11.1.1 Aelfflaed's gift
Aelfflaed was the wife of Brythtnoth, the Saxon hero of the Battle at Maldon in 991.  The following refers to a gift of land, Balsdon in Suffolk, by Aelfflaed's family to a thegn Seward of Maldon. We can walk the 10th century boundaries of this estate with confidence.
Balsdon Hall, now little more than a cottage, stands within and beside magnificent moated enclosures not far from one of the winding roads that connect Lavenham with Long Melford. The estate was reckoned at five 'hides' by Aelfflaed.
As described in her will, it occupies the northern half of the parish of Acton, and there its bounds coincide exactly with those of the parish. In Domesday Book, Balsdon is not mentioned, but must be contained in the large Acton estate, twelve carucates, held by Seward. Here the carucate seems to be equivalent to the hide, and Seward had added to Balsdon the poorer lands to the south, including Babergh Heath (whose name suggests that it must have been the meeting-place of the Hundred of Babergh). Babergh was extensive and counted as a double Hundred, so Balsdon, with five hides, would have found 'one-fortieth of Babergh's Danegeld'.
These were the boundaries of Balsdon at the beginning of the second millennium.
We start at the stream at Humelcyrre. Humol is a rounded hillock, and cyrr, as in the surviving place-name Stanton Chair, means a corner, or bend. This exactly describes the location of 'the Humblechar meadows' given in a note in Parker's History of 'Long Melford (1873), so we know exactly where to start perambulating: the meadows lie at a pronounced bend in the stream that runs on down past Long Melford Hall, originally turning the Hall mill at the mill-ford. At this point a tributary stream runs in from the north- east. Its valley is followed by a path and by the track of the abandoned little Sudbury-Bury branch-line, whose trains puffed up this old boundary line for one of its long centuries of existence. As the boundary-path rises above the gully, it passes the invisible site of the earliest known settlement of Balsdon, a pair of irregular round ditches with what looks like a native farmstead, perhaps of the Romano-British period, tucked into the slope just below Hawk's Grove. The boundary continues to climb between Paradise Wood and Lineage (formerly Lenynge) Wood until it comes to two concrete strong-points of World War II and the Lavenham-Bridge Street road. This is where the Gospel Oak stood.
At this point the Acton parish boundary comes to a head and turns at a sharp angle to the south-west. We have reached the next point in Aelfflaed's description. It is Heregeresheafod which means Heregere's headland, a point where the ploughs would turn. In a conveyance of 1305, two pieces of Humblechar meadows were described as lying between those of David of Hereford and those of William Bonde. Ordinarily one would suppose David came from Hereford, but here his name may be a contraction, after three centuries, of Heregeresheafod. Next year he witnessed another very local conveyance by Ralph of Dunton.  Dunton's Farm is only half a mile from this point at the head of the Balsdon boundary. Now we follow the Acton parish boundary along what was already known as 'the old hedge'. Alas, most of it has been grubbed right out. A bit survives alongside the 'Green Willows' Building Estate, one of the latest attempts to suburbanise Lavenham a little more. The old boundary wobbles just here, probably because it was marked only by 'a green oak', which might easily have been confused with others, and lost over the centuries.
"Then on till one comes to the paved road", the Roman road. Here its course is still plain, as a green lane beside School Farm and then as a most impressive hedge alongside Slough Farm (Acton), which looks for all the world like a Slough factory. At this point Aelfflaed's Balsdon boundary leaves the parish boundary and runs "along the shrubbery until one comes to Acton-village", that is, along the present road into Acton. "Then from Acton till one comes to Roydon." This is still marked by Roydon Drift. "From Roydon back to the stream." We have completed the parallelogram of Aelfflaed's five hides. By extending his Acton estate to twelve carucates, Seward created the complete parish boundaries of Acton as they are today.
When we look, now, at Domesday Book and find over 400 churches already recorded, it will be reasonable to assume that many of them will already have achieved boundaries that are identical with a large estate like Seward's at Acton. But we shall find some churches that are associated with small farms within a whole grouping of estates within a vill. How soon the boundaries of such a parish and vill were established is something that needs much more careful study.
Norman Scarfe