We may have been a little quiet recently, but we haven’t stopped exploring east Anglia – just found that it’s become more difficult to find the time to write about our discoveries! However, the Easter break has finally provided – alongside an opportunity to do some more poking around – an opportunity to reflect on one such discovery, and finally write something about it!
A few weeks ago, while planning to explore the countryside around and between Diss and Bungay, we realised that we would be quite close to South Elmham – the home of St Peter’s brewery.
We’ve tried their beers a couple of times in the past (initially attracted by the lovely containers – apparently shaped after 18th century oval gin bottles) and were intrigued to visit. Unfortunately we’d be there on a Sunday (so the brewery itself would be closed), but the site is also home to St Peter’s Hall, which is open as a bar and restaurant – the perfect venue for a Sunday lunch!
After a little drive around some country lanes bordering farmland – all very pleasant in the spring sunshine – we approached the hall with some idea of what to expect, but little realisation of the architectural wonder hoving into view down a long driveway.
Dating from 1280, the hall was extensively rebuilt and extended in 1538/39 using materials bought by the owner – Mr Tasburgh – as “architectural salvage” from the remains of Flixton Priory – a pattern of monastic dissolution and material reuse that was to be repeated throughout the county in the following years of the reformation.
This little bit of history is important when you first see the building – our first impression was, indeed, that this was a former monastic building. The most imposing architectural features – including the windows, porch and intricate carvings – were taken from Flixton Priory and grafted onto the original house. Add in a moat, blue skies and blazing sunshine, and I couldn’t help but start imagining what life must have been like when it operated as a monastery… except, of course, it never did.
Behind the hall lay more treasures – namely, the brewery itself. Over a small courtyard from the hall are a complex of former agricultural buildings, now converted into offices, a shop, and the whole brewing operation. Founded only relatively recently – in 1996 – the brewery fitted perfectly into the site, with it’s deep borehole supplying excellent quality water, and readily available malted barley providing a properly local brew. Unfortunately we were a little early in the year for a full brewery tour (we will be back!) – but did opt for a sample beer with our lunches.
The hall itself is divided into a couple of areas – a more informal bar room, with access to a small terrace next to the moat – and a more formal dining room. We were seated in this dining room in the main part of the hall – and were again struck by the church-like features… particularly the bench seating along one wall, large fireplace, and a giant wall-hanging. All very imposing!
More imposing, however, was the piece of fish delivered to Lucy (who had ordered Fish and Chips). Her plate of food would have easily fed most of the people in the room; more impressively, it was excellent in spite of it’s size – an expert fish fryer at work there! I stuck with a traditional Sunday roast of local pork with seasonal veg – and again, it was excellent. The only negative from the whole experience was probably that the sun had caught everyone off-guard, and it was incredibly warm.
St Peter’s is definitely worth a visit – either for the brewery tour, or the food – but if you can, try for a day when you can manage both.