Moated site and associated fishponds of a bishop's palace at South Elmham Hall
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1017674
Date first listed: 16-Jan-1998
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Waveney (District Authority)
Parish: St. Cross, South Elmham
District: Waveney (District Authority)
Parish: St. Margaret, South Elmham
National Grid Reference: TM 30758 83237
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
Bishops' palaces were high status domestic residences providing luxury
accommodation for the bishops and lodgings for their large retinues; although
some were little more than country houses, others were the setting for great
works of architecture and displays of decoration.
Bishops' palaces were usually set within an enclosure, sometimes moated,
containing a range of buildings, often of stone, including a hall or halls,
chapels, lodgings and a gatehouse, often arranged around a courtyard or
The earliest recorded examples date to the seventh century. Many were occupied
throughout the medieval period and some continued in use into the post-
medieval period; a few remain occupied today. Only some 150 bishops' palaces
have been identified and documentary sources confirm that they were widely
dispersed throughout England. All positively identified examples are
considered to be nationally important.
Fishponds are artificially created pools of slow-moving fresh water constructed for the purpose of cultivating, breeding and storing fish to provide a constant and sustainable supply of food. They may be dug in the ground, embanked above ground level, or formed by placing a dam across a narrow valley. Groups of up to 12 ponds, variously arranged in a single line or in a cluster and joined by leats have been recorded. The ponds may be of the same size or of several different sizes, each pond being stocked with different species or ages of fish. The size of the pond was related to function, with large ponds thought to have had a storage capability, whilst smaller, shallower ponds were used for fish cultivation and breeding. Fishponds were maintained by a water management system which included inlet and outlet channels carrying water from a river or stream, a series of sluices set into the bottom of the dam and along the channels and leats, and an overflow leat which controlled fluctuations in water flow and prevented flooding. Buildings for use by fishermen for the storage of equipment, and islands possibly used for fishing, wildfowl management or as shallow spawning areas, are also recorded.
The tradition of constructing and using fishponds in England began during the medieval period and peaked in the 12th century. They were largely built by the wealthy sectors of society, with monastic institutions and royal residences often having large and complex fishponds. The difficulties of obtaining fresh meat in the winter and the value placed on fish in terms of its protein content and as a status food may have been factors which favoured the development of fishponds and made them so valuable. The practice of constructing fishponds declined after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, although in some areas it continued into the 17th century. Most fishponds fell out of use during the post-medieval period, although some were re-used as ornamental features in 19th and early 20th century landscape parks or gardens, or as watercress beds.
Documentary sources provide a wealth of information about the way fishponds were stocked and managed. The main species of fish kept were eel, tench, pickerel, bream, perch and roach. Large quantities of fish could be supplied at a time. Once a year, probably in the spring, ponds were drained and cleared.
Fishponds are widely scattered throughout England and extend into Scotland and Wales. The majority are found in central, eastern and southern parts and in areas with heavy clay soils. Fewer fishponds are found in coastal areas and in parts of the country rich in natural lakes and streams, where other sources of fresh fish were available. Although 17th century manuals suggest that areas of waste ground were suitable for fishponds, in practice it appears that most were located close to villages, manors or monasteries, or within parks, so that a watch could be kept on them to prevent poaching. Although approximately 2000 examples are recorded nationally, this is thought to be only a small proportion of those in existence in medieval times. Despite being relatively common, fishponds are important for their association with other classes of medieval monuments and in providing evidence of site economy.
This moated site of a bishop's palace at South Elmham Hall and the earthworks of the adjacent fishponds survive well, within a landscape in which many of the associated medieval elements can still be discerned. The island within the moat, the greater part of which is unencumbered by modern structures, contains standing and buried remains of the medieval bishops' country house and associated buildings, with 16th century additions and alterations, and the monument as a whole will retain much additional archaeological information concerning the layout, organisation and economy of this high status manorial site, supplementing the documentary records. The likelihood that remains of a 12th century monastic cell on the moated site will also be preserved, give it additional interest.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes the moated site of a medieval bishop's palace at South
Elmham Hall, together with the remains of an associated system of fishponds
which are visible as earthworks in an adjoining field. The moated site,
containing the standing and buried remains of medieval buildings, is
prominently situated on a slight spur on the east side of a small valley and
lies on the parish boundary between St Cross and St Margaret's, South Elmham.
A ruined 11th century building, known as the Minster and thought to have been
an episcopal chapel is located about 450m to the south of it, on the opposite
slope of the valley, and is the subject of a separate scheduling. During the
medieval period the moated site adjoined or was close to two deer parks, one
to the west and one to the south east, and the site of Greshaw Green, enclosed
in 1853 but a focus of settlement between the 13th and 16th centuries, lies
625m to the south west.
The moat, which varies between about 10m and 16m in width from lip to lip and is water filled, surrounds a sub-rectangular island with maximum dimensions of approximately 145m north west-south east by 100m. Short external projections at the north east, north west and south west corners of the moat are perhaps the remains of inlet and outlet channels to control the water level. Access to the central island is currently provided by two causeways across the eastern arm of the moat and one across the southern arm, none of them are thought to be original, but there are surviving remains of two earlier entrances on the eastern and western sides.
Parts of a timber bridge, including massive beams and supports displaying original joints, were found in waterlogged deposits in the eastern arm of the moat, adjacent to the southern of the two causeways on that side, during cleaning operations 1986-1989, and some of these timbers remain in position. At the site of this bridge and to either side of it, the inner edge of the moat is retained by an old brick wall which may represent the footings of a gatehouse. The ruined walls of a building of two storeys which is considered to be of 13th or 14th century date and is included in the scheduling, stand adjacent to the inner edge of the western arm of the moat opposite. This building, which is constructed of mortared flint with brick quoins and is Listed Grade II, has sometimes been described as a chapel but is more likely to have served as a gate lodge. The northern gable wall stands to its full height and displays original features which include sockets for the joists of the upper floor and, above these, two narrow, rectangular, internally splayed windows, one of them partly blocked and altered. The western wall includes a blocked rectangular recess or opening which is probably a later insertion, and the eastern wall includes a rectangular recess and, to the east of this, the remains of a door opening. The southern end of the east wall has a later internal facing of brickwork and shows evidence of alteration relating to another entrance on the south side of the building. Part of the moulded brick east jamb of the doorway survives at the end of the wall, together with the springing of a vault which may have spanned a short internal passage or porch. These alterations are probably associated with the construction of a gatehouse dated to the 16th century, the north wall of which abuts the south end of the earlier building, replacing the original south wall. The lower parts of the north and south walls of the gatehouse, and the associated revetment of the inner edge of the moat survive and are constructed of alternate courses of flint and brick.
South Elmham Hall is Listed Grade I and is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included. It stands in the southern half of the island and incorporates part of a 13th century or later medieval hall built of flint masonry with freestone dressings. Two sections of another wall on a north east-south west alignment and believed to be of medieval date are incorporated in later farm buildings to the north east of the hall. These sections, which are constructed of mortared flint, with later patching containing bricks and fragments of ashlar, are included in the scheduling, as are the buried foundations of other walls which have been revealed by parch marks or noted in gardening in the area to the north and north west of the hall. Further farm buildings to the north east, one of which is a timber framed barn dated to the 16th century and Listed Grade II, are not included in the scheduling.
The slight earthwork remains of two parallel ditches about 16m apart and with associated banks, bisect the northern half of the moated site on a south east-north west alignment and perhaps represent a former avenue of trees or similar garden feature. The eastern ditch, which is the better preserved, is about 3m wide and has a visible depth of up to 0.5m.
The fishponds, with the remains of an associated water management system, occupy a grass field adjacent to the moated site on the south east side and separated from the moat by a farm track. The fishponds are visible as an array of large, well defined rectangular and `L' shaped depressions between about 12m and 25m wide, separated by flat-topped banks of varying width and linked to the remains of feeder and outlet channels which survive as rectilinear dry ditches up to 7m in width and 1m in depth. Some of the short connecting channels, which would have contained sluices to control the flow of water, also remain visible. This system may have been connected to the moat at its south east corner, where there is a short scarp running southwards from the outer edge.
At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, the manor of South Elmham was held by the Bishop of Thetford. Soon afterwards it was purchased by Herbert de Losinga, the first Bishop of Norwich and in c.1100 was given by him to his new foundation of Norwich Priory. References in the medieval account rolls of the manor to a chapel and two cloisters within the moat are evidence that the site may have housed a small monastic cell in the early 12th century. In the 13th and 14th century it became an important residence of the Bishops of Norwich and in 1387 Bishop Henry Despenser was granted a license to crenellate his manor house here. Other buildings and offices referred to in the account rolls include inner and outer courts with a chapel, wellhouse, granary, gatehouse and steward's chamber, and the fishponds (stewponds) are also mentioned. According to the local historian Suckling, a gate tower over the entrance was still largely intact at the end of the 17th century. In 1540, following the Dissolution of the monasteries, the property was granted to Edward North (created Lord North in 1553).
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are the hall and farm buildings, all outbuildings on the moated island, including the brick foundations of one in the north east quadrant which has been demolished, the farm buildings immediately adjoining the outer edge of the southern arm of the moat, post medieval garden walls, modern fences, paving around the hall with associated garden furniture, the modern surfaces of driveways, yards and farm tracks within and immediately outside the moat, and of a car park in the north east quadrant of the moated island, signs, information boards, picnic tables and benches around the car park, inspection chambers, a service pole in the south east quadrant and modern plastic drain pipes issuing into the moat; the ground beneath all these features is, however, included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 21446
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Copinger, W A, History of the Manors of Suffolk, (1911), 170-172
Suckling, A I, The History and Antiquities of Suffolk, (1846)
'Proc Suffolk Institute of Archaeology' in Excursions, (), 234-325
Ridgard, J, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in References to S Elmham Minster in the Medieval Account Rolls .., , Vol. 36 pt 3, (1987), 196-220
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing