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An ecological history
Halesworth town SCAN
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 1 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. 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. This was the property 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 1). 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 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, which 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 the 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 2). 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 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.
Fig 2 Distribution of land as recorded in the Chediston tithe apportionment of 1840
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.
Parkyns bought out the Plumer interest, but it is not known how the Plumers came to own so much of Chediston’s land, but they were probably occupying fields and cottages that from time out of mind had been attached to its main manor. The demesne was probably 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, as tenants, in the hands of twenty-two people. The histogram of landownership points up the social dominance of the Parkyns and the Birketts (Fig 2).
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 1 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 1 Categories of people listed in the 1851 census
1 retired; 1 also a miller; 1 also a wheelwright; 1 also a grocer
4 were paupers
working for a farmer who was also a miller
Milliners and hat makers
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 whom around 20% were scholars. Their need for education was met by a parochial school staffed by two teachers.
Table 2 Farmers listed in the 1851 census
farmer 197acres 6men 5boys
farmer 120 acres 2men 2boys
farmer 295 acres 9 men
farmer 59 acres 2men 2boys
farmer 82 acres 3 men
farmer 12 acres & wheelwright
farmer 16 acres & grocer
farmer 140 acres 4 men 1 boy
farmer 55 acres 1 man
Estate agent farmer 90acres
farmer 56 acres 2 men
farmer 68 acres 1 man
farmer 250 acres 7men 2boys
farmer 60 acres 1 man
farmer 190 acres 3men 1 boy
farmer 135 acres 4 men 1boy
farmer 27 acres 1 man
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 (Table 2). 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). These phenomena are indicators of the tenuous connection of families to the land.
Table 3 Farmers of Chediston and Halesworth in White's Directories for 1844 and 1855
Bishop, Corbyn Jonathan
Johnson, J Exors
Webb, John Julius
Woodgate, William jnr
Ingate, Charles jnr
Read, T. Cracknell*
*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). 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 as a military HQ only to be completely demolished in the 1950's and its park ploughed up.
Fig 3 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 4). 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 4 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, 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.
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