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Episode 39: Norfolk

Where is Norfolk?

In our thirty-ninth episode, we mentioned lots of interesting places and things in Norfolk, so here are some pictures and information if you're interested in finding out more.

Blakeney Point

At the heart of the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Blakeney National Nature Reserve boasts wide open spaces and uninterrupted views of the beautiful North Norfolk coastline. The four mile long shingle spit of Blakeney Point offers protection for Blakeney Harbour and the surrounding saltmarshes, providing a perfect habitat for the vast array of residential and migratory wildlife.

Internationally important, the reserve is noted for its spectacular displays of the summer breeding tern colony and winter breeding grey seals ensuring delight for visitors all year round. Great for walkers, sightseers and wildlife enthusiasts alike, Blakeney National Nature Reserve guarantees an inspiring and memorable visit no matter the season. 

The best way to see the wildlife on Blakeney Point is to enjoy a ferry trip, departing from Morston Quay.

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle was designed to be a royal palace rather than a fortification. However, no Norman kings ever lived in it. The only time Henry I is known to have stayed at Norwich Castle was for Christmas 1121, a visit explored in detail in the displays in the Castle Keep.

Norwich Castle keep was built using limestone shipped from Caen in France at a cost of over three times the original value of the stone!

Originally the ground floor walls were faced in flint, in stark contrast to the white limestone of the Royal Palace on the upper level. The upper floor (where the balcony now stands) was divided into two sections. On the north side was the Great Hall, and on the south were the royal quarters which comprised of a large parlour, bedrooms and a private chapel. Within the outer walls is a walkway (fighting gallery) where soldiers could patrol the building.

From the 14th century the keep was used as a county gaol, until a new gaol, designed by Sir John Soane, was constructed both inside and around the keep in 1792-93.

Norwich Cathedral

From its beginnings as an 11th century Benedictine monastery to its role as a 21st century Cathedral today, there is so much to explore.

The Cathedral dates back to 1096, when it was founded by Herbert de Losinga, the first Bishop of Norwich, and over the last nine centuries this magnificent place of worship has been at the heart of Norwich and its people.

Shrine of Julian of Norwich

Visitors are invited to visit the Julian Shrine, including St Julian's Church, the Julian visitor centre, and All Hallows Guesthouse. The most important part of the shrine is of course St Julian's Church containing the reconstructed Julian of Norwich cell.

Though St Julian's Church was badly damaged during WWII bombing, generous donors from around the world made a post-war reconstruction possible, during which time the foundations of Julian's Cell was uncovered - having been destroyed some centuries earlier. Visitors are now able to enter the cell, which contains a small chapel for reflection and private prayer. There is also a weekly mass said in the cell on Mondays at 10am as well as other daily services in the church.

Felbrigg Hall

One of the most elegant country houses in East Anglia, Felbrigg Hall is a place of surprises and delights. It is a mixture of opulence and homeliness where each room reflects Felbrigg’s vibrant history, from the stained-glass windows in the Great Hall to Queen Mary's teapot in the Drawing Room. The Chinese Bedroom showcases Felbrigg’s rich global collections, including luxury exports traded by the East India Company, and the eclectic displays in the Cabinet Room show collections amassed on a European ‘Grand Tour’.

Outside, the decorative and productive walled garden is a gardener's delight. Flowers from the garden decorate the Hall, whilst allotments in the walled garden provide fruit and vegetables for the Squire's Pantry. You can enjoy watching the hens pecking wherever they wish, with only the sound of the busy bees in the flowers.

The rolling landscape park with a lake, 211 hectares (520 acres) of woods and waymarked trails is a great place to explore nature and wildlife on this bountiful estate.

Houghton Hall

Built in the 1720s for Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall is one of Norfolk’s most beautiful stately homes and remains one of England’s finest Palladian houses. A collaboration between the two defining British architects of the age – Colen Campbell and James Gibbs – and with lavish interiors by William Kent, Houghton was built with an eye to reflecting the wealth, taste, and power of its owner. During the eighteenth century, Walpole also amassed one of the greatest collections of European art in Britain, and Houghton became a museum to the collection. The centuries that followed would see the fate of Houghton and its remarkable contents hang in the balance.

On Walpole’s death, Houghton passed to his son, and then to his grandson, the 3rd Earl of Orford, who was forced to sell Sir Robert’s picture collection to Catherine the Great of Russia due to debts. At the end of the 18th Century, the house was inherited by the 1st Marquess of Cholmondeley, Sir Robert’s great grandson through his daughter, Mary. The Cholmondeleys only lived at Houghton for about ten years before moving back to their ancestral seat in Cheshire. Houghton was frequently on the market during the next century, and was rented out to a succession of tenants from 1884 to 1916. It was only when the future 5th Marquess of Cholmondeley and his wife, Sybil (nee Sassoon) took on the house just after the First World War, that it was restored to its former glory.

Holkham Hall

Holkham Hall is an 18th-century country house near the village of Holkham, Norfolk, England, constructed in the Neo-Palladian style for the 1st Earl of Leicester (of the fifth creation of the title)by the architect William Kent, aided by Lord Burlington.

Holkham Hall is one of England's finest examples of the Palladian revival style of architecture, and the severity of its design is closer to Palladio's ideals than many of the other numerous Palladian style houses of the period. The Holkham Estate was built up by Sir Edward Coke, the founder of his family's fortune. He bought Neales manor in 1609, though never lived there, and made many other purchases of land in Norfolk to endow to his six sons. His fourth son, John, inherited the land and married heiress Meriel Wheatley in 1612. They made Hill Hall their home, and by 1659, John had complete ownership of all three Holkham manors. It is the ancestral home of the Coke family, who became Earls of Leicester.

Blickling Hall

The Tudor house that once stood at Blickling is widely believed to have been the birthplace of Anne Boleyn, great-granddaughter of Sir Geoffrey Boleyn (1406–1463,) and later one of the six wives of King Henry VIII. Sir Geoffrey bought Blickling Estate from Sir John Fastolf in 1452.

The present red-brick mansion was built by Sir Henry Hobart (1560–1626) after he purchased the estate in 1616.

The house was built on the same site as Sir Geoffrey Boleyn's, by architect Robert Lyminge, who was already known for building Hatfield House. The moat remains from Tudor times, as Sir Henry used this as a perimeter to control his budget.

In the 1740s, Sir John Hobart converted Blickling's Long Gallery into an impressive library after being bequeathed a vast book collection by renowned scholar Sir Richard Ellys.

Happisburgh Lighthouse

Happisburgh Lighthouse is the oldest working light in East Anglia, and the only independently run lighthouse in Great Britain.

Built in 1790, orginally one of a pair – the tower is 85ft tall and the lantern is 134ft above sea level. The ‘low light’ which was discontinued in 1883 was 20ft lower and the pair formed leading lights marking safe passage around the southern end of the treacherous Haisborough Sands.

Today the lighthouse is painted white with three red bands, and has a light characteristic of Fl (3) W 30s (3 white flashes, repeated every 30secs) with a range of 18 miles.

Saved as a working light by the local community, it is maintained and operated entirely by voluntary contributions.

Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

Even in the eleventh century, when this story begins, the village of Little Walsingham was a thriving place, located mid-way between Norwich (then England's second city) and the wealthy town of King's Lynn.

Richeldis de Faverches was a Saxon noblewoman, married to the Lord of the Manor of Walsingham Parva. He died leaving her a young widow with a son, Geoffrey. We know that Richeldis had a deep faith in God and devotion to Mary. We know too of her reputation for good works in care and generosity towards those around her. For Richeldis, however, the life of prayer and good works was rewarded by a vision in the year 1061. In this vision she was taken by Mary to be shown the house in Nazareth where Gabriel had announced the news of the birth of Jesus. Mary asked Richeldis to build an exact replica of that house in Walsingham. This is how Walsingham became known as England's Nazareth.

The vision was repeated three times, according to legend, and retold through a fifteenth century ballad. The materials given by Richeldis were finally constructed miraculously one night into the Holy House, while she kept a vigil of prayer.

Although we cannot be certain that this story represents all the details of historical fact, we do know that in passing on his guardianship of the Holy House, Geoffrey de Faverches left instructions for the building of a Priory in Walsingham. The Priory passed into the care of Augustinian Canons somewhere between 1146 and 1174.

It was this Priory, housing the simple wooden structure Richeldis had been asked to build, which became the focus of pilgrimage to Walsingham. Royal patronage helped the Shrine to grow in wealth and popularity, receiving visits from Henry III, Edward II, Edward III, Henry IV, Edward IV, Henry VII and Henry VIII, who finally brought about its destruction in 1538.

After nearly four hundred years, the 20th century saw the restoration of pilgrimage to Walsingham as a regular feature of Christian life in these islands, and indeed beyond. In 1897, there was a Roman Catholic pilgrimage to the restored 14th century Slipper Chapel, now at the centre of the Roman Catholic National Shrine.

Castle Acre Priory

This important Norfolk visitor attraction is one of the largest and best preserved monastic sites in England dating back to 1090. It was the home of the first Cluniac order of monks to England and the Cluniac love of decoration is everywhere reflected in the extensive ruins.

There is much to see at the priory, including the beautiful west end church gable, prior’s lodging and substantial remains of many of the buildings round the cloister. The recreated herb garden grows herbs, which the monks would have used for medicinal, culinary and decorative purposes.

All Saints Church, Swanton Morley

The 14th century All Saints’ Church, has a peculiar pieced of local folklore or tradition attached to it. At All Saints church in Swanton Morley, it’s said that Satan can be summoned if you run round the church at midnight and then whistle through the keyhole, at which point the Dark Lord will appear.

The Witch's Leg, East Somerton

Photograph by Evelyn Simak

In the woods of East Somerton barely stands one such church. St Mary’s church, with its glassless windows, tumbling walls, and a tower in which one can look up into the open sky, is the definition of a romantic ruin.

Dating from the 15th-century, St Mary’s went from serving its own parish to becoming part of the larger parish of West Somerton that served Burnley Hall. It finally fell into disuse in the 17th-century. 

Since then, the church has remained abandoned, left for nature to reclaim with the forest seemingly devouring its stones. The most striking feature is in the center of the ruins, a tree known as “The Witch’s Leg.”

This thin oak tree is said to be the work of a local witch, stemming quite literally from the witch herself. According to legend, during the height of England’s witch trials, a suspected witch was buried alive in the church.

The buried witch, in her suffering, is said to have enchanted her wooden leg to sprout a tree that would destroy the church above. The legend goes on to say that if anybody were to walk around the tree three times, the witch’s spirit would be released.

However, it’s believed ghostly monks haunt the church and keep intruders from releasing her spirit. 

St George's Church, Great Yarmouth

St George's church was built in 1714 by John Price of Wandsworth. The ground plan imitates that of St Clement Danes and develops the characteristic double exedrae by having at both ends of the building. At St Clement Wren used them out of necessity in order to fit the resricted site.

The steeple is based on St James' Garlickhythe, London. After the church closed the pulpit and pews were moved to St Peter's. The pulpit and tester are now in use at St Nicholas'.

The building has once been restored as a theatre and in 2010 about to be repaired and fully restored as a theatre. The plaster vaults which created the interna l space are not being rebuilt at this stage. Medieval and post medieval pottery fragments in Great Yarmouth Museum were labelled St George's church.

Oxfootstone, South Lopham

The 'Ox-Foot Stone' is an oblong slab of weathered sandstone 1.2m long x 1m wide x 15cm high. When I saw it in the 1970's, it was in the garden of Oxfootstone Farm, but a newspaper reported in 1994 that it has since been placed under a table in the conservatory. Once, it stood in a meadow called Oxfootpiece, and was moved to several places in the parish before reaching the farm sometime in the 1800's. At the corner on the front edge there is supposed to be the imprint of a cow's hoof, which it has been said is actually the impression of a fossil bivalve.

A legend connected with this stone has two well-known variants, the first being that of the fairy cow that came regularly to the village to be milked during a great period of dearth. When the drought was over, she stamped her hoof hard on the stone upon which she had been standing, and then vanished. Francis Blomefield first recorded this tale in 1736, but didn't use the word 'fairy'.

Nun's Bridges, Thetford

During the middle ages, the bridge was the site of the town ducking stool and it has a tragic story attached. It concerns the death of a young child and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his demise. The child was George Dacre, the only surviving son of Baron Thomas Dacre and he succeeded his father on 1 July 1566 at the tender age of five when he also passed away.

Soon after, his widowed mother married Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, but she died in childbirth in September 1567 and George and his three sisters were sent to live with his stepfather.

George Dacre died shortly after on 17 May 1569 whilst at Thetford under the care of the household of Sir Richard Fulmerston, who it was believed the Duke of Norfolk had appointed as his guardian. The general thought that the boy died falling from a wooden rocking horse, but there is more to it than meets the eye.

A coroner's report said that Lord Dacre was unable to clamber onto the back of the horse and when he tried to adjust the horse so he could get on, a pin supporting the horse's legs gave way, causing the horse to collapse on him, crush his head and kill him instantly.

Another claim suggests that Sir Richard actually murdered the child by pulling the pin out of Lord Dacre's rocking horse so that he would be thrown from it and it would break so that he would inherit George's land in Cumberland.

Whatever the story, Lord Dacre's ghost is reputed to haunt Nuns' Bridges, riding up and down on a headless rocking horse. The phantom became so troublesome that local people threw a pound of new candles into the Little Ouse and ordered the spirit not to return until they were burned completely.

Shrieking Pits, West Runton

Aylmerton and Northrepps are, by day, perfectly pleasant Norfolk villages a short drive away from the seaside resort of Cromer. Framed by poppy fields and arable farming, these chocolate-box villages conceal an ancient evil, deep within their land.

Known locally as ‘shrieking pits’, these hell dimensions take the form of shallow pits, dug for the purposes of medieval Iron-ore mining and smelting. While these pits are present in a variety of local Norfolk landscapes, it is those at Aylmerton and Northrepps that are known by the moniker of ‘shrieking pit.’

It is said that the spectral figure of a woman haunts the five pits at Aylmerton, wailing in search of her lost child. The common story is that the woman’s baby was murdered by her jealous husband, who believed the child not to be his. After killing and burying the child in a pit, he returned to dispatch with his wife. Subsequently, the grieving woman haunts the pit for eternity, searching for her long-dead child. She is said to be tall, clothed in white and wanders and peers into the pits, wringing her hands and shrieking or moaning. It is said that she has been seen at all hours of the day, and is not confined to the typical spectral hours of dusk and night.

John Chapman, the Pedlar of Swaffham

Swaffham is a large market town which lies approximately 12 miles south east of King's Lynn. There is a folk tale in Swaffham about a pedlar called John Chapman who suddenly became very wealthy and used some of the money to refurbish the north aisle of St. Peter and St. Paul's Church in 1454.

According to legend, the pedlar had a dream that he should go to London where he would meet a stranger on London Bridge. In due course the pedlar travels to London and on his third day in the capital he meets a stranger who tells him about a dream that he has had about finding treasure in the garden of a house in Swaffham in Norfolk. John Chapman quickly sets off for home and discovers a treasure trove in his own garden - just as the stranger predicts.

The pedlar is commemorated in the town sign - and also as a wood carving on one of the church's  pews. The town sign was carved by Harry Carter (1907-1983) who was responsible for many of the beautiful wooden village signs in Norfolk.

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