Archive for the ‘Medieval History’ Category


St Margaret’s church, Hardley is located in the Norfolk Broads, an area located in the east of the county formed of river-fed connected lakes and much beloved by the boating and sailing fraternity. Whilst not as isolated as St Mary Houghton, St Margaret’s too stands in open fields with only a couple of houses nearby, testimony to the farming communities which it once served and which have now disappeared.


It is not clear when the church was originally built (it has been suggested that the chancel arch dates from the 13th century), but records of the Great Hospital in Norwich (owners of the manor of Hardley) show that in 1456 a decision was taken to rebuild the chancel and two years later they authorised the replacement of the roof. This might suggest that the original building had fallen into disrepair or out of use before this date. The work was completed by 1461. The church contains a number of features which date from this rebuild. The 15th-century font has an octagonal bowl on a stem supported by lions.


The 15th-century wall paintings were discovered several years ago during redecoration

There are 3 panels, St Christopher, St Catherine and a consecration cross which probably dates from the time the church was re-consecrated as a place of worship after the 15th-century rebuilding.


The chancel screen dates from the 15th century and the simple pulpit is from the Jacobean period (early 17th century).



Despite being close to the impressive Priory, St James Castle Acre is a large Church not much smaller than the Priory church itself. A church has existed in Acre since at least the late Saxon period as it is recorded that when William de Warrenne found Castle Acre Priory in 1090, the priory was granted income and control of ‘the church at Acre’


During the 14th and 15th century it became an important stop on the pilgrim’s way to the shrine at Walsingham and the church was rebuilt in the Perpendicular Gothic style. The church contains a number of interesting 15th-century features;

– a hexagonal font


– a wine-glass pulpit with paintings of Latin biblical scholars


– Rood screen with paintings of the 11 disciples plus St Matthias.


The priory was founded by William de Warrenne, Earl of Surrey on his land at Acre in Norfolk. The first Earl together with his wife had journeyed to Rome on pilgrimage and stopped at the monastery of Cluny in France. He subsequently invited the Cluniac order to establish a priory at Lewes in Sussex. It is not clear if it was this William or his son, also called William, who invited the Cluniac monks to establish a new house on the families land in Norfolk at Acre.


The priory as it would have looked before the dissolution


The west end of the priory church


The cloisters of the priory formed the centre around which all the other buildings were arranged

The Prior’s Solar and a fragment of medieval wall painting from the Prior’s chapel suggesting that it would have been highly decorated

The priory was very successful and continued to grow until the time it was surrendered to the crown commissioners in 1537 on the orders of Henry VIII. The land was given to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk won had the priory buildings demolished with the exception of the Priors lodgings which were converted into a private residence.


The Prior’s lodgings showing some of the changes that occurred when it was converted into a private residence

The ownership passed to Edward Coke, Earl of Leicester in the 17th century and has remained in the Coke family ever since. The site is now managed by English Heritage.


The remains of the Inner Bailey and curtain wall

William de Warrenne came to England in the army of William the Conqueror and fought at the Battle of Hastings. Afterwards, he became one of the King’s most trusted magnates. He was made Earl of Surrey and acquired lands in Norfolk through his wife. He chose the village of Acre near Swaffham as his base in the area.

Castle Acre is one of the best examples of a Motte and Bailey Castle from the early Middle Ages and the fortifications that remain give you a good indication of quite how formidable these castles must have seemed.


Outer Bailey


Outer Bailey c 12th century


The original castle was a moated Manor House but in the 12th century, the fortifications were improved, including the building of a keep to replace the Manor House.


13th century keep which replaced the original manor house


Remains of 13th century keep


Ditch surrounding Outer Bailey

However, by the end of the 14th century, the Earls of Surrey had moved on to live at other estates and the castle had been abandoned.



The church of St Mary at Houghton-on-the -Hill is possibly one of the most important churches in England. In it are found some of the earliest religious wall paintings still existing in the country.


Roman tiles (? from nearby villa site) reused in Norman wall


Evidence of earlier (? pre-Norman building) included within the Norman wall

There has been a settlement at Houghton-on-the-hill since Roman times – a Roman villa has been identified on the site from crop marks in a nearby field. It is believed to be a church on the site since Saxon times and a church was certainly in existence at the time of the Doomsday book survey in 1086. Shortly afterwards a Norman church was built on the site of the Saxon one, incorporating some material from the earlier church and the nearby Roman ruins.






In the 12th century, a south aisle was added to house the remains of Sir Robert de Neville, a local landowner, who was executed for ‘having a criminal conversation with a lady’ which probably meant having an affair with a married high-born woman. This was later demolished in the 14th or 15th century.


South side of the church, showing the outline of 12th Century South Aisle.

In the 15th century the original round tower collapsed and was replaced by a square tower was added. From the 16th century, the village began to go into decline as people moved away. In the 18th century, the medieval chancel was demolished and was replaced by a much smaller one.


Site of original altar and outline of pre-18th-century chancel

By the early 19th century only a few cottages remained around the church and changes in the management of the estate in the early 20th century further added to the dispersion of the local population. The last service was held in the late 1930s and it was subsequently abandoned. It remained a ruin until a local resident Bob Davey began a campaign to restore the church and it was early in the restoration work that the 11th-12th-century wall paintings were discovered and the importance of the church fully recognised.



The first church on the site was built as the chapel of St Mary of the Meadows by Sir Robert de Nerford. In 1217, Sir Robert and his wife Alice decided to found a hospital on the site in conjunction with an Augustinian Priory. 8 years later King Henry III gave the priory Abbey status.




In 1484 fire swept through the priory and the hospital causing extensive damage. Unable to fund the repairs the canons appealed to the King and Richard III and other members of the nobility gave gifts to aid in the rebuilding. Even with this help, the new priory was rebuilt on a smaller scale. This was completed in 1503.

Church c 1500


Plan of church after rebuilding showing the contraction in size

Unfortunately, in 1506 the abbey was devastated by an outbreak of plague which killed all of the canons. The property passed to the crown and was granted by Lady Margaret Beaufort to Christ’s College Cambridge.


The ruins are managed by English Heritage.

Castle Rising is one of the most complete 12th-century castles in the UK. It was built by William D’Albini around 1140 following his marriage to the widow of King Henry I.


Remains of Gateway tower

The Keep

Keep stairway to waiting room

Fireplace in waiting room


Inside of Keep

It has served as a hunting lodge and a royal residence. Queen Isabella, the mother of Edward III lived here following the death of her husband Edward II and records show that her son visited her on a number of occasions. Following her death, it was used as a hunting lodge by her grandson Edward the Black Prince. The castle passed to the Howard family in 1544 and has remained in that families possession until today. It is managed by English Heritage.

Urban VII ([Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Giovanni Castanga was born in Rome in 1521. He studied law and practised as a lawyer, eventually working for the papal Curia. He was ordained in March 1553 and went on to hold a number of prestigious posts include the governorships of Fano (1555 to 59); Perugia and Umbria (1559 to 60) and Bologna (1576 to 77). He was papal Nuncio to Spain (1565 to 72) and to Venice (1573 to 77). He was made a cardinal in 1583. Following the death of Pope Sixtus in 1590, Castanga was elected as his replacement and took the name Urban VII on 15th September 1590. One of his first actions was to issue a declaration threatening to excommunicate anyone found chewing, smoking or snorting tobacco in a church – perhaps the world’s first smoking ban! Unfortunately, within days Pope Urban was struck down with malaria and he died in Rome on 27 September 1590, just 12 days after taking office- the shortest period of office of any pontiff

All that remains of St Martins is the road that was named after it just north of St Paul’s Cathedral. There may have been a monastery here as early as the 7th or 8th century – it is said to have been founded by a King of Kent,  but the earliest surviving record is of rebuilding being done during 1056. It’s name le grand seems not to refer the architecture but to a large number of privileges that the Canons here seem to have enjoyed. A privilege was an exclusion from duty eg tax or a right not enjoyed by other places eg the right of sanctuary. Its charter was confirmed by William I in 1068 and included the privilege of sanctuary and an exemption from interference by Bishops, Archdeacons or their Ministers.  The bell of St Martin’s was one of those which rang at curfew time to signal the closing of the city gates. The monastery was dissolved in 1548 and unlike many monastic churches which were given over to the local population, St Martin’s was demolished. Interestingly the privilege of sanctuary within the precinct, although this no longer existed, seems to have continued after the demolition and was finally abolished in 1697.

Bodiam Castle

Posted: August 22, 2017 in History, Medieval History, Sussex, UK


Bodiam Castle was built in 1385 as a protection against French invasion during the 100 years war. It is unusual in design as it has no central keep. Despite its initial purpose, Bodiam managed to survive without being involved in any military action. It was surrendered by the Lewkner family in 1483 when threatened with siege by forces supporting the House of York. It was returned to them following the accession of Henry VII. During the civil war, it was sold by Lord Thanet, a Royalist, to pay the fines levied by Parliment and they took the decision to dismantle some of the defences. The castle was restored by its owners during the 19th and 20th century and in 1925 it was given to the National Trust and opened to the public.