An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 9. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1808.
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The Manor and Priory.
This town is thus called in respect of its site on a river, as Southacre, Castle, or East-Acre, all which towns occur in the Conqueror's book of Domesday, by the name of Acre, without any adjunct or distinction, being all seated on the same stream, or running water, as Acre signifies in the Saxon tongue. See in Castleacre.
At the survey it was the lordship of Ralph de Tony, descended from Malahulcius, uncle to Rollo, grandfather to William the Conqueror, and son of Roger de Tony, by Alice his wife, daughter of William Fitz-Osbern, one of the Conqueror's lords and generals, and created by him Earl of Hereford.
Roger de Tony was standard-bearer of Normandy, and Ralph the son inherited the same office, was a Norman baron, and attended Duke William in the decisive battle of Hastings; and for his great services was rewarded with many lordships in Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and with these following in Norfolk.
Necton Bradenham, Pickenham, Cressingham Parva, Caldecote, Culesthorp, and Bodney, in Southgreenhow hundred; Ickburgh, Sturston, and Carbrook in Grimshow hundred: Fransham, Dunham, and Godwick in Launditch hundred; Shingham in Clacklose hundred; Walton, Acre, Thorp, Lynn, and East Winch in Freebridge hundred; Breccles in Weyland hundred; Wretham Magna and Parva, in Shropham hundred.
In the time of the Confessor, Harold, then Earl of the East-Angles, was lord of this village, and at his death, when King of England. (fn. 1)
It was a berewic depending on his manor of Necton, containing 3 carucates of land, 6 villains, 8 borderers, 2 servi, with 4 acres of meadow; and there were 2 carucates in demean, with one amongst the tenants, paunage for 40 swine, 3 mills, with the moiety of another a fishery, 5 saltworks, &c. seventeen socmen, also and 14 borderers belonged to it, who held 405 acres of land, and 2 acres of meadow, with 5 carucates.
Ralph de Tony married Elizabeth, or Isabel, daughter of Simon de Montfort, and left issue Ralph his son and heir, (Roger his eldest son dying young,) and was buried with his ancestors in the abbey of Conchis in Normandy, in the 2d year of King Henry I.
Leland says (fn. 2) he married Alice, daughter and coheir of Waldief Earl of Huntingdon.
This Ralph de Tony was the founder of the priory of Westacre, dedicated it to St. Mary and All-Saints, and with his wife, his sons Roger and Ralph, granted for their own souls and their ancestors, his manor of Westacre with the parish church, (dedicated to All-Saints,) to Oliver she priest, or rector of it, and Walter his son; to which deed were witnesses—Gilbert Blond, William de Portis, William de Lira, George Gros, &c. with all the soc of Noienton. It was a cell of the priory of Lewes.
On this grant, Oliver and Walter his sons, entered into the order of the Cluniac monks of this priory, with all their effects. Not only priests, but even bishops, were in this age married, and no restraints in this respect were laid upon them.—The Popes, Boniface I. and Fœlix III. were sons of priests; and Gelarius was the son of a bishop, &c.
Amongst their ancient benefactors were Osmund de Stutevile, William, son of Stangrene, Thomas Ingaldesthorp, Robert de Scales, Turgil the merchant, Joceline, son of Eudo de Nerford, Godfrey de Newmarch, John Grey of Narburgh, Jeffrey, son of Walter de Marham, Simon de Quatremarch de Roudham.
In the 10th of Richard I. a fine was levied between Bartholomew, de Runhale, Roger de Repps and Mabel his wife, and Gilbert de Runhale, and William, prior of the church of St. Mary and All-Saints, of Westacre, whereby the patronage of the church of Runhale was granted to the prior, who gave to each of them a gold ring, and they were to be partakers of the prayers of the convent.
Roger, Lord Tony, accounted, in the 10th of King John, for 10 marks to the Exchequer, that the way which used to be through the middle of the priory-court, should be (as it was altered) without the said court.
A fine was levied in the 16th of Henry III. between Bartholomew, son of Simon, and Robert, the prior of Westacre, of 44 acres of land, with 2 messuages in Grimston, granted to the prior; and in the 19th of that King, the convent paid 100s. as an aid, on the marriage of the King's sister to the Emperor of Germany.
In his 41st year, Robert the prior purchased of Henry, son of Margaret, with a messuage, with one carucate of land, 5 acres of meadow 2d. rent in Pentney, by fine then levied; and they had also a manor in Narburgh, in the 43d of Edward III.
In the 3d of Edward I. the prior was found to hold this town in pure alms of the barony of Tony; and in the 6th of Edward II. Jeffrey de Sutton aliened to this convent, a messuage, 60 acres of land 12 of meadow, 40 of pasture, 7 of heath, with 9s. rent in this town, Walton, Lynn, Wigenhale, Tilney, Terington, Clenchwarton, &c.
In the following year, William de Wygenhale assigned a messuage, 102 acres of land in Westacre and Custhorp, with 12s. rent, in exchange for lands in Wygenhale, Islington, and Tilney; and in the 13th year here was a patent for 100 acres of land, 100 of pasture, and 3 messuages here, in Grimston, Congham, Rydun, &c. late the Lady Maud de Tony's.
In the 43d of Edward III. Thomas de Beauchamp Earl of Warwick (as heir to the Lord Tony) had the patronage of the priory in the reign of Henry VI. and Richard Nevill Earl of Warwick held it in right of his wife, Anne de Beauchamp, sister and heir to her brother, Henry Duke of Warwick.
The priory had the patronage of the following churches, or vicarages, their rectories being appropriated to it: Breccles, Rougham, West Barsham, Marham, Narford, Appleton, Ashwicken, Lesyate, Wigenhale St. Mary's, and South Lynn, with 2 parts of the rectory of Narburgh, and the rectory appropriated of Necton.
In 1428, their temporalities in this town were valued at 33l. 4s. 0d. ob. per ann. and the whole of their temporalities at 140l. 5s. 7d. q. per ann. and the whole of their temporalities and spiritualities, at 256l. 11s. 0d. ob. besides a portion in Rougham, with the portion of the prior of Castleacre in that church, which they had in farm.
Henry de Acra, admitted prior, 1300. (fn. 3)
William Wingfeld occurs in 1526; he was the last prior, and with 15 monks of this priory, on August 31, 1534, subscribed to the King's supremacy, and on January 14, in the 29th year of King Henry VIII. with 8 of his monks, surrendered this priory to the King, who granted to them pensions for life.
The prior's pension was 40l. per ann. a considerable annuity at that time. He was living in the Marian days, 1555, enjoyed his pension, and was rector of Burnham Thorp in Norfolk, in King Edward the Sixth's reign, and a married priest.
Wingfeld the prior, and these following monks, are said to have confessed (to the King's visitors,) themselves guilty of most flagrant acts of incontinency, &c. viz. William Cobbs, William Startwait, John Thory, William Colison, Richard Franke, Edmund Meke, Richard Bagnal, William Sheltram, John Whytinge, John Barber, Thomas Bradman, and Richard Hall. (fn. 4)
Robert Rands of Horsham St. Faith's, by his will, in 1452, gives to the priory, 20s. to the chapel of St. Nicholas therein, 6s. 8d. and to St. Peter's chapel there, the said sum. (fn. 5)
The seal of the priory was large, of an oblong circular form, and of black wax, with a curious impress, containing under an arch, the effigies of the Virgin Mary, with the child Jesus in her left hand, seated, and treading on the dragon; on each side of the arch stands a monk or a religious, with hands erect, as praying; over this on the summit in an arch, is represented, in a profane manner, the Trinity, as to be seen in the Romish breviaries, viz. God the father in the form of an old man seated, his arms extended, supporting the cross, on which is Jesus, and a dove hovering about the ear of God the Father, and this legend round it;
On the reverse is a small head couped, and round it MVNDVS, AGIT. MVNDUM. CONTERE. MVNDVS. ERIS. Above this head is a star, below it a crescent. I am inclined to think this head is to represent Thomas of Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.
The priory church stood a little space eastward of the present farmhouse, and was a large pile, built in a cathedral or conventual manner, as may be traced out from its site and foundation; only part of the tower at the west end of the south isle is now remaining. The cloister joined to this south isle, and there was a door here leading into the west end of the south isle, and another out of it into the church by the great tower that stood between the church and the choir. On the east side of the cloister was a way leading (as I take it) into the chapter-house, the north and south walls of which are partly standing as is part of the dormitory, (as I conceive it,) which was either over part of the west side of the cloister or joined to it.
The gate-house leading out of the town into the outward court, or site of the priory, is still standing: over the centre of the arch as you enter, are 3 shields carved on stone: Quarterly in the first and fourth, gules, a fess, between six cross crosslets, or, Beauchamp Earl of Warwick; in the 2d and 3d, checque, or, and azure, a chevron, ermine, Tarquin Earl of Warwick; and in an escutcheon of pretence, argent, a maunch, gules Lord Tony. On the right side of this is the shield, of Tony, and on the left side that of Beauchamp; by the first shield, bearing Tony in an escutcheon of pretence, it appears that this gatehouse, which is of stone, was built by Guy de Beauchamp Earl of Warwick, who married Alice, sister and heir to Robert Lord Tony, which Guy died in 1315.
King Henry VIII. in his 30th year, March 15, granted to Mary Duchess of Richmond and Somerset, for life, the site of this priory, with the manor and appropriated rectory; and she by deed, dated at Keninghale, confirmed to Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Holland, of Swinestede in Lincolnshire, Esq. an annuity of 20l. out of it. King Edward VI. in his 7th year, July 1, granted the reversion to Sir Thomas Gresham, in which is also mentioned a grant of certain foldcourses in Wiken, Stowborow, and Custhorpe; 2 rabbet-warrens in Wiken and Custhorp, with the lordships of those places; the rectory of Westucre, with meadows called Willes meadows, and a mill, called Petenow mill. All which was confirmed to him by Queen Mary, in her first year, April 9.
After the death of Sir Thomas, it was sold by Thomas Cecil, afterwards Earl of Exeter, who conveyed it to Horatio Palavicini, an Italian, who before his coming into England had dipped his fingers very deep into the treasures of the church, as Spelman relates; that is, being treasurer, or having some office in the Pope's treasury at Rome, had robbed it and fled. (fn. 6)
Sir Toby, his youngest son, inherited it, and after many suits, &c. with his eldest brother Edward, having consumed his estate, sold it to Sir Edward Barkham, alderman of London, and Lord Mayor in 1621, created Baronet June 28, 1623; from which family it came to Charles Yallop, Esq. (son and heir of Sir Robert Yallop) by the marriage of Hellen, daughter and heiress of Sir Edward Barkham, Bart. whose son, Edward Spilman, Esq. is lord, taking that name from his grandfather, Sir Robert Yallop's marriage with Dorothy, daughter of Clement Spilman, Esq. of Grey's Inn, one of the Barons of the Exchequer, has conveyed it in 1761, to Richard Hamond, Esq. of South Wooton, reserving the manor-house, and certain lands for life.
The monastery of Ely had lands in Acra, (but in which Acra is not mentioned,) in the Confessor's time, and at the survey, half a carucate of land held by 2 borderers, one servus, with an acre of meadow, and 30 sheep, valued at 3s. per ann. called in Domesday book St. Adeldreda's land, the foundress of that monastery. (fn. 7) Of this I find no further account, but that it was in this town.
On the battlements of the church and tower are the arms of Sir Edward Barkham, the first baronet of that name, who repaired and ornamented it;—argent, 3 pallets, gules, over all, a chevron, or; impaling the arms of his lady;—argent, on a pale, sable, 3 crosses pattee, or, in a bordure ingrailed of the 2d, Crouch.
He had a large manor-house or hall in this parish, called HigheHouse, which he built. This being ruinous, &c. Edward Spilman, Esq. late lord, built a very curious and stately pile near to the site of the old hall.
His descendant, Sir Edward, gave in 1672, a silver cup, gilt, weighing 10 ounces, with his arms, and a cover of 5 ounces; a silver patten gilt, of about 19 ounces, with a silver flagon, gilt, about 61 ounces.