancient Deeds called St Michael Super Montem, or St Miles on the Hill from its situation”.

Prior to the church tower collapsing in 1886, it contained only one bell; but John L’Estrange noted in 1874 that: “There were three bells here until about 1838, when the two largest were sold, to help to build a hideous north aisle, recently replaced by a much comelier structure. They are now the ‘first’ and ‘second’ bells at Bale, near Holt”. [making up a ring of 4 bells there, the oldest of which was cast c. 1440. This is the ‘second’ bell from St Michaels, and bears the inscription ‘Nobis Succurre Michael Raphael Gabriel Quaesumus’, – ‘Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, help us’. On the ‘first’ bell from St Michael’s is the inscription “Pack and Chapman of London Fecit 1777. John Spratt and Henry Warns Ch. Wardens.]”

St Michael's (South Door)
St Michael at Thorn south Norman doorway, later re-erected in nearby St Julian’s church. Image: (c) George Plunkett1938-03-18

The main entrance to St Michael’s was through the porch and south doorway; the latter was Norman probably the oldest remaining part of the building. Following its survival of the WW2 blitz, the doorway was dismantled and re-erected in St Julian’s church nearby, forming the inner doorway to Mother Julian’s cell.

Reinstalled Doorway_Simon Knott)2
The former south doorway of St Michael at Thorn church as it appears in the nearby St Julian’s Church. Image: Siman Knott 2005.

When the doorway was ‘in situ’ at the former St Michaels, it was described as having a shaft on either side supporting a round-headed arch with cable and zig-zag ornaments, with one of the billets of an outer moulding carved into a queer little animal; then, according to White’s Norfolk directory of 1833, the door was then still in possession of its ancient ironwork. As for interior fittings, only an ancient octagonal font with shields survived the centuries. All the Victorian reconstruction woodwork was modern, including a fine roodscreen surmounted with a St Michael’s cross.

St Michael's (Interior East)
St Michael at Thorn’s 1869 interior east view, along with the then modern oak rood screen surmounted by a St Michael’s cross. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1937-08-12.

The bombs that fell in that January of 1942 left only the tower of St Michael’s standing, but removing a section of the parapet and the spirelets; the church itself was gutted, leaving only the eastern gable and the other walls at a lower level. Up to the day the church was lost, thorn trees grew in the churchyard, though perhaps not the same ones to which Blomefield referred. It was said that by the time the war ended, the thorn bushes that gave the graveyard its character and the church its name had quickly regrown through the rubble. The name of Thorn Lane is comparatively modern, for two centuries previously it was known as Sandgate, and it is a matter of speculation whether or not it was named after the nature of the soil there; in time the Lane was probably named after the thorns then flourishing in the neighbouring St Michael’s.

St Michael's (Tower before Demolition)
The St Michael at Thorn tower before demolition It survived air raids in 1942 but the tower was demolished ten years later. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1952-07-31.

In the 1950’s, with redevelopment plans well formulated in the minds of the authorities, there was no way that St Michael was going to be rebuilt – or its tower kept as a landmark. St Michael’s was too close to other working churches to be needed, and was set in an area earmarked for industrial and commercial building. As things turned out, the site was completely erased with the church ruins, tower and thorn trees completely removed for the laying out of a car park for Archant House, the Eastern Daily Press building.

Simon Knott said in 2005: “It gives an idea of the ferocity of the blitz, as well as of the completeness of post-war Norwich planning, when I tell you that the two images below were taken from exactly the same spot. Robert Ladbrooke made his leisurely sketch in the 1820s. Some 180 years later, I risked my life and limbs to stand in the middle of Ber Street to take the same view of the site as it is today. I am obviously closer in time to the destruction of St Michael at Thorn than Mr Ladbrooke, but not a single building in this modern view, apart from perhaps those on the far horizon, was here when the church was”.

The Church of St Bartholomew:
Southern Conesford was the long, straggly suburb to the south of Northern Conesford and the Norwich medieval city within the walls, but with an independent life of its own. The two Conesford sub-leets were amalgamated by mid-14th century, the likely result of a reduced population (and therefore the number of tithings) in the area. Subsequently, large areas of land were acquired by the Augustinians and Franciscans for their friary precincts. Conesford, as a whole, had nine medieval parish churches, as well as several monasteries, and was home to important merchants – the Pastons’ Norwich house was in Conesford, down on the the ‘Royal Conesford Way’ (King Street), the main road to London. Parallel to it, but high on the ridge to the west, sat Ber Street, leading out of the city centre to the Berstrete Gate in the city walls.

Conesford

In the 18th and 19th centuries, this part of Norwich became home to warehouses and factories, a slum area of workshops and back-to-back terraces. As if in anticipation of this future development, St Bartholomew was desecrated in 1549 and abandoned; its two bells transferred to St John de Sepulchre – situated at the junction of Ber Street and Finkelgate. St Bartholomew itself once sat barely 100 metres south of St Michael at Thorn, its advowson belonging to the prior of Wymondham.

The church was to be used as a factory; then gradually, other buildings were built on to it, until almost nothing at all of the medieval exterior showed, and few would have ever known that the former church was there. All that was visible was part of the south wall of the nave. It was about this time when George Plunkett sketched, in his own hand, Claude Messent’s plan of the building as it was in 1931. Nineteenth-century houses had been built into the west end; the nave and chancel were part of Snellings factory, and against the north wall was a slaughterhouse.

St Barts (Diagram)
George Plunkett’s sketch of Claude Messent’s plan of St Bartholomew Church as it was in 1931. Image: (c) George Plunkett.

George Plunkett’s fascination with Norwich churches led him to be ‘on the spot’ when the Norwich City Corporation began to clear the site in the summer of 1939. They really need not have bothered – and would have saved some money had they known that, two or three years later, the Luftwaffe would have done the job for them. As it was, the ramshackle lean-to buildings were torn away by the Corporation and the heart of a medieval church revealed – the blocked-up chancel arch, the Tudor arched interior window splays, and a brick south doorway. But now everything has gone and all that survived from the clearance is the rump of the tower which sits beside the Ber Street pavement. Unlike St Michael at Thorn, it was not a victim of war time bombing. Today, modern sheltered housing occupies the area where the St Bartholomew, the factory and the slaughterhouse once stood.

(The remains of St Bartholomew’s Church).

St Bartholomew (Nave Blocked Window)
St Bartholomew’s Nave blocked window 
Secularised after the Reformation, the church nave and part of the chancel remained, largely hidden from view by slaughterhouses and other buildings. Brought to light in the 1930’s, it offered slight compensation for the loss of St Michael at Thorn. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1939-05-18
St Bartholomew (Nave South Wall)
A section of St Bartholomew’s Nave South Wall incorporated into a warehouse which once stood at rear of 82 Ber Street. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1937-08-07.
St Bartholomew (Gabled Wall)
St Bartholomew’s west side gabled wall which
divided the Nave from Chancel. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1939-05-18.
St Bartholomew (South Doorway)
St Bartholomew’s south doorway arch. Image: (c) George Plunkett 1965-05-01.

A few yards south along Ber Street from the site of St Michaels at Thorn a portion of St Bartholomew’s 15th century church tower still stands, its flint, brick and some stone dressings preserved among a block of new dwellings. To think that it was only brought to light in the 1930’s; in a sense, its preservation offers slight compensation for the total loss and disapperance of St Michael’s.

St Bartholomew1
The ruined tower of St Bartholomew’s church, Norwich.
A short stump of the tower is all that remains today and it is so overgrown that one could walk past it without noticing what it is – were it not for the plaque attached to its wall. Image:© Copyright Evelyn Simak.

Finally, Simon Knott again adds: “St Bartholomew should not be confused with Norwich’s other medieval church of the same name. The other one was the parish church for Heigham, the area to the west of Pottergate and St Benedict, and is also a ruin today – but unlike the long-suffering St Bartholomew of Ber Street, the Heigham church really was gutted in the blitz”.

THE END

Sources:
www.georgeplunkett.co.uk/Norwich/ber.htm
https://www.norwich.gov.uk/site/custom_scripts/citywalls/29/report.php
www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/norwichmichaelthorn/norwichmichaelthorn.htm
www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/norwichbartholomew/norwichbartholomew.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ber_Street,_Norwich

All George Plunkett images are by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett.

Admirals of our Norfolk Coast!

To understand what the title and this particular blog is all about, it is best to first explain the title and responsibilities of an ‘Admiral’ – before going on to write about two archaic posts which were held by distinguished persons responsible for our Norfolk coastline:

Meanings Behind the use of ‘Admiral’:
The title ‘Admiral’, as most people understand it today is quite different to the original name. Today, it refers to the title and rank of a senior naval officer, often referred to as a flag officer, who commands a fleet or group of ships of a navy or who holds an important naval post on shore. The term is sometimes also applied to the commander of a fleet of merchant vessels or fishing ships.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the title of Admiral has an ancient lineage. It apparently originated before the 12th century with Muslim Arabs, who combined amīr (“commander”), the article al, and baḥr (“sea”) to make amīr al-baḥr. Shortened to amiral, the title was adopted for naval use by the Sicilians. The French copied the word from the Genoese during the Seventh Crusade of 1248 to 1254. The Latin word admirabilis (“admirable”) may have contributed to the designation Admiral for the commander of the Cinque Ports in England before the end of the 13th century.

Admirals (Ship)
A ship of the 16th century. Photo: Pinterest.

Henry VIII is known as the father of the English navy and from the Tudor period, England produced many eminent naval officers. By 1620 the word Admiral was used in England to denote a commander at sea. In that year the fleet was formed into three squadrons with the admiral commanding the centre squadron, his ships flying red ensigns. The vice admiral in the van squadron flew white ensigns, and the rear admiral flew blue ensigns in his squadron. The British navy became the Royal Navy after the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660.

The ’Lord High Admiral of the Wash’:
This position is an ancient hereditary office within the English navy goes back to medieval times when the title holder was a nobleman with responsibility for defending and protecting the entire coastal area of the Wash in Norfolk. The post was first granted to the Le Strange family (still associated today with Old Hunstanton) in the 13th century. However, in the 16th century and reign of Henry VIII, the post became obsolete when protection and defence duties around the area were taken over by the Royal Navy. Apparently, at that time, nobody thought of formally abolishing the post so even today, it still remains in title a hereditary dignity – but with absolutely no responsibilities nor privileges of any kind what so ever!

Admirals (henry_styleman_le_strange)
Henry Styleman Le Strange. Photo: Wikipedia.

When Henry Styleman Le Strange died in 1862 he was already Lord of the manor of Hunstanton – and other Manors, but also held the wonderful title of Hereditary Lord High Admiral of the Wash. But in more official times, this title had also allowed its holder the right to claim possession of anything out to sea for the distance a man on horseback could throw a spear from the High-Water mark!

Admirals1
The Admiral Surveys his Norfolk coast! Photo: Christopher Weston.

The Lord High Admiral of the Wash no longer resides at Hunstanton Hall. Nor does he control all shipping and smuggling around the Wash, as the Le Strange family had originally been commanded to do all those centuries earlier. The current Admiral inherited the title from his mother, yet still lives in Hunstanton. Technically, he still owns all the land between the High Tide mark and the distance he can throw a spear.

The ‘Vice Admiral of the Coast’:
Again, during Henry Vlll’s reign in the 16th century, ‘vice-admiralties of the coast’ posts were established in each of the twenty maritime counties of England, the North and South of Wales, and the four provinces of Ireland. Hence, each jobholder became formally a ‘Vice Admiral of the Coast’ within the county or area for which they had been appointed and while holding office, were required to act as deputies of the Lord High Admiral. This, the highest post, was always held by a nobleman who was not a seaman and did not command at sea except on rare occasions; the position was as head of departments that administered naval affairs and included responsible for providing ships for war which, through the duty usually brought large fees to the holder – he, by the way, also had jurisdiction in certain legal cases. The current title holder of Lord High Admiral is Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. As for the lower “Vice-Admiral”, he was responsible for naval administration in his County; this included deciding the lawfulness of prizes captured by privateers, dealing with salvage claims for wrecks, acting as a judge and implementing the role of the Impress Service (relating to men forced into military service by Press Gangs).

The earliest recorded appointment to the post was in 1536, when William Gonson (1482-1544) became Vice Admiral of the combined Norfolk & Suffolk coastal areas. Gonson was born in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire in England he was the son of Christopher Gonson and Elizabeth (nee: Trussell). He married Bennett Walters and together they had six sons and four daughters. (One of his sons, Benjamin Gonson, would go on to hold a career in the English navy and also became Treasurer of the Navy). William Gonson eventually fell from grace and committed suicide in 1544 leaving the navy disorganized in the region. It took two years for Henry VIII to reorganize control and develop what became later known as ‘The Navy Board’. William Gonson was probably, along with William of Wrotham, and Sir Robert de Crull of the 13th and 14th centuries, one of the three most important administrators of naval affairs of the English Navy prior to 1546.

Admirals (John Wodehouse)
On of the last recorded Vice Admirals of the Coast in Norfolk,  John Wodehouse (1771-1846), painted by Thomas Phillips (1770–1845)
Norwich Civic Portrait Collection, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

From around 1560, the ‘Vice Admiral of the Coast’ acquired a more public profile than previously and in the second half of the 16th century, increasingly received orders from the Privy Council.  In 1561, instructions were given by the Crown but in 1660, their functions were controlled by the Admiralty Board. The last recorded Vice Admiral of the Coast in Norfolk, was the 2nd Baron Wodehouse, John Wodehouse (1771-1846), who was also Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk between 1821 and 1846. Soon after this, records indicate the office and its requirements as described above, became extinct.

THE END

Sources:
Christopher Weston, Norfolk Archives.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/admiral
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_High_Admiral_of_the_Wash
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_vice-admirals_of_the_coast

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

Norfolk: Angels & Demons Looming!

The church of St Clement, Outwell,  was started in the 13th century and expanded in the 14th and 15th centuries when the roof was raised and its carvings installed.  The church was built of limestone from the Lincolnshire Wold and mostly likely came to site by the river. The church stands amid the fens and dykes below the Wash, between the rivers Nene and Great Ouse, close to the Cambridgeshire border. It was a prosperous place in the second quarter of the 15th century from when it remains a somewhat curious church that demands attention.

St Clements (Inner Roof)

St Clements is a church thick with angels. They flock about the roof beams, more than 100 of them, some bearing musical instruments, others the instruments of the Passion. If you look carefully at the above photo, you can see what is now known as the “unknown” glories, the carved buttresses, while in between and over head are the angels, with more angels in the south aisle and the Lynn Chapel off the north aisle. Then there are the demons which are very difficult to see for the roof is so dark that the visitor may miss these and even the large dark angels. The following two demons are exceptions:

St Clements (Carving)2There are 12 demons carvings and they were, in a sense, ‘lost’….but not really….in fact, they have been there all the time but, because of the poor light entering the roof area, the carvings are almost impossible to see. However, on one particular day in 2012 they were indeed ‘found’ by an historian who was studying the medieval glass…… so now they are famous!….having been safely ‘in situ’ for nye on 600 years. Apparently. they are carved the wrong way round, with the demon overcoming each of the smaller apostles, when it should be the other way round. Pevsner’s guide to Norfolk says they stand below canopies, but it’s more interesting than that. What has been revealed is that figures of Apostles, delicately carved with emblematic detail, stand under larger looming heads-and-shoulders of semi-human and demonic figures, bearing the weight of the roof. What does this juxtaposing of holiness and the infernal mean?

img_2440The placing of the figures was planned. The Apostles stand in pairs. Time and death-watch beetle have done away with most of the identifying symbols once held by the Apostles. But one pair, on opposite sides of the nave, are still easy to name: St John, holding a chalice, and St James, with his pilgrim satchel and staff. The horn-headdressed lady looms over the more sensitively carved sculpture of St James with staff and satchel. Leaning over St John is a furry-chested, beak-faced devil of the kind you might see in a manuscript illumination (or, at the time, perhaps in drama). Over St James  leans another unsettling figure: a large-featured woman with an exaggerated horned headdress and, in place of hands, taloned paws.

Why put such things together in a church? – but why not, for the aspect in play can be found in creation itself. Commenting on the Book of Proverbs, the 13th‑century spiritual writer John of Forde wrote that: “The Wisdom of God played before the Father’s face over the whole expanse of the earth.” God played with the monster Leviathan too, the Psalm says. There was indeed a medieval fondness for monsters which presupposed the reliance of humanity’s creativity on the primary creation by God. As St Anselm, the philosopher (Archbishop of Canterbury 1093-1109) saw it, men could mentally rearrange elements of God’s creation and so make an artistic image such as the horn-headdressed woman with clawed paws!

St Clements (Carved Demon)

At Outwell, then, the dignity of the Apostles is pointed up by the mirror‑image ludicrous figures grinning above them. But, as already been stated, the carved figures are hard to see. When they were made, the brightest light was from distant candles or reflected daylight, and their details could seldom have been clear. Yet, no doubt, the local yeomen, newly prosperous, the Beaupres and the Haultofts, would have been proud to pay for carved figures of the Apostles to join the angels aloft, and not have thought it out of place to have a few demons and chimeras thrown in.

Some other images of St Clements Church, Outwell, Norfolk

Sources:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2017/08/05/sacred-mysteriesmonsters-looming-norfolk-roof-timbers/
https://blosslynspage.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/demons-apostles-and-angels-at-st-clements-church/
https://roofangels2.format.com/gallery-5
https://www.geograph.org.uk/
http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/outwell/outwell.htm

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

Godwick: A Deserted Village

Overview:
It is possible to take the story of roofless buildings, grass-covered streets and redundant houses back to the decline of Roman cities and villas in Britain during the fourth and fifth centuries; or, indeed, the abandonment of the farms founded to replace them in the countryside during the Anglo-Saxon period. However, those that were deserted from around 1300 until fairly recent times hold more interest, if only because a few have left traces of their existence in the modern landscape, and some can be visited. A good example is the lost village of Godwick in Norfolk.

Godwick1
The ruins of All Saints; Church at Godwick, which was abandoned when the village died. Apart from the 13th Century tower which was retained as a folly, the church was demolished early in the 17th Century, leaving Godwick’s medieval inhabitants to remain buried beneath the churchyard. Picture: COURTESY CROMER MUSEUM

By the year 1100, Whilst concentrations of houses and people in villages with between 12 and 50 dwellings had developed in many parts of Britain by the year 1100, here in East Anglia most people lived in hamlets or scattered farms. Generally, villages such as these thrived through the cultivation of grain in open fields, and gradually grew in size until about 1300. Then, they began to run into trouble when the rural population fell in the 14th century. This meant that less grain was needed whilst at the same time prices dropped. This problem was made worst when the peasant occupiers tried to adjust their farming by bringing in more animals which, in turn, lead to disputes with neighbours over so called grazing rights. As a result, some families moved out and their heirs failed to take over their parents’ holdings of land. Sometimes, the balance tipped completely over to pasture, making the cultivators redundant.

Godwick2
A plan of the lost medieval village of Godwick, which is between Fakenham and Swaffham. Picture: COURTESY CROMER MUSEUM

It must have been from around 1380 and until the early 16th century when many villages were either deserted or reduced to a survivable level. Here, many reasons came into play. Sometimes the problems were internal, from maybe ambitious peasants who took over their neighbours’ land, drove hundreds of sheep over the common fields, and discouraged newcomers from moving in. All this made for communities to become quarrelsome and fractious, often dooming them to failure. Then there were lords of the village, or their agents such as the farmers who managed the lord’s own share of the village fields; they killed off some villages by expanding their own flocks and herds, forcing tenants out, or buying up land. In many cases, after a period of decay, the landlord removed the remaining vestiges of a once-thriving community in order to profit from the wool and meat that could be reared on the site.

Godwick (Drawing of Manor)
Reconstruction of the old Godwick Manor as it looked in the late 16th Century. Image: Copyright of Sylvanus.

The problems of outward migration, land being concentrated in fewer hands and lords pursuing higher profits only made matters worse for villages. Then, to cap it all, along came the owners of stately homes who launched their own attacks on villages which they considered to be in the wrong place. Here, the gentry were often blamed for removing villages that ‘spoilt the view’ when creating their landscape parks. However, in their defence, some of the villages that were removed were often in poor health by the time this landscaping was taking place.

Godwick (Goldsmith)
Oliver Goldsmith (1728 – 1774) was an Irish novelist, playwright and poet, who is known for his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770). Image: Wikipedia

Oliver Goldsmith’s poem, “The Deserted Village” published in 1770, condemned rural depopulation, the enclosure of common land and the pursuit of excessive wealth. After describing a nameless deserted village as ‘Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain”, Goldsmith then decries its current parlous state, abandoned by villagers, its buildings ruined:

“Sunk are thy bowers in shapeless ruin all,
And the long grass o’ertops the mouldering wall;
And trembling, shrinking from the spoiler’s hand,
Far, far away thy children leave the land
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.’

So, what remains of these deserted villages? Occasionally a ruined building marks the site. Yet these are usually part of a castle, manor house or church as they would have been the only stone structures in the village. A typical peasant house may have had a low, stone foundation wall, but was built mainly of timber and wattle and daub, with a thatched roof, which either decayed or was carried away to be recycled when the village was abandoned. Yet today all is not lost. The sites of houses are usually visible as grassed-over foundations or platforms on which the building stood. Roads and lanes as sunken hollow ways can sometimes be seen, while the boundaries of the enclosures (tofts) in which the houses stood are sometimes marked by banks and ditches.

Godwick8
The church tower remained almost complete until 1981, when its eastern wall collapsed. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service

Once the village had gone, the lord often built a mansion on or near the site. It is in the fields surrounding these mansions that you can sometimes identify the grassed-over banks and hollows of walkways, flower beds and water features which formed part of the garden that occupied the site of the village. Look closely and you might see the prospect mounds (for visitors to view the garden) or the pillow mounds for rabbit warrens. Reminds one of Godwick.

The History of Godwick:
Godwick today is a deserted village in the county of Norfolk. Its location is south of Fakenham between the villages of Tittleshall and Whissonsett. There are several hundred deserted or ‘shrunken’ medieval villages in Norfolk, but most sites have long been destroyed by ploughing, the pressures of two world wars or other agricultural uses. Only a few still have impressive surface remains; the earthworks at Godwick being one of the best preserved. It can be found in an area that became pasture in the 16th Century, not long after the last few villagers departed, and remained being grazed by sheep ever since; this has meant that the ground has never been disturbed from deep ploughing or flattened for cultivation. Today it is one of the best surviving examples in the county and the only one open to the public.

Godwick9
The eastern side of Godwick Old Hall, photographed before it was destroyed in a 19th century fire. Photo: Johnson Family Album, Norfolk Museums Service/ Norfolk County Council.

The place-name ‘Godwick’ derives from Old English and probably means ‘Goda’s farm’ and objects found in the surrounding fields suggest that the village was founded in the Anglo-Saxon period. In 1086 Godwick was held by Ralph de Tosny and he granted it to West Acre Priory, in whose hands it remained until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s. It then passed between families until it was bought by Sir Edward Coke in 1590 and remained in the Coke family until they sold it to the current owners in the 1950s. Throughout the Middle Ages Godwick was a stable community, but fell out of use in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods, being almost completely abandoned by 1586, when the Old Hall was built and gardens and a park laid out around it. The Great Barn was built in 1597 with the church tower converted into a folly soon afterwards. Both were an important part of a very early landscape park.

Godwick7
Sir Edward Coke  (1552 – 1634) was an English barrister, judge, and politician who is considered to be the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras.Image: Wikipedia

All Saints church at Godwick was abandoned when the village died but Godwick remained a distinct parish in its own right until absorbed into that of Tittleshall.  To be exact, Wellingham, Tittleshall and Godwick were consolidated into one parish in 1630 and in 1845 the combined parish of Tittleshall-Cum-Godwick contained 615 inhabitants, 124 houses and 3360 acres of land – about 300 acres of which was woods and wastes – nearly all of which belonged to the Earl of Leicester (Coke). The joint benefices were valued, at that time, at £871 per annum. Godwick itself consisted of only two farms. St Mary’s church at Tittleshall sheds light on a dark history as it contains monuments to Norfolk’s famous Coke family. Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice under James I and originator of the Coke family fortune, enshrined into law in 1628 the dictum that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’.

Godwick’s decline and fall:
Whilst the 12th and 13th centuries saw a gradual increase in Norfolk’s population, with people seeking new areas to settle, Godwick’s population was never to become large, mainly because the heavy clay soils thereabout were difficult to cultivate. Then the Black Death reached Norfolk in 1349 and may have killed over a third of the County’s population. However, this epidemic was not solely to blame for the fall in numbers, either throughout Norfolk or in Godwick itself; that began in previous decades with poor harvests, agricultural problems, and a colder, wetter climate. Many village abandonments – although not Godwick – were the result of clearance of depleted villages by greedy landowners who wanted land put to grass. Others just faded slowly away, which seems to have been the case with Godwick.

Godwick (Wikipedia)1a
The mounds of the lost village of Godwick. Photo: Wikipedia

It had always been a small place and, although a relatively stable community, was never a prosperous one. In 1086, only 14 peasants were recorded in the Domesday Book and the village paid a modest amount of taxation in 1334, which declined as the community continued to shrink in the 15th century. In 1428 there were less than 10 households in Godwick and by 1508 a survey showed that of 18 properties on the north side of the main street, 11 were empty and three had no land holdings attached. The same survey showed that a church lay to the south and there was also a watermill with a millpond. By 1525 only five households paid tax when the village was, in reality, already ceasing to exist. By 1595 further decay left Godwick virtually deserted. Its final stages of decay were recorded in an estate map of 1596 when only three or four houses remained and the church tower had collapsed.

The land had been bought in the 1580s by Edward Coke. By 1585 he had built a large manor house in Godwick, as shown on a map of the village in 1596; by this time there was almost nothing left of the original village. The manor house was adjoined by a huge brick barn. The barn still stands, although the manor house was demolished in 1962, but can still be seen in outline. The barn was restored and is now used for wedding receptions.

Godwick6
Looking across the rapeseed fields to the former village of Godwick. Picture: LIZ MURTON

The Church of All Saints was demolished early in the 17th Century, apart from the 13th Century tower which was retained by Coke as a folly – it is the only original building left. The churchyard looks a little raised now with the village’s medieval inhabitants still buried beneath.

Again, Goldsmith words are a suitable epitaph for the demise of a once vibrant village:

‘No more the farmer’s news, the barber’s tale,
No more the woodman’s ballad shall prevail;
No more the smith his dusky brow shall clear,
Relax his ponderous strength, and lean to hear;
The host himself no longer shall be found
Careful to see the mantling bliss go round;
Nor the coy maid, half willing to be prest,
Shall kiss the cup to pass it to the rest.’

Present Site Description:
What remains of the medieval village today, consists of a long sunken hollow way running east to west with two other roads running off to the south. This defines the main village street, with the banks and ditches defining the closes in which houses stood. These well-preserved earthworks are not often seen in Norfolk, mainly because so many sites have been ploughed up in modern times. Along both sides of the street can be seen banks and ditches separating individual house plots. About ten of these still remain to be seen. The long street itself indicates that the elongated plan – the one-street village – was an established feature in East Anglia. Another recurring feature is the early modern garden visible around the existing house, with a deep hollow way and a series of rectangular enclosures. This reflects the effects of the wealthy landowner on the landscape after the village had gone.

Godwick5
A view of the lost village of Godwick from above. Picture: EDP ARCHANT.

The church ruin stands within a similar enclosure at an angle between the streets. At the eastern end of the site, the village street runs along what was a dam to hold back a millpond; a small watermill once stood at the far end. The line of the dam is now covered by farm buildings. The 13th-century church tower had been raised as a brick and flint folly when the church was pulled down in the 17th century. This folly may well have formed part of a scheme of landscape architecture for the later Godwick Manor. In 1981 a remaining part of the church tower survived a collapse and inspection of it found evidence of a Norman church amongst the rubble. Also, still to be seen on the site is a large 13th-century red-brick barn with an elaborate façade, built over the line of the street. During the reign of Charles II, 200 men were garrisoned there and although access is barred, it is possible to walk round it and enjoy its beautiful windows.

In 1585, in the middle of the deserted village, Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice and Attorney General to Elizabeth I, built a fine brick manor house. The ruins of that house, which was E-shaped with an impressive two-storey porch and windows, were pulled down in 1962. Its square outline can still just about be picked out as slight humps in the grass. It had a walled yard and entrance to the north, and around the Hall a pattern of formal gardens and enclosures was laid out. Admiral Sir William Hoste, whilst born at Ingoldisthorpe, lived as a very young child at Godwick Manor. The Manor had been leased from Thomas Coke, the eventual 1st Earl of Leicester of Holkham Hall by his father, the Reverend Dixon Hoste (1750–1805) who was rector of Tittleshall and Godwick at the time.

Godwick (Manor Ruin)
The porch in dangerous condition prior to demolition (Johnson family album, Norfolk Museums Service/Norfolk County Council)
Godwick (Manor Ruin)2
The ruins of the Old Hall in the late 19th Century. Photo: Johnson Family Album, Norfolk Museums Service/Norfolk County Council.
Godwick (Great Barn)
The Great Barn at the new visitor trail around the lost village of Godwick. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Godwick earthworks are a Scheduled Ancient Monument and there is an agreement between the present owner and English Heritage over the opening and the management of the site, which is open between April and September from 9:30 am until dusk and visitors are free to wander in the daytime, though dogs should be kept on leads and the Country Code observed. On site there are information panels with displays of aerial photographs, maps and interpretation plans of this lost village. Visitors are warned that it is an offence to disturb the site or use metal detectors without the written permission of English Heritage.

So, there you have it. Amateur historians and landscape enthusiasts can freely walk in the sunken remains of the Godwick village streets, trace outlines of medieval buildings, and marvel at the spectral ruins of the church still standing.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/in-case-you-missed-it-the-villages-that-disappeared/
https://www.fakenhamtimes.co.uk/news/exploring-norfolk-lost-village-of-godwick-1-6070927
https://www.fakenhamtimes.co.uk/news/lost-norfolk-village-of-godwick-1-6204377
https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM8Y1Z_Godwick_Deserted_Village_Norfolk
https://www.lostvillageofgodwick.co.uk/
https://www.lostvillageofgodwick.co.uk/introduction/
https://www.lostvillageofgodwick.co.uk/godwick-old-hall/

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

Secret Tunnels: Kings Lynn.

Legend has it that a tunnel once ran between Greyfriars Priory and the curious and somewhat mysterious Red Mount Chapel in Kings Lynn. Another tunnel, now bricked-up, was also thought to have connected the Priory to the White Hart pub, both in St. James Street. The pub itself is supposed to be haunted by a monk. While the Red Mount Chapel is a unique structure, about which opinion has always been divided; nothing is left of the 13th century Franciscan Priory except the lofty Greyfriars Lantern Tower.

Tunnels (Greyfriars Priory)
Greyfriars Lantern Tower

Now, for some reason, the ramblings of the Yorkshire soothsayer Mother Shipton (c.1488-1561) used to be very popular with the country folk of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. And somehow, the old Fenmen reckoned that she was responsible for the prophecy and belief that, when royalty visited the Theatre Royal in St. James’ Street, the Greyfriars Lantern Tower mentioned above would collapse on to it. Since the Theatre wasn’t even opened until 1815, one has to wonder how Mother Shipton’s name ever got attached to this myth. The slight lean that the tower had for years was corrected in 2006, while the Theatre Royal, which burned down in 1936 and was then rebuilt, is now a bingo hall. While the Queen has visited King’s Lynn many times, it seems unlikely that she will ever pop in for a game of bingo.

Tunnels (Red Mount Chapel)
The Red Mount Chapel in Kings Lynn. Photo: EDP.

The structure of the Red Mount Chapel is, unsurprisingly, of red brick; it is octagonal and buttressed, with an inner rectangular core that projects above the roof. It consists not of one chapel, but two – one possibly of 13th century vintage, the other being the ‘Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount’, built by Robert Corraunce upon the steep-sided artificial mound in about 1485. This second chapel was probably put there to house a holy relic of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and tradition tells of pilgrims halting at this place on their way to Walsingham. Despite the beginnings of the Red Mount Chapel being set around the 1300’s, there is reason to believe that an earlier edifice also stood here; this thought is even more probable because the mound itself was once known as Guanock Hill – ‘guanock’ or ‘gannock’ being an old local word meaning a beacon.

Tunnels (Castle Rising)
Castle Rinsing, Norfolk. Photo: EDP.

A tunnel is said to lead from the Red Mount to a door in the gatehouse at Castle Rising, some four miles to the north-east. This castle was built in the 12th century by William de Albini, and a considerable amount of the structure still remains today. In 1331 Isabella, the widow of King Edward II, was brought to the castle by her son and ‘allegedly’ imprisoned for her part in Mortimer’s rebellion. However, she wasn’t even under house arrest because she travelled quite freely in this country and abroad. It has been said that she was jailed there until her death in 1358, then buried in Rising church. Thus, Edward III was believed to have used the tunnel on many occasions to secretly visit his mother. However, she actually died at Hertford Castle and was almost certainly buried at Greyfriars in London.

The historian of Lynn, Mr. E. M. Beloe, dug at the Red Mount and found that the supposed tunnel came to a halt after only a few feet, at an outer door which had long been buried beneath the soil of the mound. The door in the castle was likewise no more than one of two entrances to an inner stairway. As in other subterranean tales, a drunken fiddler and his dog are said to have tried to explore the tunnel, and were never seen again!

Tunnels (Gaywood Hall)
Gaywood Hall

Another tunnel supposedly comes to Lynn from the site of the former medieval bishop’s palace where Gaywood Hall now stands, in an eastern suburb of the town. A brick arch uncovered in a trench along Blackfriars Road was claimed by one old man to be evidence of this, while another is said to have dug up a tunnel on the same line during the last century, but veering towards the Red Mount. A sewer and a covered-up reservoir may have been the basis for this tale.

Tunnels (Exorcist House)
The ‘Exorcist’s House’ which stands in Chapel Lane, Kings Lynn.

The so-called ‘Exorcist’s House’ stands in Chapel Lane, next to St. Nicholas’ church and is of 17th century vintage; possibly it once was a medieval Bishop’s House in which an exorcist, who was employed by the church clergy, once lived. Some believe that a subterranean passage – allegedly used by the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins – runs from there to the 17th century St. Anne’s House – now demolished.

Tunnels (St Annes House)
17th century St. Anne’s House which once stood in St Annes Street, Kings Lynn.

In St. James Street is the White Hart pub, radically rebuilt in the mid-19th century, but dating from at least 200 years earlier. A shadowy, hooded figure that haunts the pub is said to be a ghostly monk, who has passed through a legendary tunnel from St. Margaret’s church in the Saturday Market Place.

Tunnels (St Margarets)
In December 2011, The Bishop of Norwich dedicated The Priory and Parish Church of St Margaret as King’s Lynn Minster. Photo: King’s Lynn Minster

Today, the medieval St. George’s Guildhall in King Street is the home to an arts centre, coffee shop, and other businesses, but beneath it is an actual tunnel (now stopped-up and dry), through which merchants brought goods from their boats on the nearby Great Ouse river. Vaulted under crofts exist here and beneath former medieval warehouses along King Street as far as the Tuesday Market Place, but it seems to be rumoured only because other tunnels honeycomb the area.

Tunnels (Guildhall)
St. George’s Guildhall in King Street, Kings Lynn. Photo: EDP.

THE END

Sources:
Walter Rye: ‘Norfolk Songs, Stories & Sayings’ (Goose & Son, 1897), pp.85-6.
‘The East Anglian Magazine’, Vol.2, p.461.
http://www.paranormaldatabase.com/hotspots/kingslynn.php
http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk-King’s Lynn
www.kingslynn-forums.co.uk-tunnel2
Ann Weaver: ‘The Ghosts of King’s Lynn’ in KL Magazine, Issue 1, Oct. 2010, p.51.
http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/down_in_the_secret_tunnel_under_king_s_lynn_arts_centre_1_1325374
Source:  Arthur Randell (ed. Enid Porter: ‘Sixty Years a Fenman’ (R & K P, 1966). P.102-3.
www.hiddenea.com

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

2020: The Year of Richard Caister

Richard Caister could be described as a medieval maverick cleric who preached and wrote in the vernacular a century before the Protestant Reformation. However, it is more than likely that not many people today would recognise his name if asked; or be aware of his deeds, character or reputation. Timely therefore that between February and October of this year, 2020, St Stephen’s Church in Norwich (where this late priest and poet was based in the latter part of his life) will celebrate the 600th Anniversary of his life and work through several events hosted by the Church itself, including family craft workshops and musical performances. These events are to be supported by associated historical tours of the city and variously timed lectures at the Forum and the Norfolk Record Office. Not everyone could possibly share in these celebrations, but for those who may still be interested in the man, the period in which he lived and those with whom he associated, here is an adapted summary of his life based (in part) on the information compiled by St Stephens Church.

Richard Caister (St Stephens)
St Stephens Church, Norwich and host for the 600th Anniversary of its late Vicar, Richard Caister. Photo: Jamie (flickr).

We can never be absolutely certain of Richard Caister’s place of birth or the actual date, only that he was born either in Caister St Edmund or Caister-on-Sea sometime around the middle of the 14th century. He was apparently styled ‘master’ but there is no clear evidence that he studied at a university; but it is said that in 1385, possibly on 1 October, a part of his head was ‘tonsured’ – left bare on top by the shaving off of the hair – he had been made a cleric. It was at that moment when he was admitted to Merton Priory in Surrey where he received his education in preparation for an ordained ministry. It is probable that, after being ordained, he spent some 10 years as a monk of the Norwich Cathedral Priory. Certainly, in 1397, he become vicar of St Mary’s Church in Sedgeford, near Kings Lynn, having been presented to the benefice by the Prior of the Norwich Cathedral Priory.  Richard Caister served Sedgeford for five years; its location described by Simon Knott in 2006 thus:

Richard Caister (Sedgeford)
St Mary The Virgin Church at Sedgeford. Photo: Blosslyn.

“Sedgeford is one of those surprisingly secluded villages not far from the Wash, with busy Hunstanton and Sandringham just over the hill. Many East Anglian churches are at the highest point in their parishes, which isn’t saying a lot, but this big church is down in a dip in the valley below the road, and you would never notice it unless you were deliberately looking for it. The nave seems vast with those great clerestory windows, and the round tower appears to grow out of it, the aisles extending westwards to wrap around it.”

In 1402 Richard Caister was transferred to St Stephen’s Church in Norwich, where he remained until his death on April 4, 1420. He was buried in the chancel of the Church; an indication of the high regard he was held at the time. According to Norman P. Tanner:

“Margery Kempe [see below] provides a glowing portrait of him as vicar of St Stephen’s. He was, she indicates, a generous and apostolic parish priest, and a noted and effective preacher. He acted as her confessor in Norwich and supported her against her critics, including the officials of the bishop……… Following his death in 1420, perhaps on 29 March, his reputation for holiness developed into a minor cult. Margery Kempe went to pray at his grave in St Stephen’s Church, to thank him for the recovery of a friend from sickness: between 1429 and 1500 a number of bequests were left in wills for people to make pilgrimages to his grave, or for offerings to be left at it. He appears to have been a radical and evangelical priest, one in a succession as vicars of St Stephen’s parish, though Bale’s claim that he was an enthusiastic Wycliffite, albeit a secret one, seems unfounded……… Books on the ten commandments, the beatitudes, and the meditations of St Bernard, and also some homilies, were attributed to him. His only extant work, however, is the hymn ‘Jesu, lord, that madest me’, which seems to have been very popular, surviving in numerous manuscripts (though eight of its twelve stanzas come from an earlier poem).”

Richard Caistor’s Will was probably written within a few days of his death; it is remarkable, especially for a man who had been incumbent in one of the most valuable livings in Norwich for some eighteen years. The Will is very brief and contains no requests for masses or prayers to be said for his soul. Instead, he seems to have wanted his ‘unspecified wealth’, apart from £10 that was to be spent on buying two antiphonaries for his church, to be given to the poor, with preference being given to those of his parish on the grounds that “the goods of the church, according to canon law, belong to the poor”

Two significant Contemporaries of Caister:
One of Caister’s contemporaries was Julian of Norwich (1342-1416). She is, of course, known for her book The Revelations of Divine Love, which is a masterpiece of 14th century vernacular theology and also the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman.

Richard Caister (Julian of Norwich)
A sculpture giving an imagined depiction of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

There are no documents in existence which says that Richard Caister and Julian of Norwich ever met. However, it seems inconceivable that this was never so, when their geographical proximity of St Julian’s and St Stephen’s Churches were practically next door to each other. Also, having both a mutual friend in Margery Kempe, would strongly suggest that the lives of Julian and Richard may well have overlapped at times. However, more significantly than that suggestion, is the fact that both of them wrote in the vernacular. By doing so, both opened spiritual and theological matters to ordinary lay people, as distinct to only the clergy which believed, certainly in Caister’s time, that the English language was not an appropriate vehicle to consider or broadcast theological matters; such matters needed to be presented in the language of the Church – Latin.

Richard Caister (Margery Kempe)2

Margery Kempe (1373-1438) was another significant contemporary of Caister and the author of The Book of Margery Kempe, which is considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language; she was also a Christian mystic whose work gives a careful spiritual and social commentary of England. Kempe became very close to Caister; in their first meeting, Caister listened to Margery Kempe speak about the love of God and her spiritual experiences. Margery Kempe also recorded that while some considered her to be insane or under the influence of demons, Richard Caister defended her, open to the idea that God may inspire a woman. Caister became Margery Kempe’s confessor and even defended her in a hearing before the formidable Bishop Henry le Despenser. From the website of present-day St Stephen’s Church, we learn that:

“……. after Caister’s death and burial, Margery Kempe writes that she was moved to journey to St Stephen’s to pray for the healing of a priest who was close to her. She writes of a powerful spiritual encounter of the goodness of God during this time of prayer at the chancel of St Stephen’s Church, where Caister was buried. The priest for whom she was praying was healed. It is most likely for this reason that Caister’s burial place became a shrine for pilgrimage throughout the latter half of the 15th century.”

The Character of Caister and his Ministry:
Caister had a reputation for being a man of significant learning who was assiduous in his pastoral duties, particularly in his preaching and in his concern for the poor of his parish. The pilgrim badges that accompanied the shrine of Richard Caister frequently depict him preaching from the pulpit, wearing either clerical or academic dress’.

Richard Caister (Pilgrim Badges)2
A medieval pilgrim badge, worn by someone who would have visited Richard Caister’s burial spot in St Stephen’s Church in Norwich in the 15th century. Photo: Pinterest (Museum of London)

John Pits, (1560 – 17 October 1616) was an English Roman Catholic scholar and writer who was born in Alton, Hampshire. He provides a character sketch of Richard Caister.

“He was a man simple and upright, and no mean scholar. In his sermons he used not so much to attack men’s vices with bitter words, as to deplore them with tears of sympathy, and to exhort all to flee from their sins and to have pity upon their own souls. With the ignorant multitude he willingly adopted a familiar style, and used to mingle with the crowds to hold outdoor meetings. The simplest folk he loved the best, as being most like himself, saying that of such is the kingdom of heaven. He is said to have had the spirit of prophecy, and both during his life and after his death to have been renowned for many miracles”

Then there was Francis Blomefield who, in his History of Norfolk (volume 4), adds to this description that Caister was “a man of greatest learning and what was exceedingly remarkable in those days, a constant preacher of God’s word in English to his parishioners”.

Religious Dissent in the 14th and 15th Centuries:
Caister lived in a turbulent period in the life of the Church in England, for there existed a particular element of non-conformist thought, known of today as “Lollardy“; this movement became increasingly powerful across England in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. The book “Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards (1395)” indicates a set of ideas held in common at the time, and strongly criticises clerical practice, the doctrine of transubstantiation, pilgrimage, plus rejecting the necessity of the mediation of God’s forgiveness through the Church via confession of sins to a priest. However, at the heart of Lollardy was the insistence for access to the scriptures in the English language – not Latin.

Richard Caister (Thomas Arundel)
Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury. Copy of a 15th century portrait. Image: Lambeth Palace.

Thomas Arundel (1353 – 19 February 1414) was an English clergyman who served as Lord Chancellor during the reign of Richard II, as well as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1397 and from 1399 until his death, an outspoken opponent of the Lollards. In 1409 he promulgated a piece of ecclesiastical legislation, called the ‘Constitutions’ which was designed to establish control over religious thought and speech in England; it established controls over access to the scriptures in the English language:

“No one should translate any text of holy scripture on his own authority into the English language or any other under pain of excommunication, until that translation was approved by the local diocesan council”.

Alongside this, the Constitutions outlawed the criticism of clergy in the context of sermons and limited the topics upon which clergy could educate their parishioners. In a very influential essay Nicholas Watson argued that the goal of Arundel’s Constitutions was to restrict the development of religious thought in the English language; this led to the ‘watering-down’ of a growing and creative tradition of vernacular theology in England, as represented by Julian of Norwich.

Richard Caister (Love's Mirror)2
The ‘Mirror of the Blessed Jesus. This version printed by William Caxton, Westminster: circa. 1490. Image: University of Glasgow.

Then there was the 15th century Nicholas Love; the Carthusian prior of Mount Grace Priory. He translated and adapted Pseudo-Bonaventure’s ‘Meditations on the Life of Christ’ into English and named it ‘Mirror of the Blessed Jesus (1410)’. His was not merely a translation of one of the most popular Latin works of Franciscan devotion on the life and passion of Christ, but an expanded version with additions against the John Wycliffite (Lollard). Specifically, Love argued that Latin was the true language of theological thought and spiritual devotion. As such, the lay person remained in an unchangeable state of dependency on the Latin-speaking clergy. His version was submitted to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, around the year 1410 for approval. This submission was in accordance with strictures that forbade any new biblical translation written since the time of John Wycliffe, “in any form whatsoever, unless the translation was submitted to the local bishop for approval.” Arundel not merely approved the ‘Mirror of the Blessed Jesus’, but commanded its propagation; the work survives in sixty-four manuscripts; nineteen of these contain a note of Arundel’s official approval along with a note that this work is a “confutation of heretics or lollards”. Love’s work appears to have been the most popular new piece of literature in 15th-century England and was published at least ten times between 1484 and 1606. It provides an instructive insight into the character of the Church at the time, in contrast to which Richard Caister’s own ‘Metrical Prayer’ can be better understood. In short, it is a fascinating document written at that turbulent time and does, arguably, contains some themes consistent with Lollardy.

Richard Caister (Henry_le_Despenser)
Henry le Despenser (c.1341-1406) a 14th-century carving of him on a misericord in a chancel stall in St. Margaret’s Church, King’s Lynn. Photo: Wikipedia.

Lollardy was particularly influential in Norfolk at the turn of the 15th century. The Bishop of Norwich, the then Henry le Despenser, was also a fierce an opponent of Lollardy. According to Thomas Walsingham, (Rolls Series, Vol. ii., p.188):

“He swore, and did not repent, that if any of that perverse sect [Lollards] should presume to preach in his diocese, he should either be given to the flames or deprived of his head”.

The Legacy of Richard Caister:
Richard Caister was closely associated with the linguist, philosopher and theologian John Wycliffe who was an important influence on Lollardy and is thought of as a forerunner of Protestantism in England. Then there was Bishop John Bale (himself a man with strong protestant sympathies) who, in his work ‘Illustrious Writers of Great Britain’ (printed c1549-1559), wrote:

Richard Caister (John Bale)
John ‘Bilious’ Bale. Image: Wikipedia.

“Richard Caister, of the County of Norfolk, and coming from near Norwich itself, a man learned and pious for his age, and Vicar at the Church of St Stephen in that City, [he was] called ‘the Good’, lead an apostolic and innocent life in great simplicity of spirit. Miracles are narrated of this man, but many are void of all truth. Nevertheless, he was distinguished for remarkable sanctity and a prophetic spirit. He favoured the Wycliffite (or rather the Christian) doctrine strongly, but secretly, for fear of the Papists, having had experience of their tyranny in others.  The scandalous example of the clergy he deplored with humble reproof in sermons, since otherwise he was not able to cure it. Many other proofs of piety did the good man display, and amongst other things he wrote in his native tongue”.

Richard Caister (John Wycliffe)
John Wycliffe. Image: Wikimedia.

Whether or not Richard Caister really held Wycliffite views is not clear. In the case of Bishop Bale, (who was quite partisan towards Protestantism and could stretch his views of people towards his own ways of thinking), Richard Caister’s own Metrical Prayer does indicate, at least, some sympathy with ideas associated with Wycliffe and Lollardy; but, of course, did not suffer the same fate as others in the Diocese of Norwich who were more explicitly loyal to Wycliffe’s thought, such as William Sawtrey, and payed the price!

Richard Caister (William Sawtre)

FOOTNOTE:
The Richard Caister Project, hosted by St Stephen’s Church, Norwich, sets out to tell the story of Richard Caister. At the forefront of this story is the suitability of all (not just the professionally religious) for spiritual and theological discourse, a commitment which is still at the core of the ministry of Christ at St Stephen’s today. There will be an exhibition in the Church building, workshops for young people and series of talks throughout 2020 – ‘The Caister Talks’, delivered by a diverse range of experts, including Professor Richard Rex (Cambridge University), Laura Varnam (Oxford University) and prolific local historian Frank Meeres. There will be performances over the year including an evening of poetry with the internationally renowned poet and priest Reverend Dr Malcolm Guite. To close the year, there will be a celebration service at St Stephen’s Church, at which Bishop Graham Usher will preach.

Two planned lectures on “Richard Caister are:

16 January 2020, at The Auditorium in the Forum, Millennium Plain, Norwich NR2 1TF and hosted by the Norwich Society. 

6 May 2020, at The Green Room, Norfolk Record Office, The Archive Centre, Martineau Lane, Norwich NR1 2DQ and hosted by the Norfolk Record Office

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Sources on which this Blog is based:
https://www.ststephensnorwich.org

The Story of Richard Caister


https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-4349
https://www.juliancentre.org/about/about-julian-of-norwich.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margery_Kempe#Pilgrimage
https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Lollardy
https://philpapers.org/rec/WATCAC-4
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wycliffe
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bale
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Sawtrey
https://www.networknorwich.co.uk/Articles/558444/Network_Norwich_and_Norfolk/Regional_News/Norwich/Events_mark_6th_centenary_of_Norwich_medieval.aspx

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered informative and of an educational nature, and considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always included in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

6. Christmas: Wassailing!

Anglo-Saxon tradition dictated that at the beginning of each year, the lord of the manor would greet the assembled multitude with the toast waes hael, meaning “be well” or “be in good health”, to which his followers would reply drink hael, or “drink well”, and so the New Year celebrations would start with a glass or two, or perhaps even a drop more! It is likely that such celebrations were being enjoyed many years before Christianity began to spread throughout Britain from around 600 onwards.

Wassailing1

Depending upon the area of the country where you lived, the wassail drink itself would generally consist of a warmed ale, wine or cider, blended with spices, honey and perhaps an egg or two, all served in one huge bowl and passed from one person to the next with the traditional “wassail” greeting.

The Wassailing celebrations generally take place on the Twelfth Night, 5th January, however the more traditional still insist in celebrating it on ‘Old Twelvey’, or the 17th January, the correct date; that is before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar messed things up in 1752.

There are two distinct variations of wassailing. One involves groups of merrymakers going from one house to another, wassail bowl in hand, singing traditional songs and generally spreading fun and good wishes. The other form of wassailing is generally practiced in the countryside, particularly in fruit growing regions, where it is the trees that are blessed.

Wassailing2

The practice of house-wassailing continued in England throughout the Middle Ages, adapting as a way by which the feudal lord of the manor could demonstrate charitable seasonal goodwill to those who served him, by gifting money and food in exchange for the wassailers blessing and songs;

“Love and joy come to you,
and to you your wassail to;
and God bless you and send you
a happy New Year.”

The house-wassailing tradition has evolved into what we now recognise as carolling, where groups of people go from door-to-door singing Christmas carols. Some aspects of the original practise however can still be detected in the words of these carols; listen carefully as the wassailers demands begin, “now give us some figgy pudding”, and then as those demands turn to threats “and we won’t go until we’ve got some”.

Wassailing3

The wassailing, or blessing of the fruit trees, involves drinking and singing to the health of the trees in the hope that they will provide a bountiful harvest in the autumn. This ancient custom is still practised across the country today, and is particularly popular in the cider producing areas of England, such as Somerset, Devon, Herefordshire, Kent and Sussex.

The celebrations vary from region to region, but generally involve a wassail King and Queen leading the assembled group of revellers, comprising the farmers, farm workers and general villagers, in a noisy procession from one orchard to the next. In each orchard the wassailers gather round the biggest and best tree, and as a gift to the tree spirits, the Queen places a piece of wassail soaked toast into its branches, accompanied by songs such as;

“Apple tree, apple tree we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sacks fills…”

The wassailers then move on to the next orchard; singing, shouting, banging pots and pans, and even firing shotguns, generally making as much noise as possible in order to both waken the sleeping tree spirits, and also to frighten off any evil demons that may be lurking in the branches.

THE END

Source:
https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Wassailing/
Photo used for Feature Heading is via Wikipedia

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

2. Christmas: Medieval Style!

Whilst the term “Christmas” first became part of the English language in the 11th century as an amalgamation of the Old English expression “Christes Maesse”, meaning “Festival of Christ”, the influences for this winter celebration pre-date this time significantly.
Medieval Christmas (Boar)

Winter festivals have been a popular fixture of many cultures throughout the centuries. A celebration in expectation of better weather and longer days as spring approached, coupled with more time to actually celebrate and take stock of the year because there was less agricultural work to be completed in the winter months, has made this time of year a popular party season for centuries.

Whilst mostly synonymous with Christians as the holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus (the central figure of Christianity), celebrating on the 25th December was a tradition that was borrowed, rather than invented, by the Christian faith and is still celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike today. Indeed the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, in honour of Saturn the Harvest God, and the Scandinavian festival of Yule and other Pagan festivals centred on the Winter Solstice were celebrated on or around this date. As Northern Europe was the last part of the continent to embrace Christianity, the pagan traditions of old had a big influence on the Christian Christmas celebrations.
Medieval Christmas (reveling)

The official date of the birth of Christ is notably absent from the Bible and has always been hotly contested. Following the instigation of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the latter part of the 4th century, it was Pope Julius I who eventually settled on 25 December. Whilst this would tie in with the suggestions of the 3rd century historian Sextus Julius Africanus that Jesus was conceived on the spring equinox of 25 March, the choice has also been seen as an effort to ‘Christianise’ the pagan winter festivals that also fell on this date. Early Christian writers suggested that the date of the solstice was chosen for the Christmas celebrations because this is the day that the sun reversed the direction of its cycle from south to north, connecting the birth of Jesus to the ‘rebirth’ of the sun.

In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas was not as popular as Epiphany on 6 January, the celebration of the visit from the three kings or wise men, the Magi, to the baby Jesus bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Indeed, Christmas was not originally seen as a time for fun and frolics but an opportunity for quiet prayer and reflection during a special mass. But by the High Middle Ages (1000-1300) Christmas had become the most prominent religious celebration in Europe, signalling the beginning of Christmastide, or the Twelve Days of Christmas as they are more commonly known today.

The medieval calendar became dominated by Christmas events starting forty days prior to Christmas Day, the period we now know as Advent (from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming”) but which was originally know as the “forty days of St. Martin” because it began on 11 November, the feast day of St Martin of Tours.
Medieval Christmas

Although gift giving at Christmas was temporarily banned by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages due to its suspected pagan origins, it was soon popular again as the festive season in the Middle Ages became a time of excess dominated by a great feast, gifts for rich and poor and general indulgence in eating, drinking, dancing and singing.

Many monarchs chose this merry day for their coronation. This included William the Conqueror, whose coronation on Christmas Day in 1066 incited so much cheering and merriment inside Westminster Abbey that the guards stationed outside believed the King was under attack and rushed to assist him, culminating in a riot that saw many killed and houses destroyed by fire.

Some well known modern Christmas traditions have their roots in the Medieval celebrations:

Christmas or Xmas? Although many people frown upon the seemingly modern abbreviation of Xmas, X stands for the Greek letter chi, which was the early abbreviation for Christ or the Greek ‘Khristos’. The X also symbolises the cross on which Christ was crucified.

Medieval-Christmas (mince pies)Mince Pies were originally baked in rectangular cases to represent the infant Jesus’ crib and the addition of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg was meant to symbolise the gifts bestowed by the three wise men. Similarly to the more modern mince pies we see today, these pies were not very large and it was widely believed to be lucky to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas. However, as the name suggests, mince pies were originally made of a variety of shredded meat along with spices and fruit. It was only as recently as the Victorian era that the recipe was amended to include only spices and fruit.

Medieval Christmas (Singers)Carol singers. Some of us enjoy the sound of carollers on our doorsteps but the tradition for carol singers going door to door is actually a result of carols being banned in churches in medieval times. Many carollers took the word carol literally (to sing and dance in a circle) which meant that the more serious Christmas masses were being ruined and so the Church decided to send the carol singers outside.

Medieval Christmas (Humble Pie)Anyone for humble pie? While the most popular choice for Christmas dinner today is undoubtedly turkey, the bird was not introduced to Europe until after the discovery of the Americas, its natural home, in the 15th century. In medieval times goose was the most common option. Venison was also a popular alternative in medieval Christmas celebrations, although the poor were not allowed to eat the best cuts of meat. However, the Christmas spirit might entice a Lord to donate the unwanted parts of the family’s Christmas deer, the offal, which was known as the ‘umbles’. To make the meat go further it was often mixed with other ingredients to make a pie, in this case the poor would be eating ‘umble pie’, an expression we now use today to describe someone who has fallen from their pedestal to a more modest level.

The Christmas crib

Medieval Christmas (christmas crib)
Originated in 1223 in medieval Italy when Saint Francis of Assisi explained the Christmas Nativity story to local people using a crib to symbolise the birth of Jesus. Photo: HistoricUK[

Boxing Day has traditionally been seen as the reversal of fortunes, where the rich provide gifts for the poor. In medieval times, the gift was generally money and it was provided in a hollow clay pot with a slit in the top which had to be smashed for the money to be taken out. These small clay pots were nicknamed “piggies” and thus became the first version of the piggy banks we use today. Unfortunately, Christmas Day was also traditionally a “quarter day”, one of the four days in the financial year on which payments such as ground rents were due, meaning many poor tenants had to pay their rent on Christmas Day!

Whilst the excitement and frivolities of Christmas make it easy to forget the more serious aspects of the festival, it can also be argued that the tradition started by the wise men with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh continues today, although with perhaps slightly fewer exotic gifts!

Text written by Ben Johnson. (Courtesy of HistoryUK)

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