For our second outing this year we visited the northern part of Long Melford and the delightful Heritage Centre, all the while guided by members of the Long Melford Historical & Archaeological Society (LMHAS), which considerably pre-dates LWHS as it was formed in 1969 and celebrates its 50th birthday this year.
Assembling in the car park of the village hall, which also houses the heritage centre, we were met by Julie Thomson, who gave a brief talk before we set off on our tour of just a small part of the Long Melford (whose name derives from Mill and Ford). Time did not permit seeing other than a small part of this large village because, as Julie said, the main street is some two miles from end to end (others claim 2.5 miles), the longest in East Anglia (others claim in England). The through road has five different names as it passes through the village, and seven in total: High St, Hall St, Little St Mary’s, Southgate St, Station Rd, Rodbridge Hill and Sudbury Rd - all of which presumably helps delivery and postmen.
Assembling in the car park
The Heritage Centre
Turning left out of the car park, we passed one of Long Melford's finest, the magnificent Grade II* listed Brook House; a former coach house built in 1495 when it was known as The White Hart. It seems the inn closed around 1757 to become a private residence owned by the Plamplin family. In 1843 it was sold for £600 to John Churchyard, who owned a horse-hair factory, and by this time it had been renamed Brook House, from Chad Brook which borders the end of the garden. In 1860 it was sold for £975 to Sir William (Hyde) Parker, who lived in the house before taking residence in Melford Hall a few years later, and was recently sold for something over a £1million.
We carried on up to the village green, with its magnificent views of Holy Trinity Church and Melford Hall, both great places to visit, crossing over Chad Brook and passing the Old Primary School, now a community centre with frequent events. Next we passed a rather lovely detached building, Pound Hall, following which Julie gave us some background to the two stately homes in the village, Kentwell Hall and Melford Hall, virtually opposite one another and both attracting large numbers of visitors throughout the year. Julie then told us that one of the great British pre-war grand prix drivers, Richard Seaman, lived at Kentwell as a child, something I was unaware of despite being a GP enthusiast. We were also told that the rather odd looking small building on the green near the entrance to Melford Hall was part of the its water system.
Long Melford Old School with grinding stone in front
Carefully crossing the busy road, we made our way past the grounds of Melford Hall to the Mill, which is now an upmarket B&B and not obviously an old mill; this was the last home of Edmund Blunden, our longest serving First World War poet, who died there and is buried in Holy Trinity.
The mill by Mark Miller
Following the footpath behind the mill, we again crossed Chad Brook, this time with views of it in a completely natural and lovely setting, before re-entering the village where we came upon the Old Courthouse / Police Station, now converted into flats.
The old Courthouse and Police Station
Julie advised that during the 1880s wage cuts in the coconut industry in the village caused widespread anger and strike action, culminating in a riot breaking out on polling day in December 1885, during which considerable damage was caused throughout the village from stone throwing and arson, particularly to the Crown public house. Troops were summoned from Bury St Edmunds to restore order, arriving by train, then marching the whole length of the village from Melford station to read the Riot Act from the steps of the Police Station (the Crown Inn website indicates the riot act was read outside there, so perhaps it was read twice). With the troops on hand this stopped the violence, which interestingly affected every shop except one - Ruse the butchers; Julie told us that old man Ruse stayed outside his shop with his shotgun throughout the rioting, threatening to shoot anyone who damaged his property, which clearly did the trick. It is believed that this was the last time the Riot Act was used in Suffolk.
A few doors down we came to a property called Bridge View, with its unusual Trompe-l'oeil above the door - where the bricks have been painted to look like a window - quite effectively too.
Bridge View and its Trompe-l’oeil window
Next we came to the Bull Hotel, built in 1450 and now a well-known landmark in the village. The original timber-work is unusually well preserved, both inside and out, where the timber was only re-discovered in 1935 when the 100 year old brick work was pulled down. Julie also took us into the hotel to view a beam in the lounge carved with the image of a ‘Wildman’ or ‘Woodwose’, a mysterious being included in the decoration throughout the middle ages to ward off evil spirits. The Drew family were landlords for 200 years, leaving their mark carved onto the posts each side of the front door. We were then told that the building was extensively enlarged in the C20th, but as this was done to match the existing, it is not at all obvious - in the picture below everything to the right of the chimney with the large S (a structural tie beam) is essentially brand new.
The Bull Hotel
Bull Hotel Woodwose carving
Before crossing the road again Julie showed us a fairly normal house called Belmont, which is now famous as a location for the TV comedy drama mystery series Lovejoy, which was based on the novels of John Grant (pen name Jonathan Gash) and featured Ian McShane as a ‘rougish antiques dealer’; having never seen a single episode and being a fan of the actor, I feel I must put this omission to rights sometime.
A little further down the road was the butcher shop Ruse and Son (still carrying on after many years - refer above), looking rather splendid. A little further on is a splendid three-storey terrace of houses, all of which have boot scrapers built into the brickwork near their doors, all manufactured in the village by Ward and Silver.
Delightful terrace of houses
Across the road was the Crown Inn, another historic coaching inn built in 1610; this occupies an imposing position near the Mill Ford crossing nearer the centre of the village, and was probably quite a good place to read the Riot Act if that indeed happened here.
Then we came to a series of individual buildings of various styles which add so much to the character of the village; the Ex Service & Social Club, a very nice art gallery with two wonderful busts either side of the door beneath the bay fronts, and then Red House / Cocoanut House (the name deriving from the historic manufacture of coconut matting in the village.
It was a most interesting and enjoyable tour but there was more to come because next we were split into two groups, one for tea and refreshments and the other to look round the Heritage Centre. This was opened in 2011 following filming of ‘The Great British Story’, a BBC People’s History with presenters Michael Wood and Dr Carenza Lewis. The accompanying community Big Dig of Long Melford revealed many artefacts from its Roman and Medieval past, which inspired amateur archaeologists John Nunn and Rob Simpson to set up the Heritage Centre, maintained by volunteers ever since and well worth a visit next time you visit Long Melford, particularly as it is free admission, though donations in support are always welcome.
There is way too much for me to cover the Heritage Centre contents in any detail, but things of particular interest to me included:
- A couple of large and very well preserved Roman oil / wine amphorae;
- A well stocked glass display cabinet containing various items from the world wars, covering the Royal Flying Corps, the role of women during the war and a mint collection of medals from a resident, interestingly with both the Military Medal, awarded to non commissioned ranks and the Military Cross, which was awarded to officers - presumably he received a significant promotion at some point.
- A number of display boards covering all manner of interesting topics: The great Long Melford gun fiasco, Scapa Flow, Peace celebrations, Flu (Spanish) & Funerals, and the Russian Campaign, all covering the year 1919. Question: did you know that a British Mark V tank from the First World War, used in support of the White Russians, was captured by the Red Army in Arkhangelsk, where it remains on display - I didn’t and its simply fascinating.
Heritage display cabinet
Both groups thoroughly enjoyed the little museum, as well as the tea/coffee, cakes and other nice things; everyone had a brilliant time and I would like to extend the grateful thanks of LWHS to Julie Thomson and all from LMHAS who assisted her for their efforts - it was a really good visit and we hope there maybe could be a follow-up in future years.
Our next History Society talks will be at 19.30 in the Parish Room, on Wednesday:
18th September: St Audry’s Workhouse and Mental Hospital - Victorian attitudes Examined
It was believed that people were born to be poor or simply fell onto hard times through their own neglect, so whole families entered the workhouse or faced starvation - this is their story.
16th October: Goldingham Hall Archaeology and Manorial Records
Ashley Cooper will tell us all about Goldingham Hall and the Anglo Saxon community discovered in the grounds In his own inimitable way - not to be missed.
Both events are going to be great, and we very much look forward to welcoming guests both new and old to the Parish Room.
Andy Sheppard 5th July 2019