An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1805.
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Lies north of Feltwell, and on the west side of the hundred; the principal part of it was given to the monastery of Ely by Ethelwold Bishop of Winchester, in the time of King Edgar, and when the tenures and services of several lordships belonging to that monastery were settled in the time of Leoffwine, the fifth abbot, this was obliged to furnish the house with provisions for two weeks in every year. (fn. 1)
In the time of the Confessor, Stigand Archbishop of Canterbury was lord, but was deprived of it at the Conquest. At the general survey it was in the Conqueror's hands, and kept for him by William de Noiers. When Stigand was in possession, there were 20 carucates of land, 30 acres of meadow, and 6 carucates in demean, at the survey but five, two mills, and the moiety of another, and seven fisheries in demean, in the Confessor's time valued at 20l. at the survey at 30l. per annum. It was two leagues long, and half a one in breadth, and paid 2s. ob. gelt. (fn. 2) Another part or lordship was at the Survey held by William Earl Warren, and had three carucates which four freemen held in the Confessor's time, valued then at 20s. at the survey at 45s. per annum. Simon and Jeffry held of the said Earl, two carucates valued at 40s. per annum, and Stigand had the soc. (fn. 3)
The town take its name (as most do) from its site, Methelwalde, that is, the wold between Northwold and Hockwold, the Midlewolde; and thus it was wrote in the time of King Henry II. when Simon de Midlewolde was amerced 10 marks, (fn. 4) for pleading in court-christian about lay-fees, just after the dispute between King Henry II. and Becket Archbishop of Canterbury.
Soon after the survey, the Conqueror gave that lordship which Stigand held, to the Earl Warren, and thus he became lord of the whole town; and by the inquisitions taken in the reign of King Henry III. the Earl Warren was found to hold it of the King in capite, as parcel of his barony; and the jury, amongst the pleas of the Crown, 15th Edward I. (fn. 5) say, that the Earl claimed in his manor here a gallows, view of frankpledge, and free-warren. But in the 12th year of King Edward II. John Earl Warren and Surrey having no issue, settled this manor after his own decease, with those of Gymingham, Beeston, and Thetford, the hundred of Brothercross and Gallor, and thirty-nine knights fees in divers towns, with the King's license, on Thomas Earl of Lancaster. (fn. 6) And on an inquisition taken the 21st Edward III. after the death of the Earl Warren, (fn. 7) the jury find this manor to be held of the said Earl in free soccage, by the service of one bearded arrow; that there was a messuage and a pigeon-house valued yearly at 3l.; 600 acres of arable land, price per acre, per annum, 2d.; 6 acres of meadow, valued at 6s.; one windmill, valued at 90s; the Segges marsh was valued at 10l. and Redmere marsh at 10l; rents of assize in Methelwold, Northwold, Woodrysing, Helgeye, and Wells, belonging to this manor, 7l. per annum, and with the days works, customs, and services of the tenants, 7l. per annum more; the pleas and perquisites of courts, with the leet in Methwold, Wells, and Helgey, were worth 6l. per annum more.
After this, in the 28th of the said King, Henry Duke of Lancaster was found to hold it of the King in free soccage, by the service of a rose; and on the death of the said Duke, it was assigned, 35th Edward III. to Maud, his daughter and coheir, married to William Duke of Heinault, and on her decease sans issue, it came to Blanch, her sister and coheir, the wife of John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster. John of Gaunt, by the lady Blanch, had Henry, his son and heir, Duke of Lancaster, and afterwards King of England by the name of Henry IV. and so it was vested in the Crown, and the succeeding Kings, as Dukes of Lancaster, enjoy it, and the Lord Berkley of Stratton holds it by lease from the Crown.
Besides the capital manor of Methwold, there was one held by the Prior, and given, most likely, to that house by one of the Places, (which family held lands here of the Earl Warren,) and probably by Sir Hugh de Playz, on his founding the aforesaid priory. In the reign of Edward I. John de Methwold aliened lands to that priory, (fn. 8) and about the same time, John, son of Simon Fulcher, and Beatrix, daughter of Ralph, was also a benefactor to them in this place, (fn. 9) so that in 1428 the temporalities of that house were valued at 3l. 3s. per annum. On the dissolution of the aforesaid priory, it was granted, together with that priory, to Cardinal Woolsey, and came, (as has been observed in Bromhill,) after his attainder, to Christ's college, in which house it still continues, and is leased out by that society.
From the will of William Bachcroft, Esq. of Bexwell, who died in 1518, we find the manors of Tudenham's, (fn. 10) Gunton's, and Hilly's, in this town, of which he died possessed; Gunton's was held of the King, as parcel of the manor of Methwold, and the dutchy of Lancaster, in soccage, and paying 5s. rent per annum; and Hellys was held as the other, paying 3s. 4d. per annum, and Richard Bachcroft, Esq. died seized of them in 3d Edward VI. They are now wholly lost or neglected, and that of Gunton's is said to be in the hands of Rob. Clough, Esq. of Feltwell.
In this hundred of Grimeshou we find a town in the general survey, wrote Otrinkechia, and Otringheia, then the land of the Earl Warren. Three freemen held here in the Confessor's time one carucate of land at 5s. and one Gaulter held then of the Earl a mediety of the town, valued at 20s. It was four furlongs long, and three broad, and paid 4d. gelt. (fn. 11)
This name is now lost, but was the same place that we now call Methwolde-Hithe, a little hamlet about a mile west of the town, and now in the parish of Methwolde: the family of De Playz had a considerable estate here, and in the reign of King Henry II. there was a church, concerning the patronage of which there was a great controversy between Sir Ralph de Playz, Henry Prior, and the Convent of Acre, which was adjusted by William Turbus Bishop of Norwich, when it was allowed to be the right of the said Ralph, and his heirs for ever, to present to the same, and the person presented was to pay to the church of St. Mary de Acre, 12d. on the payment of which the convent had no further claim or demand. (fn. 12) This estate and church were given, as was observed in the manor of Bromhill in this town, (it being part of the said manor,) to the convent of Bromhill; and in 1428, the temporalities of that house in Otringhithe were valued at 9l. 10s. 3d.; and on the dissolution of that priory, when it was granted by the King to Cardinal Woolsey, it is styled the manor of Oteringhithe, with the rectory; on the attainder of the said Cardinal, it came to Christ's college in Cambridge, and being united to the manor of Bromhill, is leased out with it by that society. The church hath been in ruins many ages, in which the prior and convent of CastleAcre had an interest, for William, the second Earl Warren, is said to have given, in the reign of Henry I. the church here (fn. 13) to that priory, which Ebrard, or Everard, Bishop of Norwich, confirmed; but yet, as I observe, it was found to be in the family of De Plaiz. In 1203, Philip de Mortimer, Prior, and the convent of Acre, grant by deed to Geffry, son of Alan de Ingaldesthorp, and his heirs, all their land at Otringeithe, with the appurtenances, paying yearly 17s. for all services; and in 1428, the said priory was charged for temporalities here, at the same sum.
There was formerly a considerable market at Methwold, kept on Tuesday, but now almost disused; and there is a fair yearly on St. George's day. Its warren is large, and famous to a proverb for rabbits; a late author observes, (fn. 14) that in the reign of King Cnute, Leoffwine Abbot of Ely agreed to find the Duke of Lancaster's family with them two months in every year, but at that time there was no Duke thus entitled, nor for many ages after. Great suits have been commenced on account of the damage of the rabbits; and in 1606, there was a cause depending in chancery, and another in the dutchy court of Lancaster, between Sir William Paston, Sir Philip Woodhouse, Sir John Heveningham, Sir Edmund Mundeford, &c. lords of the adjoining towns, and the warrener.
The Church of Methwold is dedicated to St. George, and was built, as I take it, in the reign of Edward II. from the pile itself, and from the arms of the Earl Warren in the chancel window, before it came into the Lancaster family. It is a regular building, with a nave, north and south isles, and a chancel of flint, pebble stones, &c. covered with lead; the nave is in length, from the screen to the arch of the tower, 54 feet, and in breadth, including the isles, about 46 feet, the roof of the nave is supported by fluted pillars of stone, forming four lofty arches on each side, and over them as many windows, and on the heads of the principal wood-work of the roof, are figures of the religious. At the east end of the nave lie several marble grave-stones, deprived of their brass plates; at the south end of the screen is a stone staircase, the way to the rood-loft; over this part of the church, on the gabel of the chancel, is an arch of stone and brick, where the saint's bell formerly hung: this bell, as a worthy author has observed, (fn. 15) was not so called from the saint's name that was inscribed on it, nor from that saint to which the church was dedicated, but because it was always rung out when the priest came to that part of the service, Sancte, sancte, sancte, Domine, Deus, sabaoth, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of sabaoth, or hosts, purposely that they who could not come to church might understand what a solemn office the congregation were at that instant engaged in, and so even in their absence be once at least moved to lift up their hearts to him that made them; for this reason the sancte's bell was generally hung where it might be heard furthest: sometimes in a lantern at the top of the steeple, or in a turret at one corner of it, if a tower; sometimes thrust out of the uppermost window, if a spire; and sometimes in an arch or gallows, on the outside of the roof between the church and chancel: this last sort were so placed, that the rope might come down into the church, and so being nearer the altar, the bell might be more readily rung out when the priest came to the sacred words. To this we may add another more prevailing reason, it being ordained in the church of Rome, that on the consecration and elevation of the host, notice should be given in every church, by the sound of a bell, that the faithful not present might be put in mind of this great mystery. (fn. 16)
The chancel is about 30 feet in length, and 19 in breadth, and has an ascent of three steps to the communion table. On the area before the steps lies a large marble grave-stone, about 10 feet in length, and four in breadth, on this has been the portraiture or effigies of the person here interred, in complete armour, with a canopy of brass work over his head, and four shields, one at each corner, also two rims or plates of brass running about the whole marble; the effigies (with all the brasses) was about 50 years since (as it is said) reaved by a sacrilegious wretch, then clerk of the parish, and sold to a tinker, of whom some part of the brasses were recovered, but not before he had broke them into small pieces; some of these fragments are still preserved in the church chest, but they are only insignificant pieces of his armour, part of the head of the lion that was couchant at his feet; most of them are rim pieces that ornamented the stone, and have quater-foils on them. The tradition here is, that this is in memory of one of the Earls Warren, lords of the town, from whom they had their privileges; but I cannot come into that opinion: the burial of that noble family is well known, and allowed by all antiquaries to have been in the abbey of Lewes in Sussex, (fn. 17) John, the last heir male of that noble family, died the 21st Edward III. being then 61 years of age, and was buried under a raised tomb, near the high altar in the abbey of Lewes, leaving Alice his sister, wife to Edmund Earl of Arundel, his next heir in blood. It is, no doubt, in memory of some considerable person, but from the shape, figure, armour, dress, and other insignia, as may in some measure be gathered from the incisions in the stone, it appears to be in memory of some esquire or knight, rather than of a lord or earl. In a loose paper of the late worthy antiquary, Mr. Le Neve, Norroy, the handwriting of Guybon Goddard, (as he says,) we have this:
Methwold, in the chancel a man in compleat arms, a surcoat of Warren or Clyfton, (quære) for the place where the bend might be, and the direct place for the bend is broken out, 4 places for escutcheons, 3 defaced, one left, a fess between two chevrons, and a file with three labels; and in an old MSS. (fn. 18) quoted by Mr. Le Neve, are these words:
Sir Adam de Clifton was lord of Cranwich and Hilburgh, &c. in 20th Edward III. and held several fees of the Earl Warren; this knight lived the greatest part of that King's reign, and died on 28th Jan. 1367, (fn. 19) and in the next year, 1368, in July, the King presented to the free-chapel of St. Margaret at Hilburgh, as guardian to the heir of Sir Adam de Clifton.
The only difference and way of knowing the arms of Warren, from those of Clifton, (when engraven and not painted,) is by the bend in the arms of Clifton; but this, we are told, was broken out, most likely on purpose to induce persons to believe it to be the arms of Warren. The other arms then remaining, viz. a fess between two chevrons, and a file with three labels, I take to be the arms of Baynard, and this shield here placed is a further proof that this is in memory of Sir Adam Clifton.
In the church of Ashwell-Thorp in Norfolk is a very curious monument for one of the Thorps, who died in the reign of Richard II.; on the body of this monument are to be seen, at this  day, the arms of Clifton, and the arms also of Baynard, with those of Thorp, &c. by which it appears that the Cliftons and the Baynards were certainly by marriage related.
Here lyeth the Body of RICHARD SWIFT, eldest Son of EDW. SWIFT, Esq. and ELIZ. his wife, who departed this Life the 8th Day of March, 1507, aged 21. Here likewise lieth the Body of EDW. SWIFT, Younger Son of EDW. SWIFT and ELIZ. his Wife, who departed this Life the 12th Day of January 1707, aged 20 Years.
Here lyeth the Body of STEPHEN SWIFT, of Methwold, &c. Gent. who departed this Life on the 17th of April 1686, aged 61. Here lyeth the Body of HANNAH SWIFT, Wife of the said STEPHEN SWIFT, who departed this Life the 9th of Nov: 1714. Aged 87.
At the west end of the nave is a good four-square tower, embattled, and coped with freestone, and ornamented with a pinnacle at each corner; herein is a clock and a dial plate against the belfry, fronting the nave of the church; the tower is built of flint-stone, &c. with quoins of freestone, wherein hang five large musical bells; on this square tower is raised another octangular one, and out of this rises a neat octangular spire, or pyramid of crocket work, on the summit of which is a vane; this octangular tower and spire is of brick, but cased with freestone.
William, the first Earl Warren, in the time of the Conqueror, gave this church, amongst others, to the Priory of Castle-Acre, which he had founded, (fn. 20) and by deed sans date, the Prior of St. Pancrase, (that is Lewes,) with the consent of the whole Chapter, gave to the Prior and Monks of Castle-Acre the tithe of this church, for the yearly rent of 40s. This I take to be the pension paid by Castle-Acre to Lewes, as being then a cell to that house. Witnesses, Roger, subprior, Rainbird, the sacrist, and William, the deacon.
Tho. Britton, rector of St. George de Melewda, (fn. 21) (as it is sometimes also wrote,) exchanged lands with Hamline Plantaginet Earl Warren; this must be between the year 1163 and 1202, for then the said Earl died; by this it plainly appears that the church was not at that time appropriated.
William Earl Warren, in epistle to Pandulf Bishop of Norwich, in or about 1203, (fn. 22) earnestly entreats him, that he would appropriate to the said priory this church, and to move him to it, he lets him know that his ancestors had assigned this church to the aforesaid monastery, to find firing for strangers, and all the poor that should come to the monastery, of which there is great want in those parts; and indeed it seems not to be fully confirmed to them till the year 1249, when Walter de Suffield Bishop of Norwich, did it in this form: "Omnibus, &c. Walterus Dei gratia Norwic. Epus. &c. nover. nos cartas Johis. Primi (that is John of Oxford, Bishop) Johis. 2di. (that is John Grey, Bishop) et Tho. (that is Thomas de Blundeville Bishop of Norwich) inspexisse, ex quarum tenore perpendimus, ecclesiam de Melewde priori et monachis de Castle-Acre, esse collatam, &c. et confirmatione Capituli nostri Norwic. munitam, nos igitur, &c. duximus confirmandam. Test. Magistris Robert. et Will. de Colchester, et de Suffolc. archdiaconis, Tho. rectore eccle. de Humersfeud, Will. de Witewell, Rob. rectore eccl. de Prilleston, Will. de Ludham, &c. Dat. apud Marham, vi. kal. Jan, 1249." (fn. 23)
That it was appropriated before the year 1299 is certain, for in that year Ralph Walpole Bishop of Norwich settled the right and privileges of the rectory, and of the vicarage, and then the vicar had his present house assigned him: "Universis, &c. Radulphus, Norwic. Episcus, &c. Nover. quod cum prior et conv. de Castle-Acre qui ecclesiam de Methelwolde in proprios usus obtinent super portionibus retinendis, et aliis assignandis perpetuis vicarijs in eadem ecclesia de Methelwolde, &c. perpetuo servituris se nostre ordinationi submiserint, &c. Ordinamus quod prædicti prior et conv. capitale mess. quod antiquitus fuit rect. ejusd. eccl. totam terram dominicam ad dictam eccl. spectantem, omnes decimas garbar. et bladi cujuscunque generis in tota parochia prædicta retineant et habeant in perpetuum. Totum vero residuum excepta portione quam ijdem prior, &c. nomine prior. et conv. Lewens. in eadem parochia percipiunt, assignamus ad sustentationem vicariorum in perpetuum, una cum mess. predictorum prior. et conv. quod est ex opposito eccl. predicte. Omnia vero onera ordinaria sustinebunt vicarij, præter refectionem et reparationem cancelli, cujus onus incumbet pri. et conv. de Castle-Acre memoratis; et extraordinaria utraque pars supportabit et agnoscet pro rata sue portionis. Dat. apud Eccles. 2 nonas Augusti An. Dni. 1299." (fn. 24)
In 1428, the spiritualities of the Prior, &c. of Castle-Acre in this church, were valued at 34 marks, and the spiritualities of the Prior of Lewes 40s. being the portion or pension abovementioned, due from Castle-Acre priory.
Robert Naton. (fn. 25)
1533, 6 Nov. Simon Anderson, (fn. 26) on Spycer's death. At the dissolution of the priory of Castle-Acre, a fine was levied between the King, and Thomas Prior of Castle-Acre, of this rectory, and the advowson of the vicarage; (fn. 27) and soon after, on 22d Dec. in the said year, the King granted them to Thomas Duke of Norfolk, (fn. 28) together with the pension belonging to the abbey of Lewes.
1573, 2 Sep. Christopher Constable, on Smith's resignation. William Dyxe and William Cantrell, Esq. trustees to the Duke, in 1603, he observes that there were 252 communicants here, and that the Lords Thomas and William Howard were patrons, and held the parsonage impropriate.
1604, 25 Feb. Robert Brundishe, A. M. on Sterling's death. John Young and John Armiger vel Aungier, of Methwold. Thomas Earl of Arundel had license 1st Sep. in 11th King James I. to alienate this rectory, and the advowson of the vicarage, to Sir Henry Hobart.
Slevesholm Priory, commonly called Slusham,
Was in the parish of Methwold, in the marsh or fens, about a mile and half west of the church of the said town; it was a cell to the priory of Castle-Acre, founded by William Earl Warren and Surrey, and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St. Giles; who by deed gave [in the reign of King Stephen] a certain island in the moor or fen of Melewode, called Slevesholm, in pure and perpetual alms to God and All-Saints, to Paul the monk, and the monks serving God there, and after the decease of Paul, to him who shall succeed him there as prior, who was to be a monk of, and to be elected out of, the priory of Castle-Acre, and was to be presented to, and admitted by, the Earl Warren and his heirs, &c. on his doing fealty to him; and one of his successours wrote to Pandulf Bishop of Norwich to take this cell into his protection. (fn. 29) John Earl Warren confirmed the aforesaid charter or deed of his ancestor, in the 3d Edward II. And in the year 1428, the temporalities of it were valued at 35s. 7d. ob. per annum.
On the Dissolution it was granted to the Mundefords of Feltwell, and Francis, son of Osbert Mundeford, Esq. had livery of it in the 23d of Elizabeth In 1600, Edmund Mundeford held it. (fn. 30) After this we find it possessed by Captain Smith of Croxton, who conveyed it to Edward-Saunders Seabright; and Sir Thomas Seabright, Bart. died possessed of it in 1736.