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St Margaret's chapel, Hilborough
Margaret's chapel, Hilborough
Just across the busy Thetford to Swaffham road from Hilborough parish church, and a little way along the lane to Cockley Cley, a small plantation of trees covers lumps and bumps in what is otherwise the marshy flatness of the flood plain of a tributary of the River Wissey. This appears to be the site of the fomer chapel of St Margaret, founded in 1207 and endowed with a fabulous hundred acres of land. It became a popular stopping point for pilgrims on their way to Walsingham, and became popularly known as the Pilgrim Chapel.
There was a good living to be had by the Priest attached to the chapel - the late 18th Century General History of Norfolk by John Chambers records it as being as high as the richest living in a parish church - and not surprisingly it was presented to men from families of some consequence. Not to put the local noses out of joint, St Margaret served as a chapel-of-ease to Hilborough parish church as well as being there for pilgrims. It is easy to imagine the noisy, joyous liturgies of a people on the march touching into the sacraments of their Holy Mother Church at such a remote spot on their journey.
As a monastic foundation, St Margaret inevitably fell foul of the Anglican Reformation. At some stage in the 18th Century the building appears to have still been in use as a barn. Richard Le Strange in 1972 has the walls still standing, but Bill Wilson, revising Pevsner in 1999, reported that two ivy-clad crags of flint are all that remain. I could find nothing of the kind, just softening bumps which, while still speaking of something that has survived, will one day merge into the reedy ground around them.
Simon Knott, August 2008
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