In July 1399 – 620 years ago this month – Sir Thomas Erpingham, perhaps Norfolk’s most famous and influential medieval ‘knight in shining armour’, returned to England with the exiled Henry Bolingbroke to help Bolingbroke fulfil his destiny of becoming England’s first Lancastrian King, Henry IV.
Sir Thomas was an important landowner and North Norfolk Lord of the Manor, who went on to lead the English archers to victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1425; he was also a major benefactor of the City of Norwich – St Andrews Hall and the Erpingham gate to the Cathedral Close are just two of his gifts which remain to this day, and he is also credited with securing the city’s Royal Charter of 1404, bringing important constitutional changes such as the establishment of a Mayor (instead of a committee of bailiffs) to oversee the city.
Like many changes of leadership, taking the throne for the aspiring King Henry IV wasn’t a straightforward affair, and the reigning monarch, Henry’s cousin Richard II, had first to be deposed. Sir Thomas was one of the trusted Commissioners who went to the Tower of London to obtain Richard’s signed deed of resignation.
The Erpinghams had good reason to celebrate the end of Richard’s unpopular reign – the family estate in North Norfolk had been confiscated as a result of Sir Thomas’ loyalty to the House of Lancaster, and now he could reclaim it as his home.
All that remains visible today of Sir Thomas’ moated Manor House in the village of Erpingham is a fragment of flint wall protected by a cloak of bramble and ivy, but the site on which it stood has generated enormous interest in recent years, relinquishing many fascinating artefacts of medieval life: tiles, buttons, coins (both French and English), and part of a gilded spur – to name but a few.
A number of exploratory community digs were completed there in 2015 as part of the Agincourt 600th anniversary commemorations and this Friday morning a group of children from Erpingham Primary School will be participating in a ‘hands on’ archaeological exploration of another part of the site to see for themselves what treasures can be found there.
It may be the last opportunity to discover more about this important piece of English medieval heritage. Castle Field, as the site is known, will shortly be offered for sale; a group of local volunteers is making a concerted effort to secure the site for the village as a permanent memorial to Sir Thomas, but time is short and unless financial backing can be found it seems likely that this Norfolk Hero may once again be largely forgotten in the county where he left such a lasting footprint in both word and deed.
More information about the Erpingham Dig / Sir Thomas Erpingham Manor House project
Project Leads Alan Witham BEM tel 01263 761156 / 07810 795044
Dr Sarah Cox email firstname.lastname@example.org