North Elmham and Binham Priory are two fascinating and perhaps surprising sites in North Norfolk. This day in North Norfolk turned out to be all about visiting churches. We started by visiting the ruins at North Elmham, about half an hour away from Reepham where we were renting a cottage.
The bishopric in East Anglia may date from as early as 630AD, with two sees in Dunwich and Elmham. By the mid-900s there was only the seat, at North Elmham. After the Conquest the Normans wanted tight control of their new territories and North Elmham was felt to be too remote. So in 1075 the Bishops transferred their seat to Thetford.
In c.1091Herbert de Losinga became the Bishop at Thetford. The Bishop came from a wealthy Norman family and had reputedly bought his position, but repented. And in expiation started the building of Norwich Cathedral. He moved the Bishopric to Norwich in 1094 and two years later laid the foundation stone of the Cathedral as the first and founding Bishop of Norwich Cathedral.1 He died in 1119 long before the building was completed.
Bishop de Losinga retained the site in North Elmham as a retreat and built a small Norman Chapel on the site of the original church, for his own private use. He also founded a church for the local community.2 His successors maintained the site and in the 14C the Chapel was incorporated into a fortified Manor House or perhaps small castle by Henry de Spenser (1341-1406), the then Bishop of Norwich.
Bishop de Spenser also established a deer park to the west of the Manor. The estate passed to the Cokes of Holkham at some point and they split the estate. Richard Warner bought part of the estate in 1727 and built a grand country mansion. But tragically the mansion was demolished, as late as 1924. 3
North Elmham ruins today
The ruins show the footprint of the house and chapel, but don’t really give an idea of the height and interior size of the building.
The Church of St Mary in North Elmham
There was a service in progress when we visited so all we could see what the outside of the building, set in a large open graveyard, and close to the ruins. It seems that this is another interesting Mediaeval church so do visit if you are in the area.
The ruins in North Elmham are interesting because of their history, but the site does not feel ‘religious’ in any way, nor particularly atmospheric. Nevertheless, it was an interesting first stop on a day of numerous church visits in North Norfolk. We next moved on to Binham Priory.