Perlustrations Across Norfolk
By Aunty Gary, R.S.A.R.
For one who ‘rambles raggedly’ it makes a nice change to share our historic sites and landscape with others who – although not being affiliated to the Ragged Society of Antiquarian Ramblers (R.S.A.R.) – appreciate how such interests can contribute to life. So, on Saturday May 26th 2012, I found myself unofficially representing the R.S.A.R. on an outing organised jointly by the, ‘Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society’ and the ‘Norfolk Archaeological Trust’. Accompanied by two long-standing friends, I boarded our coach at Notcutts Garden Centre, Norwich, on an absolutely glorious morning, looking forward to a day of delights. I was not to be disappointed.
Because of the recent rain I could not help noticing the extreme verdure of the countryside; hedges festooned with blossom as if in a blizzard of snow. Set against a background of a cerulean blue sky, the sight of it all was nothing less than an upliftment of the soul, and reminded me of an idyllic day some time ago in Rumburgh, Suffolk, on a bench, eating a picnic with my two renowned companions, Mr. Munro Tweeder-Harris Esq. and Mr. Many Coats, Ragged Ramblers all…
Anyway, our first port of call was the Carmelite friary at Burnham Norton, where we were given a short talk by Mr Stephen Heywood. This monastic ensemble is meant to reflect the eremitical nature of the Carmelites, although to me it is surprising how much we still do not know about how it originally appeared and what its plan was. The main focus of our attention was the imposing, recently restored, gatehouse, dating for the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but with a re-working of the upper storey. Mr Heywood believes the friary church (the West part of which still stands) would have had a central tower separating nave was chancel, as at Norwich Blackfriars and the Grey friars at King’s Lynn. The latter tower still stands. The site if the cloisters is still not certain at Burnham Norton, although the North side seems more likely.
We are always being told that the various orders of friars received alms and gifts from sympathetic benefactors, and so would have little or no truck with trade in the conventional sense of the word (see: Braunfels, Otto. ‘The Mendicant Orders’, in ‘The Monasteries of Western Europe’). However, if this was so why then, when we look at a plan of medieval Norwich, we discover that three of the four main orders of friars controlled the best riverside trading sites on the banks of the river Wensum; the Carmelites’ site being particularly favourable. What were they doing with these plum trading sites if they weren’t trading from them? It really is most perplexing! (See: Ayers, Brian. ‘Archaeology of Norwich’ – map of medieval Norwich).
To be continued…