A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.


Volume 1


The Norman Church 1066 - 1160

William the Conqueror, even before he set sail for England in 1066, had managed to convince the Pope that the invasion was not for his own gain, but was to be something of a crusade, to bring the English people back to the true church of Rome, instead of the beliefs of the Celtic church to which many belonged. He was supported in this action by his half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux, who was later responsible for making the Bayeaux Tapestry. Odo was a soldier/bishop who fought valiantly at the Battle of Hastings, and was created the Earl of Kent.

The Pope was anxious to bring the English Church into line with that on the continent. He wanted to enforce celibacy in the clergy, to bring the cathedrals into cities and to formalise the church ritual and Holy Days. William of Malmesbury wrote at the time that the Celtic missionaries 'preferred to bury themselves ingloriously in marshes, than dwell in lofty cities'. This certainly was not the view of the Norman conquerors, who liked tall stately buildings which showed off their importance and thus used the finest materials and craftsmanship. At the Council of London in 1075, the Bishops decreed that the dioceses should be administered from cities and in the process the Bishop at Thetford transferred to Norwich.

During the next century, besides the building of great abbeys and cathedrals, the pre-conquest parish churches which were made of wood were largely rebuilt in stone, and as the 11th century chronicler Raoul Glaber wrote 'it was as though the very world had shaken herself and cast off her old age, and was now clothing herself in a white robe of new churches'.

The old Saxon church at Halesworth was certainly partially rebuilt in the 12th century, for the foundations of a round tower of that period were found near where the present font stands, during the 19th century restorations. It was probably similar to the round tower at Wissett, Holton or the free-standing tower at Bramfield when it was built, but all that was swept away when the new church was built in the 14th century. Few churches in Suffolk have not been restored and little Norman work remains, although over 80 churches have kept their Norman doorways, with local examples at Holton, Spexhall, Walpole, Sibton, Rumburgh, the four Elmhams of St.Cross, St. Margaret, St. Michael and St. Peter, and particularly fines ones at Wissett.

The Norman Chancel ruins outside Orford Parish Church give us some idea of the Norman style, which was called Romanesque, as it resembled the remains of Roman buildings on the continent. It can be recognised by the half-round window, door and arcade arches, and the massive walls with which these churches were built. The semi-circular arches were usually decorated with elaborate patterns known as mouldings, and often the huge cylindrical pillars are deeply carved. Some early Norman churches have tunnel vaults as roofs, such as the Chancels at Fritton (near Bungay) and at Fritton (near Yarmouth). In some of the smaller parish churches, such as Wenhaston, the small angled Norman slit window can be still seen.

A feature of Norman churches in East Anglia is the number of round towers which can be found, more so than in any other part of the country. There are 41 in Suffolk and 129 in Norfolk, with local examples at Holton, Wissett, Bramfield and Theberton. The tower at Spexhall looks Norman, but it was rebuilt in 1910. These towers were built in a round shape because of the lack of building stone in East Anglia, which is necessary to build the corners of a square tower in order to strengthen it. There is also a theory that they follow the line of the rivers, and were used as look-out posts and as defensive towers in which the people could shelter in time of trouble. Few square Norman towers exist in this area, there is one at Rumburgh church which was originally a Priory, founded in 1065, with the tower built in the 13th century.

The finest example of Norman church architecture in this part of East Anglia is at Norwich. It is the Cathedral which, although it has a later spire and chancel, is pure Norman.


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