A Ludham Stroll With The MadGang

One of the many good things about the caravan site we stayed in whilst on holiday in Norfolk last week was the fact that there was plenty of great walking to be had in the local vicinity. We didn't even have to drive anywhere. We could stride out from the site itself and were straightaway in the middle of some very beautiful countryside. This is exactly what we did on Thursday.

Ludham Hall. On the right is the former chapel, now used as a barn.

Ludham Hall is on the site of a palace used by bishops of Norwich as their country seat. The original building burnt down in 1611 but it was rebuilt by Bishop Samuel Harsnett and the chapel was added 1627. In the late eighteenth century the flint built hall was refaced with red bricks.

Ludham Hall was the childhood home of Anne Donne who was the mother of the poet William Cowper. Her father was Roger Donne who was related to another poet, John Donne. Anne's relatives were scattered across Norfolk and it was these family connections which largely account for Cowper's return to the county in the final years of his life. Anne died when Cowper was a young child, an event which contributed significantly to his fragile mental health. One of his most famous poems, "On The Receipt Of My Mother's Picture Out Of Norfolk" was inspired by a picture that was sent to him by his cousin Anne Bodham. The poem is particularly sad and moving; here is the opening verse:

O that those lips had language! Life has pass’d
with me but roughly since I heard thee last.
Those lips are thine, thy own sweet smile I see,
the same, that oft in childhood solac’d me;
voice only fails, else how distinct they say,
‘Grieve not, my child, chase all thy fears away!’
The meek intelligence of those dear eyes
(blest be the art that can immortalize,
the art that baffles Time’s tyrannic claim
to quench it) here shines on me still the same.

Grade II listed barn at Ludham Hall.

There is a tradition in East Anglia of keeping the doors of the many hundreds of parish churches unlocked (in most other regions they are firmly locked for fear of thieves and vandals). For a church ticker like myself this is a wonderful opportunity to poke around quaint old ecclesiastical buildings to my heart's content. However, my hobby is somewhat curtailed by the fact that Mrs MP hates the Church of England for the way the Bishop of Newcastle and his cronies treated us and does not enter church property unless there is an extremely good reason for her to do so. She will, on occasion, sit in a churchyard with the dogs whilst I go inside the church for a brief look and she agreed to do so that I might have a look round the magnificent Church of Saint Catherine in Ludham, the first village we came upon on our ramble. But then something surprising happened. We often come across notices pinned to church gates forbidding dogs to even set paw in the grounds and so we are thankful if they are allowed as far as the church porch. However, Mrs MP had only been sitting in the churchyard of Saint Catherine's for a couple of minutes when a friendly gentleman walked up and informed her that they "loved dogs at this church" and she should feel free to go inside with them. Which she did as she could not be churlish after such an invitation. So, for the first time in five years we both strolled round a church together thanks to the love of God's creation that has found itself a place in the hearts of the congregation of this lovely village church.


The size of Saint Catherine's reflects the great wealth that could be found in East Anglia when it was built during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, replacing an older, smaller and far less impressive structure. Of the fourteenth century flint and stone church, only the tower and chancel remain. The nave was rebuilt some one hundred years later.

On the west side of the chancel arch is a tympanum decorated with a painting of Christ on the Cross with Mary, his mother, and the apostle, John. It was probably painted during the reign of Queen Mary I which makes it a very rare survival of that turbulent period of English church history.

The tympanum on the east side of the chancel arch is decorated with the coat of arms of Elizabeth I with the mottos in Latin, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ" and "Long live Queen Elizabeth," which is, again, a very rare thing to find still intact in an English church.

These two paintings were probably only meant to be temporary, a replacement of the great rood, destroyed during the time of Edward VI, only meant to remain in place until a more magnificent rood could be erected. But the return to Protestantism during the reign of Elizabeth meant that these paintings were also removed by puritan iconoclasts. Fortunately, the tympanum of Ludham church were not destroyed but were left, blocking the stairs to the rood loft, and then forgotten. They stayed hidden until an 1879 Sunday afternoon outing of the Norfolk Archeological Society led to them being rediscovered.

The rood screen beneath the chancel arch (see the next two photographs) is one of Norfolk's finest. The gilded buttressing is superb, and the dedicatory inscription ("Pray for the soul of John Salmon and Cycyly his wife, who gave fourteen pounds, and for all other benefactions made in the year of our Lord God, 1493" - my transliteration) has survived better than any other in the east of England.

(left to right) English kings: Henry VI and Edward the Confessor, Doctors of the Church: Augustine and Jerome,  Ambrose and Gregory.

(left to right) Mary Magdalene and Apollonia, Martyrs, Stephen and Lawrence, East Anglian saints: Edmund and Walstan (patron saint of farms, farmers, farmhands, ranchers and husbandry men.).

One of the carved caps of the chancel arch. I may well be wrong, but the middle face may well be that of the a local legendary creature. Once upon a time a dragon terrorised the village of Ludham. It made a lair of tunnels under the churchyard and across to the main street. Whilst the dragon was out basking in the sunshine one day a young fellow blocked the entrance to its tunnel. Enraged, the dragon flew off to nearby Saint Benet's Abbey and after smashing its tail against the wall, vanished, never to be seen or heard of again!


The high altar. The Star of David is a common symbol behind the altars of East Anglian churches.

Parish alms chest believed to date from the fifteenth century.

The fifteenth century font bears the symbols of four saints: the winged angel of Saint Matthew, the winged lion of Saint Mark, the winged ox of Saint Luke and the eagle of Saint John. The font also has the carved figures of a woman carrying a child and of two clerics, one with a mitre and crozier and another holding a rosary. These symbols and carvings are not unexpected features of a font but less than usual are the two larger figures of a man and a woman wearing animal skins and carrying clubs (not shown in photographs). They are known as ‘Woodwoses' or wild men; semi-humans who featured in Roman and Greek mythology. In medieval times it was widely believed that such creatures of the imagination lurked in the dark woodlands covering England.
(Saint Catherine's church guide)

The Alfresco Tea Rooms in Ludham village, opposite the church, are not only extremely dog friendly, they also serve a very decent pot of tea and an apricot and coconut sponge cake to die for. Highly recommended.

Horses Fen (sans chevaux) between Ludham and Potter Heigham.

This is not swan upping. It's just a swan with its bum in the air.

Here is the swan again but this time in a more dignified position.

Bullocks taking the waters on Horses Fen.

Looking north along the River Thurne.

Looking south along the River Thurne featuring three quarters of the MadGang.

Thurne Dyke (left) and Saint Benet's Level (right) drainage mills.

Womack Water entering the River Thurne (from the right).

Egyptian geese with goslings. My apologies for the poor quality of this photo but these are timid birds (as geese go) and I didn't want to upset the mother by moving towards her from behind the reeds.

The ruin of Womack Water drainage mill on Horses Fen.

A couple of greylag geese couples with their goslings.

Greylag geese are nowhere as near as timid as Egyptian geese. This one is quite happy to engage with me in a staring match.

The goose won.

The confluence of Womack Water and the River Thurne from the banks of Womack Water. Thurne Dyke and Saint Benet's Level drainage mills in the distance.

The Norfolk Heritage fleet at Hunter's Yard on Womack Water.

The ruined gatehouse of Saint Benet Abbey with the ruins of a late eighteenth century tower mill.

St Benet's Abbey is a ruined abbey of the Order of Saint Benedict situated on the River Bure. It is also known as St Benet's at Holme or Hulme. According to tradition, and as recorded in a thirteenth century manuscript, it was founded on the site of a ninth-century monastery where the hermit Suneman was martyred by the Danes. About the end of the tenth century it was rebuilt by one Wulfric. A generation later, c. 1022, its estates of Horning, Ludham and Neatishead were confirmed by King Canute. Other early benefactors included Edith Swannesha, concubine to Harold II, and Earl Ralf II of East Anglia.

At the time of the Norman Conquest Harold Godwinson put the abbot of Saint Benet's, Aelfwold, in charge of defending the coast against invasion. After the Conquest, Aelfwold fled to Denmark, and the abbey's estates suffered encroachments by neighbouring landowners. The site was enclosed by a wall with battlements in 1327.

Sir John Fastolf, the inspiration for Shakespeare's Falstaff, was buried here in December 1459, next to his wife Millicent in a new aisle built by Fastolf on the south side of the abbey church.


After the Dissolution the majority of the buildings at the site were demolished, with the exclusion of the gatehouse, which is now a grade I listed building. In the second half of the eighteenth century, a farmer built a windmill, later converted to a windpump, inside the abbey gatehouse, removing the second floor of the gatehouse in the process. The windmill, which ceased operating approximately a century later and is itself now a ruin, is a grade II listed building.

The work of nineteenth century taggers on the ruined walls of Saint Benet's Abbey gatehouse. Give them an ASBO!

MadGang member, Quiz, sitting next to a information board showing what the abbey would have looked like in its fifteenth century heyday.

Saint Benet's is the only religious house not closed down by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Instead he united the Abbacy with the bishopric of Norwich and therefore the Bishops of Norwich have remained abbots of St Benet's to this day. The Bishop of Norwich, as Abbot, arrives once a year, standing in the bow of a wherry and preaches at the annual service on the first Sunday of August.

On 2 August 1987 a cross made from oak from the Royal Estate at Sandringham was erected on the High Altar.

Peace be with you and now back to the caravan for some well deserved grub and a pint of Woodforde's Wherry.


A Ludham Stroll With The MadGang — 3 Comments

  1. Oh, Mad Priest! This is all very wonderful. I wish I could have been along too!

  2. “a friendly gentleman walked up and informed her that they “loved dogs at this church” and she should feel free to go inside with them.”

    Aw! “Suffer the doggiez to come unto me” saith the Lord. <3

    "It was probably painted during the reign of Queen Mary I which makes it a very rare survival of that turbulent period": colours only dimmed by the smoke of a few burnt Prots (RIP). Great that these tympanums survived.

    Beautiful pics, MP. (Wish I could be there!)

  3. you always do this sort of thing so well, Jonathan, but on this occasion I believe you have excelled yourself. Superb pictures and a great account of your adventures. And just a bit of humour, too – I loved the pic of the two dogs on the base of the cross!