North Elmham Priory & Castle

I really enjoyed visiting North Elmham. The site can be summed up as the vision of two very different people, Bishops Herbert de Losinga and Henry le Despenser. The former built a stone chapel (to replace earlier timber edifices) in the early 12th century and the latter converted it into a castle approximately in 1388. One on top of another, the ruins don’t really allow for easy differentiation but I guess that a bishop’s castle residence is as holy as his chapel.

What once used to be a gate…

There is a lot of very interesting stonework here as Bishop de Losinga had travelled extensively around the continent, and some of the influences he picked up are illustrative of how things were done in Rome (the transepts) and others more typical of continental Europe (decorative strips of masonry). Some of the same influences are also apparent in Norwich which was the seat of de Losinga’s power.

A noteworthy point to make is that unlike many East Anglian churches, this one is not constructed of local flint. Limestone was brought down from Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire to allow the bishop to build in grand style.

There is a lot of earthworks remnant (origin 14th century) about the area as well so I would recommend people to take a quick look about if you are already here — and it is definitely one of the sites I would say one should visit. Even though compact, there is a lot here, and this gives it the very real sense of being the outcome of years of work by hundreds (if not thousands) of people!

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