If you were
to drive through Castle Acre, and you would have to go
out of your way to do so, you might well think, “What
a pretty little place”, and drive on. If you arrive in
the company of a very knowledgeable and chatty
Professor, in our case Robert Liddiard, from UEA, you
will shortly realise that you are in one of the most
important settlements in the history of England. This
small village is perhaps the best example of what
happened to English life during the first few years
after the Norman Conquest.
what happened. A Norman knight, who may even have been
a son-in-law of William the Conqueror, fought
alongside him with great merit in the Battle of
Hastings. His name was William de Warrene and, after
the invasion had settled down, he was rewarded to an
astonishing degree. He was made Earl of Surrey and
handed bags of gold together with holdings of land all
over southern England, but mainly in Norfolk.
According to the Domesday Book he had over 160
different holdings of land, none of them small.
those was Castle Acre, then known simply as Acre. We
heard an interesting bit of historical geography. Acre
was in a great position, set on the river Nar, at a
point where it was crossed by a Roman Road, now known
as Peddars Way. The river flowed to Kings Lynn,
already an important port, and boats from there, it
appears, could get as far as Acre. Classic place, you
may recall if you had paid attention at school, to
establish a town.
disposed of the previous Anglo-Saxon Lord, William
tore down his manor house and built a castle on and
around its site. We spent some time climbing up,
standing on and walking round what is thought to be
one of the best motte and bailey castles in the
country. It’s pretty battered now but after
excavation, there is enough left to impress you and to
be the target of much investigation.
Here is the
castle as it is now, and below you see proof that most
of us managed to get at least part of the way up.
Actually, most got all the way.
next set about the village, where the ordinary people
lived, aiming to create a Norman planned town – again,
something of a rarity. Then, after a journey in Europe
with his wife, he came back enthused with the idea of
building a monastery. So he did. First in the south of
England and then in Castle Acre, which he had chosen
as his main residence. So, after we had lunched in a
local hostelry, we went our own ways around the
village and to what is now known as Castle Acre
Priory. It is very well organised by English Heritage
with a free mobile commentary to take us round what
Henry VIII allowed to remain standing of the
monastery, which is more than most.
building up, so we retired rapidly to our coach, left
this historic place, congratulated ourselves on being
warm and dry and drove through torrents of rain and
hail to a sun-drenched Martham. A notable end to an
exhilarating day. You should give Castle Acre a try.