Old Buckenham has a claim to fame which puts it high on any reasonable list of important places, and yet few people have heard of the village. While it does claim to have the biggest village green in the country, a massive 40 acres with duckponds and playing fields all part of it, that's not it's main fame, or notoriety.
Far more impressively, Old Buckenham Mere is the site of the earliest archaeological find of the cultivation of cannabis in Britain, dating back to the fifth century AD. Studies indicate cultivation from early Anglo-Saxon times when pastoralism gave way to increasing deforestation and arable cultivation, peaking at about 800AD, followed by gradual decline to the end of the 16th century. Strangely, most guidebooks don't mention this fascinating fact! Perhaps that's why Céolfriþ and his family never went back; "Hey man, chill out on this looting and pillaging scene..." A sort of ship of peace, man.
The view across the village green.
The inn formerly called the White Horse can be seen to the far right
As far as the green is concerned, houses are dotted around it, with thatched and pink-walled cottages by the church, which has a Norman doorway. The porch has its original gable cross and the door its old closing ring. The tower is octagonal from the base, an unusual form. Eight old bench ends in the chancel have poppy-heads with figures of men and animals on either side.
The tower dates back to around 1300 and is one of only six in Norfolk of octagonal shape, of which only three including Old Buckenham are round on the inside fo the ground floor. The tower contains 6 bells.
The doorway to the church dates from the 12th century, and the door itself is 300 years old. The doorway had to be moved when the North aisle was added, and it is possible that the West wall of the nave could even be older than any of the other features.
The roof of the church is thatched with Norfolk reed, and although extensively repaired in 1982 still looks as it did over the many hundreds of years of history of the church.
In old glass in the nave are angels with the shields of local families (no CHILVERS though, of course). There is a chalice brass of about 1530 and another of a crane with a scroll in its beak, barely six inches high, to Thomas BROWN of about 1500.
About a mile NE of the village, a moat overhung with trees surrounds an earthwork marking the site of the castle built by William d'ALBINI, a follower of the Conqueror who was granted land here for being butler to the kings at their Coronations. The castle is now gone, having been given in 1146 by d'ALBINI's son to the Augustinian canons to use for building their adjacent priory. The priory now too is gone, nothing being left but an odd stone or two and the inaccurate name of Abbey Farm for the house and farm on its site.
D'ALBINI moved out of Buckenham (as it then was) and built his new castle a mile or so up the road at the now strangely named New Buckenham (it's only "new" compared to Old Buckenham) and its tree covered mound of a castle is still surrounded by a wet moat.
Angels with shields of the castle builder adorn the ancient market house, an open shelter with wooden pillars supporting an upper room. The central pillar is the old whipping post with an iron staple on either side.
Near the square is the beautiful flint church, chiefly 15th century, lighted by a fine array of windows, 20 in a splendid clerestory, with 60 lights. The tower has four great gargoyles, and pinnacles rising from the battlements. A door with 15th century tracery leads us inside, where a hammerbeam roof looks down on the nave supported by 22 stone corbels of saints and angels. The font has lions and wild men with clubs round the stem.
In 1552 in New Buckenham one of England's early merchant travellers was born who amassed great wealth in the reign of Elizabeth I, trading with Baghdad. John ELDRED arrived at Baghdad with 70 vessels manned by over a thousand men, and his caravan on leaving Baghdad had in it 4000 camels. It is said that when he left Tripoli for England he had the richest ship of English merchandise that ever came into this realm. ELDRED lived for 80 years, dying in 1632. He built a great house in Suffolk, which came to be known as Nutmeg Hall. When the East India Company began, he was one of its first directors. He is buried at Great Saxham in Suffolk.
A scattered village with the church of All Saints in its centre. This is mainly 14th century, but the chancel in rich Decorated style is earlier. There are a beautiful double piscina (a stone basin in which the sacred vessels were washed) and eight consecration crosses, all of different design and all effective. The base of the old screen remains with paintings of the apostles and behind the head of the restored upper part is a sanctus bell. In the north aisle is a fine Elizabethan table with altar-railings to match and a piscina with its original credence shelf (the table where the bread and wine were held before consecration).
Page last updated 31 December 2006