A firm Christmas favourite returns this year after a gap of a couple of years. The Norfolk Punch complements our other festive cordials of:
Rocks Fruit Punch
Rochester Mulled Berry Punch
In 969 Aylwin, Duke of East Anglia and Alderman of all-England, gifted the Welle estate at Upwell, Norfolk, to the Benedictine Monks of nearby Ramsey Abbey as part of its foundation. This was confirmed by Royal Charter from King Edgar in 974. The story goes that Aylwin had already built a hermitage on the isle of Ramsey, guided by a miraculous vision of St Benedict, and was encouraged to establish the monastery after a meeting with St Oswald of Worcester, who agreed to support it. East Anglia is one of the cradles of monasticism in England, with Ramey Abbey regarded as the earliest and most important in the region.
During medieval times, much of the estate would have been marshlands, criss-crossed by many rivers. Upwell is on the old course of the River Nene, Ramsey on the River Ouse, and these rivers flowed out to the Wash and the North Sea. Thus it was a gateway to eastern England and an entry point for a succession of invaders: Romans, Vikings and Danes. Over time, much of the land has been reclaimed and today it is known as the Norfolk Fens.
Monastic orders were responsible for not just the spiritual care of the people, but also their physical health and wellbeing. Monks had a thorough knowledge of herbal remedies, and would be called on for lotions and balms, tonics and elixirs. Many of the herbs used would have been grown in an enclosed monastery garden, or foraged from the surrounding countryside and coastline. Others would have been traded with merchants from Europe and the East, for herbs and spices were a global commodity even then. The Welle estate had its own garden with fertile soils, watered from the well that gives the place its name, the water having its own peculiar health benefits.
By the end of the 13th century, the recipe for a particular herbal tonic had been recorded by the monks at Upwell, deemed by them to be "nature's answer to tenseness, tiredness and lowness of spirits". Thus Norfolk Punch was born.
Monastic life continued at Upwell until 1539 when King Henry VIII suppressed the Ramsey Abbey monks. By this time a substantial building had been erected at Upwell, known as Welle Manor. The entire estate was sold to Edmund Beaupre, whose family had lived for generations at Beaupre Hall in nearby Outwell. Thus the recipe then became lost to history for almost half a century.
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