Denis Bellamy


Ruth Downing





(2nd Edition)










“But social history does not merely provide the required link between economic and political history. It has also its own positive value and peculiar concern. Its scope may be defined as the daily life of the inhabitants of the land in past ages: this includes the human as well as the economic relation of different classes to one another, the character of family and household life, the conditions of labour and of leisure, the attitude of man to nature, the culture of each age as it arose out of these general conditions of life, and took ever-changing forms in religion, literature and music, architecture, learning and thought”.


C.M. Trevelyan (1944)







Summary and Aims.. 7

Preface.. 9

1 Introduction.. 13

1.1Cultural ecology. 13

1.2  Giving. 15

1.3 Taking. 16

1.4 Towards a new history. 17

2 People of the Blyth.. 23

2.1 Topography. 23

2.1.1 Blything Hundred. 24

2.1.2 Communications. 25

2.2 Halesworth and the ‘nook’ communities. 29

2.2.1 Parish boundaries. 34

2.3 Social structure. 37

2.3.1 Lordship. 37

2.3.2 Neighbourliness. 39

2.3.3 Fraternity. 39

2.3.4 Kinship. 40

2.3.5 Economic networks. 40

2.3.6 Land ownership. 41

3 The ‘sea’ of rurality.. 43

3.1  Course of urbanisation. 43

3.2  The ‘Chediston Story’ 47

3.2.1  The people. 49

3.3  The romance of rurality. 52

3.4  Past  in the Present 54


4 Manufacturers.. 57

4.1 Needs and wants. 57

4.1.1 Food and drink. 57

4.1.2 Clothing. 58

4.1.3  Housing. 60

4.2 Trading networks. 62

4.2.1 The high-trust culture. 63

4.3 Money from hemp. 65

4.3.1 James Aldred; manufacturing draper 71

4.4 Money from malt 73

4.4.1 East Anglia and malting. 73

4.5  Botanical riches. 75

4.5.1 Badeleys and Woodcocks. 76

4.5.2 William Jackson Hooker 77

4.6 Barley business. 82

4.6.1  Malting at Halesworth. 88

4.6.2 The malting infrastructure. 90

4.6.3 Patrick Stead. 91

4.7  Trading on a restless coast 94

4.7.1 ‘Murder of Southwold’ 96

4.7.2  Malting; an historical milestone. 97

4.8 Other manufacturing businesses. 99

4.8.1 A truly local newspaper 103

4.8.2 Mass production. 105

4.8.3 An educational model 108

5 Retailers.. 113

5.1 The retail network. 113

5.2 A spatial  economy. 116

5.3  The retail community. 117

5.4  Occupations and status. 122

5.5  A seller’s market 125

5.6 Community directories. 129

5.6.1 Historical trends. 130

5.6.2 Use of directories for research. 131

5.6.3  Halesworth in directories. 132

5.7 Ebb and flow of traders through directories. 134

5.7.1 Population dynamics of householders. 137

5.7.2 Retail establishments: 1838-2005. 140

5.7.3 No 1 The Thoroughfare. 143

5.8 A microcosm of consumerism.. 145

Chapter 6  Peopling the Townscape.. 149

6.1  Families. 149

6.1.1 Aldreds, Nurseys and Crisps. 149

6.2  The social pyramid. 152

6.3  1851- A turning point 159

6.4  Population. 160

6.5  Economic change. 161

6.6  People of the Census. 162

6.7  Education. 167

6.8  Charity. 172

6..9  Medical care. 176

6.10  The Bon Marche comes to town. 178

6.10.1 Clothes with groceries. 178

6.10.2 The road to Roes. 182

6.10.3 Origins of the Lincolne family. 188

6.10.4  Department stores. 189

6.10.5 The Roe family. 191

6.11 The Sheriffe family: landed proprietors and investors. 194

6.12  Butchers and bakers. 198

6.12.1 Samuel Kemp. 199

6.13  A spiritual background. 202

6.14  Independents in action. 204

6.14.1 The Pound Street Chapels. 205

6.14.2 A personal view of Roe & Co. 207

6.14.3 The Ellis family. 211

6.15  The force of individuality. 212

6.15.1 A resource to feed the imagination. 215

6.16  Chediston Street’s legacy. 215

7  A Conservation Culture.. 223

7.1 A consuming society. 223

7.1.1 Consumerism and recreation. 225

7.1.2 Point of inflection. 227

7.1.3 Real growth. 229

7.1.4 Supermarket wars. 236

7.2   Symbols in the environment 238

7.2.1 In-coming. 238

7.2.2 Townscapes as interactive museums. 240

7.3  Partnership for sustainability. 242

7.3.1 Citizen stakeholders. 244

7.3.2 Planning by inclusion. 246

7.4  Post-industrial business. 248

7.5  A new culture partially revealed. 249

Postscript.. 255

Bibliography.. 259

Acknowlegements.. 261


Summary and Aims



This booklet is a local history of urbanisation as an introduction to the topic of ‘cultural ecology’.  Cultural ecology is a subject for living in an overcrowded world.  It is defined as the sum of all social processes resulting from technological innovations, by which nature and people are organised for production in a society based on ecological principles.  In this context it is a tribute to local cleverness and power by which a steady stream of Halesworth entrepreneurs singled out a small market town in their quest for a better life. In hindsight it was from this time we clearly all became part of nature in relation to our devastating ecological impact upon the biology of land and sea.  However, since the first humans began forest clearance, all local human gatherings became ecological societies, but this truth has only just broken through into human forward thinking in relation to the impending catastrophe that faces the whole of humanity through human-induced climate change. In this respect, ‘Halesworth; an ecological society’ is a text of its time.  The aims are:


·        to bring together information already available on the history of Halesworth, and place it in the context of the 19th century development in retailing that ushered in an ‘age of plenty’;










History used to be only about the political arena of wars and the roles of famous leaders and thinkers.  This national emphasis has changed, and since about the middle of the last century, people described as social historians have begun to look more closely at the experiences of "ordinary people" and everyday life.  Recently, this view has been embedded in the concept of social history being a continuation of a process of human evolution.  Evolution is seen as a phenomenon of continuous change in which, during the last two million years, we humans have imposed our will on the environment as an outcome of our characteristic social nature.  In this perspective we can see that for the last two centuries we have been living in societies dominated by applied ecology.  According to this idea, the history of every society, such as the increased prosperity of a concentration of people in towns like Halesworth, has been a continuous process of resolving the ecological problems of organising nature and people for production.  These problems have been resolved by meeting social needs that require the transformation of natural resources into goods and services.  ‘Ecology’ is thus defined as a social concept where economic, ethnic, and gender conflicts, amongst others, lie at the core of planet Earth’s serious, and some say terminal, environmental problems.  This is the reason why we have undertaken to place the local history of Halesworth in this broad context of ecological societies.


The concept of ‘ecological societies’ has great potential value and benefit for anyone interested in people of the past who inhabited the houses and walked the streets of their hometown.  This approach to local history was given a boost by the coming of the new millennium, when it was realised there was a link between the now distant past and the immediate future. A common feeling was that a community with a solid history has a stable platform upon which to become involved with future socio-economic developments, particularly in relation to conservation of the built environment.  Every building is part of a rich and complicated tapestry of life.  However, such is the speed of change, that in a fraction of a lifetime, old buildings, open spaces and curious nooks and crannies can be replaced with cash-generating placeless development.  A good grounding in social history contributes to a community’s adversarial strength in putting a case for conservation.


When this "new" social history began to emerge in the 1960s, it was at first very much analytical; scholars began to ask specific questions.  How much social mobility was there and why? What were the experiences of racial minorities, immigrants, and women in British society? How did workers respond to the industrial setting? How did migrants respond to the new industrial cities?   But social historians also looked at the institutions used by ordinary folk; in the City People study of nineteenth century New York, the roles of the department store, metropolitan daily newspaper, vaudeville house, and baseball park, were considered critical to the emergence of a common urban culture by the many diverse people who inhabited the city.


This was history written "from the bottom up" becoming respectable.  Instead of the traditional academic approach from "top-down," social history has increasingly broadened to characterise the large mass of those who appear only dimly on the pages of standard histories. At the same time, social history has now fragmented into a number of discrete sub fields including ‘family’, ‘women and gender’, ‘cities and suburbs’, ‘immigration’, ‘racial minorities’, ‘childhood’, ‘ageing’, ‘agricultural life’, and ‘workers’.


Since social history focuses on experiences that touch the lives of everyone or their ancestors, it is of immediate interest to most people. It provides them with a sense of where they came from and how they came to be where they are. There is a knowledge gap to be filled for the creation of a sense of continuity with the past in a rapidly changing world.  This is especially true for children, raised in an age of atomic and neutron bombs, ‘global villages’, television, VCRs, videogames, PCs, instant food, and moon travel.  There is a gap in understanding the lives of their parents and grandparents, whose childhoods included none of these contributions to modern civilization. 


In an age where ‘sustainable development is a global catchword to the future, and ‘conservation’ is a widespread behaviour to preserve heritage assets, social history provides the context and explanation necessary to move into the future. It encourages the inclusion of all peoples of a community, not just elites or founders. While the latter are important, their roles are often exaggerated.  A broader coverage of all groups and organizations permits a more accurate and complete record; it also encourages a wider participation in the process of feedback and updating. This process of inclusivity is greatly aided by the spread of computer literacy and links between families through the Internet.  Social history then, is a key to the greater democratization of local history and local historical organizations; broader participation also means more resources including members, volunteers, contributions, new ideas and viewpoints.  Democratic participation in compiling and extending local history into the immediate present offers the participants attractive possibilities of nostalgia, and at the same time the opportunity to explain how and why their lives have changed, and how in many respects they have remained constant. Many social historians are first and foremost people talking about their own patch. Their work is deeply rooted in a local context and their studies depend heavily on, and contribute to, knowledge of place.


Perhaps the most exciting approach used by social and local historians is oral history, an effort that is now largely restricted to the twentieth century. Oral history is valuable in a number of ways. It fills in gaps that other sources cannot; it personalizes history; and it involves people (both interviewee and interviewer) who can broaden the base of a local historical organization.


We began to gather information about Halesworth’s past in the context of social history as a resource for communities planning their future.  The town really chose us for this project in that we both have long ancestral links with Blything and Halesworth itself.  We have drawn on the work of other local researchers, notably Nesta Evans, Michael Fordham, Michael and Sheila Gooch, and Ivan Sparkes, and have incorporated some reminiscences and new materials of local people, such as the Newby family.  Our novel contribution is to use our combined experiences as an academic and a local genealogist who have collaborated for many years on international projects in environmental education. This has enabled us to place Halesworth in the context of social ecology, to show how people of the past, and their links through kinship and neighbourliness, have contributed to changing urban society with new cultural expressions.  This story is in no way definitive, but we hope it offers a picture of a developing community in broad brush strokes in which the accomplishments and trials and tribulations of individuals and families is entwined with a broader national stream of world development. It is offered as a basis for others to add to and refine.  The scope is defined in the town’s brochure produced to celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951:


Many personalities during the centuries have played their parts in the life of this small community. They have flitted across its life like actors in a stage play, and books could be written concerning their work. Humour, pathos, and honest endeavour have mingled and the story is unending. Their names are legion and the results of their efforts with us to day. We can give to all credit for their work and say with the poet:


" Something attempted, something done,

To earn the night's repose,"





Finally, the project is a celebration of Suffolk’s contribution to the ‘age of plenty’.  This began at a time when William Etheridge of Fressingfield emerged in 1749 from the closed community of High Suffolk’s woodworkers to design the ‘Mathematical Bridge’ across the Cam to the President’s Lodge of Queen’s College, Cambridge. William had previously been foreman to James King, master carpenter during the building of London’s first Westminster Bridge.  He then went on as a master carpenter to design a road bridge over the Thames at Walton and the new harbour installations at Ramsgate.  He was one of the last engineers of the ‘age of wood’.  William is the fifth great uncle of Ruth Downing.  A new industrial iron age was initiated in Peasenhall in the 1820s when James Smyth, the village blacksmith, established a factory for the mass production of the first commercially successful horse-drawn seed drill.  James was the son of James Smyth the Elder of Sweffling and Hannah Kemp of Rendham.  Hannah Kemp’s father is the fourth great grandfather of Denis Bellamy.


DB & RD: 2006


1 Introduction



“CHARLES BARDWELL (1779-1833): Bardwell was a linen & woollen draper and silk mercer who occupied Thomas Bayfield’s premises (Market Place) between 1823 and 1833.  In 1829 the value of Bardwell’s property was assessed at £14, meaning that he was supposed to take one apprentice from Bulcamp (workhouse).  In 1831-33 Bardwell contributed a £1 each year towards the cost of ‘Watching and Lighting the Town of Halesworth’. …….Owing to illness in May 1833 he asked Mr Fyson of Yarmouth to purchase for him in London a variety of fashionable silks, printed muslins and dresses etc.”


“ELIZABETH SCRAGGS: Elizabeth Scraggs was a dyer living and working in Chediston St between 1827 and 1844.   In 1817 she married James Scraggs of Halesworth……..In the Returns of Paupers James is listed as having a wife and four children to support.  Between 1836 and 1838 their house in Chapell Yard Chediston St was valued at only £1”


The Hemp Industry in the Halesworth Area 1790-1850; M Fordham (2004)



1.1Cultural ecology


The main components of history are not things but people.  This was the ‘discovery’ of George Ewart Evans, who pioneered the study of the British oral tradition and thereby revealed and archived the sociality of Suffolk’s rural life.  In so doing he democratised the study of history, and projected it into an ecological dimension by revealing ordinary people’s living relationships with natural resources.  Cultural ecology was actually first presented as a mental picture by C.M. Trevelyan, ‘father’ of British social history.  Since then, the term ‘cultural ecology’ has expanded from the realm of the historian to cover the topic-web necessary to link social activities with the origins of the natural resources that make them possible.  Culture is used in the sense of a set of ideas, beliefs and knowledge, which unite society in a shared course of action.


George Ewart Evans also worked at a time when there was a revalidation of the historical artefacts of agriculture, such as implements and buildings.  There came a shift in emphasis within museology from viewing them as the cultural heritage of crafts-people who made them.  Before, they were seen as inert scientific specimens, now they are enormously charged objects that stand as symbols of power relationships.  Key concepts of social history are ‘kinship’, that is to say, how different cultures interpret biological relationships, and ‘reciprocity’, the idea that societies are bound together by the exchange of gifts, meaning favours and services as well as material objects and money.  Giving and taking are now central concepts of economic development as the international community moves uncertainly towards global legislation for a sustainable future.  In this context there is an increasing historical emphasis on the ‘policy community’. Public policy is now the crucial way in which society is kept together and connected.   Members of the conservation movement can be envisaged as a policy community that emerged after the adoption of the World Conservation Strategy in the 1980s.  Historians can now study a whole raft of policy documents on sustainable development and conservation of resources, and then look at how local officials interpret them and local recipients, as stakeholders, respond to their transcriptions.


George Ewart Evans was situated deep in Suffolk during the 1950s when mechanisation was taking over every aspect of rural life, and shattering the racial and cultural unit that had defined English people since the time of Chaucer.  However, in the face of change, his message was the paradox of sociality, namely that the mass of people keeps a continuity, which is ever changing; yet forever remaining the same.  An important aspect of this dynamic social continuity is the recurring hopes and aspirations of individuals, which depend directly or indirectly, on local natural resources.  These environmental connections provide the drive for family betterment that maintains statistical inequalities in family fortunes.  From generation through generation, mechanisms that convert natural resources to wealth also bring about inequalities in its systems of distribution.  The existence of this socio-economic phenomenon during the first half of the 19th century is evident in the above quotations describing the relative wealth of two Halesworth families, the Bardwells and Scraggs.  A hundred years later the Bardwells and Scraggs were long gone, but the prosperity gap between Chediston Street and Market Place remained and had actually increased.  In fact it is a theme of Michael Fordham’s work that the ups and downs of poverty have always provided an undulating baseline to Halesworth’s rise to modern prosperity, and it was in Chediston Street that its depths seemed always to be plumbed (Fig 1.1).


Fig 1.1 Past times in Chediston Street.



The relative situation of Charles Bardwell and Elizabeth Scraggs actually identifies a point in time and space where the ‘birth of plenty’ sprang alive in Halesworth.  This was an era when people of small market towns throughout the land were responding to a rapidly growing national economy.   The birth of plenty actually opened up an era where the two main pillars of cultural ecology were revealed as ‘giving’ and ‘taking’.  These actions are really two sides of the coin of world development, represented by the need to balance the conservation of natural resources with their rate of exploitation. 


‘Giving’ has a long history, which extends deep into the Christian concept of ‘charity’ as an expression of care for all living things, human love, and the giving of knowledge and resources.  This revolutionary idea, which was rediscovered by Wordsworth and Tolstoy, had been brought to the centre of Christianity by Francis of Assisi six centuries earlier.  It is as a concept that is most liberal and sympathetic in the modern mood of sustainability; the love of nature; the love of animals; non-violence, the sense of social compassion and, above all, the spiritual dangers of prosperity and property.  The Franciscan idea of giving permeated the communities of Blything, for we find that local people throughout the medieval period made bequests to the Franciscan friars who had their local base in Dunwich. It has been taken up by the post-modern conservation movement and expressed as ‘giving space to nature’.


‘Taking’ is also deeply rooted in human nature, where it is expressed through the satisfaction of the needs and wants of people for natural resources to survive and better themselves. These days, the taking of natural resources is represented by the forces of rampant consumerism, which have complex sources of origins in the Dark Ages, when the ultimate prize of life was the possession of worldly goods. 


The Bardwells and the Scraggs of early 19th century Halesworth lived barely a hundred yards apart, yet there was a great economic chasm separating the shopkeepers and property owners who resided in the Market Place from the artisans of Chediston Street, where two thirds of the properties were valued at under £2 per annum. Bardwell’s transient existence in Bayfield’s premises is also typical of the short life of many Halesworth businesses that seldom survived across one generation.   In this respect, there was a coming and going and a rising and falling of families in their roles as shopkeepers, craftsfolk and artisans, most of whom first appeared in the town as colonists, seizing upon new opportunities for the exploitation of Halesworth’s potential as a manufacturing and retail centre.  Very few families became natives.  For example in the space of a few years the property rented by Charles Bardwell in the Market Place had passed through three families, Durban, Woodcock and Baas.  In this sense, Halesworth was, as it remains today, a dynamic microcosm of retail culture, and a model for evaluating factors that have contributed to its shifting sociality and continuity.   This dynamism has, for two centuries, been expressed by the turnover and spread of families engaged in the commerce of mass production linked with consumerism, a process that now threatens the survival of all family retailers. 


1.2  Giving


Any society has to make some provision for the very young and the very old, for the sick and the disabled. In primitive societies it falls largely to the family to make such provision, and in medieval Britain the Church shared with the family and the craft guilds the responsibility for doing so. From the 16th century, the increased importance of economic causes of distress and the declining authority of the Church resulted in the trans­ference of this burden to the community as a whole. The factory system, which destroyed the home as an economic unit and the parish as an instrument of government, ushered in an era of cyclical unemployment and urbanization, with concomitant new problems of sanitation and new dangers to community health. Thus the social forces, which encouraged the glorification of self-help, also promoted a notable extension of state legislation concerned with social security.

The origin of such legislation lies with the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII.  Until then the almshouses and hospitals of the Church had dispensed charity to those who did not benefit from what protection the craft guilds could guarantee to their sick and aged members, or to their families left destitute by the death of the breadwinner. Bread giving was in fact a major charitable tradition in Halesworth.  The Reformation itself coincided with a variety of circumstances that increased the numbers incapable of supporting themselves by their own efforts. In a loosely knit society with primitive communications, re-employ­ment could not keep in step with unemployment during the economic up­heaval accompanying the expansion of foreign trade, the beginnings of capitalist farming and an influx of precious metals from the New World. The lists of town paupers highlight the scale and how it was clustered in areas like Chediston St and Pound St.   Relief, however, was directed not at the population at large, but at the poor and disabled.  The method employed was to place responsibility on the parishes, which were helped by a poor rate levied on its working inhabitants.  The building of the great poorhouse at Bulcamp was the dread, not only of Halesworth’s poor, but also clouded the lives of those of villagers for miles around.

In the Halesworth of the 1851 census, the needs for charity were focused on unskilled and casual workers struggling with low wages, the fear of accidents and diseases, and the dread of slipping into that 'sunken sixth' of the workforce so close to the criminal underworld, which Dickens wrote about.  However, even in that period, there was a resurgence of private charity and a resentment of state paternalism.   To many merchants, particularly those who had risen from little or nothing, paternalism was an anathema.   Paternalism produced the poor laws, but this generalised form of relief was no more acceptable to the town merchants than indiscriminate monastic almsgiving had been. They set an example by contributing more than half of the vast sums of money provided for private charities, which were, in the long run, probably more effective than state aid for the poor. Nevertheless, an increase of vagrants, beggars and petty criminals forced itself on the attention of the authorities, which responded with hard labour in Ipswich prison. 

The original administrative unit for Halesworth was the ancient pre-Norman unit of the Blything Hundred.  The assimila­tion of Poor Law and Sanitation within a single framework, followed by the transformation of the Local Government Board into the Ministry of Health, defines the emergence of an essentially modern outlook on the functions of government.  This is an outlook that transcends the traditional conflicting claims of social justice and social privilege. It focuses on the satisfaction of basic human needs as the yardstick of good government.  An expanding knowledge of the nature of human needs, also discloses vistas of unrealised possibilities for rational co-operation between human beings.  The latest expression of human needs is ‘sustainable development’, with its requirement for local and global cooperation to protect the goods of environment for future generations.

A modern overview of ‘giving’ demonstrates that the medieval concept of charity is equated with what is now organised as the machinery of social security.  However, people in the modern world are still embedded in a complex system of giving, which involves government agencies, insurance companies and charitable trusts.  We are surrounded by a network of cultural organisations set up to provide safeguards not only against poverty, sickness or accident, but also to protect local and global green/built heritage assets. Halesworth’s charity shops indicate how the desire to give can permeate a community.


1.3 Taking


Commerce, that is the buying and selling of things, is one of the oldest human social activities.  Historically it covers a vast range of scale, from the open stalls in Halesworth’s medieval market place, selling homegrown produce and hand-made wares, to the shelves of the Rainbow supermarket brimming with choice, occupying several acres.  Yet the same human qualities appear at all these levels; the choices to be made between two or more people vending the same objects, the different techniques of buyer and seller, the urge to make a keen profit, or snap up a bargain, and the bustle of the market place as a social milieu. The Bardwells and Scraggs also highlight the other activity of towns, namely making things.  Both families were connected with the linen trade, Bardwell as seller and the Scraggs as dyers of locally made hempen cloth.  The two groups, retailers and manufacturers, have been an integral part of Halesworth’s economy down to the present day.  It is convenient to class them together as ‘traders’, who mediate between the taking of natural resources and the selling of goods made from them to meet the needs and wants of their family customers.


In a national context, specialised traders had first emerged as townsfolk in the 13th century.  Their aim was to satisfy an increasing and never ending demand for goods and service by people in the town’s immediate surroundings and within the town itself.  These were needs that could not be met by the traditional intermittent retail outlets of fairs, markets and itinerant hawkers.  In the last quarter of the 18th century, there was a massive expansion in the number of small shopkeepers listed in Halesworth’s trade directories, which from the early 1820s was associated with a widespread shift from the self-sufficiency of rural families towards a dependence on what has been called the ‘shopocracy’.  This phenomenon, described as the ‘birth of plenty’, was driven by an ‘economic engine’ powered by the coming together during the 18th century of four basic factors;





These were the necessary conditions for the 19th century revolutions in manufacturing and retailing, which forced Halesworth from a Suffolk backwater into the mainstream of East Anglian trade with the Metropolis.


Specialisation of labour was the transmission drive that increased the prosperity of artisans, and channelled power from manufacturers to the dynamics of the retail trade.  The retail machine was fuelled by the rising purchasing power of families who were able to partake of the increased availability of cheap, mass-produced goods.  Bankers emerged as individuals and partnerships from amongst those who had made good in trade, and lawyers appeared to address the legal matters associated with increased numbers of property owners, manufacturers and traders.  Halesworth was a Mecca for these two new categories of middle class specialists, who established themselves in brick-built mansions midst the timber-framed houses.    


Evidence for the growing social diversity of market towns, and their underlying family dynamics, comes not only from the numerous trade directories that were published at this time, but is also quantified in census records, wills, newspapers and parish books. This information also illustrates the following important features of business development:



1.4 Towards a new history


In relation to the above issues connected to the changing human condition within nature, ‘Halesworth’ takes a view that the prosperity of the town ebbed and flowed when it did because of its topographic history and who decided to live there.  This views history as an unbroken tradition carried forward by a succession of people building on the contributions of previous generations.  On the other hand, there was also a coming together of people in the late medieval period, which generated a new sense of community, based on a novel understanding of the needs they shared and increased knowledge of the available means for satisfying them.  This perspective views history as a process of ecological transformation. 


Both propositions highlight the need to define a subject that integrates the march of humanity with occasional changes in environmental awareness, to explain how culture has come to its present state from within a local ecological infrastructure.  Halesworth, and hundreds of towns like it, are ‘images’ of commercial communities that help towards this understanding.  The helpful characteristics are:


·         the communities are small enough to function as historical models with many different levels of understanding;

·         and they exemplify many different types of disruptive events, which differ in size, chronological breadth and capacity to produce long-lasting effects. 


In both respects, these small town models have a bearing on the need to explain history as a blend of stable structures and discontinuities.


The main task of the ‘old history’ is one of tracing a line of tradition to discover how continuities are maintained between generations, and how a single historical pattern is formed and preserved.  The task of the new history of cultural ecology is to define transformations that serve as new foundations or the rebuilding of old ones in relation to the availability of natural resources.  The historical continuities are the momentum of the retail trade and population growth.  The discontinuities are changes in the perception and use of natural resources (exploiting resources) and changing attitudes to charity (conserving resources).  This holistic knowledge framework is set out as a mind map in Fig 1.2. 


In summary, ‘Halesworth’ deals with historical causality within the town as a long-established retail community, which in the mid 18th century became linked with national discontinuities in the utilisation and scientific study of natural resources.  The account is built upon two top-level concepts of ‘exploiting resources’ and ‘conserving resources’.  Exploiting resources encapsulates ideas about human production, and ‘conserving resources’ deals with ideas about nature’s production’ in relation to people being a part of local and global ecosystems.   Halesworth’s conservation culture began to merge with, and influence, the long-established retail culture, which had been based on the relentless exploitation of natural resources.  At any one time culture is the outcome of the interactions between the two activities, and at the present time cultural ecology is having something of an upper hand in the way Halesworthians perceive their town and its future.  This conceptual framework of ‘Halesworth’ is presented in Fig 1.3.  The second level concepts in this mind map define its chapters.

Figure 1.2  A map of cultural ecology defined by its general concepts and levels



Figure 1.3 ‘Halesworth’ topic map



1.5 Citizen historians


Questions about being a community in both past and present are fundamentally about its physical basis, and how people defined its boundaries. Answering them involves gathering information about the local terrain as part of a wider social whole. People interacting with terrain as a place to settle have added the human dimension to create a 'landscape'. Their comings and goings to partake of its resources have put down countless physical and biological markers of human development, and also created a notional layer to the landscape. The notional layer is often based on descriptions and opinions of people who have selected certain physical, biological and cultural elements to conceptualise and communicate 'the spirit of the place' through literature and art.


'Halesworth’ is an exemplar to show people how they can begin to visualise, and value their community's past, as part of its present system of economic development. Indeed, community appraisal first began with visual appraisal. It was Ralph Jeffrey, inspired by a book by De Wolfe written in 1964 on Italian towns, who was one of the first to advocate a formal system of environmental appraisal


De Wolfe advocated that this should start with people making a 'visual enquiry' to establish the local 'spirit of the place' by posing leading questions centred on



The Halesworth Conservation Area was first designated in 1970 and amended and enlarged in 1979 and 1997.  The latest development is the publication in February, 2006 of Waveney District Council’s Character Appraisal and Management Proposals/Strategy.  This describes the conservation area and its designated buildings, with some aims of management and suggestions for amending the boundaries and listing more buildings.


Actually, there are as many ways of evaluating a community as there are people in it, the particular problems that bug them, and the passions that excite them. However, a community appraisal based on its landscape fits the requirements of producing a neighbourhood knowledge system in its broadest context. It involves the presentation of an environmental ethic, supported with knowledge of the historical, economic, and ecological basis of community life. This is the foundation for environmental value judgements required to launch projects to change things for the better. It involves promoting an understanding of processes and skills by which this can be done by participating citizens. Community appraisal should therefore equip people to answer, and act upon, the following questions;



Seen in this context, the practical objective of ‘Halesworth’ is to spur people to get involved with their community’s past in the present by collecting information, writing stories about their lives, and generally opening their eyes to the variety of cultural detail that surrounds them. The aim is to set them thinking about their future society, and how it should be expressed physically and economically in the rest of the millennium.


Regarding cultural change, the following checklist of questions has been found useful:



With the addition of an occasional 'where?' to incorporate the spatial component, the authors have found this checklist particularly useful when applied to the various social dimensions of the history of Halesworth.  From answers to these questions would come the measurement of change, but full answers are not yet available for historical analysts in many cases.  Nevertheless, the remembering of the questions in relation to the availability of information has produced a provisional quantitative history of the town.  This traces its preindustrial economy through the industrial phase, which peaked in the 19th century to the present post-industrial society looking for ways to move into a ‘sustainable future’. 


Sustainability is not a scientific concept but a social idea. In this connection, it is not really a unifying concept for planning, but is more a ‘generator of problems’, which will only be solved by the community moving into a new cultural mode (Fig 1.4).  To get there requires novel community organisations by which the town’s stakeholders can control their local authority representatives so that the collective will is carried out.  The great economic events of industrialism happened mostly when the fate of communities was in the hands of narrowly based local councils or cliques and ad hoc bodies like the Turnpike Trusts and Navigation Commissioners.  Since the Reform Acts at the end of the 19th century there has been a move towards regionalism, which is still in progress.  A small outcome, that had a large local impact, was the commandeering of Halesworth’s ancient market rights by the District Council.  A small, but significant sign of the growth of communitarianism is that in response to local demand they have recently been returned.


Fig 1.4  The Halesworth historical model of social ecology






2 People of the Blyth



The stream ripples and glances over its brown bed, warmed with sunbeams; by its bank the green flags wave and rustle, and all about the meadows shine in pure gold of buttercups.  The hawthorn hedges are a mass of gleaming blossom, which scents the breeze.  There above rises the heath, yellow mantled with gorse and beyond, if I walk for an hour or two, I shall come out upon the sandy cliffs of Suffolk, and look over the northern sea.

George Gissing: ‘The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft’




2.1 Topography


In these three sentences George Gissing summarises the essence of Halesworth’s setting as envisaged from the Town Bridge, where the northern tributary of the River Blyth finally cuts its way free of Suffolk’s great western Clay Plateau to seek the coast at Southwold. This relatively small river runs due east from Halesworth to join the main channel of the Blyth just outside the town, to continue through a broad expanse of drained marshy pasture bordered by the low sandy hills of Blyford and Wenhaston.  At Blythburgh the valley becomes a tidal marsh with broad mudflats, and the river eventually enters the sea at Southwold Quay. 


Fig. 2.1 Topographic diagram of Blything Hundred.



The development of Halesworth in modern times cannot be understood without reference to the topography of this part of Suffolk, particularly the river valleys, which cut the land into east-west segments.  In this connection, the town is part of a larger pattern of human settlement that from the earliest of times has been dominated by the complex drainage system of the River Blyth (Fig 2.1). 

2.1.1 Blything Hundred

In fact, Halesworth’s topographic situation is reflected in its ancient political position towards the centre of the Blything Hundred, about 10 miles from the coast. The Hundred is an ancient sub-division of the county occupying precisely seven veins of the Blyth that have carved a broad arc into the glacial plateau clays of High Suffolk. This clay plateau is at its highest (about 55 metres) and flattest along a part of the western watershed, which separates the parishes of Ubbeston (Blything Hundred) and Laxfield (Hoxne Hundred). As inhabitants of the Hundred, Halesworth families have an historical continuity with the Saxon people, or tribe, that had its capital at Blythburgh.  In this connection, 'Blything' is equated with 'people of the Blyth', a designation that may well go further back in time to a coastal sub-division of land held by the Iron Age Iceni. Blythburgh is the site of the Hundred's 'moot hall' and first came to historical prominence as the religious centre of a branch of the important Wuffinga kingship centred on Sutton Hoo.  This royal connection is evident from the Christian burial at Blythburgh of King Ana in 654.  It is recorded as having a market in 1086 and in this respect its community had a functional significance equal to the other Domesday economic centres of Suffolk, which were at Kelsale, Dunwich, Ipswich, Stowmarket, Eye, Hoxne, Bungay, and Beccles.


Blything Hundred is a well-defined territory, stretching from the Hundred River at Kessingland south to another Hundred River, which separates Thorpeness from Aldeburgh.  Although the old ways and skills of the Blything may no longer be part of daily life, traditions of the earlier people of the river valleys are still embedded within the ancient topographical features of plateau, river and stream, which give the lands a powerful sanctity.  In general, the Hundred boundary follows the contours that define the Blyth watershed, but at some places it is marked by streams (becks), which are also parish boundaries. The western valleys of the Blyth descend from the fringe of the sparsely populated plateau settlements on the boundary, and are characterised by having relatively steep, jagged, water-eroded sides, through which minor roads follow narrow gullies. In relation to their size, relatively small watercourses occupy these gullies, an indication that they were cut by the flows of much larger volumes of water in the past. Some of these gullies (locally named 'gulls') probably represent old melt-water channels of the last glaciation. In this respect, the Blyth river system delineates a late glacial landscape, with the land divided into several water-cut ridges running from west to east.  Although this coastal area was no doubt attractive to the first post-glacial settlers, the corrugated ice-melt terrain has always been a barrier to long distance north-south communication through its settlements.


Towards the coast beyond Halesworth, streams cut through sands and gravels (the Sandlings), which some believe were deposited from a south-running ancestor of the River Rhine.  The outlets of all the rivers, from Kessingland to Aldeburgh, are partially blocked by sand and shingle bars, and at the coast they are separated from one another by soft cliffs undergoing rapid erosion.   Safe havens are at a premium for coastal trade.  Occasional woods, copses, small fields and tree lined hedgerows, considerably enhance the local character of an intensively used landscape, which, in the 11th century, was the most densely peopled region in England, with Suffolk having more than four hundred of its churches and the main patterns of county settlement already set out. 


Historically, Halesworth seems not to have had an important political position in the communities of the East Anglian coastal belt.  It is just one of many irregular-shaped parishes that are tightly packed within the Blyth watershed (Fig 2.2).  Although there are archaeological signs of occupation in the town going back to Palaeolithic times, there is no evidence for Halesworth having been a major settlement in pre-Roman, Roman or Saxon periods.  However, the site of the present church within an ovoid precinct could denote an early Christian enclosure. A circular or curvilinear boundary is a feature of early Christian church/chapel sites in Britain’s Celtic West.  Also, in this context, a short distance to the southwest is the settlement of Walpole; the prefix ‘WAL’ coupled with ‘PWL’ (lake) may denote a British (Welsh) settlement surviving in what became a predominantly Anglo-Saxon area.  The Norman overlords did not fortify Halesworth, and their local administrative centre for this part of the Shire was just outside the Blything Hundred, at Carlton.  


Fig 2.2 Parishes of Blything Hundred: pre 1855


2.1.2 Communications

From early times, it appears that the settlement of Halesworth became important as a stopover point in an old communication network extending from east to west across the clay plateau to the coast.  The community lies on a branch off the main highway that follows the Waveney valley from Bury to Yarmouth.   This branch turns off towards Halesworth at the market town of Harleston.  As a minor route it crosses the Waveney to traverse the great flat, open spaces of the glacial plateau at Metfield, where it enters the Hundred, and then follows the northern-most tributary of the Blyth down to Halesworth.  After crossing Town Bridge north of the church and market place, the road turns along the northern sandy edge of the main valley of the Blyth through Blyford to Southwold, a rare haven on the North Sea coastal shipping route between Yarmouth and Ipswich.  This particular road from Harleston to Southwold, is evident on the earliest route map of the area (dotted line; Fig 2.3). It has lateral branches at Halesworth, which go north to Bungay, and south, via Walpole and Peasenhall, to Yoxford. 


The remarkable thing about Kirby’s road map, compared with modern maps is the large proportion of villages that stand in isolation off the main roads.  This is reflection of the poor quality of communications and the self-sufficiency of the communities. A statute of 1555 made the parish responsible for highways and this continued until about 1663. It was then that an Act of Parliament decreed that ‘Turnpike Trusts’ should be set up. Until then, surfaces were not too important because roads were only used by packhorses and pedestrians during the summer.  In 1706 Parliament created the first turnpike trust, a scheme by which local business people could charge a toll for using a road, applying the money received to maintain the road. After 1750 there was a ‘mania’ for turnpikes.  Just over eight hundred acts were passed in the twenty years after 1751, and by 1830 there were some 1,100 trusts, created by around 4,000 separate acts, administering more than 56,000 miles of road. Whereas the first turnpikes had been in the counties close to London, trusts after 1750 were set up mainly in the Midlands, and after 1790 were concentrated in the north of England, reflecting the changing pattern of economic growth. Many of the trusts were fraudulently administered, and the Turnpike Act of 1822 required trusts to keep accounts. Nevertheless, it has been estimated that, by the 1830s, the turnpikes were investing about £1.5 million a year in the United Kingdom road system.


Fig. 2.3  Kirby’s road map of 1736



The improved roads allowed a significant increase of haulage traffic, passenger coaches, and a national postal service. Local landowners, merchants, parish officials and farmers were persuaded to become involved because it was to their benefit in an expanding economy to have improved communications. Most of the western Blything catchment is dominated by clay soils, which means that the Blyth river system has always been prone to saturation and flashy river responses.   Before hard road surfaces were introduced, winter brought local upland travel to a virtual standstill.  The Blyth valley marshes to the east of Halesworth were a major impediment in all seasons.   Before the marshes to the east of the town were drained for grazing, the modern way south from the town to the main London highway was through Walpole to Yoxford.  In those times, Bramfield was reached by a local ‘common lane’, from church to church.  This lane was then just a minor parochial link between the two places.  The situation only changed with the creation of the Bungay/ Halesworth/ Darsham turnpike, which, after passing through Halesworth, turned left at the top of Pound St (London Rd.) to Bramfield.   From Bramfield it continued along a track called Beech Lane, which had been improved by the trust for wheeled traffic to access the main coastal turnpike from Yarmouth to Ipswich at Darsham. (Fig 2.4).  It is thought that the flint-walled house at the junction with the A12 was built for the toll keeper.  There was probably another tollbooth in Bramfield to catch traffic to Halesworth that converged laterally on the crossroads in the centre of the village.


Fig. 2.4 Turnpike roads in North East Suffolk



The economic stimulus given to trade by the turnpike movement cannot be underestimated.  For example, Arthur Young the national advocate for improved agriculture, with the interests of the countryside always at heart, rejoiced to note that when a good turnpike road was made it opened out new markets.   New ideas circulated through the come-and-go of more frequent travel, and rents in the district soon rose with the improvement of agriculture. On the other hand, he saw and deplored the beginning of that 'rural exodus', which has been going on ever since, at a pace, which matches the speed of improved communications. In his Farmer's Letters (ed, 1771) he wrote:


To find fault with good roads would have the appearance of paradox and absurdity; but it is nevertheless a fact that giving the power of expeditious travelling depopulates the Kingdom. Young men and women in the country villages fix their eyes on London as the last stage of their hope. They enter into service in the country for little else but to raise money enough to go to London, which was no such easy matter when a stage coach was four or five days in creeping an hundred miles.  The fare and the expenses ran high. But now! A country fellow, one hundred miles from London, jumps on a coach box in the morning, and for eight or ten shillings gets to town by night, which makes a material difference; besides rendering the going up and down so easy, the numbers who have seen London are increased tenfold, and of course ten times the boasts are sounded in the ears of country fools to induce them to quit their healthy clean fields for a region of dirt, stink and noise.


However, without improving communications neither the in­dustrial nor the agricultural revolution could have taken place.

Fig. 2.5 Settlement of Halesworth in relation to the 50 ft contour of the upper valley of the River Blyth, and its crossing points.



The picture of Halesworth as an out-of-the-way focus for pedestrian and horse-borne travel was actually reinforced by the granting of a market in the 13th century.  This weekly market determined its local inward-looking mercantile function for the next five centuries.  The road connection with Southwold provided its life-blood, which was trade with the coastal shipping route between Newcastle and London.  The peculiar historical situation of Halesworth, off to one side of the main east-west routes into East Anglia, also accounts for the fact that, today, in order to reach the town from the main road network, the traveller either takes a winding dog-leg route across the clay plateau from Harleston, or, if coming from the south, has to make a sharp turn to the west off a relatively uninhabited stretch of the A12 at Darsham.

The position of the settlement of Halesworth at the junction of the east-west and north south communications through Blything has been critical to its history and economic development.  The key to understanding the town’s strategic position is the 50 ft contour on which St Mary’s church and the market place, as the first point of settlement, are positioned.   This is illustrated diagrammatically in Fig 2.5.  The 50ft contour delineates the flood plain of the river at this point, and highlights the fact that the largest flows of water descend from the clay plateau via the southern valley.  The roads along both the north and south valleys immediately to the east and west of Halesworth more or less follow the line of the 50 ft contour.  As stated above, the main north south route from Yoxford to Bungay crossed the Southern Blyth at Walpole Bridge.  Bramfield (Mells) Bridge marks the site of an ancient crossing of the river by the common lane that ran from Halesworth church to Bramfield.  As pointed out above, the modern road to the bridge appears to have been a later development of a Turnpike Trust to speed Halesworth traffic to the main London Turnpike at Darsham. 

Routes from the northwest, northeast, and north, focus on Halesworth’s Town Bridge below the church.  This bridge marks the narrowest point of the flood plain for crossing the Blyth, and the road from Harleston takes this route from the church, down The Thoroughfare to the northern bank, where it rises steeply again from the bridge up to the 50 ft contour.  The approach to the bridge via the Thoroughfare was constructed over marshy ground.   In this respect, it was reported in the 1951 Festival of Britain brochure for the town, that during excavations in The Thoroughfare, when pipes for a sewer were being laid, huge quantities of peat were brought to the surface.  The town’s marshy heritage is still evident in that the river is prone to flash flooding.  The last major flood episode occurred on 12th October 1993, when the river overflowed its banks and extended from the bridge some 200 metres up the road to the south, flooding the car park, the park, and properties on either side of The Thoroughfare. For most of its existence, Halesworth was confined to the narrow strip of land between the church and river and most of its medieval thatched buildings were packed tightly along The Thoroughfare down to the Town Bridge.   It is here that most of its remaining timber-framed houses are found.

2.2 Halesworth and the ‘nook’ communities


Halesworth is one of the smaller parishes of the Blything hundred and is characterised for the most part by an angular boundary, which follows hedges and ditches between fields.  Only its southern edge is marked by a natural feature, where the parish boundary is delineated by the meanderings of the southern Blyth (Figs. 2.6-2.7). 

Fig 2.6  Parish boundary of Halesworth (shaded) in the 19th century.

Parish boundaries are the outcome of more than a thousand years of socio-economic history.  They came after the primary process of English settlement, which was followed by adjustments from time to time by the exchange of land with neighbours.  In modern times, boundaries were changed radically in response to urbanisation and the coming of the railways.  For example, Halesworth’s boundary was altered after the northern route of the railway had cut off small irregular portions of the parish from its main body.  The last major alteration to Halesworth’s boundaries was in 1934 and this more or less gave the parish its present form (Fig 2.7).


Fig 2.7  The position of Halesworth parish (modern boundary) in relation to river, roads and farms.


WL = wetland; BCL= Bramfield common lane


Counteracting the forces of change was the need for geographical cohesion on the part of the community.   A sense of place was maintained year on year by the ceremony of beating the bounds.  This was the annual perambulation, led by the churchwardens, of young and old along an established route that circumnavigated the parish.  Beating the bounds originated before the days of maps, and involved a procession from one prominent feature to another, i.e. an ancient tree, a stream or a hilltop.





Fig 2.8 Compartmentation of outlying titheable lands (modified from Warner, 1987)


Shaded area tithable to Halesworth


When the first map of Halesworth was made in the mid 18th century, a detached portion of Halesworth was embedded in the northern parish of Spexhall (Fig. 2.8-2.9-210).  Subsequent adjustments of this anomaly between Halesworth and Spexhall accounts for the narrow northern extension of the parish parallel to Stone Street, the main road to Bungay.  However, to understand the origins of the parochial territory of Halesworth that subsequently conditioned its economic development requires examining its condition and that of its northern neighbours at the time of  King William’s Domesday Survey.


Fig 2.9  Halesworth in Spexhall (1842)



The fields of Halesworth’s northern extension are rectangular and appear to have been planned with their common axis running north to south (Fig 2.9), more or less following the line of Stone St. which predates them.


Nearer to the centre of Halesworth, the boundary forms a projection, which contains the homestead of Hill Farm (Fig. 2.10).  This ‘bulge’ is evidence of some kind of land deal in the past that took place between Halesworth and Holton.  It could have been that Holton received a finger of land from Halesworth or that Hill Farm was carved out of Holton.  There are no documented clues as what actually happened.


Generally, it can be inferred from the way parish boundaries sometimes zigzag across the land that negotiations over the enclosure of common land to make private fields, and/or, the consolidation of estates on boundaries, which actually extended one village and reduced another, was commonplace at the most distant points from the centre of the village.  All of this might or might not be written down as a description of who owned which fields.  Mapping was a relatively late process in community history and it not only fossilized community memory of where one village ended and another began, but also signified ancient deals in real estate, some of which have been traced back to Saxon charters.
Fig. 2.10 Parish boundary of Halesworth in relation to the Holton and Wissett 1842



The Domesday Survey tells that most of Halesworth was then in the hands of a powerful Norman baron, Earl Hugh.  He was pressing his claim on the remainder of the village, which was contested by another of King William’s henchmen, Earl Alan. 


The following Domesday entry for Halesworth is substantial and describes three estates with manorial status. That is to say there were three lords with competing interests in land and people.


Aelfric held Halesworth TRE as a manor with 2 carucates of land. Then 4 villans, now 5.  Then 7 borders, now 10.  Then as now 2 slaves. Then as now 2 ploughs in demesne. Then 3 ploughs belonging to the men, now 2.  Then woodland for 300 pigs, now for 100.  Then as now 4 acres of meadow. 1 mill, 1 horse. Then as now 6 head of cattle.  Now 10 pigs.  18 sheep.  Then it was worth 30 (s). now 40(s). 


In the same vill Ulf the priest held 40 acres of land as one manor.  2 borders. 1 plough in demesne.   Woodland for 6 pigs. 4 acres of meadow.  14 sheep. 2 goats.  It is worth 5s.


To this manor have been joined 4 free men with 60 acres of land. 2 borders. 2 ploughs in demesne.  It is worth 10s.  And Bigod de Loges holds these 3 estates from Earl Hugh. 


It is one league long and another broad.  It renders 7 ½ d in geld. Count Alan claims the land of the aforsaid priest and those of 4 men through his predecessor and his own seisin and the Hundred testifies (for him).


Earl Hugh also had interests in four parishes adjacent to Halesworth, holding Bramfield as one manor, with properties in Walpole, Thorington, Wenhaston and Wissett.  There is no Domesday entry for Spexhall and its eastern neighbour, Westhall.  Omissions of villages that were later described as long-established communities are unusual, but not unknown in Suffolk.   This simply adds to the air of mystery surrounding the origins of Halesworth, not least because 19th century Halesworth shared a fragmented northern boundary with Wissett, Spexhall and Westhall. 


It has been said that the landscape of Suffolk is still essentially a Saxon one. The description of Domesday Halesworth as being one league long and another broad, fits with the relative dimensions of the 19th century parish.  A clue to the settlement’s connection with Spexhall could be Halesworth’s ownership of Domesday woodland that could provide pannage for 300 pigs.  This is a substantial amount of land that was probably sited on unoccupied claylands to the north of the town.  Another large area of pannage was included in the survey of Wissett, again amounting to 300 pigs. These figures are not accurate counts of actual animals but were taken by the King’s surveyors to represent orders of magnitude for comparative purposes.  In the 1839 Tithe Apportionment, two blocks of fields belonging to Halesworth were embedded in Spexhall, and there was also a part of Spexhall that was titheable in Westhall. These arrangements indicate that this flat, and still relatively uninhabited landscape, which is part of the watershed between the Blyth, Wangford Brook and Waveney, was pre-Conquest wood pasture, with common land rights held by villages to the south.  Subsequently, the block of land straddling Stone Street, a supposed Roman road, became shared between the three communities, each having specified amounts of common land, and these commons were subsequently enclosed to give the parochial boundaries as shown in the Tithe Maps. The virtual snapshot of the northern edge of Blything in 1086 illuminates the process of clearing and settlement of upland forest.  The process had long been a feature of the spread of the English, as families moved west, exploring Suffolk’s network of streams to access the heavy clay cornlands.

2.2.1 Lands at the edges

The parish touched most people's lives through its role as a form of local government and as a significant landscape feature, which defined a circuit of territory to which local people may have felt an allegiance. Evidence for the social meaning of boundaries is found in acts of boundary marking and related perambulation ceremonies and through written records, sometimes involving maps. In the primary definition a premium was placed on local knowledge, especially of the older parishioners. Acts of boundary recording could enhance a sense of parish consciousness and community.


The peculiar arrangement of Halesworth’s northern parish boundary as it was mapped in the early 19th century, in relation to Wissett and Holton, with the detached portion of Halesworth embedded in Spexhall, requires some explanation.  The fact that Spexhall church appears to have originated to serve a chapelry of Wissett, suggests that Spexhall was actually a post-Conquest community created on the eastern plateau lands of Wissett.  Wissett’s pannage for 300 pigs reinforces the idea that there was a large tract of woodland available to the parish that was probably the plateau land upon which Spexhall was eventually established as an independent parish, where it shared common rights with Halesworth and Westhall.



Fig. 2.11 Plateau-edge parishes of Brampton, Westhall and Sotherton



There are also intriguing arial relationships between the lands situated at the edges of several parishes immediately to the north of Halesworth.  Uncertainties of ownership in these flat lands with no obvious physical markers, seem to have existed where Halesworth impinged on the territory of the three north-eastern parishes of Brampton, Westhall and Sotherton, to the east of Stone St.  These three parishes are situated on the edge of the clay plateau with their communities focused in three small valleys with unnamed streams feeding the River Blyth beyond Wangford at Wolsey’s Bridge (Fig 2.11).  If their churches are taken as the main points of settlement, it is clear that the 75 ft contour is a key to the original suitability of these valleys for their first communities.  From the churches, the parish lands rise up the valleys to the west, where, in the case of Westhall, the boundary is for the most part aligned north to south, parallel to Stone Street, from which it was separated by about half a mile of territory belonging to Halesworth and Spexhall.  The northern boundaries of Westhall and Brampton coincide with Blything’s Hundred boundary, as did Halesworth’s detached northern block of land. 


Sotherton is the smallest of the three villages and abuts onto Holton and Blyford. The contiguity and shapes of their 19th century boundaries (Fig. 2.12) is strongly suggestive that they were originally one community, with a western nook, or valley, which became a separate village.  Sotherton or ‘south community’, which is mentioned in Domesday, is a candidate for an early division of Brampton.   Westhall has to be ‘west’ of something, and indeed, it forms the western boundary of Brampton.  The name ‘Brampton’ is common throughout England and has been equated with ‘burnt place’ i.e. a community laid waste by fire.  This is a clue to a point in time when a disaster overcame Brampton in Suffolk, after which three new nuclear villages, Brampton, Sotherton and Westhall were created out of the one territory. Regarding their origins, in 1086 Brampton had about three times the farming activity of Sotherton, which from its holding of 100 hogs was probably largely a woodland area.  The actual dimensions of Sotherton were given as 1 league long by half a league wide.  Brampton’s size was not recorded.


Fig 2.12 The ‘nuclear’ communities of Wissett and Brampton



Warner, in his booklet, ‘Seven Wonders from Westhall’ has mapped the probable 14th century distribution of woodland in the three parishes (Fig 2.13).  His map shows a southern block straddling the boundary between Westhall and Sotherton.  This pattern of distribution, taken together with the relatively large area of common land in Westhall that was probably derived from woodland, indicates that Westhall was a post-Conquest creation by the division of Sotherton and its settlement from Brampton.  Its relatively large area of common land was probably a legacy from its origins as a block of wood pasture.  From an examination of the plan and Romanesque features of Westhall church, Warner favours a late 11th century origin for its foundation as a stone-built chapel, which was subsequently embellished with an apse with a well-carved ‘Norman’ chancel arch and portal in the next century.


What have these ancient topographic features of the communities north of the town to do with the development of Halesworth?  First there is an etymological unity with the name 'hal or hall' used to describe an out of the way place.  The name Halesworth (various early spellings are Halesuuorda, Haleurda, Healesuurda) may have originated as a local description of 'the farming community (urda) of the nook (hale)'. Hal or hall is common to the cluster of Spexhall, Westhall, Titshall (an isolated wood in Brampton), Spexhall and Ilketshall.  In line with this, there is evidence that these communities spread out from small well-watered valleys at the northern edge of Blything Hundred, up onto the intractable wooded clayland of the high plateau.  This plateau between the Blyth and Waveney catchments was probably an impediment to north-south communication from the earliest times.  In this respect, Stone Street is regarded as a local engineering initiative of the Romans to drive a route across the impenetrable claylands between Halesworth and Bungay.  This was probably in order to connect the Romano-British farms of Blything with military installations on the Yare and Waveney.  There is still something of a mystery about the so-called Roman Roads in and around Blything.  Quite often, as in the case of Stone St, the straight bits connect up bendy bits.  Where there are gaps, the maps often show a dotted line as if the intermediate section had been destroyed, but without archaeological evidence for the assumption.  A more reasonable conclusion is that the bendy bits were in existence as a network of local community tracks before the arrival of the legionary task force, whose job was to connect up with the next local network on a straight line across a stretch of impenetrable terrain.  After all, these roads were probably required for the long-distance movement of agricultural supplies rather than for the rapid deployment of military assets.


Fig 2.13 Disposition of parishes to the east of Stone St in relation to 14th century woodland


(modified from Warner, 1996)


Finally, the shape of Halesworth probably developed, and was restricted, as the result of competition between the ‘nook’ communities for the empty claylands.  In this connection, Brampton may be regarded as a prototype of Halesworth, with its church sited above a stream crossed by a minor road.  At Domesday it was about twice the size of Halesworth and like Halesworth its lord successfully petitioned Henry III for a market and fair (1251), as did the lord of Sotherton (1226).  The latter rights were later transferred to the secondary community of Westhall.  This signalled the beginning of the decline of Sotherton relative to Westhall, and by the 17th century it was only half the size of its northern neighbour. At this time (1674) Brampton had 20 households, Westhall had 46, and Sotherton had 21. In contrast, Halesworth had 226 households at this time, and the retail revolution, which boosted the population of Halesworth, had bypassed its northern neighbours, and even the coming of the railway did not significantly enhance their agrarian economies.  In contrast to Halesworth, they remain to this day as sparsely populated, out of the way places, and rare examples of extreme rurality.



2.3 Social structure

2.3.1 Lordship

We see society as a grouping that holds individuals together and cements relationships between them.  In England and the Anglicised areas of eastern and south Wales, the basic unit of society was the lordship and the manor.  The manor, comprised 'demesne' lands, 'anciently and time out of mind' reserved to the lord's use, freehold ten­ancies and 'customary' land. Freeholders enjoyed a secure title, the rights to sell, lease and bequeath their land, and the protection of the common law. They held around a fifth of the land in many areas, and still more in some. The lord's demesne had formerly been cultivated by serf labour. By 1500, it was usually leased out to tenants for periods of years or ‘lives’ in return for an initial 'entry fine' and an annual rent negotiated at the time of the granting of tenancy. Customary lands, in contrast, passed by 'admission' and 'surrender' in the manor court, on terms, which were subject to the 'custom of the manor'. In the central Middle Ages, such land had been held by unfree serfs or 'villeins' - 'at the will of the lord and according to the customs of the manor' — in return for the perfor­mance of labour services on the demesne and the payment of various customary dues. By 1500 serfdom was largely, though not entirely, extinct as a legal status. Some customary tenants remained tenants at will, holding property from year to year, with no legal rights beyond that of harvesting a growing crop if required to relinquish their tenancy. Most, however, were 'copyholders', holding land by virtue of a copy of the entry on the manor court roll recording their admission to the tenancy. Their common designation covered a bewildering profusion of actual terms and condi­tions, which varied according to the customs of individual manors. All copyholders paid an entry fine and an annual rent. But some manors accorded rights of inheritance, while others granted land only for years or lives. On some, entry fines or rents had become fixed. On others they remained 'arbitrary' and renegotiable when the current tenancy expired. The extent of the proprietary rights enjoyed by such tenants thus differed greatly. A copyholder of inheritance, with a fixed fine and rent, was vir­tually as secure as a freeholder. Others might be much more exposed to the estate-management policies of their landlords — though rarely to the extent that was prevalent in Scotland. The rents and obligations owed by tenants were as variegated as their forms of tenure. For freeholders they were negligible, involving only a small payment in 'recognition' of a lord's jurisdiction and the obligation of 'suit' at his court. English leaseholders paid money rents based on an assessment of the current value of the land. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries leases were generally long and their terms were gen­erous.


By the late Middle Ages, Halesworth’s manorial structure was evident in three manors, Halesworth Manor itself, which comprised a large proportion of the urbanised centre, Dame Margery’s Manor, which consisted of only a few tens of acres and was probably taken out of Halesworth Manor and subsequently merged back into it, and Rectory Manor.  The latter comprised most of the newly urbanised land to the north of the river.  Its lord was the Rector of Halesworth and its revenues went to the Church. This may have originated in the 40 acres of land held by Ulf the priest at Domesday.  It appears that most of the parish was, from early times, freehold land.


The records of the transactions of the court of Rectory Manor from the 18th and 19th centuries have survived, from which it can be seen that its system of fines and admissions was a financial and administrative burden to the tradesmen of Halesworth north of the Thoroughfare.  An example of what they had to contend with may be seen in the following extract of the minutes of the manorial court held in 1734.  It records the transfer of a tenancy from John Hawks to Thomas Brown for which the latter had to pay a fee to the Lord of the Rectory Manor, even though the Manor did not own the property.  It also records that this particular manorial tenancy had been transferred to John Hawks from Nathaniel Short.  The actual passage of the tenancy to Thomas Brown involved Edmund Brown, a tailor, who was granted the legal right to transfer the premises to Thomas Brown.


A general Court Baron there hold for the said Manor the thirteenth day of June in the year of our lord one thousand seven hundred and thirty-four before Thomas Betts Esq. Steward there.


Homage; John Schimming and James Woolnough sworn.


At this Court comes here into court John Hawks in his proper person, and doth surrender into the hands of the Lord of the said Manor, by the said steward, by Thomas Rodd, all that copyhold messuage or tenement situate and lying and being in Halesworth late in the tenure and occupation of Nathaniel Short, together with a curtilage to the same- belonging to which premises the said John Hawks was admitted tenant to him and his heirs at a Court here held for the said Manor the nineteenth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twenty-four upon the surrender of Robert Bartrup- to the use of Edmund Brown of Halesworth in the County of Suffolk, Taylor- and of his heirs and assigns for ever, who being present here in court in his proper person- puts himself in Favour with the Lord and prays to be admitted Tenant to the premises so surrendered as aforesaid. To which said Edmund Brown the Lord of this Manor by his said steward- doth grant and therof deliver seizin by Thomas Rodd to hold those premises with the appurtenances unto the said Thomas Brown, his heirs and assigns of the Lord at the will of the Lord- according to the custom of the said Manor by the rents and customs and services thereoftofore due and of right accustomed, and he pays to the Lord his fine and is admitted Tenant.


The manorial system of Halesworth lasted well into the 20th century. As late as 1939, Kelly’s Suffolk Directory states that  “William Ram Esq. is lord of the manors of Halesworth and Dame Margery’s (about 250 acres) and the Rector is lord of the Rectory manor (about 40 acres).  The land is held by a number of owners”


2.3.2 Neighbourliness

'Neighbourliness' was another keyword of sixteenth-century social relations, expressing a critically important social ideal. The relation­ship which it defined was based upon residential proximity, interaction of a regular kind, and a degree of consensus regarding proper conduct among residents within local communities.  Communities were, as one contemporary put it, 'the first societies after propagation of families wherein people are united ... in ... the mutual comforts of neigh­bourhood and intercourse one with another'. Such focused interaction and consensus were created partly by institutions, not least, as we have seen above, those of lordship. The sense of collective identity of rural communities was derived in part from the inhabitants' common relationship to a lord, and it was further elaborated in the formulation of local custom. Custom, it has been said, 'presupposes a group or community within which it is practised'. Moreover, it helped to constitute such groups, expressing a ‘community of interest’ among neighbours, defining their relationships not only to the lord but also to one another, and con­tributing to the formulation of a sense of place and of an individual’s identity within that place.


All this was evident in the ways in which the institutions of lordship and tenancy were also institutions of self-regulation within the tenurial communities to which most people still belonged. It was perhaps most visible nationally in the organisation of common-field agriculture. In this system each tenant held parcels of land scattered in strips across great open fields, while further enjoying access to certain collective 'use rights' - to common pasture on the fields after harvest and on areas of permanent common grazing land, or to the resources of food, fuel and materials provided by the woods, common and 'waste'. The system had many variants within the common need for the cooperative organisation of husbandry.  From the time of the first records of land use, the open-field system was not dominant in Suffolk.  Some authorities believe this implies very early enclosure.  Others take its absence as evidence of continuity from the Saxon settlement; in other words open field agriculture was never fully adopted.


2.3.3 Fraternity

Lordship and neighbourhood were also of relevance to town society. Lesser towns were often 'seigneurial boroughs' governed by seigneurial courts and owing their fee farm to their lord. Neighbourhood was as characteristic of urban streets and parishes as of rural communities. Towns, however, were also distinguished by their relative independence and distinctive institutions. Urban autonomy had developed from the basic right to hold markets and to possess institutions of self-government by a process of slow accretion. Inevitably, it varied in its extent. But it could produce a strong sense of civic independence, especially if a town had achieved the accolade of incorporation, which conferred legal iden­tity as a corporate body. 


Within that collective identity, the urban community was comprised of a variety of component groups. Its core members of these brotherhoods were the citizens or burgesses, who possessed the ‘freedom’ of the place, and the members of the craft fellowships.  The latter were companies or guilds, which had evolved from loose associations of men with a common occu­pation into 'organised communities with exclusive rights', controlling the affairs of particular trades. These two categories overlapped. Citizenship was the prerequisite for full participation in the economic and political life of the town. It could be acquired by various means — including pat­rimony, marriage, purchase or 'redemption' and apprenticeship.  ‘Citizenship’, however, was usually contingent upon membership of a guild. Variations in the size of citizen communities tended to depend upon whether the franchise was available only to independent masters, or was extended also to journeymen who had completed their apprenticeship. All in all, the guilds promoted a powerful spirit of fraternity and mutual responsibility, which reflected medieval ideals of association. Such values were shared by the rulers of the towns, whose exercise of authority was informed by notions of stewardship and obligation to the wider community, and who sought to harmonise the economic interests of potentially hostile groups in the general interests of 'amity, love and quietness'. Nor were they alien to the poor. Late-medieval urban society, it has been said: ‘while undoubtedly stratified, resembled a trifle rather than a cake: its layers were blurred and the sherry of accepted values soaked through them'.


2.3.4 Kinship

Throughout discussion of local economic institutions and relation­ships a particular idiom recurs in the terminology of the records: one of 'kindness', 'friendship' and 'fraternity'. Neighbours were enjoined to live in 'kindly intercourse' and 'friendly unity', and guild members to be 'brothers', 'sisters' and 'friends'. This was in fact an idiom of kinship, invoking the affective bonds of family relationships. Forms of economic association thus overlapped conceptually with those of kinship, and this fact inevitably raises the question of the significance of kinship in the economic relations of the time.  In one respect, kinship was of fundamental significance in transmitting property between the generations, and facilitating the entry of the young into independent adulthood. But what of the broader roles of kinship, and in particular those of the net­works of kinfolk, which extended beyond the nuclear family household?


Throughout Britain, bonds of kinship also had a significant role in the 'social uplands' of the aristocracy and gentry. In provincial society, both intermarriage among the landed families of a county or region, and the establishment of cadet branches, created series of overlapping networks of connection, which were bound together not only by neighbourhood, but also by blood. Such net­works could involve extensive mutual co-operation.  This can be seen in the acquisition, management and defence of property, where a trusted core of 'friends' within the gentry community acted as patrons, go-betweens, executors, arbitrators, witnesses, trustees and, if necessary, armed supporters.


Urban kinship could provide a bond of solidarity in both political and economic affairs. Leading citizens were frequently closely interlinked by blood and marriage. In trade, relatives provided an 'operational extended family' of trusted individuals with shared commercial interests, who provided credit, advice, support and contacts. Much the same could be said of the leading members of the church, and professions such as the law. Thus to get on in Halesworth, membership of one ‘party’ or another was a great advantage and incomers had to break through the barriers of kinship.


2.3.5 Economic networks

The particularity of happenings in Halesworth derived in part from the distinctiveness of its customs, institutions, expectations and patterns of relationships.  But it was also shaped by the manner in which they were linked into larger worlds.


For analytical purposes, four overlapping spheres of commercial activity may be distinguished. The most basic of these involved the intensive small-scale dealing, which took place among the inhabitants of an immediate locality. In rural society this commonly involved a kind of quasi-commercial extension of neighbourliness, well documented in those numerous minor transactions - often involving credit - which are recorded in wills and inventories. In the towns too, a good deal of the busi­ness of small tradesmen was conducted with fellow townspeople within what remained highly localised markets.  As in the countryside, Halesworth’s urban inventories and court records indicate that many of these trans­actions were conducted on credit or 'trust', in a manner that created a complex web of economic interdependence among known individuals extending up, down and across local societies, which were more diverse but no less intimate than their rural counterparts.


In all likelihood most small husbandmen and tradesmen conducted the greater part of their commercial dealings within such contexts. A second sphere of activity, however, was that comprising rural/urban and inter-urban trade at the level of the district, 'country' or sub-region. Despite their elements of autonomy, rural and urban economies were in no sense separate spheres.   It is helpful to think not of town and country, but rather of interconnected socio-economic areas that were centred on a town.  All towns depended on the countryside for supplies of food and raw materials and for much of their custom. Country-dwellers needed the towns as trading forums for their produce and as suppliers of specialist manufactures and services. More­over, similar reciprocities existed between urban economies, or rather between those town-centred socio-economic areas. In both instances, the vital unit of analysis is that of the country town and its hinterland, or 'market area'.


All market towns were essentially part of the countryside, which they served and from which they gained most of their living. They varied nonetheless in both their size and their significance in the structuring of commercial activity within their 'countries'. The smallest have been aptly described as 'market villages' i.e. villages with an overlay of urban activities, and as 'foci in time', briefly galvanised into activity on their market days. Nevertheless, they performed a vital role in binding the settlements around them into larger economic units. Regular use of those markets for the exchange of small surpluses provided them with several points of entry into the larger economy of the district. Moreover, such periodic influx from surrounding villages meant that even small towns were able to sustain a range of specialist activities somewhat greater than that represented in the average rural settlement. In a survey of occupa­tions in the Babergh Hundred of Suffolk in 1522, for example, the twenty-seven villages had between two and fourteen male occupations each. The small towns of Boxford, Nayland, Lavenham and Long Melford, however, had between eighteen and twenty-seven. Sudbury, the most significant market town of the district, had forty-nine.  Sudbury provides an example of what have been termed 'district market towns': places with a more extensive role in articulating the pat­terns of exchange of an area. Some simply provided more services than any rival. Some had developed a degree of specialisation in addition to their general trading functions.  This is the pattern that singled out Halesworth from this time.

2.3.6 Land ownership

The tithe system from time im­memorial had caused much friction between church and congregation. The harvest song—


' We've cheated the parson, we'll cheat him again, For why should the Vicar have one in ten?'


expressed an anti-tithe sentiment as old as Anglo-Saxon England.


The tithe was levied from the tenant farmer, very often in kind: the tenth sucking pig went to the parson's table; the tenth sheaf was carried off to his tithe barn. Long before the Reformation it had been a cause of friction and bitterness, Chaucer had praised the good parson who did not 'cursen for his tithes,' that is, excommunicate the recalcitrant tithe-payer.  The Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 laid this ancient grievance between the rural laity and their priests to rest. It stopped payment in kind. Tithes were commuted for a rent-charge on land. In 1891 it was made payable by the landowner, no longer by the tenant farmer except perhaps indirectly through his rent. The squires, who were socially and politically allied to the parsons, did not object to paying tithe as strongly as their tenants. The Commutation Acts gave temporary peace to the country­side. It was only later, when after 1918 so many cultivating farmers bought their own land and having become landowners found themselves directly chargeable with tithe, that a fresh agitation arose leading to fresh concessions at the expense of the Church.


At the time of the legal process of Tithe Apportionment in Halesworth, nine people owned most of Halesworth’s agricultural land (Table 2.1).  George Parkyns of Chediston Hall was one of the town's greatest landowners.  He was also by far the greatest landowner in Chediston, where he exercised his role as lord of the manor from his imposing mansion of Chediston Hall.


Table 2.1 Halesworth land holdings in Tithe Apportionment: 1839






Size (acres)

Charles Woolby



Charlotte Hart


John Crabtree








William Woodyard


James Johnson





George Parkyns


Chediston Hall

Various occupiers

















Jacob Pattison



Stephen Newson


George Suggate



Rev. Blois Samuel Turner


Harley Archer



James Crickmer


Anne Cole



William George





James Punchard


Rev. Jeremy Day


Day’s Farm

Martin George


Other land owned




















Isaac Butcher






Such was the hold that the territory of Blything had on its people through the socializing of its primary production and routeways that had been carved out of a primeval ecology of wet valleys and upland forest.  This provided a rich heritage of natural resources that Halesworth gathered from its rural neighbours.





3 The ‘sea’ of rurality


Every world-economy is a sort of jigsaw puzzle, juxtaposition of zones interconnected, but at different levels.  On the ground, at least three different areas or categories can be distinguished: a narrow core, a fairly developed middle zone, and a vast periphery.  The qualities and characteristics of the type of society, economy, technology, culture and political order necessarily alter as one moves from one zone to another.  This is an explanation of very wide application….


F. Braudel (1979)



3.1  Course of urbanisation


A potted history of European economic development would have it that as the peasants cleared the land; as people became more numerous, they harnessed the power of wheel and windmill; communications were established between regions once completely foreign to each other; barriers came down.  Countless towns sprang up or revived wherever there was a crossroads of trade, and the creation of these urban islands were undoubtedly the crucial factor that launched the competitive capitalist European economy. Between 1250 and 1350 Europe was suddenly covered with towns, which were the major pieces of an expanding international economic jigsaw.  Rural production and exchange was dominant and rurality was the norm for Halesworth’s vast periphery of Hundred and County, within which its new urban economies were developing.  Halesworth’s tradesfolk consolidated their urban future within Blything Hundred by virtue of its roads to the river crossing, its market, its workshops and the money that accumulated through buying and selling goods from town and country within half a mile radius from the parish church. Its market place ensured its food supply, as peasants came regularly to town with their produce. Its market stalls offered an outlet for the growing family surpluses of the surrounding lordly domains and for the huge amounts of produce emanating from the ‘lordship-zone’, which came from the payment of manorial dues in kind.


After about 1150, Europe moved beyond direct agricul­tural consumption of peasant rurality and family self-sufficiency, to the stage of indirect agricultural consumption created by the exchange of surplus rural production in urban markets.  At the same time, towns attracted all the skilled crafts, creating for themselves a focused monopoly, through guilds and apprenticeships, of the manufacture and marketing of industrial products (Fig 3.1).  Only later would this kind of pre-industry move back into the countryside.  In short, economic life, especially after the thirteenth century, began to take precedence over the earlier agrarian functions of the towns.  Towns became retail islands in a sea of rurality.  Their influence spread over a very wide area as the crucial move was made from a domestic to a market economy.  In other words, the towns were beginning to tower above their rural surroundings and to look beyond their immediate horizons. This was a great economic leap forward, the first in the series that created European society and launched it on its successful capitalist career. There is only one event even remotely comparable to this: the creation by the first European settlers in America of the many transit-towns, linked to each other by road and by the requirements of commerce, communication, and defence.


The guild system was the socio-economic high point of medieval urban commercialism.  The Guild Hall was a central point of business and local politics.  Its importance was expressed in silver plate and pomp and circumstance, particularly in a town like Halesworth, where there was no mayoralty.  The trade guilds had an enormous amount of power, membership being required for social, economic, or political advancement. Some of the most important guilds had legal enforcement rights, and could forbid traders or artisans to operate within their jurisdiction on penalty of confiscation of their wares and tools. Several, such as the ‘Fishmongers’ and ‘Glovers’, could, on their own authority, search private homes to seize inferior goods. Farmers were not permitted to form a guild for fear of price fixing food, the mainstay of the whole economic edifice.




Fig 3.1  The economic course of urbanisation



For those who wish to commune with this idea of the Halesworth closed-guild fraternity, the ‘woolshop’ and the ‘paper-shop’ next door now occupy part of the main structure of the town’s old Guild Hall in the Thoroughfare.  When its main wooden frame was erected, probably in the second half of the 15th century, its very size would have dominated the town’s main street.  The building has been much altered since then.  There are fragmentary records of the activities of three guilds that used the building: the 'Guild of St John the Baptist', the 'Guild of St Loye and the ‘Guild of St Anthony'.  The former was the guild of tailors, and St Loye or St Eloi is the patron saint of blacksmiths.  St Anthony represents the grocery fraternary.  Each guild, had a location in the parish church, the prominence of its altar being related to the guild’s wealth.  The Guild of Blacksmiths seemed to be Halesworth’s richest fraternity, which appears to have occupied the South Chapel, now the Lady Chapel dedicated to St Loye.  This raises the question of whether Halesworth’s Blacksmith’s Guild was serving a wider company of smiths with their premises in the surrounding villages.  Another aspect of guild history is that by the Tudor period the system was debased by the Crown, and had become largely ceremonial and a source of Crown revenues.  It was common for honorary memberships, called the ‘Freedom of the Company’, to be awarded to town notables, and it may be that the chapel in St Mary’s Church represented the hub of local worthies who formed ‘a late medieval church party’ to counterbalance the power of the town’s three manorial lordships.


The guilds heralded the approach of capitalism in industry as distinct from commerce. The movement of people to the towns and the natural increase of population made the older established craftsman look to his rights and view with jealousy the increasing number of entrants into the crafts. In their hey-day the guilds had been largely classless bodies. A youth served his apprenticeship, perhaps remained for a year or two as a journey­man, and then set up shop for himself as a master craftsman. Even before 1400, this routine had ceased to work smoothly. There were complaints that the guilds were raising entry fees and in various ways restricting admission to the craft. Frequent disputes between masters and journeymen over such matters as hours and wages showed the existence of a clash of interest. The journeymen reacted to the new conditions by forming guilds of their own. These yeomen or journeymen guilds foreshadowed the modern trade union. At first, the older guilds tried to suppress them, and were aided in this by the municipal authorities and the State itself. Indeed an Act passed in 1548 resembles in many ways the famous pre-trade union Combination Law of 1799. It recites that journeyman guilds:


"have made confederacies and promises and have sworn mutual oaths, not only that they should not meddle one with another's work and perform and finish that another hath begun, but also to constitute and appoint how much work they should do in a day and what hours and times they shall work, contrary to the laws and statutes of the realm."


Sometimes the masters compromised by assigning certain functions to the journeymen guilds, which, made them in effect subordinate parts of the craft guild itself. The significance of the yeomen guilds is that they mark the beginnings of the capitalist system in industry. Under the craft guild system the market was generally a local one, and division of labour between crafts was based on the production of finished commodities. A single craft stood between the raw material and the consumer. The weaver obtained his yarn from the housewife, the traditional spinner or spinster, and made cloth, which he sold, to the consumer. This simple state of affairs could not be permanent.


The guild system, which was closely intertwined with the Church, was dismantled at the Reformation, but the master/learner relationship continued, and is recorded in the lists of Halesworth’s apprenticships.  A list of masters with apprentices dating from the turn of the 18th century is presented in Table 3.1.


Table 3.1 List of Halesworth masters with apprenticship indentures 1793-1840 (SRO:124/G5/1)


Archer, Harley         tailor                        1800

Archer, Harley         tailor                        1820

Berry, Joseph           shoemaker                               1815

Botham, Benj.          tailor                        1837

Bush, Henry             tailor                        1793

Calver, John             glover                      1814

Card, William           bricklayer                 1801

Carles, Wm.             shoemaker                               1833

Carr, Isaac                                cordwainer                               1826

Carr, Isaac                                shoemaker                               1821

Chapman, John        shoemaker                               1817

Collett, Henry          tailor                        1809

Croft, Daniel            shoemaker                               1818

Cross, Sam               shoemaker                               1823

Cross, William         currier                      1812

Cullingford, James    whitesmith                               1826

Easterson, Thomas  whitesmith                               1822

Estaugh, Wm           cordwainer                               1798

Jeffreson, Charles     glover                      1822

Johnson, Sarah         dressmaker               1836

Kindred, George       tailor                        1839

Mayhew, James        farmer                      1832       

Newson, Sam.           shoemaker                               1818

Read, Jacob              basketmaker             1812

Robinson, William   tailor                        1826

Robinson, William   taylor                       1813

Rose, Edmund          carpenter                 1820

Rose, James              blacksmith                               1840

Rounce, Thom.        plumber                    1840

Sawing, John            cordwainer                               1832

Sawing, John            shoemaker                               1833

Sawing, John            shoemaker               1839

Sawing, John            shoemaker                               1837

Smith, George          blacksmith                               1840

Smith, Nelson          wheelwright              1836

Sones, Zachariah      baker                        1832

Spall, David              bootmaker                               1836

Taylor, Wm             carpenter                 1819

Took, Robt.             baker                        1837

Wilson, George        shoemaker                               1841

Woodyard, Charles   bricklayer                 1838

Wright, Benj.           tailor                        1800

Wright, John            tailor                        1832


It is not known whether this is a comprehensive list, but it probably represents a random sample of trades that were active in Halesworth at the time.  If so, then there was a dominance of shoemakers (a quarter of the total) and tailors taking apprentices (a fifth of the total).  This is not surprising when it is remembered that the purchase of shoes and clothes were a major reason why countryfolk came to town.


There were two forces at work creating a more complicated economic system. First, there was the widening market. So long as trade was confined to the town it was easy for the craftsman to keep in touch with his customers. A wider market made this difficult, if not impossible. The final consumer of his goods might be in another town or another country. The craftsman could not hope to keep in touch with him or to carry through the whole transaction himself. By himself he would be unable to finance the complete transaction from the buying of the raw material to the selling of finished goods, because this would involve laying out money over a lengthy period of time. In other words, the time had come when there was room for someone with capital and knowledge of the market to act as intermediary between producer and consumer.


Another circumstance operated to the same end.  Division of labour tended to disintegrate the processes of production. The making of a single commodity came to be split up into several processes, each being occupied by a single craft. Thus we find distinct crafts of bleachers, weavers, dyers and drapers in Halesworth’s hempen cloth industry. The production of cloth thus became the work of a group of separate crafts, many of which never came into direct contact with the consumer or each other. This involved successive sales of partly finished goods to the next person in the process chain.  This stage of industrial development furnished the basis for the capitalistic control of Halesworth’s industry. On the one hand, the subdivision of processes made the craftsmen more expert at their jobs, but it also created the necessity for some sort of co-ordination between the crafts.  It was at this point that the capitalist merchant-employers, like James Aldred of Halesworth, came on the scene. He combined the functions of merchant and employer. He purchased the raw material, gave it out to the craftsmen, and then sold the finished article.  The craftsmen were in fact his employees.


Situated at the edge of the industrial age, Halesworth was a world of its own, protected by its privileges, an aggressive world and an active force for unequal exchange.  A key question is, can the prominent role of a town be accounted for by its having been able to expand and develop in an already-structured rural world, rather than in a vacuum like the towns of the New World (and possibly the Greek city-states)?  In other words, did it have resources available to work on, at the expense of which it could grow?  Regarding small English market towns like Halesworth, their very sieve-like social structure is evidence that they were ‘filtered out of the countryside’.  The Halesworth parish boundary was porous in all directions to the town’s consumers and its producers who served their needs.  The topographic boundary was hardly noticeable. This social dynamic is first brought to life in a 16th century description of the town.  There were at least two farmsteads close to the church, with access from Pound St and the Market Place directly onto their fields.  The backs of the houses on Chediston St and the Thoroughfare looked over closes that had been reclaimed by drainage from riverine fen. Indeed it may be said that the ‘townsfolk’ were ‘countryfolk’ who had a taste for property development and trade.


Through their interactions with land and property they are examples of the embryonic consumer society, which has since driven world development. The universal trait of people to want to better themselves has led to most cultures in the developed world taking the Halesworth route from sustainable self-sufficiency to rampant consumerism. On the way, the consumer movement produces local features in the landscape that, as well as being landmarks of craft and art, may also be considered as symbols of the win-at-all-cost ethic, a form of behaviour that in the long run proves unsustainable. People become rich because they are already fairly rich. However, entrepreneurs grow old, technology reveals its inefficiencies, and wealth is passed to children who spend, rather than invest.


In this respect, local consumerism may be summarised in relation to four stages in the growth of personal economic independence:


- being able to survive;

- being comfortable;

- being able to make an impression;

- being well-known for 'being well-known'.


Halesworth’s basic rural penumbra has continued well into the 21st century and the ‘walls’ of dense housing estates that now block out the countryside to the north and south of the town only came with the last decades of the 20th century expansion of its population, which was driven by central government, rather than the investment of local individuals.  Yet, it is still possible to walk east from the church and within less than five minutes be contained within the rural scenery of wet riverside pasture, embedded in a dominant wetland ecology, that has changed little in three centuries.  The following section is an exploration of the rural/urban interface as far as it reflects the boundary between producers and consumers, starting with the 1841 Tithe Apportionment of Chediston, a village that is representative of the rural/urban interactions of countryfolk and townsfolk at this time.


3.2  The ‘Chediston Story’


Unlike Halesworth with its ever-shifting tortuous boundaries, Chediston seems to have retained its pre-Conquest social topography down the centuries.  It is a somewhat rectangular parish, with a long axis stretching two miles from Halesworth’s Chediston Street to the west up the valley on either side of the northern Blyth.  Its angular shape, which follows the east west orientation of the Blyth tributaries, has prompted speculation about its origins as an Iron Age tribal estate with boundaries marked by streams and watersheds.  Its breadth, of about half a mile, is marked by two ancient boundary stones, symbolic ‘gate posts’ to an important valley route, pioneered by Mesolithic peoples, to the lands of the upper Blyth at Metfield.  Both stones are rare glacial erratics. ‘Ched’s Stone’ is situated on the northern parish boundary, which runs parallel to the northern watershed of the Blyth.  ‘Rhoca’s Stone’ (Rock Stone Manor) stands opposite, by the Cookley parish boundary to the south.  The eastern boundary of Chediston runs with that of Halesworth, more or less between the valleys of the northern and southern Blyth.


Fig 3.2 Chediston Hall



The first description of the parish in modern times is given in White's Directory for 1844, which lists the population as 433 ‘souls’ within a parish consisting of 2378 acres of land, of which nearly two-thirds were arable on a rich loamy soil.    The manor and a great part of the parish were then owned by George Parkyns, who had purchased the Chediston Hall estate, and the lordship from the Plumer family in 1833. 


Walter Plumer seems to have taken an interest in the manorial lands of Chediston in the 1730s.  In addition to purchasing the lordship of Chediston manor, in 1739 he also purchased the Manor of Halesworth from Thomas Betts. At this time the Plumer family seems to have had property in Newmarket, but their ancestral home was in Hertfordshire.  In any event they were absentee landlords, and Chediston was just another real estate asset.   After Walter’s death the property passed to his brother William.  William died in 1767 and his son, also named William, succeeded.  For most of the 18th century the Hall seems to have been rented to the Beales and Baas families. 


The first Beales of Chediston was recorded in a church memorial dated 1787.  The first memorial to a Baas appears in 1806.  The last Baas to rent the property was Robert, a member of the Yarmouth branch of the family, who took up the tenancy in 1811. The last of the Plumers, Jane, the wife of William the Younger, died in 1831 and Chediston Hall was bought by George Parkyns two years later.  After the sale Robert Baas moved out to Halesworth.   The property was described as ‘a large and elegant mansion in the Tudor style, ornamented with towers, turrets, pinnacles, and an embattled pediment, standing on a bold elevation to the north of the river, facing south’ (Fig 3.2).  This raises the question as to when this property was built.  The style is a Tudor/Gothic hybrid with elements that place it in the third quarter of the 18th century.  This was when William Plummer the Younger was active, and appears to have been the period when the Baas family first appeared in Chediston.  In other words the hall was built to rent.


In White’s 1844 directory George Parkyns was listed at Chediston Hall.  The entry mentions that all the mature timber in the park had been recently cut down, and new plantations had been made by Parkyns as part of a scheme to enlarge and beautify the Hall’s surroundings.   The park actually extended into the northwestern quarter of Halesworth.  George Parkyns was also impropriator of Chediston’s St Mary’s rectory, from which he received £230 a year, as a commutation of tithes chargeable on those estates in the parish that did not belong to him.   He also received arbitrary fines from copyholders of the manor; the manorial system was still operating profitably here.


The living of the Church of St. Mary was a vicarage, valued at £6. 7s. 6d., and was united with Halesworth rectory in the patronage of Mrs. E. Badeley, and incumbency of the Rev. J. C. Badeley, with an old parsonage house and 50 acres of glebe. This completes an account of those at the top of Chediston’s wealth pyramid.


The bottom of the village’s social pyramid rested on the Town Estate, consisting of a farm of 30 acres, which was let for £26 a-year.  This property had been vested in village feoffees since the reign of Henry VII for repairs of the church and other charges imposed on the parishioners.     There was much giving in the parish.  The Almshouses for five poor families were a gift from Henry Claxton, in 1575, and had been rebuilt in 1832.  Attached to them was a piece of land let for 20s a year. The poor parishioners had an annuity of 20s. out of land at Cookley, left by the Rev. Thomas Sagar, and about £17 a-year from Henry Smith's Charity for distributions of bread.


The ownership of land is revealed in the Tithe Apportionment of 1840 (Fig 3.3).  At this time, there were 22 landowners and about a half of them owned more than 40 acres.  George Parkyns was by far the greatest of the landlords with an estate of 1000 acres, which was about two and a half times more than John Birkett who was next in the landowning hierarchy with 379 acres.  Not only did Parkyns own almost a half of Chediston’s agricultural land, but he also ran the biggest farm, of about 400 acres.  John Birkett did not live in the parish and his land was let to four tenants.  The next level of farming, carried out by ‘yeomen’, was represented by five families, Read, Archer, Fiske, Tallent and the Robinson brothers, with enterprises ranging in size from 144 to 182 acres.


 Land of less than an acre was usually categorised as house with gardens or yards.  This description actually defined a total of 3.6 acres owned by George Parkyns, which probably indicates his importance as the squire with socio-economic control over most of the villagers. 


Parkyns bought out the Plumer interest, but it is not known how the Plumers came to own so much of Chediston’s land.  They were probably occupying fields and cottages that from time out of mind had been attached to its main manor.  It is likely that the demesne was located where Chediston Hall and its park were sited.  Although the Plumer/Parkyns property made up a large proportion of the parish, the question should be put in terms of when, to what extent, and how, did the rest of the manorial lands change from copyhold to freehold.  From the unified timber styles of the farmhouses set out up the valley in a regular sequence on either side of Chediston Beck, it can be assumed that its farms were planned around the late Tudor period.  Hedgerow dating indicates that many of their field systems are between 500 and 700 years old.   Unfortunately, the manorial rolls for Chediston have not survived to answer questions about the history of land distribution. All we can say is that by the 1840s the lives of the four hundred or so inhabitants of the village were, because they were tenants, in the hands of twenty-two people.  The histogram of landownership points up the social dominance of the Parkyns and the Birketts (Fig 3.3).




Fig 3.3 Distribution of land as recorded in the Chediston tithe apportionment of 1840


3.2.1  The people

In 1851 the population of Chediston was represented by 89 households.  A summary of the major categories of people in the village derived from the census is set out in Table 3.2   Most of the households were headed by farm labourers, who worked for the eighteen farmers of the parish, at an average ratio of 4 labourers per farmer.  There was a strong element of self-sufficiency in the village, with the needs of the inhabitants for house maintenance, beer, clothes, shoes and groceries being met by village retailers.  The agricultural production was mostly wheat and barley.  The only industrial enterprise was a substantial milling business towards the head of the valley, employing three men.


Table 3.2  Categories of people listed in the 1851 census










1 retired; 1 also a miller; 1 also a wheelwright; 1 also a grocer

Farm labourers


4 were paupers

Farm bailifs





1 retired



working for a farmer who was also a miller













Milliners and hat makers



School teachers









House servants












Tea dealer








10 years and under



10 years and under



5 of these were over 10 years

Persons not born in Suffolk





7 living in the Almshouse


There were just over a hundred young children in the community, of which around 20% were scholars.  Their need for education was met by a parochial school staffed by two teachers.


Table 3.2  Farmers listed in the 1851 census


Red House

Read Thomas





farmer 197acres  6men  5boys

Suffolk Wilby




Matthews John





farmer 120 acres   2men 2boys




Fisher John





farmer 295 acres   9 men




Gibson William





farmer 59 acres  2men 2boys



Cottage Farm

Balls James





farmer 82 acres    3 men




Balls Robert





farmer 12 acres  & wheelwright




Burrows James





farmer 16 acres & grocer




Ingate Charles





farmer 140 acres   4 men 1 boy




Sones John





farmer 55 acres  1 man




Bishop Thomas





Est. agent  farmer 90acres



Turner Thomas





farmer 56 acres    2 men




Sones Mary





farmer 68 acres  1 man




Robinson George





farmer 250 acres  7men  2boys




Woolnough George





farmer 60 acres  1 man




Archer Harley





farmer 190 acres  3men 1 boy




Seaman Mary





farmer 135 acres  4 men 1boy




Read Samuel





farmer 27 acres  1 man




Burrows Charles





farmer 26 acres  1 man



Leaving aside two widows, who were each running their deceased husband’s farm, 40% of the farmers in the 1851 census were born in Chediston.  During the passing of 15 years that had elapsed between the Tithe Apportionment and the 1851 census, many farming families had disappeared and only six turned up in the census with same surnames as those of farmers in the Apportionment.   This high rate of turnover of farms was borne out by the lists of farmers in Whites directories for both Chediston and Halesworth (Table 3.3).  These phenomena are indicators of the tenuous connection of families to the land. 


Table 3.3  Farmers of Chediston and Halesworth in White's Directories for 1844 and 1855

Chediston 1844

Halesworth 1844

Chediston 1855

Halesworth 1855

Archer, Harley

Butcher, Isaac

Balls, James

Cole, John

Bishop, Corbyn Johnathan

George, William

Balls, John*

George, Martin

Bishop, Thomas

Haward, Robert

Balls, Robert

George, William

Blaxhill, Samuel

Johnson, J Exors

Beckett, J.*

Hart, C

Booth, William

Ling, William

Bishop, Thomas

Johnson, James

Denny,  John

Punchard, Thomas

Bryant, Thomas

Punchard, James

Fisher, John

Smith, John

Burrows, Charles

Punchard, Thomas

Fryett, Lydia

Webb, John Julius

Burrows, James

Woodgate, William jnr

Gibson, William

Woodyard, William

Crabtree, John*


Ingate, Charles


Gibson, William


Ingate, Charles jnr


Ingate, Charles


Read, Samuel


Ingate, William


Read, Thomas


Ingate, John


Robinson, George


Mathews, John


Seamans, James


Read, Samuel


Sones, John


Read, T. Cracknell*


Winter, Robert


Read, Thomas


Woolnough, James


Robinson, George




Soanes, John




Seamans, Mary




Turner, Nesling*




Woolnough, George


  * Not in the 1851 census


The distribution of land between farms in 1851 followed the same pattern at the time of the Tithe Apportionment (Fig 3.4).  At the top of the new 1851 social hierarchy was Thomas Rant, gentlemen, who had replaced George Parkyns at Chediston Hall.  His family consisted of his wife, his sister and three young children.  Thomas was born five miles away in Mendham and his father seems to have brought money into the area that originated in a family business in Norwich.   This enabled his son to live as a gentleman, particularly as Parkyns seems to have retained most of his land in trust. If the Rants farmed at all, they did not operate on the Parkyns scale.  Their domestic needs were serviced by seven house servants (equivalent to about 25% of all the servants of the parish).  It may well be that the Rants actually rented the Hall because George Parkyns’ Trustees retained his former role as impropriator of the rectory and lord of the manor, and thereby continued to collect the appropriate annual dues in Parkyns name.  The Trustees were still described as lords of the manor and chief landowners in Kelly's 1896 Directory.  Thus, Parkyns ghost continued to dominate Chediston’s rurality through many generations of tenant farmers and cottagers.


From the 1850s, Chediston’s population began to decline and at the end of the century it had fallen by about 16%.  There was little or no development in the village except for the erection of a Primitive Methodist chapel 1863.  Indeed, the Directory descriptions of the village remained the same until the 1920s, by which time the population was only 60% of its peak in the 1850s.  The only noteworthy events seemed to have been the restoration of the church in 1895, and a new bell added to the church peal in 1911.  Chediston Hall survived the war in the hands of the military, only to be completely demolished in the 1950's and its park ploughed up.


Fig 3.4 Farmers listed in the 1851 census for Chediston and the size of their farms



The visual character of a village is expressed in the lie of the land, and its compartmentation into fields and building plots.  This in turn is a topographical pattern generated by the wealth of individuals and their determination to make an impact.  At the start of the 19th century, just 22 people owned Chediston’s 2378 acres. From this point, the fine detail of who and how the land was held sets a scenario for all the local players in the early Victorian parish power game. It summarises three social inputs to the average village economy, directed respectively by 'capitalist developers', 'owner-occupier workers', and the freehold clergy (Fig 3.5).   From the Tithe Apportionment of 1840 we can define the next economic layer of owner-occupier farmers, the larger tenant farmers and salaried professional farm managers, who were dependent on an estate-owning capitalist. Then there were tradesmen such as millers, blacksmiths and innkeepers, and finally the great pool of labourers for hire.


Fig 3.5 The 'players' in the rural parish 'power game'


Chediston's owner-occupier farmers, represented by the likes of the Bishops (80 acres), Suggates (116 acres) and Robinsons (200 acres), ran enterprises that depended to a considerable degree upon family labour, with a low capital input.  'Yeoman' is how they would have described themselves in earlier decades, a designation which usually referred to owner-occupier farmers who got their whole living from the land.  There is no evidence of any capitalist developers i.e. absentee landowners who improved their farms then let them out to enterprising tenants.  Although no records exist to throw light on the financial base of the Chediston yeoman, it is known that from early times that peasant and small farmers gradually came under the control of the financier.   Borrowing and lending were not new phenomena in the 19th century. The very structure of agriculture was based on waiting between sowing and reaping, and, therefore, credit trans­actions were common even in medieval times. All sorts of devices were used to circumvent the legal prohibition of usury. There were the great financial dealings of kings and nobles, monasteries, bishops and the papacy, which strike the eye at once.  Even a cursory glance at the life of a medieval manor or borough shows credit transactions springing spontaneously from the ordinary necessities of humble people, who may curse the lender but who cannot dispense with loans. In the towns there were always individuals who specialized in finance, but throughout the country districts money lending was simply a by-employment of the larger yeoman farmers, the parson or the innkeeper.


Down the road in Halesworth, in contrast to Chediston, the urban power game was played out between merchants and shopkeepers and their craftsmen. Though in general craftsmen generally worked at home or in their own workshops and with their own tools, they were dependent for employment on the merchant who paid them on a piece work basis.  There were of course many intermediate steps and many variations in the development of this system.  For example, a small dealer or merchant might get his raw materials on credit from a larger dealer, or the larger dealer such as a maltster, might work on a credit system with London merchants.  But the general principle was the same.   The merchant controlled the direction of the commercial side of this industry, and he was ultimately in control of production as well.


3.3  The romance of rurality


It is all too easy, when contemplating historical personages, to stick to the notional attachments to place, which give them a romantic air. The reality was that they were often powerful, and ruthless players in the social game.


Nothing will bridge the gulf which stretches between the Victorian farmer and his labourers except the discovery of a personal account written about what it was really like to spend from January to the middle of March, dawn to dusk, bush draining a huge expanse of clay land. So far, Chediston has not, nor has any other village as far as we know, yielded a literate labourer witness. The gleanings of George Ewart Evans in Norfolk, and Alan Jobson in Suffolk, both taken from oral reminiscences collected in the 1960s and 70s, of those born at the end of the last century, provide us with filtered fragments which just about reach a generation long gone.


Luckily, in Rider Haggard we have an East Anglian farmer who documented the social gap, although he was not able to fill the void. He lived on the clayey drift edge, just across the Waveney border in Norfolk, a landscape not so different from Chediston. The journal he wrote for the year 1898 chronicles his daily observations of what it was like to be a tenant farmer on 350 acres. He admired the skills and strength of his hired workers, their stoicism and their character, but with all his imagination as a novelist he could not get into their situation. Perhaps there is nothing to say except the bald facts of their labouring, which Haggard really admits when he says 'such toilers betray not the least delight at the termination of their long ill-paid labour'. Indeed, why should they be keen to articulate the 'poverty, pain, and the infinite unrecorded tragedies of humble lives'.


Haggard employed fifteen men on his farm and gives meticulous descriptions of their many skills, such as dyke-drawing, the toughest of all the winter jobs. This is an account reminding one that, ploughing apart, most of Britain's landscape was fashioned by men with spades. Haggard's labourers worked a twelve-hour day in summer and every daylight hour in winter, and without holidays. Minimal though their education was, it taught them that there are places in the world besides their own parish, and made them aspiring and restless. More and more of them disappear, making for the army, the colonies, the Lowestoft fishing smacks, anywhere preferable to a farm. It grieved him. Published as 'A Farmer's Year', Haggard's journal praises agriculture as man's natural activity, the noblest of tasks, and he cites its improved conditions. Now and then, he joined in the labouring, although this he found separated him further from the workers than if he had merely sat on his horse and made notes. Whatever he saw, felt, or did, is written down with total candour, and the outcome is that he revealed what many farmers today would recognise as the lost soul of British agriculture. How else could we possibly interpret the following-


"It is curious how extraordinarily susceptible some of us are to the influences of weather, and even to those of the different seasons. I do not think that these affect the dwellers in towns so much, for, their existence being more artificial, the ties which bind them to Nature are loosened; but with folk who live in the country and study it, it is otherwise. Every impulse of the seasons throbs through them, and month-by-month, even when they are unconscious of it, their minds reflect something of the tone and colour of the pageant of the passing day. After all, why should it not be so, seeing that our bodies are built up of the products of the earth, and that in them are to be found many, if not all, of the elements that go to make the worlds, or at any rate our world, and every fruit and thing it bears? The wonder is not that we are so much in tune with Nature's laws and phases, but that we can ever escape or quell their mastery. This is where the brain and the will of man come in."


Indeed, it is 'the brain and will of man' that have produced the technician in an air-conditioned capsule, pulling a multi-furrow plough across an empty landscape as fast as the wind. The paradox is that the soul of agriculture has gone the way of Rider Haggard's hired ploughman, who behind striving horses, "wrapped in his thick cape against the sleet, wrestled the complaining plough beneath his hands'. The soul of agriculture is the spiritual enthusiasm of articulate landowners and urban critics of the rural scene. It is difficult to discern in the general picture of the countryside. This is created by brain and will, with the broader brush strokes of jobs and incomes. In this respect, Haggard's ‘isolated existence of town folk’ has now spread to villages, where even a child's journey to school involves being encapsulated from the elements. The speed of this change is remarkable. People farming today, who started out milking individual cows into a pail from a wooden stool, have ended up being told what to do by their internet agronomist and a computerised combine harvester. Everything about farms is seen to be dangerous- children are worried about poisonous flowers, won't get their feet dirty, and daren't stroke the sheep or pat the cows. Farmers have changed from being 'dear Farmer Giles' to a wicked sub-set of society that poisons the land, and whose animals you've got to let out from behind bars.


The turning point for Chediston, as in most other parts of rural Suffolk came in the 1960s.  The typical ‘80 acre farmsteads’ came on the market with the retirement of the pre-War generation who had just about been converted from horse to tractor.  At that time most of Chediston’s farms were mixing dairying with arable, and kept pigs and chickens.  Farms were amalgamated and the 800 acre farm became the norm.  Redundant homesteads were sold off to dentists, doctors and computer programmers. In the urge for higher productivity, land was drained and hedges removed.  Livestock that could not be intensified was removed from the balance sheet.  Animals no longer diversified the farming scene.  The last of Chediston’s dairy herds was sold off in 1997.  Although pigs remain, they are produced unseen in intensive enclosed prefabs.  Barns are being converted into houses and the land of the retired 1960s generation is being farmed by contractors, who can descend on the fields to complete harvesting, ploughing or sowing in less than a day.  There has also been a decided shift towards farmers functioning as landscape and wildlife managers, for which environmental goods the government pays out money that was formerly attached as a subsidy to increase the output of agricultural products.



3.4  Past  in the Present


Historically, Chediston is part of a long-enduring basic unit of rural settlement. No human group can live, and above all survive, to reproduce itself, unless it contains at least four or five hundred individuals. Until a hundred years ago that meant a village, or several neighbouring villages, in touch with each other, formed both a social community based on kinship, and an area distinguished by cultivation, land-clearance, roads, paths and dwellings. This has been described as a 'cultural clearing' - which for the first migrants encountering Suffolk's coastal topography, meant an open space literally hacked out of the forest.


Within the charmed circle of these thousands of small units, history passed in slow motion, lives repeated themselves from one generation to the next; the landscape obstinately remained the same, or very nearly so. Pre-industrial Chediston is reflected in its tithe map as a patchwork of ploughed fields, meadows, gardens, orchards and hemp-plots; herds grazed in the wet valley bottoms; and everywhere there were the same implements: pick, shovel, plough, and mill, all manufactured and maintained by the blacksmith's forge and wheelwright's shop.


At the level above these little communities, linking them together whenever they were less than completely self-sufficient, came the smallest possible economic unit: a complex consisting of a small market town, perhaps the site of a fair, with a cluster of dependent villages around it. Each village had to be close enough to the town for it to be possible to walk to and from market in a day. But the actual dimensions of the unit would equally depend on the available means of transport, the density of settlement, and the fertility of the area in question. The more scattered the population, and the more barren the soil, the greater the distances travelled.


With respect to Victorian Chediston, this represents the extreme rurality of agrarian production from which Halesworth’s colonists were escaping.  Now, we have a social movement in the opposite direction. Modern life is too close for comfort.  Our diaries are overloaded; our commuter trains are packed; our heads are fit to burst with media-delivered trivia.  Once taken for granted, space in all its forms, physical mental, and spiritual have become a precious commodity.  There is widespread desire to escape from the over-crowded spaces produced by urbanism, and the term ‘emptiness’ has been used as a rural equivalent to the lodestone of wilderness.  An ‘emptiness’ is the end point of extreme rurality, where it is possible to walk all day through arable fields as fertile as modern industrial agriculture can get, yet, as in a desert, we never make social contact with another person, and the skylark is a rarity. 


The field paths, bridleways and minor roads of the vacant uplands along the old boundary of Blything Hundred are such an emptiness.  The flat claylands are vibrant with the secret life of surging monocultures, but the inward looking walker is alone with the big skies in surroundings from which all traces of its past navigators have been obliterated.


“Now far out in the yawning emptiness we stopped to watch the sun go down and saw the earth’s shadow flung out against the eastern sky.  Then the moon rose, floating into view like a second sun and flooding the land with an unearthly glow.  This must be the quietest place on earth… Even the wind had died and the sharp night air was cold and clean.  Standing in that profound silence I cupped my hands behind my ears. But all I could hear was the beating of my heart”.


This could have been an experience in the desertified Nasera Orok, the sacred Black Rock of the Masai overlooking the Serengeti plains.  Actually it was an out-of-car experience on the Hundred boundary of Blything at churchless Linstead Magna, an upland emptiness that has always existed there.



4 Manufacturers



“Wool and woollen cloth represented the bulk of English exports in the last centuries of the Middle Ages and the rise in the proportion of woollen cloth to raw wool in export figures can be taken as an index of the increasing weight of manufacturing in the economy.  The transition from a stage characterised by massive exports of indigenous raw materials to a stage increasingly characterised by manufactured goods made from raw materials is a typical step on the road to economic development”.


C.M. Cipolla, 1976


4.1 Needs and wants


The increased consumption of goods and services is ultimately what economic growth is about. Economic growth cannot affect our spiritual welfare. It can be diverted to purposes which are damaging to others, such as the construction and use of weapons, or which are positive in the long run but have no immediate effect on welfare, such as investment. This leaves increased consumption as the only end for which economic growth is much use, at least to the people who are involved.


After 1815, relatively little was spent on weapons and war. Other forms of government expenditure also remained low. Investment, which rose as a proportion of income until the mid-nineteenth century, was stable thereafter. By a combination of their own volition and the actions of the outside world, the British people spent most of their extra income from economic growth on consumption. The basis of consumption for most people in this period was food, drink and clothing. Although the middle classes didn't stint themselves on food, they still had much more disposable income than other purchasers. In the eighteenth century, their consumption of semi-durables like china was an important component of demand. The proliferation of cheap Staffordshire pottery in the early nineteenth century shows that these tastes extended down to the working class when they could afford to indulge them. Clothing was the most important semi-durable, although with the reduction in the cost of material, the actual proportion spent on it may not have changed much. Of equal or greater importance than semi-durables as an item of consumption was housing, spending on which was growing rapidly throughout the period. The substantial detached villa of the middle-class Victorian family must have been much more expensive than the neat Georgian terrace.


4.1.1 Food and drink

In poor societies, people inevitably spend much of their income on food. For poorer members of the working class in the early part of the period, this proportion was around three-quarters. Much of this expenditure went on bread, and it was a measure of English wealth as compared with the Continent that the English mainly ate wheaten bread, made as white as possible by milling out the husk. This was more expensive but offered a higher protein content than rye bread. More important to the consumer, it was digestible. When bread was the main item of diet, an excess of fibre, the Holy Grail of modern diet, was as unpleasant as its absence can be deleterious. By contrast, in Scotland, originally a much poorer country, oats had been and remained an important part of the diet, their persistence in the menu showing the importance of custom as well as income in dietary habits. Although bread was the mainstay of the working-class diet in the eighteenth century, tropical luxuries were penetrating working-class homes, as they were middle-class consumption. Consumption of sugar and tea in particular was burgeoning. The relative wealth of Britain at this time, and access to cheap supplies of these commodities from the cleared colonial upland forests, fixed an enduring taste for them in this country, which was marked by the rise of the grocery trade.  The first record of a grocer in Halesworth, who probably vended dry goods, is in the Parish Register for 1680, but long before this the guild of grocers had been one of Halesworth’s important medieval craft fraternities.


As income increased, diet diversified.  Although food and drink still dominated working-class budgets, food alone accounted for over 50 per cent of working-class spending by the end of the nineteenth century. Tea and sugar consump­tion also went on rising throughout the century. Contrary to the fears of contemporaries worried about its effect on the health of the nation, tea is simply a mild stimulant. However, most foodstuffs were not bought for health but to provide variety, although they might bring nutritional benefits. Meat, milk and butter consumption all rose steeply in the later nineteenth century. Not shown in the statistics, but often referred to in accounts of working-class life, were tinned salmon and pineapple. The fish canning industry was one of the first developments of Victorian mass production adding value to cheap perishable, seasonal mass-catches, such as pilchards.  There is substantial oral evidence that much of the benefit of this diversification went to working males in the family, who were thought to need meat in particular. The continued heavy spending on food has been represented as an adherence to traditional patterns of consumption, but a moment's thought shows that diversifying a diet consisting largely of bread and potatoes would be anyone's priority in the same position. This diversification could only be achieved by buying more expensive foodstuffs such as meat. It was human nature rather than tradition that accounted for the continued predominance of spending on food in family budgets. In 1851 there were three butcher’s shops in Halesworth that seem to have possessed their own integral abattoirs. This situation may be contrasted with Prime’s open stalls in the Market Place, and adjacent abattoir, in the 16th century.


Fig 4.1  Advertisement in the Halesworth Times (18th December. 1855)



Alcohol consumption rose until the 1870s, to a level of 270 pints of beer and 1.5 gallons of spirits per person, per year; most was consumed by adult males.  Beer was by far the bigger market in volume, but spirits and wines come close with regards alcohol consumption (Fig 4.1).  In the 1870s, a change in taste happened. The rising real wages of the next twenty years were not marked by any further rise in alcohol consumption, and in the 1900s it declined. At its peak in 1876, it took 15 per cent of consumers' expenditure.  It was on the back of this growing national habit that Halesworth’s brewers became bankers and entrepreneurs.


4.1.2 Clothing

The making of cloth, like the growing of food, is one of the earliest economic activities of human societies. At a primitive economic level, the raw materials are pro­duced in the ordinary course of farming, and the same labour which handles the wool, flax or hemp also tills the fields. For many centuries there was therefore a very intimate connection between the making of clothes and the growing of food. Moreover, so long as the tool employed, distaff, spinning wheel or loom, was simple and could be worked by hand, the industry remained dis­persed in the countryside. There was no great advantage in its urban concentration. In the Middle Ages, the woollen industry was carried on in most counties of England; and as early as the reigns of Henry I and II there were weavers' guilds in London, Oxford, Lincoln, Nottingham, York and Huntingdon. Most villages had at least one weaver, and every cottage had a distaff. Spinning was an occupation that employed the leisure hours of women of all ages and classes.


The cloth used by the masses for clothing in these early days was coarse. At quite an early date some districts, like the West Country and Yorkshire, were specializing in weaving, possibly because of their suitability for sheep rearing and to the number of streams which supplied abundant water for the main processes of cloth-making. By the fifteenth century the woollen industry was so important that export of cloth, handled by a national corporation called the Merchant Adventurers, had become the chief item in England's foreign trade. In 1355 between five and six thousand cloths were exported; at the end of the fifteenth century the Mer­chant Adventurers alone were shipping abroad annually some 60,000 cloths; in 1509, 84,789; and in 1547, 122,354.  By the middle of the sixteenth century, the value of England's total exports in normal years stood perhaps at some £75,000 per annum. Woollens of one sort or another accounted for over 80 percent of all exports, with raw wool down to a mere 6 percent. Most of the English trade was still limited to Europe. The English mercantile marine was as yet of small consequence, perhaps about 50,000 tons, and much of the country's foreign trade, even when handled by English merchants, was carried by foreign vessels, many of which used the East Anglian ports of Lynn, Yarmouth, Southwold, Aldeburgh, Woodbridge and Ipswich. 


New fashions influenced and were influenced by the clothing indus­tries. In the seventeenth century Lancashire was laying the foundations of the cotton industry. At first, raw cotton from Cyprus, Smyrna and the Levant was spun, and a coarse cloth called fustian, half cotton and half linen, was made. Before 1700 the various East India companies and the interloper traders were pouring Indian cottons and silks into Europe, and there was hardly a country that did not view with alarm the decay of its native woollen industry. English pamphlets were loud in their denunciations of the foreign trash.


"Cotton is as fine and soft as Wool, it may be spun as small or as large, it may be Milled and Drest, it may be Dyed and Stained, and when the English merchant shall send over Cloth-Weavers and Dyers, and Throwsters, as well as Silk, I question not but we shall have Cotton-Cloth and Knaves enough to make it a Fashion and Fools enough to wear it," said one writer.


Nevertheless the new cotton goods caught on. The extent of the popularity may be seen from the inventory of a Preston draper in 1688. There were for sale white calico buckram at under a shilling a yard; white calico, printed and glazed calico at 1s. 1d.; brown calico at 10d.; black, blue, and "coloured" calico at l d.; broad glazed calico at 1s.; stained calico at 1s. 2d. and 1s.; narrow flowered calico at 9d.; and, finally, coloured calico at 1s. 7d.  In the 1660s to 1680s six drapers were operating in Halesworth, no doubt vending these materials.


The calico-printing industry, fostered by the importation of plain calicoes from the East, was a significant development of the closing years of the seventeenth century. Hitherto, designs had been executed by hand and were accordingly expensive. Now elaborate designs could be printed  by wood blocks cheaply. Women's clothes became brighter. About 1690 the woollen manufacturers began to agitate against the use of Indian goods, and so strong was their influence that in 1701 an Act was passed forbidding "the use and wear, in any form, of Indian and Chinese silks, and of Indian printed or painted calicoes and striped or checked cottons." This, it will be noticed, did not prevent the importation of plain calicoes and the printing of them in England. The printing industry naturally took full advantage of this Act, so much so that in 1707 the woollen manufacturers were complaining of its competition as:





 "more prejudicial to us than the importation of painted calicoes was before the passing of that Act. For whereas then the calicoes painted in India were most used by the richer sort of people whilst the poor continued to wear and use our woollen goods, the calicoes now painted in England are so very cheap and so much the fashion that persons of all qualities and degrees clothe them­selves and furnish their houses in a great measure with them".


Printed calicoes were used for frocks, aprons, quilts, and other articles purchased by the rural housewife. In the interests of the ancient woollen industry, Parliament imposed excise duties on printed linens and at double the rate on printed calicoes. From time to time, these duties were increased, and though this checked the sale of such articles, the woollen manufacturers were still dissatisfied. In the depression of 1719 the agitation was renewed on an extensive scale. This culminated in the Act of 1721 that prohibited the use and wear of any kind of calico, except calicoes dyed blue, which were probably used for aprons and smock frocks.  However, there was no stopping the producers of cotton cloth, and under the stimulus of an expanding market and power production, the chief change in dress material during the industrial revolution was the substitution of cotton for wool and linen.  The drapers of Halesworth played their part in disseminating both home-produced and imported cloths as well as ready-made outfits (Fig. 4.2).


Fig. 4.2 Advertisement in the Halesworth Times (18th December. 1855)



4.1.3  Housing

William Harrison, a parson, in 1577 recorded the improvement in household conditions that had taken place since his father's day, ' not among the nobility and gentry only but likewise of the lowest sort in most places of our south country.'


' Our fathers [he writes] yea and we ourselves have lien full oft upon straw pallets, covered only with a sheet, under coverlets made of dagswain or hop harlots and a good round log under their heads instead of a bolster. If it were so that our fathers or the good man of the house had a mattress or flockbed and thereto a sack of chaff to rest his head upon, he thought himself to be as well lodged as the lord of the town that peradventure lay seldom in a bed of down or whole feathers. Pillows were thought meet only for women in childbed. As for servants, if they had any sheet above them, it was well, for seldom had they any under their bodies, to keep them from the pricking straws that ran oft through the canvas of the pallet and razed their hardened hides.'


Straw on the floor and straw in the bedding bred fleas, and some fleas carried plague.

Harrison also notes that chimneys have become general even in cottages, whereas ' in the village where I remain," old men recalled that in ' their young days ' under the two Kings Harry,


' there were not above two or three chimneys if so many, in uplandish towns, the religious houses and manor places of their lords always excepted, but each one made his fire against a reredoss in the hall where he dined and dressed his meat.'


The increasing use of coal, siphoned off the east coast trade from Newcastle to London, instead of wood for the domestic hearth coal made it more dis­agreeable not to have chimneys, and the increasing use of bricks made it easier to build them, even if the walls of the house were of some other material.  Harrison also records a change during his own lifetime 'of treen [wooden] platters into pewter, and of wooden spoons into silver or tin.' The age of forks was not yet come; where knife and spoon would not avail, even Queen Elizabeth picked up the chicken bone deftly in her long fingers. Until her reign ' a man should hardly find four pieces of pewter in a farmer's house.' Of china there was as yet none. Wooden household utensils, such as butter moulders, continued to be used for centuries to come.  Until relatively recent times the home brew continued to be made with an assortment of  specialised wooden aids, which are captured in the following account by old Reuben Noy of Westleton, as related by Alan Jobson.


" All the things thet wur used in brewin' wur made o' wood, an' wunnerful clean and smooth they wur. They cum fro' the coopers, barrels, tubs, pail, tongs or rack, wedges, spickets and fawsets, even the funnels (' tunnels' we called 'em) ; an' thur wur the wilsh made o' osiers. Thet wur like a little wicker bottle, an' wur used tew strain off the hops from the beer when thet wur runned off. We used tew buy them from owd Daines o' Dennington, same as used tew make the skeps and baskets in his little shop near the church."


Common houses and cottages were still of timber, or of ' half-timber ' with clay and rubble between the wooden up­rights and crossbeams, and a thatched roof.  An idea of the character of Halesworth in the age of wood may be glimpsed in the old photograph of such a house and bakery that once stood at the bottom of Station Rd, next to the Oriental Public House  (Fig. 4.3).  This property was destroyed by fire in the 1930s.  Its latter day retail history as a bakery can be traced from the 1844 to 1929 as follows:



Mills’ bakery represents the archetypal house of Halesworth’s age of wood, when carpenter architects were erecting timber-framed houses throughout the county.  Halesworth’s survivors of this 16th century building boom are scattered along The Thoroughfare.  Notably they contain the business premises at Nos, 4, 5, and 6 (possibly originally one building), Nos 12-16,  Nos 38, 42, and of course the Angel Hotel.  The highest concentration of 16th century buildings is in Market Place, where the town’s oldest domestic structure is to be found.  The latter is part of a ‘hall and cross wing’ house with evidence of some 14th century fabric (Nos 4-5).

Fig. 4.3. Nathan Mills’ Bakery, Station Road 



Brick was replacing wood in Suffolk by the end of the 17th century.    It is from this time that the designation ‘Red House’ became commonplace to emphasise the novel feature of the first brick-built houses in town and country.  There were two properties so named in Halesworth, ‘Red House’ close to the junction of Bridge St and Quay St and another ‘Red House Farm’, on the boundary with Walpole. These have not been dated, but it is probable that they were constructed in the mid-18th century.  The large-scale use of bricks to rebuild properties in the Thoroughfare awaited the growth of local brick making on an industrial scale.  Designations, such as ‘Tilehouse’, indicate that thatch was giving way to new ways of roofing. 


4.2 Trading networks


In the first half of the 16th century, the population of East Anglia gained from the initiation of a golden age for English exports, later boosted by the chaotic devaluations of the pound, which Henry VIII debased to finance his extravagant military expenditure in France.  Economic development of Halesworth hinged on the east coast trading networks of prosperity emanating from the London-Antwerp mercantile axis. This fact explains the tendency during that period for eastern England to be the richer and more active area of the economy, sucking in people, goods, and trade from other parts of the nation. However, many provincial traders found themselves unable to compete against the increasingly rich and powerful London merchants. The commerce of the old and important west-coast port of Bristol declined, and a similar fate even befell such long-established Eastern ports as Hull and Boston.  Some were able to develop other types of trade, and in this respect, Southwold was ideally placed to serve the coastal maritime traffic to a local purpose, importing coal from Newcastle, and exporting cereal grains to meet the demands of the rapidly growing London economy. The development of the road from Harleston to Southwold via Halesworth was a measure of the importance of Southwold in the regional economy.


Elements of continuity with the past were numerous and significant, and yet in more than one sense, as early as the middle of the sixteenth century, England looked very different from what it had been a century earlier. There was more concern with property and the first descriptions, of ‘who owned what’ in central Halesworth date from this time.  Literacy, to take one indicator of development, was rapidly spreading among the population, and society as well as the economy was undergoing a process of substantial change.  The fact of the matter is that the period 1550-1650 was characterised by England's entry into a new stage in economic development, a stage in which other manufactures besides woollens began to play a major role in the economy.  These new sectors had begun to expand and to achieve a steadily increasing importance in the economy from about the middle of the 16th century.   The shift from one type of economy to another occurred gradually, and even at the end of the 17th century, woollen textiles still accounted for about 48 percent of exports. However, change was evident in the increased production of iron, lead, armament, and new types of cloth, glass, and silk. The rural blast furnaces of England and Wales produced some 5,000 tons of iron per annum around 1550 and 18,000 tons per annum around 1600.  The output of lead reached 3,200 tons in about 1580, and that was not all. Joshua Gee mentions that:


 “the manufacture of Linnen was settlled in several parts of the Kingdom.... Also the manufacture of Copper and Brass were set on Foot, which are brought to great Perfection and now in a great Measuere supply the Nation with Coppers, Kettles and all Sorts of Copper and Brass ware. The making of Sail cloth was began and carried on to great Perfection; also Sword Blades, Sciffars and a great many Toys made of Steel which formerly we used to have from France”.


The following, a remarkable summary of a century of British achievement, was written in the Edinburgh Review of 1813:


"The lower orders . . . have still less good fortune (than the higher and more instructed orders of society) to reckon on. In the whole history of the species there was nothing at all comparable to the improvement of England within the last century; never anywhere was there such an increase of wealth and luxury-so many admirable inventions in the arts-so many works of learning and ingenuity-such a progress in cultivation-such an enlargement of commerce -and yet, in that century, the number of paupers in England had increased fourfold, and is now rated at one-tenth of her whole population, and notwithstanding the enormous sums that are levied and given privately for their relief, and the multitudes that are drained off by the waste of war, the peace of the country is perpetually threatened by the outrages of famishing multitudes".


This was by way of a provisional progress report on an unprecedented mixture of industry and charity that was the British Industrial Revolution.  By the time of the 1851 census a well-defined phase of economic development was complete. Steam-power and machinery were victorious. The technique of big-scale manufacture was in large measure understood, and appropriate specialists to carry forward both trade and industry were rapidly being produced through educational reforms. Negotiation rather than violence came to workers' minds to take issue with employers. The farm labourer had become stoical about the workhouse as the probable home of his declining years; the resentment of the displaced hand-loom weavers was passing with their final extinction; the country boys were "off to Philadelphia" instead of their nearest town.   The country, measured by days' journeys, had grown nine-tenths smaller and safer.


4.2.1 The high-trust culture

Of importance to this discussion is the highly individualistic culture, which prevailed in Halesworth for much of the period. Philosophers and political economists of the national scene, like John Stuart Mill and Thomas Malthus, as well as the later well-known populists like Samuel Smiles, promulgated a philosophy of self-dependence as the key to improved economic and social betterment.  They believed that personal success ought to be measured by a common standard, regardless of means, and that those who succeeded in life did so because of their hard work, thrift and ingenuity, while the poor suffered as a result of personal fecklessness. In simple terms, it was the individual's responsibility to pull himself up 'by the bootstraps' and exploit the opportunities available, rather than rely on others, or the state, for succour. Self-help was the key, encouraging those without adequate resources to believe that they could emulate outstanding individuals like Richard Arkwright, the twelfth son of a barber, who, by the time he died in 1792, owned large landed estates and had been knighted for his services to industry after a career as a successful industrial innovator.


One must treat much of this ‘get on your bike’ proselytising about the benefits of self-help with great caution, because while it is true to say that the myth of the self-made man and the ideology of self-help were deep-rooted in British public opinion, there were actually very few recorded cases of working class entrepreneurs in this period.  In Suffolk there were only two native self-made entrepreneur engineers, Richard Garrett of Leiston and James Smyth of Peasenhall, both pioneers in the mass production of agricultural machinery.   It was the very few successes that produced Smiles generalisations about the importance of self-help. Therefore, it is important to stress the contribution made by the lower middle classes to the growth of a business community at this time, because having started off with relatively modest capital resources most of these men were probably 'architects of their own fortunes'.  Halesworth has several examples of people falling into this class.  It is also important to stress that the belief in self-help was further compromised by economic reality.  Extensive local social networks for the mobilisation of finance, talent, or information were utilised as an essential aid to management. These networks were primarily based on what has been described as a 'high-trust culture', which sustained the finely spread business structure prevailing at that time, and within the regional context especially, elite groups of businessmen collaborated extensively to reduce the transaction costs arising from the high levels of business uncertainty. Religious groupings were especially successful in building up networks, particularly the Quakers and other non-conformists, who utilised their common bonds to build a mutually supportive financial infrastructure in the North East Suffolk linen industry.  Religion, however, was by no means the only bonding agent at work from the mid-eighteenth century, because it was 'the region' that took on a crucial importance as an integrated unit.  It provided not only the key factors of production and vital technical and commercial information, but also forged a community of interests. This regional dynamic was to become the abiding characteristic of Britain's first phase of industrialisation, and for businessmen struggling with market uncertainties and deficient knowledge, it provided and encapsulated a 'high-trust culture', which would minimise transaction costs external to the firm. In this context, the self-help philosophy had an important negative influence on business development at this time, largely because it placed so much emphasis on the individual as the key to success.  This often led to a managerial constraint on business growth, through too much reliance on one man as an arbiter and decision maker.  The ultimate failures of Smyths and Garretts are good examples of the original entrepreneurial force petering out in their founder’s descendants.


Halesworth was an epitome of this age of personal adventure with regard to individuals and their extensive regional networks.  In particular, the importance of personal capital and the high trust culture are features that characterised the careers of Halesworth's local self-help hero, the industrious Scot, Patrick Stead, and William Jackson Hooker, a refined and well-born dilettante scientist.  They dominated Quay Street, which was the town's new centre of ideas on how to make lots of fast money.  


But the character of a place cannot be gathered from its exceptional figures. It is revealed in the lives of the typical and the humdrum that inhabited Chediston St, the Market Place and The Thoroughfare.  These people are exemplified by Halesworth's manufacturers and traders, competent, self-assured and complacent, who were content with an order of things, which allowed them to buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market.  A third social group was the urban artisans for whom work was a monotonous round of disciplined toil.  Then there were the tenant farmers enfranchised in 1832, but as tenants-at-will, they were often the political vassals of their landlord in the 'big house'.  Such was the power of the Plumers and then the Parkyns of Chediston.  Finally, there was the labourer of the farm, who was politically voiceless and socially isolated.  It has been said that this kind of social mix was a British civilization that had strength without grace.  People worked hard and saved hard. They passed on the technique and the products of the new industrialism to other countries; they exported their capital, and a considerable fraction of their population, so that a big contribution to boost a world economy was made. On a national scale, the Great Exhibition of 1851 showed a solidity of achievement, which could not be mistaken.  Up in Halesworth, the goings on in Quay Street were making a small, but significant contribution to this national whole, which was centred on London.  However, at the terminus of the scale of prosperity were the paupers of Chediston Street, where Halesworth displayed more than its fair share of family misery. 


The continual rise in the population made it indeed impossible to provide work for everyone. Agriculture had absorbed all the hands it required, and many traditional kinds of rural occupation were disappearing. Great national industries, like cloth, were migrating back out of the country districts to which they had moved in the later Middle Ages and Tudor times, to the rapidly growing new industrial towns. The village was becoming more purely agricultural; it was ceasing to manufacture goods for the general market, and, moreover, was manufacturing fewer goods for itself.  In this sense, the story of Halesworth as an economic island extends into the sea of village life that surrounded it.  With the improvement of roads and communications, first the lady of the manor, then the farmer's wife and lastly the cottager learnt to buy in the town many articles that used to be made in the village or on the estate. The ' village shop ' was now often set up with goods from the cities or from overseas. The self-sufficing, self-clothing village, became more and more a thing of the past.  This was a beginning of a process that dragged on to the last quarter of the 20th century.   One by one the craftsmen began to disappear; the harness maker, the manufacturer of agricultural implements, the tailor, the miller, the furniture maker, the weaver, sometimes even the carpenter and builder slipped away, till, at the end of the second World War, the village blacksmith was in some places the only craftsman left, eking out a declining business in horseshoes by mending the punctured bicycle tyres of tourists.  Young lads, who in the 1930s were apprenticed to village craftsmen, such as harness makers, after the War found themselves in charge of tractors.


This time was also the birth of a mythical countryside fostered by those confined to the sparse greenery of urban streets.  In the face of change, the life of the village children, let loose to play in the hedges, heaths and thickets, was conflated as being entirely wholesome and sweet.  This was the first whiff of nostalgia for the countryside and its biodiversity as first depicted by Bewick, Wordsworth and Cobbet, who were actually people with boyhoods that were connected with the realities of a previous generation. William Howitt, George Borrow and other writers actually shared the life of the common people in lane, field and cottage during the 'twenties and 'thirties, and as successful popular authors they left a largely false impression of much widely diffused rural health and happiness.   It is ironic that Halesworth's contribution to local economic and national intellectual development came from two contrasting aspects of its local natural resources, the intensive production of barley, and the scientific wealth of its untrammeled hedgerows and meadows.  Both views were actually in opposition.  In this respect, William Hooker and Patrick Stead, both temporary residents of the town, exemplify the two pillars of cultural ecology, the 'biological' and 'industrial', which are now starkly revealed as being in need of an economic bridge to conserve the world’s green heritage assets.


4.3 Money from hemp


The production and weaving of hemp linen fibre has a very long history in Blything Hundred.  The first indication that these were widespread activities in medieval times comes from a taxation list of 1342.  In this year the laity were made liable for a ninth part of all tithable products.  This one-off Royal tax to pay for a war against the French was collected from each parish, and those Blything parishes returning a tax on flax and hemp are shown in Fig. 4.4. 


Fig. 4.4  Parishes of the Blything Hundred taxed on hemp and flax in 1342



About 45% of the communities were growing hemp or flax; the record does not distinguish between the two materials.  It is significant that down to the 18th century about two thirds of these parishes were recorded from wills and inventories as having linen weavers.   The latter evidence, collected and analysed by the local historian Nesta Evans for the entire county, emphasises the importance of North Suffolk in the production of linen cloth (Fig. 4.5.).  Taking the county as a whole, about 60% of the villages had weavers. The total mapped area contains 82% of the villages in Suffolk where weavers made wills.  In the area enclosed by the black line, about eight out of ten of the villages had weavers.


Elsewhere in England, where records are more abundant, it was the wool-manufacturing sector that was the first to show the effects of the boom in exports. But in economics, waves travel far when the expanding sector is a key one in the economy. English woollen shortcloth exports tripled between 1500 and 1550, and much arable land was turned over to sheep pasture.  As the favourable economics of textile production spread through East Anglia, those places such as the Blyth valley, where there was an old tradition of growing hemp, saw an expansion of the local manufacture of Suffolk linen made from hemp fibre.   Small fields were given over to hemp production, retting pits (to separate the fibres) were dug where there was a clay subsoil, and meadows were designated for the drying and bleaching of locally woven cloth.  Although the evidence is patchy it seems that the production of Suffolk hempen cloth reached a peak in the 18th century following duties of around 50% imposed on French linen cloth.


Fig. 4.5   Distribution of linen weavers in North East Suffolk (adapted from the Historical Atlas of Suffolk)



Halesworth was well placed to participate in satisfying an intensification of the demand for home produced linen, and local families, who were prominent in town life during the 16th century, emerged in the 18th century hemp trade as weavers and drapers.  Thomas Cox remarked on the impact of the hempen linen on Halesworth as a cottage industry around 1730:


‘The town is populous, and the Market good.  There is plenty of linen yarn, which the women of the county spin, partly for the use of families, and partly for sale.  Good commodity for trade’


The prosperity from trade in linen cloth is highlighted in two house inventories of the time, referring to Richard Wincop, a Halesworth grocer (1726), and Nathaniel Briggs.  Briggs was a Blyford farmer, and probably a part-time producer of dressed hemp, who possessed 140 skeins of fine yarn at the time his death.


The brothers, Anthony and Henry Sones were late examples of this phase of development, who established businesses in Halesworth as weavers and dressers of cloth, during the last quarter of the 18th century. Local people were still investing in hemp during the first decade of the 19th century, but these enterprises did not fulfil their apparent promise.  The momentum really came from the more favourable economics of the previous century.  The number of weavers and drapers operating between 1800-30 (Table 4.1) could not be sustained.  By the 1840s the retail trade was in decline and there are examples of weavers who were on workhouse relief.  A few were taking up other livelihoods, and yet others were migrating to find work. 


There were many factors leading to the decline in demand for locally produced hemp.  One that has so far received little attention is that in the early development of the East Coast herring fishery the nets were hand-made from linen or hemp, but from the 1820s factory-made nets came in, which tended to be bigger. In terms of value added to the fibre, a hemp net was often worth more than the boat. A second revolution was the changeover to cotton nets from the 1860s.  This resulted in nets that were lighter allowing the boats to carry more nets.  Their net trains increased to 70 or 80. This meant that when a boat was lying with its nets 'shot' they extended about two miles from the boat.
Table 4.1  Persons engaged in the hemp trade:1800-30 (Fordham, 2004)





Cloth maker



Garrod & Banks

Henry Hindes




Sarah Delf





John Mayhew





George Bardwell


Richard Smith



Paul Bowen





Nathaniel Minns





William Hutchinson





John Naylor





Edward Sparkball





James Aldred


James Aldred



Thomas Bardwell


John Paxman



Edward Hewitt


Henry Sones



Daniel Gobbett


Joseph Felmingham



John Hatcher


Henry Scarle



Charles Bardwell


Moses Moore



Thomas Bayfield


James Bishop





James Clark





Samuel Baker





Thomas Butler



John Chaston



Edward Brewster


Daniel Delf



James Tilmouth


Edward Seamon



Bracket Tilmouth snr





Bracket Tilmouth jnr


From all accounts the East Anglian hemp business began to fail in the last quarter of the 17th century, the decline first becoming obvious in West Suffolk.  The pace of this decline accelerated in relation to the increased production of cheaper mass-produced cotton cloth from water-powered mills in the north of England. There was also growing competition from cheaper and better quality linen imports from Ireland.   With regard to sackcloth and rope fibre, this was produced more cheaply from jute in the factories of Yorkshire and Scotland.  The hempen cloth producers of Bungay turned to silk weaving, but the Halesworth enterprises were on a smaller scale and were not adaptable to the changing economics of hemp.


According to Fordham, during the period of terminal decline between 1830 and 1842 the Halesworth hemp craft involved nine weavers, two hecklers, four dyers, two rope makers and two twine spinners.  Ten years later, none of these occupations were listed in the 1851 census.  However, the Halesworth hemp business continued for a while in the form of a manufactory for sacks, rope and twine run by Robert Peachey, and after his death in 1863, by his wife.


The only evidence to estimate the scale of family business in the Blyth valleys on the raw material side is to be found in the Tithe Apportionment (1839) for Bleach Farm, Wissett.   Eight fields (about 7 acres) are described as ‘hempland’ Most of these were less than an acre and the largest was only about 2 acres.  This use of small enclosures for growing hemp was typical of many Blything farms.  Four more fields between 2 and 7 acres were designated at Wissett for the laying out of cloth for bleaching (total of 17 acres).  In the 1820s this farm (84 acres) was leased to John Aldred.  As a young man John appears to have entered the linen trade as a weaver.   From his will of 1827, in addition to renting Bleach Farm, he also owned four properties for rent in Halesworth. 



Bleaching was a slow and laborious natural process until the discovery of chlorine at the end of the 18th century (Fig. 4.6.).  The method followed was to boil the cloth with ashes and then with sour milk.  Thereafter it was exposed for long periods to sunlight until the required whiteness was obtained.  Bleaching therefore tended to become a highly specialised rural business involving considerable outlay of capital and employment of large numbers of seasonal part time wage earners.


Fig. 4.6 Working in a bleachfield



Aldred’s hemp/linen enterprise was clearly an adjunct to a traditional ‘eighty-acre’ Suffolk arable farm, with some property dealing on the side.  It is likely that his Halesworth operations as property developer were made possible by additional income from the hemp business. His accumulated assets were passed on to his sons.  One, James, was probably the Halesworth linen weaver, with looms and a drapery in Chediston Street.  James also had a farm at Sotherton.  Another son Robert, who was the main legatee of his father’s will, and farmed in Wissett on a big scale, appears to have abandoned his father’s interest in hemp.  He eventually gave up the lease on Bleach Farm, sold his property in Wissett, and moved to Norwich.


The growing of hemp seems to have been very much the speciality of a few farmers.  It was not simply a matter of sowing and reaping.  The farmer had to cultivate seasonal ties with labourers to operate the retting pits, which required know-how above the average.  Bleachers were also specialist part timers.  Then there was the administrative effort on the part of the farmer to make long-term contracts with a nearby weaver.  All of these factors probably limited the number of farmers engaged in hemp production and kept the average acreage committed per farm to a minimum


It is not known for certain how large the Halesworth hemp production system was at its peak in relation to that of the Waveney valley region.  In particular, we have hardly any information about the situation during the early 17th century, when the outlook appears to have been most favourable for investment.  With regards the growing and processing of hemp in other Blything parishes, in addition to Wissett, out of twelve other contiguous parishes, nine had hemp designations in their field names included in the Tithe Apportionments, two had no such designations, and one had no named fields (Table 4.2).  Four of these parishes had paid a hemp and flax tax in 1345. On the whole the evidence, such as it is, favours relatively small-scale operations satisfying a local market for cheap and durable cloth for farmers and their labourers.  This scale may be contrasted with the account of Suffolk hempen sailcloth in the Victoria County History. This has much to say about the production of cloth for sails, and to make sacks for transporting coal and grain, but little about hempen clothing.  Sailcloth was exported in large quantities through Ipswich.  This material appears to have been produced in the villages of West Suffolk during Elizabethan times.  However, by the 18th century the large-scale manufacture of sailcloth had moved to towns north of the Wash. The reputed ‘sail loft’ in the Swan public house may be taken as evidence that Halesworth played a small part in sail-making, probably in association with the needs of the local community of bargees.


Table 4.2 Fields in 12 villages* with respect to ‘hemp’ designations in the Tithe Apportionment



Field No.


Field size (a)

Total hempland

































Retting  Field





Retting Pit





Rotten Pit Meadow








Linstead Magna















Linstead Parva

















Part of Hempland




















Hempland Meadow


















































House & Hempland