• 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
2.1.1 Blything Hundred‡ 2.1.2 Communications‡
2.2 Halesworth and the 'nook' communities
2.2.1 Parish boundaries‡
2.3 Social structure
2.3.1 Lordship‡ 2.3.2 Neighbourliness‡ 2.3.3 Fraternity‡ 2.3.4 Kinship‡ 2.3.5 Economic networks‡ 2.3.6 Land ownership‡

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 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 Halesworth 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.

Fig. 2.3 Kirby’s road map of 1736
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 a ‘Turnpike Trusts’ should be set up. Until then, surfaces were not too important because roads were only used by packhorses and pedestrians. By 1770, 519 trusts had been established countrywide. Local landowners, merchants, parish officials and farmers were persuaded to become involved because it was to their benefit to have improved communications.

The river at Halesworth is, even today, prone to flooding, and 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 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.

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, 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 traveling 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 indicated above, the main north south route from Yoxford to Bungay crossed the Southern Blyth at Walpole Bridge. Bramfield Bridge marks the site of a crossing of the ancient 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 traffic to the main London Turnpike at Darsham.
Routes from the northwest, northeast, and north, focus on Halesworth 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.

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 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 Domesday.

Fig 2.9 Halesworth in Spexhall (1842)
The fields of the Halesworth’s northern extension are rectangular and appear to have been planned with their common axis running north to south (Fig 2.9).

Nearer to the centre of Halesworth, the boundary forms a projection, which contains the homestead of Hill Farm (Fig. 2.10). This is also 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.

Fig. 2.10 Parish boundary of Halesworth in relation to the Holton and Wissett 1842

The Domesday survey tells that most of Halesworth was in the hands of a powerful Norman baron, Earl Hugh. He was pressing his claim on the remainder of the vill, 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.

  • 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 its 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 could have been 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 but are taken to represent orders of magnitude for comparative purposes. In the 1842 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, Wang 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. This 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 Parish boundaries
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 immediately to the north of Halesworth and 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 streams feeding the River Wang (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, 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 designations 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.

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 present 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 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 manorial system of urban Halesworth survived into the 20th century. 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 where it was part of the financial burden of the town’s businesses and a measure of the continued obsession with land, which fostered the careers of several of the town’s attorneys. 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 neighbours 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 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 bodies 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', 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.

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. And, 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 a 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 the imposing residence of Chediston Hall.

Table 2.1 Halesworth land holdings in Tithe Apportionment: 1842

Size (a.r.p.)
Size (a.r.p)
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 route ways 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.