Mid Anglia Group, Richard III Society

Archive for the month “June, 2019”

Visiting Thetford

Visit to the Priory of Our Lady of Thetford – Saturday 18th May 2019

A small but enthusiastic group gathered at Thetford to visit the Priory ruins.  Most significantly for Ricardians, a number of important protagonists in the story of Richard were buried here in the years before Henry VIII’s suppression of the monasteries was completed.  In fact, Thetford was the last monastic community to surrender in 1540, owing to its prestigious patronage.  The Priory is now in the custody of English Heritage.

Thetford Priory was founded in 1103 from the Benedictine Order of Cluny Abbey, France, and its founder patron was the powerful Roger Bigod.  After the Bigods, patronage passed through to the Mowbrays and then to the Howards, Dukes of Norfolk. It was one of the largest monastic sites in East Anglia.

During Richard’s lifetime, The Priory of Our Lady of Thetford was of significant importance to its patrons, the Howard family.  The 1st and 2nd Dukes had magnificent tombs erected to demonstrate their wealth, power and piety.  As we walked round the extensive remains, we paused firstly at the site of the chest tomb of the second Duke, Thomas Howard (1443-1524, above) which stood in the Presbytery of the Abbey Church; in front of the high altar it occupied a very prominent position.

His father, the first Duke John, was killed at the Battle of Bosworth fighting for Richard.  It is believed his tomb (left) occupied a chapel between the north transept and the nave of the Abbey Church.  Today, the location is marked with a placard.

Before the Reformation, it was very important for patrons to be buried in the Priory so that the monks could pray for their souls in perpetuity and lighted candles would burn at their tombs night and day so that they would never be forgotten.   Following the Dissolution, the Howard tombs were removed to the church of St. Michael the Archangel, Framlingham where they can still be seen in the Howard chapel.

The 3rd and 4th Dukes (Mowbray) were also buried in the church but with unmarked locations. The Mowbrays, unlike the Howards, were not relocated to Framlingham after 1540.  There appeared to be a space for a tomb which could have been Mowbray’s, between columns at the east end of the south aisle (slightly down from the Presbytery) where a rectangle of high quality red bricks lined the floor.

The Prior’s Lodging (left) was very impressive, even in its ruinous condition it was possible to imagine the high-status building that once stood here when the patrons, The Howards, would have stayed as guests of the Prior. Two doorways have fine carvings and face corbels still extant. The building survived as a farmhouse for two centuries after the Dissolution.

We explored other areas of the monastic buildings including the cloister, refectory, chapter house and infirmary, with its own small cloister. Finally, to end the visit we walked the short distance to view the impressive Gatehouse (left) to the Priory which has survived in an almost complete state since it was built in the 14th century.

Following our tour, we headed for lunch at (the heraldically notable) The Red Lion pub in the Market Place and some of the party finished the day by visiting the Dad’s Army Museum.

Thetford certainly has much to offer the visitor and we came away feeling that a return visit to explore further would be welcome.

In his book, A Companion & Guide to The Wars of the Roses, the author Peter Bramley lists Thetford Priory as a top-rated site to visit of national places and I think I can see why.

For further information:

For those of you with Apple Ipads or phones, there is an interesting App, entitled Thetford Priory and its Tudor Tombs, which you can download for free

English Heritage website has more information about Thetford Priory https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/thetford-priory/

The siege of Colchester and its landmarks

The siege of Colchester took place 163 years after the battle of Bosworth ended the Yorkist era, together with the life of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, the local magnate. However, a time travelling visitor in either direction would have noticed surprisingly few differences, some of which were quite subtle:

St. John’s Abbey had mostly been demolished during the Reformation but the land had passed to the Lucas family, of whom Sir Charles was a Royalist leader. The Gatehouse (left) remained, as did the Abbey church, by then a family chapel.



The Siege House (left), now a popular restaurant was right at the edge of the besieged, walled town by Eastgate and still shows some signs of artillery damage.





Lucas’ headquarters were on the west side of Head Street, now in an outbuilding (left) to Ellisons’ solicitors.








St. Botolph’s Priory, as you can see (left), also suffered a lot of damage from Parliamentarian guns.








During the siege, a gunner named “One-eyed Jack” Thomson was reputedly perched on the tower of St. Mary-at-the-Walls (left). He was eventually shot down by a sniper, possibly leading to the “Humpty Dumpty” nursery rhyme.




The siege lasted from mid-June to late August 1648. At its conclusion, General Fairfax sentenced to death: Lucas, his colleague Sir George Lisle and Bernard Gascoigne. The latter, being foreign, was reprieved but Lucas and Lisle were shot on 27th August, to the north of the Castle, on a spot (left) where it is said that “the grass never grows”.

Mediaeval Colchester’s Lost Landmarks, John Ashdown-Hill.
The Siege of Colchester 1648, Stephen Lark.

PS Speed’s (accurate, for once) 1610 map of Colchester (left) is also of use.

A Peterborough mystery


Peterborough is a well-planned city. The walk from station to Cathedral passes through two short subways, with an optional detour to start of the Nene Valley Railway heritage line, to a semi-pedestrianised street with the Cathedral ahead,  with a range of shops, restaurants and even a parish church on the approach. The Queensgate Centre includes a footbridge over the main road from the centre back to the station. The Cathedral is adjacent to a cafe and bank in other ancient structures.

The building itself was converted from of the remains of Peterborough Abbey and the last Abbot, John Chambers, became the first Bishop, a fate very unlike that of his counterparts. Katherine of Aragon (left) is buried there, as was Mary Stuart (below) until her son removed her remains to Westminster Abbey. It is, however, the second Bishop that concerns us here.

As the plaque in that Cathedral relates, his…

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A walk through Colchester

Here are some of the classic mediaeval sites and ruins that we visited in March:

St. John’s Abbey Gatehouse, the last remaining part of the c.1400 Abbey, accessible through a subway under Southway. Sadly, since 2003, the stairs have been deemed unsafe so the upstairs rooms, which we have previously visited with John Ashdown-Hill, are now out of bounds.



John Speed’s 1610 map. Unlike Leicester, I think he has the Blackfriars in the right place here, although he unaccountably forgot to include Town Station.





Scheregate Steps, the only surviving mediaeval gateway through the Roman wall. They allowed southward access to St. John’s Abbey from the town.








A 16th century drawing, showing the Roman walls, Eastgate and the town’s many medieval churches.




A statue of St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, on the Town Hall, where there are eight others, on the front and at the side.








The Red Lion, formerly owned by Sir John Howard, as he then was, and which many of us ate tea in, with John, a few years ago.




Tymperleys, founded in the late fifteenth century for Sir John’s steward.





The ruined Priory of St. Botolph (and St. Julian), after whom Town Station is actually named. Founded in c. 1099, this was the earliest house of Augustinian canons in England.







For further information see John’s book Mediaeval Colchester’s Lost Landmarks.

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