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East of England Framlingham, Suffolk and its castle and church

Framlingham is a small attractive market town dominated by its castle and church. It has a long history and Mary Tudor was at Framlingham when she was proclaimed Queen of England and began her fight to gain the crown from Lady Jane Grey. The castle was the stronghold of the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk and their magnificent tombs are in the church. The Royal Sovereign, the flagship of Charles II’s navy was built from oaks grown in the surrounding forests. And finally the town has two of the oldest post boxes in Britain, dating from 1856, that are still in use. One features on the town sign, along with the village pump with its two spouts. The top spout was for domestic use. The lower spout was used to fill water carts that took water to outlying houses and also to sprinkle water on the roads in summer to lay the dust.

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Framlingham has retained its Medieval street pattern with narrow winding streets flanked by plaster rendered houses painted in various pastel shades.

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It has avoided the blight of the supermarkets and the centre has retained a has a selection of small family owned shops including butchers, bakers and a deli, as well as tea shops and two pubs serving meals. The Crown Hotel was originally a coaching inn.

Framlingham is always busy and has a thriving market in the town square on a Tuesday and Saturday. This is still a traditional market with a good selection of food stalls as well as household goods, clothes and crafts.

The town trail is a lovely walk around the town with 27 stops covering the history and architecture. as well as the Victorian post box and two spouted pump it also goes past the ‘Ducking Pond’ which was part of the castle moat and used for witch trials in the C17th. In the 1960s, much of the pond was filled in and it is now a small garden area.

The Tomb House on Station Road belonged to Thomas Mills who was a devout Baptist. As a dissenter, he was refused burial in St Michael's churchyard, so was buried in a small lead-roofed mausoleum in his garden.

The splendid brick built Framlingham College an independent co-ed boarding and day school is on the edge of the town. It over looks the Mere, a large expanse of water formed in Medieval times by damming a stream. This is now a nature reserve with sedge beds and marsh loving plants. There is a circular walk around the mere and otters, water voles, egrets, kingfishers and barn owls can be seen as well as migratory birds.

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Framlingham is always busy with cars. There is parking around the Market Place and on Market Hill. The Co-op has a large car park. There is some on road parking outside the church and the castle car park.
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1000+ Posts
Framlingham Castle

Framlingham Castle is set high on a bluff overlooking the River Ore and is surrounded by a big flint curtain wall with thirteen wall towers. From a distance, especially seen across the Mere, it is a splendid building.

The Normans built a wood motte and bailey castle. This was was replaced by Roger Bigot, Earl of Norfolk with a larger curtain wall castle with battlements and thirteen wall towers. It was unusual as it lacked a defensive keep.

By the end of the C13th, it was luxurious home surrounded by extensive parkland used for hunting. A large prison was built in one of towers for local poachers and religious dissidents. The Bigot family became heavily in debt and the castle passed to the crown in 1306.

Edward II gave the castle to his half brother, Thomas Earl of Norfolk. After his death it passed to the Ufford family, Earls of Suffolk and finally to Thomas de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Framlingham Castle was their seat of power for most of the C15th. Two artificial meres were added by damming a local stream.

In 1476, the castle passed to John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, who began a series of improvements and modernisations in fashionable brick. The now demolished Great Chamber which was built across the inner court, linking Great Hall and chapel would have dated from then. Tall chimneys were added to the towers, each with different design, although only three were functional. The rest were purely ornamental. The drawbridge was replaced by a permanent bridge. Extensive pleasure gardens were built within castle with ornamental ponds and terraced walkways. The prison tower was redesigned as a viewing gallery for the mere.

After the Earl of Sussex was executed for treason and his father, the third Duke, awaiting sentence, the castle was granted to Mary, eldest daughter of Henry VIII. Mary used Framlingham Castle as a refuge after the death of Edward VI, while she gathered her troops to claim the throne. She was proclaimed Queen here. She then released the third Duke who was now 80 and returned Framlingham to him.

By the end of the C16th, the Howards were in financial difficulties and the castle was in a poor condition. It was not regarded as a threat in the Civil War, so the walls were not destroyed by Cromwell’s men.

The castle was sold to Sir Robert Hitcham in 1635 for the massive sum of £14,000. Unfortunately he died just a year later leaving the castle to Pembroke College Cambridge with instructions that the internal buildings be removed and a poorhouse constructed on the site for the benefit of the inhabitants of the town. This closed in 1839 when the inhabitants were moved to a workhouse.

Since then the castle has had different functions. It was used as an isolation ward for infected patients during an outbreak of plague in 1666. During the Napoleonic wars it held equipment and stores of the local Framlingham Volunteer Regiment. It has been used as a drill hall and county court before being given to the Commissioner of Works. During the Second World War it was used by the British military as part of the regional defences against German invasion. It is now in the care of English Heritage.


Nothing is left of the outer bailey apart from a few earthworks. It is now the site of the castle car park. The inner bailey with its flint curtain wall is surrounded by a deep ditch.


The C15th bridge leads to the gate tower which was remodelled in C16th when coat of arms of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk were added. This is now very eroded and it is difficult to make out detail.


The massive wood gate is one of the few bits of C16th timber to survive. To the west is a wall leading to the remains of the prison tower.


Originally there would have been different buildings constructed inside the curtain wall. The inside is now a large grassy area with picnic tables. All that is left of the chapel and great chamber is the east window and a few chimney places in the wall on the right.

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The only buildings surviving are the poorhouses. On the left is the C17th red brick poorhouse. This now contains the shop and a small exhibition about the castle. Behind it is the C18th flint central part and plaster rendered north wing which incorporated part of the great hall and contains the ovens.



A spiral staircase in the corner of the shop leads to the wall walk with thirteen square towers with open backs.

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There are good views down to the old poor house and across to the Mere with the brick buildings of Framlingham College beyond. Views across to the church are restricted by trees.

Plan of the castle


Further information


1000+ Posts
St Michael's Church, Framlingham

St Michael’s Church in Framlingham houses the tombs of the Howard Family of Framlingham Castle and is a splendid building worthy of their patronage.


It is built from the local flint with a tall battlemented square tower with a decorative frieze around the top and flushwork buttresses. It has a clerestoried nave with lower side aisles. The chancel with its large side chapels is much larger than the nave.


The outside of the nave has a lead frieze round the top which is decorated with angels, castles and verses from the Bible. This was added during the 19thC as part of the Arts and Craft Movement renovations. Binoculars are really needed to appreciate the detail.

Most of the church was built between 1350-1555, in the classic Perpendicular style. The Howards, Dukes of Norfolk, lived in Framlingham Castle. Their family mausoleum was at Thetford Abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The third Duke was responsible for building the massive chancel with side chapels, finished in 1554, to hold the family tombs. It was only used for a few years as the family seat moved to Arundel Castle in Sussex after the fourth Duke was executed for treason in plots against Elizabeth and his plans to marry Mary Queen of Scots.

Entry is through the south porch and the first impression is the size of the building. This is a BIG church, with slender octagonal pillars and pointed arches. The large Perpendicular windows contain plain glass making the church feel light and airy. The impression of size is emphasised by the chancel which is now bare of furnishings.

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There are dark wood pews with poppy heads. Above is a lovely wood roof. Originally this would have been a hammer beam roof, but a row of fan vaulting was added round the base in the C16th hiding the base of the beams. This is best viewed from the east end as it is lit by light from the east window.


At the back of the west end is a wooden balcony with the organ dating from the C17th.

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This was originally built for Pembroke College and installed here in 1708. It is a glorious Baroque design and one of only three to survive the Iconoclasts during the Commonwealth. Cromwell disliked the ornate style and ordered the organs to be destroyed.


At the back of the church is a C14th octagonal carved font with angels holding shields and winged beasts carved on the panels round the bowl. The bowl is supported by angel heads on a carved stand with lions and woodwoses (wild men of the woods and popular in the C14th). The oak cover is shaped like a crocketted pinnacle. During the Commonwealth, the font was discarded in the graveyard, only being rescued by the vicar after the Restoration of the Monarchy.


On the north wall opposite the door is a C14th wall painting of the Holy Trinity. The upper part was lost when the clerestory was added. All that is left of God the Father are his sleeved arms on either side of the crucified Christ. This was covered over during the Reformation but was rediscovered in the late C19th.


Over the south door is a modern hatchment commemorating the fallen of the 390th Bombardment group of USAAF who were stationed at Framlingham during the Second World War.

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The Royal Coat of Arms of Charles II hangs in the south aisle.

There is no rood screen or parclose screens between chancel and side chapels. The chancel is large but feels even larger as it is an empty space with no choir stalls. The walls are covered with Victorian stencil designs in shades of grey. Linked to the emptiness, they leave the chancel feeling cold and unwelcoming. There is a free standing table altar with panelled reredos under the east window. On either side are painted panels with the Ten Commandments. In the centre is an abstract image entitled ‘The Glory’, dating from the early C18th. The church website refers to it as a mystical painting representing the image of God. At the centre of a multicoloured corona surrounded by small clouds is IHS, signifying the name of Jesus.

High on the south wall of the chancel is the funerary helmet of the Second Duke of Norfolk. He led the English to victory against the Scots at Flodden in 1513. After his death in 1524, he lay bin state in the chapel of Framlingham castle before being buried at Thetford abbey. The chin guard and visor of his helmet were riveted to form a funerary helm. The lion on the top denotes the family were of Royal descent.

On either side of the chancel are the huge memorial chapels. These are screened from the side aisles by wooden screens but have open arches into the chancel. The Howard tombs are the highlight of the church. There are small labels in front of the tombs identifying them. My descriptions are based on these and the official guide book from the church. I found during research that some descriptions in guide books and the web are wrong, or at best, confusing.


The south chapel contains two tombs. That on the right is that of Sir Robert Hitcham, who died in 1635. He bought the Manors of Framlingham and Saxtead from the Second Earl of Suffolk. He was a philanthropist and left money for building poorhouses in the area as well as almshouses in Framlingham. The tomb is a black marble slab, with Roman urn beneath. It is supported by four kneeling angels at the corners and a wonderful eulogy on the end.

On the left is the tomb of Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk and his wife Anne of York, daughter of Edward IV. As a royal princess she was superior to him in rank and is on his right. Thomas was responsible for building the chapel as a family mausoleum. This has figures of the 12 apostles, together with Aaron and St Paul, round the base set in shell niches. At the corners are lions holding shields. This is one of the last displays of religious imagery in England before the Reformation. It has been described as one of the finest examples of Renaissance sculpture in Europe.



The tomb on the right is that of Henry Fitzroy, illegitimate son of Henry VIII and Elizabeth Blount, who died young from consumption. Originally buried at Thetford Abbey, his body and tomb were moved here after the Dissolution. This has a series of scenes from the Old Testament carved round the base of the tomb. The four figures at the corners carry instruments of Christ’s Passion.

To the left is the tomb of Mary Fitzalan and Margaret Audley, wives of the fourth Duke, who both died in childbirth. Their effigies lie on top of the tomb with lions holding shields. Their feet rest on a horned stag and a dragon. It is possible the Forth Duke had intended for his effigy to lie between the two, but he was executed for treason and is buried in the Tower of London.

Next to it set under an ogee arch on the wall, is a small tomb of Elizabeth, the infant daughter of Margaret Audley and the fourth duke.

To the west of this on the north wall is the splendid tomb of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and Frances de Vere. He was the son of the third duke and father of the fourth duke. He was arrested and beheaded on a fabricated charge of high treason which explains why his coronet lies beside his knee rather than on his head. Originally buried in All Hallows Church in London, his second son was responsible for bringing his father’s body back to Framlingham and erecting the tomb. It is a stunning tomb, and designed to impress. It was collapsing and was completely restored and repainted in the late 70s.


Both figures are wearing red cloaks trimmed with ermine. He is in armour picked out with gold paint. His feet rest on a gilded lion, hers on a blue boar.

There are small kneeling figures of their children at the head and foot wearing red cloaks trimmed with ermine.


On the sides, painted shields flank a Latin inscription.


St Michael’s is a large and splendid church but somehow it didn’t fire the imagination, despite the nave roof and the Howard tombs. I felt it was a soulless building. Clearing the furniture from the chancel creates a large rather austere space. The tombs did feel a bit lost in it. Don’t be put off by the negative comments, the church is definitely worth a visit.

The church is open daily. There is some on road parking by the church, otherwise park in the Market Place or in the larger car park by the castle.


Ian Sutton

1000+ Posts
Lovely to see Framlingham mentioned. It's reasonably local to us, local enough that it's featured with a local walking group we sometimes head out with.

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