Just Back From… 1066

It seemed fitting for my 100th post on this blog to write about an historical event, one with far more importance though…

It is a date that every English child will know sooner or later. The year 1066, when King Harold was shot in the eye by an arrow and died on the battlefields at Hastings.  The most famous battle  fought on English soil  and the last successful invasion of this country. Continue reading Just Back From… 1066

Hindringham Hall

Hindringham Hall is privately owned, but the gardens are open to the public each Wednesday during the summer season and four times a year there is a tour of the house itself. We booked one of the two holiday cottages for a fortnight in the North Norfolk countryside, though I was worried that being four miles from the wild north coast, to which I am strangely drawn, would be too far. I should not have fretted, as it was an ideal location. Far enough away from the madding crowds, but close enough to visit regularly enough. And entering the five-barred gate, driving down the long gravel driveway and crossing the moat bridge leading to the hall was a lovely experience – for two weeks we could pretend to be Lord and Lady of the Manor 😉

The village of Hindringham is typical of many small villages in the countryside today (not only in Norfolk) where there are few, if any, amenities. There is no village store or post office, no butcher or baker or indeed a candlestick maker, and the only pub is a bar in the cricket pavilion – aptly called The Pavilion – which is run by the community and only open on a Friday evening! Oddly enough though there is a Primary School, a large village hall and the church so you might have expected a shop at least.

Parts of Hindringham Hall were probably built from some of the stone torn down from the nearby Binham Priory, but it has been extended over the generations. It is now a handsome stepped-gabled building with a complete moat and a characterful history. There are not many fully moated houses remaining in the county; Oxburgh Hall (which has historical connections with this hall) is another.

The gardens are in several different sections, some outside the moat and the more private areas within the same plot as the house and bordered by the moat. In late summer they were probably not showing at their best, but there is still enough of interest to spend an hour or two drifting around them and finishing with a nice cuppa on the lawn. The walled kitchen garden was impressive for its well-stocked soft fruit bushes, salads, potatoes, beans and fragrant herbs mingling with the sweet scent of the colourful jewel-like sweet-peas. The buddleias alongside the moat opposite our cottage were smothered in butterflies the whole time – Large Whites, Painted Ladies, Red Admirals, Commas and a profusion of Peacocks. Within the private, walled, west lawn to the side of the house various clematis clung to the walls or pergolas, stone urns frothed with Pelargoniums and beautiful Romneyas stole the show, their egg yolk centres gleaming within the startling white, crêpe petals.

Roses and clematis wound their way around the thick rope-hung poles bordering the gravel driveway near to the front of the house and vibrant blue African Lilies provided splashes of intense colour. The roses were already ‘gone over’ by the time of our visit, but I am sure they would have been lovely.

I needn’t have worried being away from the coast. Sitting, relaxing in the sunny, private garden of the cottage lazily watching the bright blue damselflies and red dragonflies flitting around, spotting the heron fishing in the moat, listening to the ducks and solitary black swan calling, seeing a sky streaked with oranges and lemons and stars shining from an inky background and drifting off to sleep with echoes of the soft hoot of a tawny owl is really what a holiday is all about.

The Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Cross, Binham

The Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Cross, Binham was only a mile or so away from where we were staying so the first historical place we visited. The ruins of the 11th century Benedictine monastery are impressive, especially the nave which is now the parish church. The Reformation in 1539 saw the closure of the monastery and the buildings were dismantled. In fact the original building of Hindringham Hall where we stayed (in a cottage, not the actual hall) was built from stone from the monastery!

The most striking feature of the church at Binham Priory is the oddly blocked-up west front and windows which were bricked up between 1738 and 1780. It is an impressive building due to its size and the contrasting brick and stone work. It is also important from a historical aspect as an example of Early English gothic architecture in the 13th century. The west window (top) is thought to be an early example of ‘bar tracery’ in England. It certainly is very beautiful. In the spandrels and heads of the arches a variety of patterns are pierced into the stonework: quatrefoils, cinquefoils, trefoils and sexfoils,  culminating in the octofoil at the head of the west window.

Foil = Lobe or leaf shape formed by joining of curved shapes in tracery: trefoil  (three), quatrefoil (four), cinquefoil (five), sexfoil (six),  octofoil (eight)

Inside the church is light and bright. The font is perpendicular – 15th century – and has eight sides. It is known as a Seven Sacrament font because of the carvings around the bowl, each one of which illustrates one of the sacraments of the church. This is a particularly East Anglian design and none are known elsewhere; there are 16 in Norfolk and 12 in Suffolk remaining. It would have been brightly painted.

The Poppy Head Pews are another interesting feature of this church. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the benchends became more elaborately carved, with panelling and figures of people or animals, often humorous and frequently decidedly secular. Not all benches had backs to them (as in Cawston Church, Norfolk) and those which did had simple designs, some of which were added at a later date.

There are two misericord benches at the east end of the church decorated with a bearded head and foliage and the remains of the former rood screen which was painted over after the Reformation. The original medieval painted saints are now showing through.

In a beautiful quiet corner of the North Norfolk countryside, only a few miles from the coast, this former priory and church are well worth a visit and I was very impressed by the small museum inside and the information panels.

Norfolk: Castle Acre Priory and Castle

The village of Castle Acre lies further south of the county, only 4 miles north  of Swaffham and 15 miles east of King’s Lynn. It is well worth the drive to see such a lovely medieval planned settlement with the broad tree-lined Stocks Green where you can find a café and a pub. The town was entered in the 12th century by the Bailey Gate, now the only remaining gate of the town. Many of the houses in the town have been built from blocks of stone from the priory.

We stopped here on our way to Oxburgh Hall which is south of Swaffham mainly to see the Priory, but we were quite taken by the charming village and the castle too.

Castle Acre Priory, which is under the care of English Heritage, is a beautiful and peaceful place with some of the most intact Cluniac priory buildings in England. For 450 years it was the home and workplace of monks and their servants, a refuge for pilgrims and a stopping point for royalty, clergy and nobility. While rooted in the economy and society of Norfolk it was also part of a vast monastic network centred on the great abbey of Cluny in France. Walking around this site you get a feeling of the size and serenity of this place and if you use the audio tour provided then you can listen to the monks tales and walk in their footsteps.

Whilst in Castle Acre we also visited the Norman ‘motte and bailey’ castle which was abandoned in the middle ages, and although what little of the building left is in ruins, there are impressive earthworks.

A great day out except for the weather which was a little damp!

North Norfolk Churches: Hindringham St Martin

Hindringham St Martin dates from the 14th century and is typical of the churches in the region  having a tall west tower, a tall nave with north and south aisles and large Perpendicular windows. This building has five clerestory windows above to provide even more light to the inner space and consequently, like many of the Norfolk churches that we visited, the interior is surprisingly light and airy. There are two interesting windows, one at the east end of the south aisle containing some 15th century glass remnants and the other a Decorated window with five main lights and reticulated tracery.

The clock on the tower was given in 1867 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

The 15th century octagonal font is expertly carved with beasts representing the saints – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and four different shields.

The east window of the south aisle contains some medieval glass and two distinctive angels formed from the fragments. You can tell that they depict 15th century angels by the wonderful feathery tights they are wearing. The other interesting piece is a baby on the corner surrounded by golden rays, which could be the ‘Christ Child in Glory’.

At the east end of the nave is a Victorian wooden eagle lectern.

eagleThe impressive East window glass was made by Ward & Hughes in 1862 and shows several scenes from Christ’s Life and Death. Above these five main lights are representations from the Old Testament, including Noah’s Ark, the selling of Joseph and the Ten Commandments.

(sources of information: Church Tours in 2012 leaflet by Lyn Stilgoe; and the British Listed Buildings Website)