Friaries: The Carmelite friars of Burnham Norton

Pages 425-426

A History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.

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A house of Carmelite or White Friars was founded in 1241 by Sir William Calthorp and Sir Ralph Hemenhale in the parish of Burnham Norton. (fn. 1) In 1298 the prior and convent of Carmelite Friars of Burnham had licence for the alienation to them by Walter de Calthorp (son of one of the founders) of a rood of meadow for the enlargement of their house. (fn. 2) In 1353, they obtained another licence for further enlargement. (fn. 3)

Thomas Gigges, of Burnham St. Clement, by will of II March, 1467, left a small bequest in money to the Carmelite priory of Burnham, (fn. 4) and other members of his family followed his example, another Thomas Gigges in 1505 leaving to the friars of Burnham 6s. 8d., 'that is to say, to the prior 12d., and to every friar being a priest 4d., and to every novice 2d., and to their pittance 12d., they to keep a solemn dirige and a mass for my soul and all my friends' souls at my burying.' (fn. 5) The will of Olive Gigges, widow, made in 1510 mentions a bequest of 6 combs of barley to 'the whight friers of Burnham, (fn. 6) who also received a legacy of 26s. 8d. from Nicholas Esthawe in 1457. (fn. 7)

Robert Bale, the most distinguished literary Carmelite of the English province, was a friar of this house. He used to pass a part of every year at the Carmelite houses of Oxford and Cambridge for the purposes of study. His chief work was the annals of his own order. He died prior of this house in 1503 and was here buried. (fn. 8)

When rumours of the approaching dissolution of the friars were rife, Jane Calthorp wrote to Cromwell, on 17 May, 1538, asking him to obtain the king's leave for her to purchase the White Friars, Burnham, as it was near Polsted Hall, which manor had been granted to her and her heirs male. In the letter she stated that she had only one poor house to dwell in at Norwich, where she was often driven by the plague. The letter also stated that there were only four friars left at Burnham, and as they were too poor to sustain the charge and repairs of the house they were willing to part with it. (fn. 9)

A paper drawn up towards the end of 1538 enumerating the friaries that had not been 'defasede ne rasede,' states that the houses of the White Friars, Burnham, were not sold, but remained as left by the visitor (Richard Ingworth), on account of an order not to meddle as Sir Richard Gresham had the preferment of the house at the king's hands. (fn. 10)

Among the spoils of church plate from the religious houses of Norfolk were '3 oz. gilt, 58 oz. white and a nutt garnished with silver,' from the White Friars of Burnham. (fn. 11)


  • 1. Brit. Antiq. at Forw. v, 406.
  • 2. Pat. 26 Edw. I, m. 13.
  • 3. Ibid. 27 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 2.
  • 4. Anct. D. (P.R.O.), A. 5971.
  • 5. Ibid. 12778.
  • 6. Anct. D. A. 12352.
  • 7. Ibid. 13389.
  • 8. Dict. Nat. Biog. vol. iii.
  • 9. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), 374.
  • 10. Ibid. (2), 508.
  • 11. Ibid. xvii, 139.