Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Episcopal chapel and fortified manor house on site of Anglo-Saxon cathedral

A Scheduled Monument in North Elmham, Norfolk

We don't have any photos of this monument yet. Why don't you be the first to send us one?

Upload Photo »

Approximate Location Map
Large Map »

If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.


Latitude: 52.7557 / 52°45'20"N

Longitude: 0.9459 / 0°56'45"E

OS Eastings: 598890.286658

OS Northings: 321632.953647

OS Grid: TF988216

Mapcode National: GBR S9R.CXP

Mapcode Global: WHLRK.HZMT

Entry Name: Episcopal chapel and fortified manor house on site of Anglo-Saxon cathedral

Scheduled Date: 20 August 1924

Last Amended: 28 September 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017911

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21445

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: North Elmham

Built-Up Area: North Elmham

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Elmham North St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Norwich


The monument is situated to the north of St Mary's Church, on a spur of
glacial sand and clay overlooking the valley of the River Wensum which runs
some 650m to the east. It includes the ruins and buried remains of a medieval
church, converted in the last quarter of the 14th century into a fortified
manor house with surrounding earthworks, together with underlying remains of
what is believed to have been the Saxon cathedral church of Elmham and part of
a Late Saxon/Norman cemetery. The ruins of the medieval church and manor
house, which are Listed Grade I, stand on a rectangular, ditched platform in
the south west corner of a larger rectangular enclosure surrounded by a dry
moat, to the east of which are remains of an adjoining outer enclosure which
is also included in the scheduling. Associated with the manor was a medieval
deer park, the site of which is approximately 1.25km to the west of the
monument, beyond the later Elmham Park, created in the 18th century.

According to the documentary evidence, the See of Elmham was the head of one
of two independent diocese in East Anglia. The Elmham referred to in the
records is generally considered to have been North Elmham, although it has
been claimed that South Elmham, in Suffolk, was the site in question. The See
lapsed after AD 640 as a result of incursions by the Mercians, but was
re-established in the mid-10th century, following the reconquest of East
Anglia by the West Saxons. In 1075 the See was moved briefly to Thetford and
then, in about 1090, to Norwich. An historical account of the foundation of
Norwich cathedral and priory, probably written in the 13th century, refers to
the Saxon cathedral church as having been a small wooden building. The manor
of North Elmham was bought by Herbert de Losinga, the first bishop of Norwich,
and given by him to the monks of Norwich priory, although there is documentary
evidence that the Bishops of Norwich maintained a residence here, and the
ruined church is identified as an episcopal chapel attached to that residence.

Excavations in the 1950s revealed some evidence below the stone church for one
or more earlier timber structures on the same site, and it is thought that
these remains, which have been dated not earlier than the late ninth century,
may represent the timber cathedral church referred to in the post-Conquest
history. Between 1967 and 1972, more extensive excavations in the area to the
south west of the monument uncovered remains of a Middle Saxon (late seventh
to early ninth century) and a Late Saxon settlement. During the 10th century
this area was occupied by two large timber halls which had the character of
high status buildings appropriate to a bishop's palace. Both excavations
uncovered burials from a cemetery dated to the 11th and 12th centuries and
apparently centred on this site rather than the parish church to the south.

The stone church itself has been dated to the late 11th century and was
probably constructed for Bishop Herbert de Losinga, who also caused the parish
church to be built. The ruined walls stand for the most part to a height of
between approximately 2m and 6m, except at the extreme east end, which was
demolished to ground level during the conversion to secular use, and they
display remains of various original features. They are constructed of mortared
flint rubble faced with large flints in the lowest four courses, and with
coursed blocks of local ferruginous conglomerate above, with fragmentary
remnants of freestone dressings. The building has an overall length of
approximately 40m and includes an aisleless nave measuring approximately
20.75m by 6.1m internally, with an uninterrupted transept across the eastern
end of the nave and a semi-circular eastern apse. The foundations of the apse
were partly removed by the cutting of the surrounding 14th century ditch, but
the original plan, projected from the surviving wall stumps, is outlined in
concrete. In the external angles between the north and south walls of the nave
and the west walls of the transept are the bases of two lateral square towers,
and at the west end of the nave is the base of a larger square tower,
characterised by thicker walls, with a semi-circular stair turret projecting
from the external face of the south wall. The responds of the arches between
the eastern apse and the transept, the transept and the nave, and the nave and
the western tower, survive as projections on the internal faces of the walls.
The masonry of the 14th century alterations is of mortared flint with
dressings of limestone and brick, and is clearly distinguishable from that of
the medieval church. The alterations include the subdivision of the interior
of the church at ground floor level by the blocking of the openings at the
east and west ends of the nave and by the insertion of partition walls within
it, with steps to an upper floor which would have contained the main hall and
private apartments. During the excavations in the interior, a series of
circular pads were found along the axis of the nave, probably to carry timber
posts to support the floor above. These various features are not all of one
date, and demonstrate that the alterations were carried out in successive
stages. Other additions include a semi-circular tower abutting the south wall
of the nave to the east of the entrance, matching the original stair turret to
the west of it. Immediately to the north of the building are the remains of a
fireplace, and buried traces of an adjacent structure, perhaps a kitchen, were
recorded in the same area.

The ditch of the inner enclosure surrounds the north and east sides of the
converted church, the ends abutting the southern and western arms of the ditch
of the larger moated site, which has maximum overall dimensions of
approximately 132m east-west by 120m. The inner ditch is between 10m and 12m
wide and has been shown to be about 4.5m deep, although now partly infilled.
The inner edge was originally almost vertical, and revetted with flint masonry
which is exposed around the north eastern angle. The moat ditch around the
larger enclosure varies from 19m to 25m in width and has a visible depth of up
to 5m on the north and east sides. On the west side, where it has been largely
infilled, it is visible as a much shallower depression. Causeways across the
northern and eastern arms of the ditch provide access to the interior, and a
mound approximately 1m high adjacent to the eastern causeway may represent
part of an entrance feature such as a gate.

The earth dug from the ditches around the manor house was banked up against
the outer face of the walls to a height of approximately 3m above the ground
surface, and although much of this bank has been removed, parts of it survive
on the south and west sides. The surface of the surrounding enclosure was also
raised by up to 3m. Irregularities in this surface are thought to represent
remains of various features relating to the medieval occupation of the moated
site, and include a rectilinear platform approximately 0.4m in height and 30m
to the north east of the manor house, which probably supported a building. A
prominent, terraced mound in the north west corner of the enclosure may mark
the site of a defensive structure, although the terracing is thought to be a
19th century modification associated with a summer house which formerly stood
upon it. A well head to the east of the inner enclosure and the manor house is
marked by a modern concrete cap.

The ditch around the north and east sides of the outer enclosure which adjoins
the moated site on the east side was recorded as a visible earthwork in a plan
drawn in 1782, but much of it had been infilled by the mid-19th century and it
now survives as a buried feature, the line of which has been traced by crop
marks recorded on aerial photographs. A section of the eastern arm
approximately 50m in length remains open as a depression up to 17m wide and 4m
deep below the inner, western edge. The probable western end of the northern
arm of the ditch is visible as a slight hollow in the ground surface opposite
the north eastern angle of the adjoining moat ditch.

All modern fences, gates, paths, English Heritage signs and information
boards, modern revetting of the bank to the south and west of the ruined
building, and a service pole within the area of the outer enclosure to the
east of the moated site are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground
beneath these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A medieval chapel is a building, usually rectangular, containing a range of
furnishings and fittings appropriate for Christian worship in the pre-
Reformation period. Chapels were designed for congregational worship and were
generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provided accommodation
for the laity, and the chancel, which was the main domain of the priest and
contained the principal altar. Around 4000 parochial chapels were built
between the 12th and 17th centuries as subsidiary places of worship built for
the convenience of parishioners who lived at a distance from the main parish
church. Other chapels were built as private places of worship by manorial
lords and lie near or within manor houses, castles or other high-status
residences. Chantry chapels were built and maintained by endowment and were
established for the singing of masses for the soul of the founder. Some
chapels possessed burial grounds. Unlike parish churches, the majority of
which remain in ecclesiastical use, chapels were often abandoned as their
communities and supporting finances declined or disappeared. Many chantry
chapels disappeared after the dissolution of their supporting communities in
the 1540s.
Chapels, like parish churches, have always been major features of the
landscape. A significant number of surviving examples are identified as being
nationally important. The sites of abandoned chapels, where positively
identified, are particularly worthy of statutory protection as they were often
left largely undisturbed and thus retain important information about the
nature and date of their use up to their abandonment.

The ruined building at North Elmham is a rare example of an 11th century
episcopal chapel, one of two in East Anglia which have documented associations
with the Bishops of Norwich. The building in its later, converted form, and
the moated platform constructed round it, with the associated outer enclosure
to the east, are also a good example of a fortified manor which, unusually,
can be dated precisely by the historically documented link with Bishop Henry
Despenser. In the conversion to a manor house, much of the fabric of the
church was retained, and since its abandonment as a residence in the 15th
century, the building has remained unaltered by later activity.

The limited excavations centred on the building have contributed to the
understanding of its origins and history, and also demonstrated the nature and
quality of the archaeological remains which are preserved below the ground
surface. The surrounding moated site, which has remained largely undisturbed
since the medieval period, will contain evidence for other buildings and
associated features relating to the organisation and life of the manorial
household, and earlier soils and archaeological features buried beneath the
raised platform within the circuit of the moat, including further parts of the
Late Saxon/Norman cemetery, will retain information of much interest
concerning the episcopal chapel, the Saxon cathedral which is thought to have
preceded it on the site, and the local population in the 11th and 12th

The monument, being in the care of the Secretary of State and open to the
public, is also a valuable educational and recreational resource.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Heywood, S, 'Journal Brit Archaeol Ass' in The Ruined Church at North Elmham, , Vol. 135, (1982), 1-10
Rigold, S, 'Medieval Archaeol' in The Anglian Cathedral of North Elmham, Norfolk, (1963), 67-108
Rigold, S, 'Medieval Archaeol' in The Anglian Cathedral of North Elmham, Norfolk, (1963), 67-108
Saunders, H W, 'Norfolk Record Society' in The First Register of Norwich Cathedral Priory, , Vol. 11, (1938)
Wade-Martins, P, 'East Anglian Archaeol' in Excavations in North Elmham Park, 1967-1972, , Vol. 9, (1980)
Ferne, J, NRO Rye Mss 17 North Elmham Vol VI, (1782)
Ordnance Survey, OS 72 300 192, (1972)
Published East Anglian Archaeol 9, CUCAP ZP 73, (1975)

Source: Historic England

Other nearby scheduled monuments is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact for any queries related to any individual ancient or schedued monument, planning permission related to scheduled monuments or the scheduling process itself. is a Good Stuff website.