(Acknowledgement to the National Library of Scotland)
The Priory was situated to the south of King's Lynn in the village of Shouldham. Nothing now remains of this priory which was established in the reign of Richard 1 by the Earl of Essex. It was Christiana de Mandeville, Countess of Essex who gave lands and property she owned in Dersingham to the Priory thus establishing the Manor. Wiclewood Close is named for a vicar of Dersingham in the 14th century.
However, if you continue down Duck Decoy Close, named for another old village landmark, you can reach the wide trackway called The Drift and after a short walk you can see cross the open field between the end of the housing and the by-pass. Villagers have recently named this area The Warren and work has begun to create a village pond and landscape the area. But it was here in this unremarked place that the de Gelhams built their Manor house and surrounded it with a moat. It was apparently a double moat much of which now lies beneath the housing but when I first came to the village part of the moat, filled with water was clearly visible and the line of trees and bushes still there mark the place. Sadly during the building of the estate it was filled in with rubble and has been allowed to disappear.
As well as their house there would have been other buildings, stables, small cottages and barns associated with a Manor. The waters of the Wash at this time approached much nearer the village so that Dersingham had a haven with ships registered here until the water receded in the 17th century. Fishing was important and our church had a small spire topped with a lantern to guide the men working in the treacherous currents of the Wash. This small spire was finally demolished in 1798. No doubt the waters and the masts of ships were visible to those who lived and worked in and around Gelham Manor. It is thought that Centers Drift, the wide track I have already mentioned is the one named in old documents as Morgate that led to Gelhamhall Moore. Also some historians think that the main channel that brought the ships into Dersingham Haven entered the village here.
Peter de Valognes the Conqueror's nephew founded a Priory at Binham for Benedictine monks and granted some of his lands in Dersingham to this new Priory thus establishing Binham Priory Manor in the village. In 1264 Adam de Mota, Prior of Binham, granted Sir Thomas Gelham a licence to build a free chapel in the churchyard with the power to appoint a master or chaplain. The chapel was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and some of its foundations were uncovered during grave digging.
The rent rolls for the Manor of Shouldham Priory record a Thomas Gelham holding 13 acres for which he paid rent of 5s ½d and for the help of the vicar ½d and a hen. Later Richard de Secford a prior at Binham exchanged with Sir Thomas de Gelham lands lying near a chapel called St Andrew. The exact site of this chapel is a mystery but it may have been situated close to the row cottages in Manor Road to the west of Parker's Corner. Some stones found in the foundations of the cottages when they were rebuilt consisted of a shaft, the arm of a cross and part of the bowl of a holy water stoop and could have come from a chapel.
In 1272 in the reign of Henry 111 John de Gelham held the lands but the King granted him a discharge from his duties as Lord, (a quietus), for two years when he was to take the order of knighthood. Another John de Gelham held the Manor in 1316 under Edward 11. The last of the family seems to have been William de Gelham who died sometime in the reign of Edward 111 (1327-1377) and his lands were divided up between his daughters and co-heirs. In 1354 a fine was levied between Sir Richard Walkfare and John and Elizabeth de Repps. A third part of the Manor was conveyed to Sir Richard.
Sir Richard's brother Thomas was a soldier who gained great distinction at the battle of Poitiers in 1356. At This battle Edward 111's son, Edward, Prince of Wales, the Black Prince although heavily outnumbered had defeated a large French force and captured the King of France. The English soldiers had displayed great courage and nerve. Two thousand three hundred French Knights and men-at-arms had been killed; not including infantry and two thousand five hundred men of quality had been captured. It was an astounding victory news of which Edward 111 had carried round his kingdom. He rewarded the messenger who brought him the news with 25 marks. Sir Thomas Walkfare had captured one Sir Tristram de Mugalies and brought him to England. He obtained from Edward 111 a safe conduct for Broinard, Gerrard de Brois and Mergerdes esquires of Sir Tristram and for his three valets to go on horseback or on foot to France to procure his ransom. The records I have read so far do not reveal if they were successful.
The Walkfares also owned lands in Ingoldisthorpe. Some time before his death Sir Richard gave his rights to the property to certain feoffees and on his death it passed to Sir Thomas Felton and Joan his wife. On the north side of the altar in the church ancient tiles were once found which bore parts of two coats of arms of the Feltons. They may have been part of the floor of St. Mary's Chapel built in the churchyard by Sir Thomas Gelham.
Thomas Felton died in 1382 and left three daughters, Mary, wife of Sir Edmund Hengrave, Sibilla wife of a de Morley and Alianore wife of Sir John l'Estrange of Hunstanton. Alianore and Sir John conveyed part of this Manor to Alianore's mother Joan. At some time Catherine Brews, a nun, and daughter of Thomas de Norwich is recorded as having an interest in the land. At the present time I have not been able to find details of what happened to the Manor after the time of Henry V111 until, like other land in the village, it was acquired by Jeffrey Cobbe of Sandringham during the reign of Charles 1.
However, although the waters of the Wash receded during the 17th century so that Dersingham Haven with its small ships disappeared the village was still badly affected by the frequent storms that raged in the Wash. There were several major floods that caused immense damage none more so than that of 1671. In August and September of that year there was a period of extremely stormy weather reaching a peak around September 12th. The whole countryside about Lynn was inundated' The tide rose so high that it swept over all the sea banks and every able-bodied person would have been summoned to the fight against the sea and save what livestock they could. Winter fodder was destroyed, roads destroyed and ships wrecked. In the light of recent events shown on our television screens it is not hard to imagine the scene. The event is recorded in the Dersingham parish register. Water entered many cottages here but there was no loss of life. It seems to me, however, that Gelham manor house and all its land and buildings must have been very badly affected both now and in the floods of the past. It was after all the largest estate closest to the raging tide and even its double moat would have been overwhelmed. So was this the time it was decided to abandon the house and a new Manor House of Westhall built at a safer distance from the sea? 1671 is the date quoted for the building of that Manor in Manor Road and also for the Tithe Barn and Dersingham Hall. I have no written evidence to support this theory but at some time the de Gelham's house was demolished. At a later date the estate passed to the Hoste family and in 1862 became part of the Royal Estate.
On the tithe map of 1839 a considerable part of the area of the village that was once Gelham Manor between what is now Station Road and The Drift was common land. The housing estate now covers those fields and the old names have been lost. Some have ordinary names such as the 8 acres, or the 6 acres, but others are Cow Close, Fisher's Pightle, Hill Piece, Hall Close, Home Close, Homestall, Little Blacks, Mill Close and The Row. Names now lost. The villagers who lived and farmed this area included John Wells who also in 1836 managed the Dun Cow Public House part of The Dun Cow Farm of Robert West. John Riches rented The Row, the area of Marsh about where the by-pass now runs. Thomas Grief occupied the cottage with barn and yard where our chemist shop presently stands.
Mill Hill was named for the Windmill that once stood at the bottom of Station Road and was an arable piece farmed by John Wells. The 1851 census records John Waters as the Innkeeper of the Dun Cow farming 6 acres with 3 labourers in his employ. Other villagers at this time familiar with the area once covered by Gelham Manor were George Mann and his two sons George and William who were Marsh Shepherds. George Skelton and his son George were employed to supervise the Duck Decoy. I discovered a reference to a George Skelton in a newspaper report in the 1840's when he was fined heavily for poaching!
So the whole area, once part of the Manor, continued to be farmed through most of the twentieth century. The major event that would have severely affected the old Manor House had it still been standing would have been the disastrous East Coast floods of 1953. Then a combination of high tides and wind brought the waters of the Wash once more surging up as far as the station and to the very foundations of the old house. Now the Manor is only remembered by the street names Gelham Manor and Gelham Court and the area where it stood is now The Warren. But next time you walk there by the newly formed village pond look across to that row of trees where once you could have seen part of the old moat and remember you are walking in the footsteps of Thomas de Gelham and over the place where he built his home.