POCKET HISTORIES OF SUFFOLK PARISHES.
No. 199 SOUTH ELMHAM ST. MARGARET.

Even with the best intentions, it is impossible to describe South Elmham St. Margaret as a village of any importance to-day, even though it originally "formed the nucleus of the ancient demesne of South Elmham." For St. Margaret's at the present time, is small and relatively insignificant, with few signs of any thing but agricultural ambitions, whilst its very situation makes it a parish to which the casual visitor seldom journeys.

Yet South Elmham St. Margaret has several claims to attraction, not the least of which is the ancient Hall, and here the word "ancient" is used with every regard to truth- The Hall, in fact, can trace a history of more than ordinary note, a history which originated in medieval times, and which even to-day provides faint echoes of its ecclesiastical past.

For soon after the Domesday Book was compiled, the site of this building was the home of the Bishops of Norwich, and as long ago as the year 1094 Herbert de Lozinga was in residence here. And in the hands of these bishops it remained until, in his wisdom, Henry the Eighth decided to close down the various, monastic establishments, stealing their revenues and throwing their inmates on the tender mercies of a world they had never known, and with which they certainly had nothing in common.

Of the different prelates in residence at St. Margaret, much might be written, but suffice it to say that they lived there in a state of feudal magnificence, in a condition of pomp and glory, in an atmosphere of grandeur and wealth. Many instances could be quoted to prove the truth of this statement, and the fact that in the thirteenth century one Robert de Suffield entertained in such lavish style that he included a pack of hounds amongst his pleasures, and a pack of which even the monarch of the time was envious proves St. Margaret to have been a place of more than ordinary importance.

And after all it is not so difficult to visualise the scene even at the present day. The bishop, rubicund with good living, easy of conscience, contented in his mind, a man of religion alive with the sporting instinct. A number of aristocratic followers, with more than a sprinkling of fair ladies. A glorious pack of hounds, eager for the full-blooded vigour of the chase, their cries echoing and re-echoing through the South Elmham woods. A right royal cross-country dash in search of the quarry. All the wealth of a prosperous prelate lavished in sumptuous entertainment when the hunt was over. Heavy-laden tables and sparkling company, jovial songs and merry vests - a medieval England, when, despite the practical slavedom of the ordinary people, their masters at least drank deeply of the manifold wines of life.

Another bishop here was that famous figure, that warlike person Henry de Spencer, who, perhaps, as a proof of his military inclinations, obtained permission to embattle his residence, which, according to contemporary accounts of his soldierly abilities, was doubtless performed in a very effective manner.

A portion of this particular building exists in the present Hall and although the latter has been considerably modernised in several respects, it still retains a great deal of relics connected with its previous greatness, including extensive remains of the much larger building which originally existed; and that this building was a noble one there is no doubt, covering as it did some three acres, and surrounded by a moat, which moat can still be seen, in itself a somewhat pathetic reminder of glories passed away.

Within the confines was a "vast triangular mansion." access to which was gained through a lofty and imposing gatehouse tower. This, however, has now disappeared, and even as long ago as the seventeenth century very little seems to have been in existence. Fortunately, however, the splendid avenue of oaks, planted by Bishop Nix over four hundred years ago, and through which it was necessary to pass in order to reach the gatehouse, still exists, undoubtedly more impressive in age than in youth.

And now it is time to make a brief inspection of the church, which is situated in pleasant rural surroundings, and dedicated, as one would naturally imagine, to St. Margaret, contains chancel and nave, South porch and Western tower. According to all accounts, the building was erected during the reign of King John, that is over seven hundred years ago, and the Norman period is emphasised by the arch of the South doorway, and whilst mentioning this it is as well to notice that an ancient bench is preserved in the porch, whilst here also are those old-time means of punishment for petty lawbreakers, the stocks, reminiscent of an age when the minor criminal was publicly pilloried in order to expiate his offence.

As far as the interior of the church is concerned, the open benches are new and the floor is tiled, but several items of an interesting nature remain, including a small Norman window in the South wall of the nave, whilst the rood-staircase, apparently complete and undamaged, still exists. Also, the octagonal font is excellently preserved, and bears on its bowl the Emblems of the Evangelists.

Perhaps one of the most interesting survivals, however, is the stand for an hour-glass, a very real reminder of the past and a monument to the numerous preachers who have discoursed here. This particular stand formerly graced the ancient pulpit of the three-decker style, but about three years ago it was removed to the new pulpit and furnished with an hour-glass, which, incidentally, allows the preacher seventy minutes! However, it is certainly advisable at the present time, when so many treasures have been ruthlessly scrapped, to preserve-although not to elaborate-any that may remain, for there is always a certain fascination about ancient survivals, which objects of the present day, even although they are beautifully executed, can never exercise.

Beneath the tower is a list of rectors, commencing in 1309 with William Skendelby, and amongst these incumbents must be mentioned the Rev. Peter Routh, for a son of his attained high theological distinction. It was in the year 1755 that Martin Joseph Routh saw the light at the rectory of South Elmham St. Margaret, and the fact that his mother was a descendant of Dr. Richard Baylie, whose death occurred in 1667, and who was president of St. John's College, Oxford, and Dean of Salisbury, may possibly have had some bearing on his future career.

It was only for the first few years of his life, however, that Martin lived in South Elmham, for soon after he was born his father decided to move to Beccles, where he founded a private school, and it was in this school that Martin, who, incidentally, was the eldest of thirteen children, received his early education. Afterwards, Routh senior became master of Fauconberge School, but his son entered Queen's College, Oxford, graduating B.A. in 1774 and M.A in 1776. Fifteen years later, however, he was appointed president of Magdalene College, and in 1810 was presented with the valuable living of Tilehurst, in Buckinghamshire, where he was certainly not overworked, for it is recorded that he only made his residence there during his various vacations from Oxford.

A shrewd, kindly man, tolerant and unbiased, even although his temper was inclined to be choleric, Martin Joseph Routh was beloved by everyone with whom he came in contact, and, despite a full and busy life, for he was a man of considerable learning in matters ecclesiastical, and the author of many theological works, he was that rara avis, a thoroughly fit scholar, and it is placed upon record that even in his ninety-fourth year he could undertake a six-mile walk without the slightest sign of fatigue. Also, when his death occurred in 1855, not far short of his hundredth birthday, and when he had been president of his college for some sixty-three years, he was still in full possession of his faculties, hale both mentally and physically, until practically the day he died.

Apart from his other activities, he was famed for possessing a most extensive collection of books, and a collection so valuable that some years before his death he was offered no less a sum than ten thousand pounds by Queen's College, Oxford, for the contents of his library, which tempting amount, however, he firmly refused to accept, stating that he would never part company with his books whilst in the land of the living.

The photograph of this remarkable man can be seen in the vestry, which, incidentally, is well worth a visit, for in it are preserved various fragments of coloured glass, which experts in the subject aver to date from the early part of the fourteenth century. Also, there is a chalice of the Elizabethan era, in connection with which is an interesting story, for this chalice was at one time sold, but was later repurchased by the Rev. E. A. Holmes, and afterwards it again came into the possession of the church, being presented by his children on Easter Eve, 1891.

As far as the chancel of the church of St Margaret is concerned, this contains a very interesting and imposing tomb beneath an ogee arch against the North wall, and, although it is impossible to state with any degree of certainty who is buried there, it has been suggested to cover the remains of one of the stewards connected with the Bishop's Palace, already noticed. Whether this is the case or not, however, it is certainly a monument of distinction, and one which undoubtedly was erected to the memory of a person of some importance.

Within the altar rails are panels, on which can be seen very faint traces of medieval painting, and these panels were formerly part of the rood screen. A tablet on the North wall of the nave gives the names of the seven men of St. Margaret who died in the Great War.

Little more remains to tell of this particular village, but, before leaving, it is as well to notice that just over a hundred years ago an excellent round seal of brass, belonging to the time of the second Henry, was discovered here, whilst, naturally enough, a number of interesting relics have been disinterred in the grounds of the ancient Bishop's Palace.

A charity, consisting of a house and some fifty acres of land, is utilised chiefly for ecclesiastical purposes, so that the church of St. Margaret is more fortunate than several others. And yet this is what one would naturally expect of a village which can boast associations with many famous prelates. For when places much larger, and apparently more important, were busy with other matters, South Elmham St. Margaret was linked with people high in the councils of the Church, and, although to-day little remains to tell the visitor so, history has left its mark here, and placed its name upon the roll of ecclesiastical endeavour.

YEOMAN.
Reprinted front the Suffolk Chronicle and Mercurv, October 24th, 1930

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