At South Elmham Hall, the lie of the land is elusive & revealing.
Time has both touched it & left it untouched. The landscape’s ancient past is fascinating & complex, its precious stories often untold & still being researched by archaeologists & historians today.
Iron Age communities.
Roman settlers & Saxon warlords.
Norman bishops, Elizabethan courtiers &
generations of ordinary working farmers.
All have all played their part.
Minster ruins. A deer park’s wooded pastures.
Traces of medieval fish ponds &
remnants of common land.
Clay pits dug out for brickmaking.
The evidence is all still there.
Today, we care for and farm this ancient Waveney Valley landscape responsibly, organically and with conservation in mind, to safeguard and learn about the past of this very special place and to have it still to share, hopefully enriched yet just as intact as we have inherited it, with future generations.
Then & now...
A treasured landscape
Today South Elmham Hall is at the centre of a traditional mixed farm, which has won awards for conservation and wildlife management including the Suffolk FWAG Farm Conservation Cup.
You could say, that this ancient place and those of us who live and love it here, treasure each other’s company. We have found a way of looking after each other. It’s a fine balance with diversification playing its role, but it is workable and above all sustainable, being respectful both to the nature and to the legacies of the past.
The medieval bishops' palace is Grade I listed with some of the earliest domestic wall-paintings in Suffolk. It is a place which even entertained royalty in its time and was later remodelled for gentry to enjoy deer park views and dine in splendour from the bishops' former Great Hall.
South Elmham Hall is now our farmhouse home, where we also open up a handful of bedrooms to wedding couples and their guests enjoying our converted medieval Suffolk barn wedding venue.
Across the fields, it is quite possible that the 11th century chapel whose ruins are known as South Elmham Minster was built to commemorate the site of a Saxon Minster dating back to the 7th century – a cunning plan perhaps by the Norwich bishops who lived and sported here, to attract travellers, pilgrims and their pockets to an ancient and revered Christian site.
The enclosed Minster site is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument. So too the romantic ruins of Despenser’s Gatehouse, originally one of several gatehouses to the bishops' moated site
Delicate traces of a practical past
But there are other much humbler indications of everyday life here – the traces of the medieval fishponds by the farmyard, and on the meadow marked as the common, there are the last remnants of 'Greshaw Green'. This once served as common land for the surrounding villages and the divisions between the “goings” are still visible. It’s also possible to make out traces of houses and a farmstead on the edge of the green.
Down the hill along Debbs Lane, there are pits dug out for clay, for making bricks. Bricks were made at South Elmham as early as the 14th century - a tradition which was carried on in the village of St Cross until the last war.
In the 1920s when the Adair family sold up the estate, South Elmham became as it is today - a farm. You can see by the layout of the hedges where the deer park was divided. Some of the old parkland was ploughed in 1940. Some has never seen the plough.
There were at least two, possibly three deer parks used by the medieval bishops. One interesting contemporary document reveals details of the sale of the park in St James South Elmham in 1561.
A study of the satellite maps by an archaeologist from the University of East Anglia has recently revealed the possible scale and siting of these parks. This corresponds with observations on the ground of earthworks and veteran trees.