L E WhatmoreHighway to Walsingham

(Pilgrim Bureau Walsingham, 1973) The following is a summary of some key points of the text:
This book contains his detailed description of the main pilgrim route to Walsingham from London, and of the routes from the west (Kings Lynn) and east (Norwich), supported by a wealth of historical detail. It also has information about the Walsingham Air, the ballads, inns in Walsingham, the Martyrs, Henry VIII’s gifts and many other interesting subjects. He describes the northern part of the route from London as: Mildenhall, Brandon, Mundford, Ickburgh, Hillborough, South Pickenham, North Pickenham, Necton, Litcham, Tittleshall, Pattesley, Hempton (Fakenham was bypassed), East Barsham, perhaps crossing the Stiffkey at Houghton St Giles, Slipper Chapel, Little Walsingham.* The Inns listed by him, taken from a terrier of the time of Henry VIII, are: the Griffin, the Bell, the Crane, the George, the White Horse, the Crowned Lion (the predecessor of the Black Lion), the Dow (Dove) ‘now called the Bear’, the Moon and Star, the Cock, the Saracen’s Head, the Swan, the Angel, the Bull, the Ram, the Falcon, the King’s Head, the Checker, the Boult and Tun, the White Hart, the Maiden’s Head. * The Revd G G Ibbott and Canon Dunkinfield Astley considered that the northern end of the pilgrim route from the south was: Ickburgh, Hillborough, Swaffham, Castle Acre, Peddars Way north to Great Massingham, Rudham, Coxford, a road now covered by Sculthorpe Airfield, the Stiffkey Valley, Slipper Chapel, Little Walsingham.

Francis G  Ibbott, The Walsingham Way — A Re-Appraisal

In 1959 I was offered and accepted the Living of East with West Rudham in Norfolk; two villages astride the A148 main road from Kings Lynn to Cromer and about 10 miles from Walsingham. Two things influenced me in my decision to accept, the first was that it is so near Walsingham and the second that a very close friend had also accepted the offer of a Living in the neighbourhood. Having accepted the Living naturally one of the first things to do was to find out as much as I could about my future home, its history, etc. One of my predecessors, Canon Dunkinfeld Astley, D.Litt., has been a leading Norfolk archaeologist and at the turn of the century published a short history of East and West Rudham under the title “Two Norfolk Villages”. A copy of this little work published by the Norfolk Archaeological Society and unfortunately out of print, came into my hands and greatly helped me; of particular interest were his notes on the Pilgrims’ or Walsingham Way. The generally accepted opinion is that the usual route for Pilgrims from the South was from Castle Acre via the present A1065 road through Fakenham to Walsingham. Canon Astley argued, and I think his arguments are sound, that in fact this is not the original “Walsingham Way” and that this route would carry the Pilgrims in a fairly wide loop to the East and away from the known points of hospitality, and brings them into Walsingham by a route which does not touch the “Slipper Chapel”, the present Roman Shrine. The theory now put forward is that Pilgrims from the South, coming up through Swaffham made their way to the Pilgrims' Hospice at Castle Acre Priory, provided by the Cluniac Monks there (it was a particular feature of the Cluniac Order to provide for the needs of Pilgrims). Having had their night rest at Castle Acre the Pilgrims then set out on their last day’s journey to Walsingham. The ancient Roman road, known as the “Peddars Way” led them northward to Great Massingham and from there they would take the ancient road leading to Rudham and Coxford (mediaeval Cokesford) Priory and another point of hospitality, if necessary. The last leg of their journey would have been by a road, now covered by Sculthorpe Airfield, and among the older people of this district still called the Walsingham Way, this led, and what remains of it still does, directly into the valley of the Stiffkey Brook to the Slipper Chapel and that last devotional, but shoeless mile to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. The foregoing are the details of what we believe to have been the route from the South. But what of Pilgrims from the West? They would have travelled through the Fens and crossed the River Great Ouse at Lenn Episcopi (the present Kings Lynn), probably by a ford at low tide, or by a ferry, and have received hospitality for the night at one of the religious houses established there, most probably at the Hospital of St. John Baptist, and having made the customary devotions at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Red Mount (still in existence) on the ancient town walls, would set out through the East Gate on the last stage of their journey. It is conjectured that they would have made their way from Lynn directly to Rudham and Walsingham and not have made the detour via Castle Acre. The present A148 main road is an old established road to which many alterations and improvements have been made in recent years but it still follows substantially its ancient route. At Rudham they would have joined what we believe to have been the original Walsingham Way. The question could at this stage well be asked, What evidence is there to support these conjectures? The first piece of evidence is the fact of the situation at Castle Acre Priory itself. The road from Swaffham led directly to Castle Acre and until the recent alterations to the roads at the junction by Bartholomews Hill the road to Castle Acre was obviously the principal road, the present A1065 making a sudden sharp bend to the east. The second piece of evidence is that the Peddars Way from Castle Acre northwards was still a well established road, dating from Roman times. Thirdly the road from Massingham to Rudham, together with the Peddars Way, were, until recent times, known as the Pilgrims Way, and still are by the few very old people still living in this parish of Rudham. Fourthly there is the fact of the establishment and maintenance by the Augustinians of Cokesford (Rudham) Priory of a Hospice for Pilgrims and other travellers at a site in Rudham known as the “Faize”. In the days of the first Elizabeth this was turned into a House of Industry, or Workhouse, parts of the Tudor building still existing in the form of two houses known as “Faize Cottages”. The Augustinians of Cokesford (Coxford) were of course the same Order as the Canons who maintained the Shrine at Walsingham. The site of the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Rudham is the site of the original foundation of Coxford Priory and mounted on the gable of the South Transept of the church is an elaborate cross known as the Walsingham Pilgrims Cross. This Cross formerly was mounted on a shaft and stood opposite the Church Gate, where the village pump now stands. The pump is at the head of a well which formerly was open; the water is very pure and it most probably a Holy well. Certainly it was the point where the Pilgrims assembled after staying at the Hospice, or having made the Station at St. Mary's Church. The Walsingham Cross wsas mounted on the Transept Gable at the restoration of the church in 1872; the shaft on which it was originally mounted being at that time in a “State of much decay”, so it was decided to use it on the church, the Cross itself being in a wonderful state of preservation. The last piece of evidence supporting these conjectures is the siting of the Slipper Chapel in the valley of the Stiffkey Brook and not on the present high road B1105. Before the Airfield at Sculthorpe was laid out the main road from Fakenham to Hunstanton (A1067) and the Rudham-Walsingham Road crossed in the middle of what is now the airfield, the present runway of the airfield following the course of the former Rudham-Walsingham road, which road, I am told by the old people, was always known as “The Walsingham Way”. The present main road (A148) from Four Winds junction to Dunton Patch was made when the airfield was laid out and is known locally as the “Burma Road” because it was being made at the same time as that notorious road in Asia. If a pre-war or early wartime map of the Fakenham District (One Inch, Ordnance Sheets 124 and 125) are consulted it will be seen that this conjectured route of the Walsingham Way does lead directly to the Slipper Chapel and on to the Shrine at Walsingham. During my ten years as Incumbent of this parish of East and West Rudham I have maintain and increased a fairly close relationship with the Shrine at Walsingham and now the P.C.C. and I want to make that relationship even closer by restoring, if we can, that mediaeval stational relationship, which formerly existed. Certain work is necessary in St. Mary’s Church, a new system of heating, etc. The South Transept is at present “bunged up” with pews and a Faculty was obtained some time go enabling us to remove these and restore it (the Transept) to its use as a chapel. Because of further work to be carried out on the main A148 road it will not be possible to replace thee Walsingham Cross in its former position, what we would like to do as and when the funds become available is to bring down the Cross and mount it on a new shaft and base just inside the church gate. My thanks are due to Canon[Charles] Smith [the then Administrator] for allowing me to put forward my views and theories as to the original route of the Walsingham Way; that has been the primary purpose of this article. In addition however I shall be grateful for your prayers for this parish, that we may be even more closely linked with Pilgrimages to Walsingham, and for any financial help any readers may be able to give to enable us to put our plans into effect. Pilgrims to Walsingham will always be welcomed here and I shall be very happy to meet, talk and pray with them at this ancient Pilgrimage station. top of page
A splendid mural discovered in St Mary’s Sporle  c.1855, and now sadly deteriorating, contains a detailed life of St Catherine of Alexandria in 27 panels, dating from between 1390 to 1400, though some panels may be a little later.  A lithograph copy of the mural was made in 1865,  before the mural deteriorated.   St Catherine was associated with pilgrimage, and it has been  suggested that pilgrims stopped here.   Perhaps Whatmore is right to think that Swaffham was by-passed, and that Ibbott was right in thinking that pilgrims may have headed to Castle Acre Priory.  There is also a road still labeled as Walsingham Way on older Ordnance maps.  A local historian has reported the following: “Instructions in the Will of William Alpe of Little Dunham (Little Dunham is the next village to Sporle) describe the position of the Pilgrim sign being at the Sporle crossroads, which was the site of a public house formerly known as “The Elephant and Castle”. The sign directed pilgrims from the Peddars Way and The Street in Sporle to the Newton Road and on to the Fakenham Road (now the B 1065) thence to Walsingham. William and his wife Alice lived in Little Dunham and had farms in the Swaffham and Dereham areas. When William died in 1530, he left ‘five shillings’ (a large sum in those days) for repairs to the sign at the Sporle crossroads, on condition that he was buried inside the church at Little Dunham. It is doubtful whether this money was ever spent and the sign repaired because of the imminence of the Dissolution of the monasteries. Most of the Walsingham signs were mounted on a pole with a carved board showing Our Lady wearing a Saxon crown, seated on a simple throne. Sitting on her left knee was the Infant Jesus, and the whole was covered with a canopy in the shape of an inverted V. Some signs had a ledge on which offerings such as flowers could be left and below this a carved board saying Walsingham. The whole thing was painted in beautiful colours.” Pargrave or Palgrave is on Peddars Way, which passes  close by Sporle and leads to Castle Acre. However, the will does not support the details in the statement about the sign.

St Mary, Sporle

The will of William Alpe of Sporle, 1530  NCC Will Register (Alpe 1)

Testamentum Alpe In dei nomine amen  The yere [of oure] lorde god m li cccccxxx I William alpe of little Dunnham beyng in good mynde and hooll remembrance make my testamente and laste wyll in thys maner and forme folowynge. Ffyrste I bequethe my soule to almyghtye god to oure lady saynte mary and to all the holy cumpany of heven and my body to be buryed in the churche of Dunnham aforesayde Item I bequethe to the trinite churche of Norwyche xx d Item to the highe aultare of Sporle x s Item to the reparacon of the crosse stondyng in the highe waie ledyng from sporle to pargrave v s Item to the highe altar of Swafham market for tythes forgotyn ther and vnpayde vi s  viij d Item to the highe aultare of lyttyll Dunnham for tythes vnpaide and forgotyn in lyke maner vj s viij d Item I bequethe to Thomas Alpe my son for ever all myn house londes and tenementes closes medoes pastures and fedynges lying in lyttell Dunnham excepte and reterned alwaie and reterned to Alice my wife the p ar lou r  at the este ende of my place and the Soller ouer the saide parlo ur  during hyr lyef Item  I wyll that Thomas my son shall paie to Alice my wyef yerelye iiij li during hyr lyef that is to saye at ij feestes in the yere that is to weate at the feeste of thanuncyacon of oure ladye nexte folowyng xl s And at the feeste of sainte Michael the archangell nexte ensuing xl s. And if it fortune that any of the sayde payments be behynde vnpayde that then I wyll that the saide Alice my wyef and any in her name shall enter on all the saide houses londes closes medoes pastures and fedynges and every parte thereof and to distreyn and the distresse so taken to be dryvyn and caryed awaye and the sayde paymente thereof tobe levyed Item I wyll that the saide Alice my wyef shallhave free ingate and owtegate at all tymes to the sayde parlo ur

The Pilgrim Way