Prayer space opens in North Elmham
A Victorian estate building in North Elmham has recently been converted into a small chapel, and the owners are making it available for anyone to call in for prayer and reflection.
The chapel, in the grounds of North Elmham House, dates back to 1840 when the estate was owned by George John Milles, 4th Baron Sondes. He extended the park to some 400 acres, built the existing park wall and, amongst many building projects, commissioned a circular dovecote and this octagonal venison larder. Both have his crest of a Lion Rampant and the date 1840 set in iron above the door.
There are records showing the existence of a much larger deer park in this area since the reign of Richard II when Hugo de Spencer, Bishop of Norwich built, in the eleventh century, a fortified manor house and chapel just to the north of the village church St Mary the Virgin.
The description of the old venison larder says:
“Dated 1840 on cast iron plaque above door. Brick with plain-tile roof. Octagonal in plan. Single story with three 2-light openings filled with wire gauze beneath skewback arches. Panelled door with flat hood on consoles. Cast iron Sonde family crest above door. Moulded brick and dentil cornice. Conical roof.”
The current owners of North Elmham House are Tom and Jo Fitzalan-Howard, who undertook the conversion of the building into a chapel, which they have named St Mary’s Chapel. The work started in May 2020 and was completed later that year.
Tom says, “This rather pithy official description does not do justice to what is now a rather charming building which has retained as many as possible of the characteristics of its former use: internal iron work and hooks, folding shutters on the windows, the floor pamments and the lime wash colours of the walls.
“However, the ravages of time and weather on the external woodwork and wire gauze, and the need to protect it from the elements has meant glass has replaced the wire gauze and a new door and window frames have been fitted.”
Inside the chapel, right, the simple benches and table, which can serve as an altar, have been made by David Adcock, a local skilled craftsman, using oak largely from the nearby Sennowe Estate.
The background to the building’s conversion was the result of a longstanding aspiration that both Jo and Tom had arrived at independently over the years. The opportunity came when Jo (nee Don) and Tom returned to live at Jo’s family home. It was clear that something needed to be done to preserve the building. Both felt it had charm, and the potential of becoming a special place of prayer.
Coincidentally, it is only a few yards from the newly opened pilgrimage route, The Walsingham Way, which follows a public footpath through the estate. The Chapel is signed from the footpath.
Tom says “Our aim is share with everyone a special place which is always open. It provides a place for prayer, reflection, rest and a moment of peace in this troublous world.”
The gardens at Elmham House are also open as part of the Quiet Garden Movement. For full details visit: www.quietgarden.org
The photos above are all courtesy of Tom Fitzalan-Howard.
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