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MARKET TOWNS OF NORFOLK (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Castle Acre in 1839

Castle Acre is in the hundred of Freebridge Lynn, 4 miles north of Swaffham, on the north bank of the Nar. It is probable that this was a Roman station, for several coins and a tessellated pavement have been dug up here.

The castle, from which the place probably gets its name, was erected by William earl of Warren and Surrey, to whom the lordship had been granted by the Conqueror. It occupied the southern side of a hill sloping toward the river, and consisted of three parts or divisions, each fortified with mounds, ditches, and walls, but connected with each other. The earthworks remain, as well as fragments of the building.

The principal street of the present village passes through one of the main entrances of the castle ; this entrance consists of an outer and inner gate, with a portcullis between them, and two circular bastions to defend the approach. There are traces of a similar entrance at the southern end of the street.

Earl Warren founded also a priory of Cluniac monks near his castle ; the yearly revenues of which priory at the dissolution were estimated at £324, 17 shillings, 5¾ pence gross, or £306, 11 shillings, 4¾ pence clear. There are considerable remains of this religious house. The ruins of the west front of the church and the towers at the angles are a fine specimen of enriched Norman architecture. There are three doorways in this front ; the central and principal one has a number of fine zigzag and other mouldings. The large west window over this doorway forms an exception to the general character of the front, being of perpendicular architecture, but much mutilated ; there are pointed arches, or remains of them, on each side of this large window. Some large columns of the nave, but only one in a perfect state, the walls of the transepts, and considerable remnants of the conventual buildings to the south of the church, of the prior’s house adjacent to the south-western angle of the church, of the porter’s lodge, and of the barn of the monastery, are remaining. The site of the monastery within what may be called the walled precinct contains nearly thirty acres.

The village of Castle Acre is still considerable. The area of the parish is 3,210 acres; the population, in 1831, was 1,333. There are two dissenting places of worship, and in 1833 there were three day-schools, with 125 children, and three Sunday-schools, with 225 children. The living is a vicarage, of the yearly value of which no return has been made. There are two yearly fairs, and the magistrates hold a meeting here once a fortnight.