“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)


1.1 Cultural ecology
1.2 Giving
1.3 Taking
1.4 Towards a new history
1.5 Determining a community's own history

1.1 Cultural 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.

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 people who made them. Before, they were seen as inert scientific specimens, now they became 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.

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.
chedstreet2_wiki.jpgThe 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; 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 has 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 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 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;
  • secure property rights;
  • science applied to the mass manufacture of reliable goods;
  • local availability of bank capital;
  • improved transport and communication.

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 villas 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:
  • family businesses were relatively short-lived;
  • economic development was largely in the hands of people who were not natives;
  • dowries played an important part in financing and stabilising family businesses;
  • partnerships were a way of gathering a critical mass of capital and spreading the investment risk;
  • success was associated with innovations in production and marketing;
  • know-how was exported by emigration of individuals, who, in their turn, joined an expanding global quest for prosperity.

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.

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

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 1.3 ‘Halesworth’ topic map

1.5 Determining a community’s own history

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
  • its spaces;
  • its decoration;
  • its light
  • and its buildings.

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;
  • what is good and bad about the neighbourhood, and why;
  • what is missing from it, and what is superfluous;
  • what could be done to improve it;
  • is it harsh, soft, hostile, friendly, human-scaled, dramatic, relevant to modern lifestyles;
  • what are the factors for change and stability?

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 in the rest of the millennium.

Regarding cultural change, the following checklist of questions has been found useful:
  • Delimitation of the sequence—when did it start?
  • The order of the sequence in relation to time—what followed what?
  • The order of the occurrence—why did it happen in that sequence?
  • The timing of the sequence—why did it occur when it did?
  • Why did not something else occur?
  • The rate of change—how long did the entire sequence take?
  • Were certain elements of it faster or slower than others?
  • Where there any differences between communities?

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