South Elmham, St George or St Cross

The History and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk: Volume 1. Originally published by WS Crowell, Ipswich, 1846.

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'South Elmham, St George or St Cross', in The History and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk: Volume 1, (Ipswich, 1846) pp. 207-212. British History Online [accessed 18 April 2024]

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St. George South Elmham,

called also Saint Cross from the armorial cognizance of that saint,—and Sandcroft from the sandy nature of the soil where the church is situated,—is a rectory consolidated with Homersfield in 1767; and containing 1300 acres, 2 roods, and 7 perches of land, with a population of 258 souls, as returned in 1841. It formed part of the revenues of the see of Norwich till the reign of Henry VIII., though the family of Bateman possessed great interests in it, and presented to the church for several generations. They seem to have acquired the manor early in the fifteenth century, but it must have been held of the bishops of Norwich, because it was included in the property obtained by the Lord North, soon after the Dissolution. This is evident from an inquisitio post mortem, taken at Bungay on the 31st of October, 1555, when Thomas Bateman, Esq., was found to die on the 4th of June, in the year preceding, seized of the manors of Sandcroft and Newhall, &c., in South Elmham, with two messuages; and lands, valued at £20, held of Edward North. Thomas Bateman, his ancestor, had held the same manors; for by his will, dated on the 8th day of April, anno Domini 1485, he desires that Robert, his eldest son and heir, should have the manors called Newhall and Sandcroft, with all his lands; and the advowson of the church of St. George de Sandcroft, to be held by the said Robert, and his heirs male; and in default of issue, remainder to William Bateman, his son, and his heirs, with remainder to Richard, his son, and his heirs, &c. He desires a tomb of freestone to be placed over his remains, with those of Elizabeth, his wife, in Flixton church.

From the family of North, as before shown, the manor was transferred to the Tasburghs. By an inquisitio post mortem, taken the 30th of May, in the 5th of Charles I., John Tasburgh, Knight, was found to die, on the 24th of April, in the same year, seized of the manor of South Elmham, Boyses, Sandcroft, Newhall, Flixton, &c. (fn. 23)

The manors, therefore, of Sandcroft, Newhall, Boyses, Flixton, &c., appear to have grown out of the greater or paramount manor of South Elmham at a very early period; for though Almaham, or Elmham, is returned in Domesday as the lordship of the Bishop of Thetford, it is even then said "alii ibi tenent." Blomefield, the historian of Norfolk, asserts that the ancestors of Archbishop Sandcroft, of Fressingfield, derived their name from this village, though Dr. D'Oyley, in his history of that primate, does not notice this circumstance. But the fact that Robert de Sandcroft was patron of this church in the year 1319, goes far to confirm Blomefield's position. The parish of Sandcroft, or St. George, passed from the Tasburghs to the Adairs, and forms part of the Flixton estate. The remains of a very ancient church, called the "Minster," are situated in this village, though they are generally considered as lying in St. Margaret's. The site of this ruin, which is distant about a quarter of a mile from the old palace of the Bishops of Norwich, is encompassed by a moat, evidently once broad and deep, though it could never have retained water, as it is dug on a considerable slope. The area occupies about three acres. The ground-plan of the "minster" exhibits a nave about 72 feet in length by 27 feet in width, to which is attached a chancel 24 feet in length, terminating in a semicircular apse. The width of the chancel is about two feet less than that of the nave. The entire chancel can be traced distinctly, though its foundations rise little above the level of the soil; but the nave presents more decided features, as the walls spring in every part to a height of nearly twenty feet. Narrow fractured apertures indicate the original position of the windows, which were small, few in number, and placed, with jealous precaution, very high in the walls. The only entrance to the body of the church was at its western front, where a rugged opening presents itself. The masonry of the whole structure, which stands due east and west, is of rubble-stones strongly united by coarse mortar, and laid in horizontal courses.

But the most remarkable feature in the edifice, and one which unquestionably refers it to a period of very remote antiquity, is a partition-wall, crossing the nave from north to south, at the distance of 27 feet from the western wall; thus dividing, by two narrow arches, and a thick intermedial and square pier, this portion of the church into two unequal divisions; forming the interior into a tripartite division, or a sanctum sanctorum, chancel, and nave. Neither buttresses nor the slightest protuberance are apparent in the surface of the walls, nor has the strictest search developed the smallest fragment of a dressed stone in any part of the walls or ruined site.

Mr. George Durrant, the present occupant of South Elmham Hall, informs me, that he caused the whole interior to be dug over, five feet deep, about four years since, but discovered nothing besides a few bones, and a small piece of old iron, with one or two ancient keys. It then appeared that the foundations of the walls are full five feet thick at the base, rising with two sets-off to the surface of the soil. Such is the "minster," which I confess myself visionary enough to ascribe, from its ecclesiastical locality, its rude architecture, and its Saxon appellation of the "Minster," to the piety of Felix, to whom the estate was first given in 630; or to one of his immediate successors. It could not have formed the chapel to Bishop Herbert's palace, built after the see was removed to Norwich, because the adjoining site is entirely free from any foundations but those of the "minster" itself; while the frequent discovery by the plough, of urns filled with burnt bones and ashes, seems to confirm the voice of a tradition very current in the village, that the "minster" occupies the site of a pagan temple. Nor is there any absurdity in supposing that a spot dedicated to Wodin or to Thor was purposely selected, in early days, for the situation of a christian church; for among the prudential admonitions of Pope Gregory to his missionary Augustine, he especially advises him, as we learn from Venerable Bede, "not to destroy the heathen temples of the English; but only to remove the images of their gods—to wash the walls with holy water—to erect altars, and deposit relics in them; and so to convert them into christian churches; not only to save the expense of building new ones, but that the people might be more easily prevailed on to frequent those places of worship to which they had been accustomed." How long the "minster" has been disused as a place of worship is unknown; but it must have been desecrated for a very considerable period, as a large oak tree grows from the foundations of the south wall, which from its size and appearance of maturity must be, at least, three hundred years old.

The church

was constructed about a century posterior to the Norman Conquest, though it retains few of its original features. It now consists of a good square tower, in which hang five bells, with a nave and chancel only; though the presence of a series of clerestory windows, over a range of lower and more ample lights, seems to indicate that the fabric, at some distant period, possessed a north and south aisle. The interior is very lofty and elegant, and although every architectural member is plain and simple, yet the neat and creditable condition of the fittings, and the fine proportions of the church and chancel, produce a very agreeable effect. The windows contained much stained glass a few years since, and amidst a rich display of architectural designs were the following arms: Ufford, Norwich, Willington, Bateman; and sable 3 mitres arg. impaling Ardington; and gules a chev. between 3 cross-crosslets fitchee, arg.; also, per pale, arg. and sab., a bend counterchanged. Argentin, gul. 3 covered cups arg., also quarterly, arg. and gules; in the first quarter an eagle displayed sable. There was likewise the following legend:

Prie pour John Bunting. (fn. 24)

A small piscina is still open in the chancel, and over the communion table is placed a painting representing the raising of Lazarus from the grave. The roof of the church was raised at the expense of various contributors, whose arms were emblazoned on the corbels of either side; amidst which, those of Bateman were twice repeated. The authenticity, however, of these memorials of piety is completely destroyed by recent painting; and the pencil of some ignorant mechanic has rendered the series a jumble of heraldic errors. The fine old coat of Bateman—sable, 3 crescents ermine within a bordure engrailed argent, is coloured thus: argent 3 crescents within a bordure engrailed sable. The cups in Argentin's shield are yellow: thus destroying the affinity between the bearing and the name. Little dependence, therefore, can be placed on the other cognizances, among which, however, are seen the bearings of Adair, correctly represented. The arms of Bateman are also cut on the octangular font, which is removed from its original position.

Monuments.—Dorcas Downinge, filia Gulielmi Bloyse, arm: uxor Georgii Downinge, Gen: ob: 2. Sep: 1638. æt. 46.

There is a record to William Smith, A. M., formerly fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge, Rector of this parish, and reader in the chapel at Harleston, who died in 1767. He assisted Sir Thomas Hanmer in his edition of Shakspeare, and Dr. Grey, also, in his notes on Butler's Hudibras; and in these works gave evident proofs, both of his literary attainments and his great humour and pleasantry. He left three sons, all clergymen, namely, the Rev. William Smith, of St. John's College, afterwards Rector of Bedford; the Rev. Charles Smith, Rector of Weeting, in Norfolk; and the Rev. John Smith, Rector of Mattishall, in the same county: the two latter were of Caius College, Cambridge. He also left a daughter, named Frances, who married Mr. Cave, of Bedford, and left issue one son. (fn. 25) John Jebb, M. D., F. R. S., who was instituted Rector of Sandcroft and Homersfield in 1770, resigned these preferments from religious scruples. He was previously fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge, and died in Parliament Street, Westminster, March 2nd, 1786. The indefatigable collector Cole says in his manuscripts, "Mr. Jebb, a professed Arian, was the great and busy agitator at Cambridge of the petition to Parliament to throw aside all subscriptions, 1772: him, the master of St. John's, Dr. Wm. Samuel Powell, opposed in all his wild schemes of reformation; and when he found his mischief at Cambridge was so ably counteracted, he reluctantly left the place, where he had done more harm by his lectures and activity than one can conceive; and flung off his gown, and publicly avowed his unbelief of the divinity of our Saviour. He now studies physick in London." (fn. 26)

Walker (fn. 27) mentions "William Evans, Rector of Sandcroft, deprived for neglecting the Parliament fasts; not preaching in the afternoons: prosecuting his parishioners for gadding (to factious lecturers, no question) from their own parish church: reading his Majesty's declarations; and for saying they were cursed, who gave a lent to the Parliament: nor was it possible, to be sure, that such an one could be other than a notorious drunkard."

The tithes of St. George have been commuted for £197. 10s., and there are 25 acres, 1 rood, 7 perches of glebe land. The registers commence in 1558. This rectory was consolidated with Homersfield on the 19th of June, 1767.

Rectors of St. George.

Rectors. Date. Patrons.
William de Hardrichishull 1319 Robert de Sandcroft.
Petrus le Munk
Robert de Ebor 1329 Id.
Oliv: fil: Jōis Humfrey 1329 Id.
Joēs de Longâ Stratton 1347 Emericus de Wellyngham, Miles.
Joēs Penne, de Letton 1389 Will: Middleton de Mendham, et Tho: de Wynchestre.
Joēs Cates, de Swanton Abbots 1414 Robert Bateman de Flixton, jure hered: pat.
Thomas Pittohe de Wicklewood 1424 Id.
William Brixy 1429 Id.
Joēs Cowper 1430 Id.
William Merveyn
Robert Gerard 1439 Thomas Bateman, Esq.
William Freeman
Joēs Dyke 1485 Robert Bateman, Esq.
Robert Burdall 1505
Jacobus Billingford 1520 Thomas Bateman, Esq.
Robert Thompson
William Offrey 1554 Thomas Bateman, Esq.
Robert Thompson, (restored) 1561
George Grayme
John Lytherland 1576 George Bateman, Esq.
James Levitt 1585 Thomas Bateman, Esq.
John Archer 1616 Sir John Tasburgh.
William Evans 1639 Henry Rich, Earl of Holland.
Thomas Pye 1661 Richard Tasburgh, Esq.
Thomas Le Grys 1693 Mary Le Grys, p. h. v.
William Smith 1722 William Smith, p. h. v.
William Adair 1767 William Adair, Esq.
John Jebb 1770 Id.
Samuel Baker 1776 William Adair, Esq.
David Hawkswell Potts 1787 Alexander Adair, Esq.
William Clarke 1789 Id.
Courtenay Boyle Bruce 1832 Id.

Estimatur ad xv mare.


  • 23. Cole's Esch. i. 324.
  • 24. Jermyn MSS.
  • 25. Idem.
  • 26. Cole's MSS.
  • 27. 'Sufferings of the Clergy,' Part II., p. 238.