1891 Census Names Index
Castle Acre Priory and Castle
Kelly's 1883 Directory entry
White's 1883 Directory entry [GENUKI-NFK]
Sandy Lane postmill, Priest's postmill and Newton Road postmill [Jonathan Neville]
Archeology of Castle Acre [Norfolk Heritage Explorer]
More on Castle Acre [GENUKI-NFK]
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Norfolk - Castle Acre

Francis White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk 1854, pp. 651-653

[Complete entry. Transcription Copyright © the late A.J. Carter, December 2000]

CASTLE-ACRE, 4 miles N. of Swaffham, and 14 miles E. by S. of Lynn, is a large village, of great antiquity, having extensive traces of an early British settlement, and of a Roman station, and the remains of a castle and extensive priory of Norman construction. The parish contains 337 houses, 1,567 inhabitants, and 3,250a. 0r. 8p. of land, including 72a. of common, 45a. of roads, and 11a. of water. It is mostly a fertile district, broken into bold and picturesque swells. The Earl of Leicester is lord of the manor, and owner of all the soil, except a few copyholds subject to arbitrary fines. The village consists chiefly of two good streets on the north bank of the river Nar. Fairs, mostly for pleasure, are held on August 5th, and May 1st. At the Doomsday survey this parish was called Acre, and was granted by the Conqueror to Earl Warren, afterwards Earl of Surrey, who had also a grant of 146 other lordships, and founded here a castle and priory, the former of which was long the baronial residence of the Surrey family. The Castle, on the south side of the village, occupied with all its outworks and fortifications a circular area of 18 acres, crossed by Bailey street, which descends to the river, and is entered from the heart of the town by a strong gate-house flanked by two round bastions, and formerly having an inward and outward door, with a portcullis in the middle. A similar gate stood at the south end of this street at the entrance from Swaffham, but it has entirely disappeared. The whole area was environed by an embattled wall seven feet thick. The castle consisted of three divisions, all connected, but each separately fortified with remarkably deep ditches, and strongly fortified walls and ramparts. The British earthworks are very bold, and large masses of the walls, chiefly of flint, pebbles, and other rough stones, embedded with strong mortar, still remain. On the east side, and near the middle of Bailey street, was a gateway-house leading to the outer court, on the crown of a lofty mound, with steep declivities descending to the ditches, and surrounded by a circular wall of great strength, inclosing the keep, and commanding an extensive view of the vale of the Nar. On the west side of Bailey street was the Barbican, occupying about ten acres, and also encompassed by deep ditches and entrenchments. From the Warrens, the castle passed to the Fitz-Alans, Earls of Arundel, the Howards, &c., and afterwards to Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester. There are traces of a Roman road, now called the Pedlar's Way, which crossed the county from Thetford, through Castle Acre, to the sea at Brancaster; and near its line may be observed many tumuli, especially between Massingham and Anmer. About a quarter of a mile eastward from the remains of this once impregnable fortress, are the picturesque ruins of Castle-Acre PIORY, founded by the great Earl Warren, in 1084, for monks of the Clugniæ order, subject to the abbey of Lewis, in Sussex. In the 24th of Edward I, the revenues of this religious house, which had been augmented by numerous benefactions, were seized under the pretence of being an alien priory, but they were subsequently restored. The priory was encompassed by a strong outer wall, enclosing an area of 29a. 2r. 10p., and the remains of it, with its beautiful conventual Church, in the cathedral style, form one of the most interesting ruins in the county. The west front, standing to the height of 64 feet, presents a fine Norman facade, filled with tiers of arches and columns, enriched with beautiful zigzag and other mouldings and tracery, and formerly terminated on each side by elegant towers. The entrance is under a highly wrought Saxon arch, and above it is the complete outline of the great east window, the arch of which is admired as one of the finest specimens of the early pointed style in the kingdom. Some large columns of the nave, the walls of the transepts, and very considerable remains of the domestic apartments to the south of the Church, still serve to show the original extent of the monastery. The dimensions of the cloisters, the refectory, and the great hall, &c., may still be distinctly ascertained. The nave was 180 feet long, and the two aisles 54 feet broad. A short distance from the north-west angle of the priory stands the porter's lodge, or gate house, in a tolerable state of preservation. Though enough is left of this monastery to indicate its pristine magnificence, almost every house and cottage in the adjacent village bear evident marks of the plunder of the priory and castle, by the mercenary hands of former parishioners. In removing some of the rubbish from the nave, about 25 years ago, a small part of the tesselated pavement was bared, and near it was found a complete skeleton, at first, supposed to be the remains of the founder; but the fact of his being buried at Lewes, in Sussex, near his wife Gundreda, a daughter of William the Conqueror, has recently been established. On its dissolution in the 26th of Henry VIII., its yearly income was valued at £324 17s. 5½d, and the site was granted to Thomas Duke of Norfolk, but was afterwards purchased, with the castle and other estates, by Sir Edward Coke, Lord Chief Justice of England. The parish Church exhibits some fine specimens of ancient architecture, and is dedicated to St. James. It is a spacious edifice, with a lofty square tower and five bells. The pulpit has the four Doctors of the Church painted upon it; and the antique font, said to have been removed from the priory, is surmounted by a beautiful piece of tabernacle work. The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the King's book at £6 6s. 8d., and has been augmented with £200 Queen Anne's bounty, and £400 Parliamentary grant. The Earl of Leicester is impropriator of the rectory, and patron of the vicarage, enjoyed by the Rev. John H. Bloom, A.B.[sic], who some years ago published a history of the parish. There are 2a. of glebe. The rectorial tithes were commuted in 1840 for £900, and the vicarial for £168. There are four chapels here: two belonging [to] the Baptists, and one each to the Wesleyans and Primitive Methodists. The National school was built in 1839, at a cost of £180. The poor have £2 2s. per annum, left by William Lee and Mr. Coney, in the 17th century. Post Office at John Harvey's; letters arrive at 7 a.m., and are despatched at 6 p.m.

Transcription Copyright © the late A.J. Carter, December 2000; links last updated April 5010.

1891 Census Names Index
Castle Acre Priory and Castle [both English Heritage]
Kelly's 1883 Directory entry
White's 1883 Directory entry [GENUKI-NFK]
Sandy Lane postmill, Priest's postmill and Newton Road postmill [Jonathan Neville]
Archeology of Castle Acre [Norfolk Heritage Explorer]
More on Castle Acre [GENUKI-NFK]
Return to villages index
Paddy's home page