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

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

  • to highlight the roles of individuals and families who carried this upsurge in consumerism into the 21st century and connect their stream of social history with the new age of sustainable development;

  • to provide the basic resource for an educational model of an interactive people’s history, which illustrates how the worldwide web can provide a toolkit for people to add their own input to an ongoing narrative;

  • to reinforce those who are beginning to turn away from material goods as a source of happiness and are instead trying, with a minimum planetary impact, to maximise the feeling they derive from every moment in contact with the natural world,whether this be a tree in the street or a walk through the countryside.

The project is a celebration of Suffolk’s contribution to the ‘age of plenty’. This began at a time when William Etheridge of Fressingfield emerged in 1749 from the closed community of High Suffolk’s woodworkers to design the ‘Mathematical Bridge’ across the Cam to the President’s Lodge of Queen’s College, Cambridge. William had previously been foreman to James King, master carpenter during the building of London’s first Westminster Bridge. He then went on as a master carpenter to design a road bridge over the Thames at Walton and the new harbour installations at Ramsgate. He was one of the last engineers of the ‘age of wood’.

The initiators of the project are Ruth Downing and Denis Bellamy, who have their ancestral roots in the county. William is the fifth great uncle of Ruth Downing. A new industrial iron age was initiated in Peasenhall in the 1820s when James Smyth, the village blacksmith, established a factory for the mass production of the first commercially successful horse-drawn seed drill. James was the son of James Smyth the Elder of Sweffling and Hannah Kemp of Rendham. Hannah Kemp’s father is the fourth great grandfather of Denis Bellamy.