The Normans in Norfolk

In History, Norfolk
Scroll this

This post is a taster of a long-term project recording the legacy of the Normans in Norfolk, within the county’s modern landscape — religious buildings, strongholds and surviving decorative forms on doorways and fonts — culminating in a 117-page photographic e-book.

Churches, priories and abbeys

While round tower churches — of which 124 of the UK’s 185 remaining examples are in Norfolk — are most readily identified with the Normans, the invaders borrowed what was a Saxon design and built them using Saxon labour.

St. Margaret’s, Hales, is one of the most complete and unchanged Norman churches in existence.
The northern aspect of St. Margaret’s, lit by the late afternoon sun
St. Andrew’s, Little Snoring, has a round tower that is completely separate from the nave.
The ruined church of St. James at Bawsey, just outside Kings Lynn, used to serve a long-gone village.

Norman administrative power was wielded from rich priories, with the protective patronage of the barons and their castle-based garrisons.

A cross marks the original position of the high altar on the site of the church at the once powerful and wealthy St. Benet’s Abbey, already well established at the time of the conquest.
St. Benet’s abbey gatehouse, whose ruins acquired a mill in the 18th century.
The mill in its working state, 1831, in one John Sell Cotman’s (Norwich School of painters) fabulous watercolours (image: public domain).
The existing church of St. Mary within the ruins of Binham Priory


Favoured conquering knights were rewarded by land allocations, headquartered in lavish castles, in the founding of a feudal system of elitist resource kleptocracy that still pervades the county almost 1,000 years later.

Norwich Castle keep in the 21st century.
Castle Rising, built in 1138 by William d’Aubigny II, baron of Snettisham.
Inside New Buckenham Castle, also built by William d’Aubigny, the oldest (and possibly largest) circular Norman keep in the UK.
The remains of Thetford Castle motte, constructed in 1067-69 within the ramparts of an Iron Age fort.
Middleton Mount motte, which would have been topped by a wooden castle.
An artist’s impression of Middleton castle in use (© Sue White, Norfolk Archaeological Trust).

Art and decoration

Norman stonemasons were often talented artists, a fact evidenced by remaining doorways with multiple orders of elaborate decorations, and finely carved church fonts.

The south doorway of St. Margaret’s, Hales, with typical Romanesque decoration.
Carvings on the Norman font at All Saints, Toftrees, possibly depicting a badger.
The ‘Labours of the Months’ font at St. Mary’s, Burnham Deepdale, depicts 12 agricultural activities.
A much simpler design at St. Mary, Bagthorpe.

Download the Normans in Norfolk e-book



Submit a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.