Castle-Acre (St. James)

CASTLE-ACRE (St. James), a parish, in the union and hundred of Freebridge-Lynn, W. division of Norfolk, 4 miles (N.) from Swaffham; containing 1495 inhabitants. This place, called Acre at the time of the Domesday survey, is noted chiefly for the remains of its ancient castle and priory, from the former of which it takes the prefix to its name. It appears, from the vestiges of a Roman road leading from Thetford to Brancaster, the discovery of a tessellated pavement, and, lately, of several coins (among which were some of Vespasian and Constantine), to have been a Roman station, on whose site the castle was probably erected. This fortress was built by William Warren, first earl of Surrey, to whom the manor, with 149 others, had been given by the Conqueror, and who made it the head of all his lordships; it was perhaps enlarged by his descendant, who, in 1297, entertained Edward I. here.

The parish comprises 3249 acres, of which 2639 are arable, 461 meadow and pasture, 13 wood, and 79 common; the land is in general rich, and boldly undulated. The village consists of two good streets, on the north bank of the river Nar. Fairs for toys and pedlery are held on St. James's day and August 5th; and pettysessions once a fortnight. The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £5. 6. 8.; patron and impropriator, the Earl of Leicester: the great tithes have been commuted for £610, and the vicarial for £168; the glebe comprises 3½ acres. The church, situated on the crown of the acclivity above the priory, is a spacious structure in the decorated and later English styles, with a lofty embattled tower, and exhibits, in many of its details, fine specimens of ancient architecture; the font, which is said to have been removed from the priory, is surmounted by a beautiful piece of tabernacle work. There are places of worship for congregations of Baptists, Primitive Methodists, and Wesleyan Methodists.

Sufficient remains exist to indicate the extent of the castle, which, with its appendages, comprised an area of more than eighteen acres, inclosed by an embattled wall seven feet in thickness, strengthened by three lofty buttresses built over the broad and deep moat by which the castle was surrounded: the buildings were of a circular form, and on the slope of a gentle eminence. To the east of the castle are the ruins of the priory, established by Earl Warren, in 1085, for monks of the Cluniac order, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and subordinate to a similar establishment by the same founder, at Lewes, in the county of Sussex. The revenues, which had become very considerable by successive augmentations, were seized under pretence of its being an alien priory, but were subsequently restored; and in the reign of Edward II., it was secured against further molestation by a royal order, as coming within the class of indigenous establishments. Its income, at the Dissolution, was £324. 17. 5., and, with the site, was granted to Thomas, Duke of Norfolk; it is now the property of the Earl of Leicester. The priory church was a spacious cruciform structure, with two towers at the west end, and a massive central tower; the greater portion of the west front is still remaining, and, with the exception of a large window of later insertion over the entrance, is an elegant specimen of the most enriched style of Norman architecture. The conventual buildings are at present a farmhouse and offices: a large room, called the prior's dining-room, and now a granary, has a fine oriel window. On making excavations within the walls of the chapter-house, in 1841, were found some beautifully embossed tiles, with heraldic devices, and some bulls of the Popes Honorius and Innocent.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.