POCKET HISTORIES OF SUFFOLK PARISHES.
No. 371 SOUTHELMHAM ST. PETER.

In this particular article we return to another of those "nine parishes forming one township" -in this case, the village of Southelmham St. Peter, although in point of fact very little which can be described as a village is in evidence. Yet Southelmham St. Peter, through virtue of its connections with the ancient "township" is of some interest, for its story is, of course, closely interlocked with its brethren parishes, so much so, indeed, that it is extremely difficult to differentiate between the story of St. Peter and the other places which are embraced by the general name of Southelmham - or the "nine towns," as they are popularly known.

The village of Southelmham St. Peter. however, possesses two survivals, at least, of note, and one of these is, of course, the church, dedicated obviously enough to St. Peter, and which stands in a somewhat isolated spot on an eminence beside the road. Yet, it is, perhaps incorrect to describe this particular house of worship as being in an isolated position, for quite close are pleasant habitations, and one of these was once of some importance from the point of view of Southelmham St. Peter's inhabitants, as it originally existed as the house of refreshment-the village hostelry-which served the needs of this rather lonely district.

Fields and meadows can be seen in every direction from the churchyard-those fields and meadows which, pleasant in themselves, typify Southelmham St. Peter's staple industry--agriculture, which also can claim to be the most important in the country, however much its merits have been unrecognised by the unthinking few. The churchyard surrounding the sacred edifice is quite an attractive affair, as befits a district as this, and the tower of the church is a veritable landmark, reared as we have seen, upon a hill, and providing an intimate touch with the spiritual side of things to those journeying the road in this pleasant district.

Actually, the house of worship consists of chancel, nave, South porch and the embattled Western tower mentioned above, but although it is a comparatively small building it retains various links with the past of some consequence. True enough, some of the chancel has been rebuilt, but even so the window at the East end dates from the Decorated period and most of the building exhibits the Perpendicular style of architecture.

Also, to go back even further, Norman work is in evidence, for the South doorway, although not so imposing as one usually discovers in this particular type of architecture, undoubtedly dates from the Norman period, and if for no other reason is worthy of notice. At one time a chapel existed to the North of the chancel, which chapel belonged to the Tasburgh family, a family described as being of "pure Saxon descent," and which in itself is somewhat refreshing, for how many people boast that their ancestors came over with the Conqueror, forgetting that although the victorious William made England temporarily, bite the dust, the vanquished eventually impressed their habits and customs upon the invaders, and so that instead of our country becoming Normanised, the opposite was the case? The Normans simply became welded into the English nation, with the ancient English ideas paramount.

At any rate, the Tasburgh family played a considerable part in the story of Southelmham St. Peter and in that of St. Peter's Church, for John Tasburgh, who died towards the end of the fifteenth century, bequeathed various items to the church, whilst he was buried in the chapel-incidentally, it was dedicated to Our Lady the Virgin-already noticed. And even to-day, an interior glance at the chancel reveals that traces of what must have been a magnificent arch leading from chancel to chapel, can be distinguished faintly, it is true but none the less obvious, whilst on the outside of the chancel, the arch is much more apparent, its outline and something of the original beauty being plain for all to see.
A later John Tasburgh-he died in 1510left money for the purpose of providing S Peter's Church with a rood screen, although whether this was actually erected is a matter of doubt, for no trace of its insertion has been discovered. The Tasburgh family, however, will be referred to later, for now it is advisable to discover something more of St. Peter's house of worship.

And in this connection we notice that the nave possesses quite a good timbered roof. Unfortunately no rood-loft staircase or any sign of it remains, but the font here is of some interest, exhibiting as it does on its octagonal bowl, plain shields, and on other parts the depictions of angels and lions.

But this font, although of interest in itself, recalls the fact that the churchyard possesses what appears to be a similar affair dating from the Early English period. At least, in the churchyard exists a survival which exhibits all the general features of a font, whilst on its bowl are those arcades one associates with the Early English style of architecture.

To the South of the chancel in the church, is a piscina, although not so imposing as some. Somewhat interesting, however, are the strange looking holes in the beautiful chancel arch - interesting that is, and somewhat puzzling. The explanation, however, is simple enough or perhaps, it is as well to say that two possible theories have been put forward to explain their existence. Either they show where beams were fixed originally or else they were used in forming a partition between the nave and chancel-I have said, earlier, that the present chancel is new-but the necessity of such a partition is made obvious when it is realised that for many years the original chancel was practically little better than a heap of ruins.

This by no means exhausts the chancel arch as an object of attraction, for on either side are niches, adorned with delicately-carved canopies. And these canopies were originally traced by the insertion of figures.

We have noticed that John Tasburgh, in 1510, left money for the installation of a rood-screen, and this lends interest to the fact that the present screen-carved, and rather impressive-is modern, having been erected as recently as 1923. The interior of St. Peter's Church, in fact, has a somewhat new look and this despite the ancient roof of the nave and other items, which tell of its early origin.

There is a tablet to the memory of those men of Southelmham St. Peter who gave their lives in the Great War, and this tribute recalls the fact that another list of names exists which goes far back into the remote past. For, like many other houses of worship, that of St. Peter exhibits the roll of those who have ministered to the spiritual needs of the parish from very early times until the present day, in this case the list of rectors commencing so long ago as the year 1328.

Amongst the items which the church retains in safe keeping is a chalice bearing the date-letter for 1567, and the inscription, "Scant Peter of South Elmam," but having said so much, it now behoves us to discover something about the story of Southelmham St. Peter itself. And, as I mentioned earlier, it is difficult indeed to disassociate one of the Southelmham villages from the others, and therefore it is advisable to say that the main manor of the Southelmhams, which included St. Peter, was presented by Sigebert, King of the East Angles, to Felix the Burgundian, that missionary of old, whose name and influence have played such a prominent part in the religious story of our country.

Felix, of course, was Sigebert's first bishop and at the time of the Domesday Survey the estate was owned by Robert Malet, later being held by William de Nevery, who sold it in 1101 to Hubert de Losinga, Bishop of Norwich. And this Hubert presented the manor to the See of Norwich,and it remained in that particular ownership until the time of the eighth Henry, when, naturally enough, it followed the same course as other property belonging to religious the hands of his family the manor religious establishments. It was seized by the Crown, and in 1540 Henry granted it to Edmund North, a person of some position in the land, for, amongst other offices, he held that of Treasurer of the Court of Augmentations. Also, he was summoned to Parliament in 1553 as Lord North, and in the hands of his family the manor remained until 1613, when it was purchased from Dudley, Lord North, by Sir John Tasburgh, Knight.

And as we have seen, the Tasburghs were of genuine Saxon origin. When the Domesday Survey was undertaken we find that Toralf, a freeman of Bishop Stigand, and ancestor of the Tasburghs, was possessed of a manor at Tasburgh, in Norfolk, and it was because of this manor that the family eventually assumed the name which was later to be of some importance in Southelmham St. Peter, and the neighbourhood. Some time towards the end of the thirteenth century the Tasburghs left their old-time home and eventually took up their quarters at St. Peter’s Hall, in Southelmham St.Peter, and that they chose wisely in their choice of residence is obvious enough even at the present time. For St. Peter's Hall is still quite an imposing building, and this despite the fact that only a portion of the original structure remains.

Even a casual glance reveals its antiquity, whilst the records actually place it as first coming into existence during the latter part of the fifteenth century. Its old-time moat is still in evidence-an object which ever assists to emphasise the dignity of an ancient building-and some of its features seem to hint of an earlier existence in some kind of religious establishment.

And this is not surprising, for the Tasburghs were given the nunnery of Flixton on its suppression, and it therefore seems quite feasible that they utilised some of its features in beautifying their own particular residence. Yet despite this by no means unimposing home, the Tasburghs eventually possessed one more impressive still-or rather it was Sir John Tasburgh, the purchaser of the manor of Southelmham from Dudley, Lord North, who erected a magnificent mansion at Flixton, known, of course, as Flixton Hall.

The Tasburghs were in possession until another John Tasburgh died in 1719, when the manor passed to his daughter and heir, the wife of John Wyborne, and from the Wybornes it was purchased by William Adair, whose descendant, of course, is in possession to-day.

From the rather tangled story of Southelmham St Peter, therefore, one fact at least emerges. This quiet little village of North Suffolk has a certain interest quite apart from its pleasant appearance, the interest belonging to a place whose story is deep-rooted in the past, and whose history is linked with the names of people stretching into those days of long ago when Hastings was yet to be fought, and the conquering Norman had still to come into being.

YEOMAN.

Reprinted from the Suffolk Chronicle and Mercury, October 12th, 1934


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