The Estate

The lands of the manor of St Cross are described in the Tithe Apportionment as 'demesne lands'. In the following part of the Tithe Map (Fig 1) they are indicated with fields marked with red circles surrounded by a red dotted outline. At this time in the mid 1840s the manorial estate was sandwiched between the parish of All Saints to the east, Greshaw Green (common land with community rights of grazing) to the west and St James South Elmham to the south. The manorial farmstead is now known as 'South Elmham Hall' or the 'Bishop's Palace', and is situated on the parish boundary with All Saints. The boundary actually cuts across the south eastern quarter of its moated site, so this portion of the property is actually in All Saints parish. The position of the ruined Minster within its rectangular banked enclosure is marked with a green circle. Portions of three of the manorial demesne fields in the south west corner of the estate extend across the boundary into St James parish.

The minster and its enclosure occupy a central position in the estate and it may well be that the manorial lands originated from the minster's pre-Norman monastic estate. The earliest parts of the present farmstead with its ruined chapel, described as a 'minster', seem to date only from the 12th century, and their position at the extreme edge of the demesne overlapping the parish boundary, prompts speculation that this was part of the bishopric of South Elmham then being reorganised by Norman clergy from Norwich.

Fig 1 Demesne lands of the manor of St Cross as depicted in the Tithe Map

Fig 2 Sketch map of St South Elmham Hall and its surrounding fields

3 Oblique view, west to east, of a composite map made from Tithe Maps of five parishes (St Cross, Homersfield, St Margarets, All Saints St Nicholas and St James.

Black dotted line = parish boundaries. Coloured areas represent land in different ownerships; green = Grazer's Green (Greshaw Green); blue = land occupied by family based at St Cross Hall.

The 'Minster'

The St Cross 'minster' was built on a flint platform cut into the side of a steep clay slope dropping down to a small valley tributary of Sconch Beck. The church is aligned with its apse facing north east and there is a drop of about three feet from nave to apse. The ruins are sited within a four acre banked and ditched enclosure, which is incorporated into the layout of a surrounding system of rectangular fields which are aligned to the little valley which bisects the estate. The earthwork has been ascribed to the Roman army but there is no documentation or archeology to support this view. Wangford Hundred is famous for its high density of moated sites, built around farmsteads for the mixed purposes of drainage, status and waste disposal. However the ditch of the enclosure does not, and never could retain water, which runs eastwards around the earthwork down to the little valley which feeds Sconch Beck. Even in summer the eastern ditch is waterlogged (Fig 3). The simplest explanation is that the earthwork was excavated around the minster in its early days as a settlement to function as an impressive boundary, which also had a drainage function.

But this simple and common sense explanation will never be enough. From the 19th to the 21st century various authors have used a few scraps of written evidence to wildly speculate on the date and purpose of the building of which we only have the forlorn ruins to speak to us. We will never know what might have been its real contribution to the conversion of East Anglia to Christianity. But this gives the old minster and its enclosure an important function in an age remote from Christian practice where members of a nation largely made up of non-believers can meditate on the legacy of the valiant evangelists from Rome and the Celtic fringe who once met on the banks of a wild Waveney.

Fig 4 Eastern portion of minster moat (July 2009)


Fig 5 Orientation of minster within the enclosure