Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome Stephen Poulter to the Parish Room, to share his detailed knowledge of some of the many buildings we have lost over time, along with his descriptions of five famous people he chose to use as our guides - a really clever idea

William Camden (1551 - 1623)

English antiquarian, historian, topographer, and herald (or ‘officer of arms); best known as author of Britannia, the first chorographical (or art of describing or mapping a region or district) survey of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. This was a county by county description in a study that related landscape, geography, antiquarianism and history. Camden’s aim was to describe in detail the Great Britain of the present, and to show how the traces of the past could be discerned in the existing landscape. The text for Britannia may be accessed here:

https://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/travellers/Camden

Daniel Defoe (1660 - 1731)

English writer, trader, journalist (the father of modern journalism), pamphleteer and spy; most famous for his novel Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719 and claimed to be second only to the Bible in its number of translations. He also wrote ‘A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies’, the text of which may be accessed here:

https://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/travellers/Defoe

Thomas Kitson Cromwell (1792 - 1870)

English dissenting minister (i.e. he disagreed in matters of opinion and belief, etc) and antiquary.

James Edmund Vincent (1857 - 1909)

Entering the Inner Temple in 1881, Vincent was called to the bar in January 1884; he was also a reporter for the Law Times in the bankruptcy department of the Queen's Bench division, from 1884 to 1889. He joined the staff of The Times in 1886 and was the main descriptive reporter of the paper. In 1901, as special correspondent, he accompanied the Duke of Cornwall and York on his colonial tour. He wrote ‘Through East Anglia in a motor car’, which may be accessed here:

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/38938/38938-h/38938-h.htm

Arthur Mee (1875 - 1943)

English writer, journalist and educator, best known for The Harmsworth Self-Educator (*), The Children's Encyclopædia, The Children's Newspaper and The King's England.

(*)         The Harmsworth Self-Educator was an educational magazine series published in 48 issues, between 1905 & 1907, at the instigation of newspaper owner Alfred Harmsworth, edited by Arthur Mee. Its purpose was to provide access to education for anyone to learn applied knowledge and choose a profession. A notable alumnus was Basil Brown, the self-taught astronomer and early excavator of Sutton Hoo. The text may be accessed here:

https://archive.org/details/harmsworthselfed01meeauoft/page/n7/mode/2up?view=theater

With these famous five as our guides, after a great deal of research by Stephen into who said what, he began his talk proper:

Boulge Hall

It is said that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but in Boulge, a small hamlet and civil parish 3 miles north of Woodbridge, the woman in question now allegedly haunts the village in a coach pulled by headless horses; so furious, the woman’s known locally as the Queen of Hell.

The future Mrs Short inherited Boulge Hall from the man who built it, first husband William Whitby, but following his death in 1792, she lived alone until she met her second husband, Henry Short, a former lieutenant colonel in the Royal Dragoons. That the marriage was stormy is an understatement, Mrs Short didn’t earn her nickname as the Queen of Hell without reason, because she was very short tempered.

Thomas Wright, in The Life of Edward Fitzgerald (see also later), written in 1904, said that Mrs Short was an imperious and bad-tempered old lady, adding “She and her husband Colonel Short often fell out, and at such times the colonel would only speak to his dog, and she to her cat (interesting). After one particularly bitter quarrel, Mrs Short declared that she would not live with her husband again, and ordered a new home to be built in the grounds of Boulge Hall - a thatched cottage where she could escape to when life at the grand Hall became intolerable.

We heard of Mrs Short’s activities on New Year’ Day in 1800, when she threatened to burn down the farm house and buildings, when she actually destroyed the windows in the dining room and then broke down a door ‘to regain her liberty’, after her husband had entreated four men to restrain her and remove a knife from her clutches. 

The Hall suffered a burnt floor and it is believed the local rumour mill constructed a ghastly tale of murder with an indelible bloodstain on the hall floor. The Folklore Society’s 1895 volume recorded that she murdered a gentleman at Boulge Hall, with the stain remaining indelibly on the floor. They continued: she comes out of the gate in a carriage with a pair of horses with no heads, wearing a silk dress (special occasions clearly demand special clothes) with a light on in the carriage and a man driving the horses. About three years ago (this was of course some 70 years later), a servant girl lived there and said that Mrs Short’s ghost went into her room and pulled all her things off her, adding that she felt its breath like a wolf upon her.

A year after the eventful New Year’s Day, John Fitzgerald bought the Hall for his daughter and new husband, the purchase being on the understanding the Hall would remain in the hands of the Shorts until they died; Mrs Short kept the Grim Reaper waiting until 1831, when she was 84.

The couple lived instead at nearby Bredfield House, eventually moving into Boulge Hall in 1835. Their son, Edward Fitzgerald, refused to move into the Hall and instead lived in a thatched cottage on the estate, believed to be that lived in by Mrs Short. Edward, a close friend of Alfred Tennyson and William Makepeace Thackeray, translated the famous Persian poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which was published anonymously in 1859, and then enlarged in subsequent later editions. With an unhappy marriage of his own, Fitzgerald was famously unkempt and chronically untidy; when he died in 1883, his body was buried in the churchyard of St Michael and All Angels in the village, and a rose from the tomb of Omar Khayyam planted in his grave.

In some accounts of the ghostly occupant of the hellish carriage seen in Boulge, it is Fitzgerald and not the Queen of Hell who is said to be seen at midnight – a headless coachman takes the reins, dismounting to open a pair of ghostly gates.

The hall was later purchased by Sir Robert Eaton White, 1st Baronet and Chairman of Suffolk County Council, whose descendants held it until circa 1950. It was demolished in 1955 owing to its general dereliction, and there are no earthly remains of the Hall or the cottage today - which is a great shame as it looks lovely in its postcard image. Some say that an echo from the past still remains on moonless nights when the clock strikes 12

Brome Hall.

Brome Hall was built around 1550 by Sir Thomas Cornwallis, Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, who in 1554 was appointed treasurer of Calais. A staunch Papist and trusted servant of Mary Tudor, he later beseeched Elizabeth I to trust him, promising that he followed her religion

Brome Hall about 1840

Much of Brome Hall was in disrepair by the time of the last Marquis Cornwallis, who died in 1823, and a great deal of the hall was pulled down before 1840. It was empty during WW2 and not used by the military, as many other grand houses were, and it was finally demolished in 1959.

Brome Hall in 1958, very sad and neglected

Bungay Castle

A Norman castle originally built by Roger Bigod around 1100, whose son Hugh was prominent during the civil war period 1138-1154. Loyalties were called into question during the early years of Henry II’s reign, so he confiscated Bungay castle, though in 1164 returned it to Bigod, who then built a large Norman keep in 1165. Bigod was again on the losing side in the revolt of 1173-1174, with Bungay castle besieged, mined and slighted by royal forces (to reduce its military value).

The site was again restored to the Bigod family and further developed in 1294 by Roger Bigod, the 5th Earl of Norfolk, who probably built the massive gate towers on the site. He fell out with Edward I, so after his death the castle reverted to the Crown, before falling into disrepair and ruin.

In 1483 it was re-acquired by the Dukes of Norfolk, who retained ownership until the 20th century (apart from a short period in the late C18th); in 1766 the site was sold to Robert Mickleborough, who quarried the keep and curtain walls for road-building materials. In the early 1790s it was purchased by Daniel Bonhôte, a local solicitor, before being sold back again to the Dukes of Norfolk around 1800.

Other than the 1841 removal of dwellings on the site, little or no repairs were undertaken for several centuries; the castle's curtain walls and twin towers of the gatehouse remain today, along with a fragment of the keep.

Bures

Bures comprises two civil parishes - Bures Hamlet in Essex and Bures St Mary in Suffolk - bisected by the river Stour. The parish church stands on the Suffolk side of the Stour and serves both parishes. In Domesday the village is referred to as "Bura" or "Bure", and it is stated that there was a church with 18 acres of free land. It is not known at what date the suffix "St. Mary" was added to the name, but there are references to the village as "Bures Nostre Dame" in the 13th century, and as "Bures Seinte Marie" in the 14th. On some old maps and documents, the name of the village is spelt "Bewers" or "Bewres - probably the nearest phonetic spelling

The present church is largely of 14th century origin, with 15th and 16th century additions. The greater part of the tower was built by Sir Richard Waldegrave before his death in 1410. There was a spire when the later part of the tower was built, but this was struck by lightning in 1733 and set on fire. It burned down to the tower with such intense heat that the bell chamber and bell frames were burned, and five of the six bells were melted. It was restored by 1863, some 130 years later.

About 1 mile north east is the Chapel of St. Stephen, dedicated to St. Stephen on St. Stephen's Day in 1218 by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury - the oldest building in the parish. It contains effigies of the 5th, 8th, and 11th Earls of Oxford, the only survivors of the 21 tombs once in the old Earls Colne Priory; this fell into ruins after the Reformation and no trace remain. It had fallen into disuse after the Reformation and became, among other things, a barn, hence its local name of Chapel Barn. It was restored to its present condition in the 1930s, by members of the Probert family, and re-consecrated. It has long been popularly held to stand on the traditional site of the coronation of King Edmund, Saint and Martyr, crowned King of the East Saxons on Christmas Day 855 or 856, as corroboration of which the chronicler Galfridus de Fontibus (Geoffrey of Wells) described the coronation as having taken place at "Bures, which is an ancient royal hill".

Approximately 1 mile east of the village, on the edge of the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is a geoglyph (*) chalk outline of a dragon, created as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. The shape of a dragon relates to a legend from the Middle Ages, telling the story of Sir Richard Waldegrave, whose servants attempted to kill a dragon but failed due to its tough hide.

(*)         A large design or motif, generally longer than 4 metres, produced on the ground by durable elements of the landscape, such as stones, stone fragments, gravel, or earth.

Clare Castle

A ruinous medieval castle in the parish and former manor of Clare, anciently the caput (capital) of a feudal baron; it was built shortly after the Norman Conquest in 1066 by Richard Fitz Gilbert, with a high motte and bailey, later improved in stone. In the C14th it was the seat of Elizabeth de Clare, one of the wealthiest women in England, who maintained a substantial household there

The castle passed into the hands of the Crown, included within the Dutchy of Lancaster, and at the start of the seventeenth century, castle and lands passed into private ownership. At this time, Suffolk Traveller Robert Reyce noted that the castle was a ‘lamentable ruin upon a most beautiful situation’, and sadly by 1600 was disused. From then on, the castle became a romantic ruin in the garden of Clare Abbey, then a private house.

Clare castle as painted by Hooker in 1797

Most of the castle wall was removed, around 1720, for the dual purpose of employing the poor and to repair roads. In September 1848 a pathway was created to the top of the mound, as a promenade for the residents of Clare.

In 1865, the inner bailey was destroyed, to provide Clare with a Great Eastern railway station, a few relics were discovered, but sadly there was no attempt at any archaeology. The station road was driven through the outer bailey and through the bastions between inner & outer bailies, the occasion marked by a pageant where residents dressed up in medieval costumes and cheered.

Clare railway station, closed in 1967, and believed to be the only station ever built within the bailey of a castle

The ruins are now an unusually tall earthen motte surmounted by tall remnants of a wall and a round tower, with large grassland or near-rubble gaps on several sides.

St Andrew's Church, Covehithe

Once a glorious medieval church, St Andrew's now lies in picturesque ruin by the sea, with only the lofty C14th tower (preserved as a sea mark) and a curtain of original walling surviving. A smaller thatched-roof church was built in 1672 (+), when the inhabitants were given permission to dismantle the older church; it’s still in use and nestles within the ruins of the larger church.

Covehithe Church – Simon Knott

A picturesque ruin by the sea, now a partly redundant Anglican church in the small hamlet of Covehithe, it is recorded by the National Heritage as a Grade I listed building. The part of the church in ruins is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

The church stands on a lane leading directly towards the sea, in an area of coast which has suffered significant ongoing erosion. The oldest fabric in the original large medieval church dates from the C14th, although most is from the C15th. During the Civil War much of the stained glass was destroyed by local iconoclast William Dowsing, and by the later part of that century the large church was too expensive for the parishioners to maintain (+). It is hoped that the rapidly encroaching sea will leave this lovely place to be enjoyed for a few more decades.

Covehithe ruins – Lemmo2009

Dunwich

Dunwich lies within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), some 92 miles north-east of London on the North Sea coast. It was the capital of the Kingdom of the East Angles during the Anglo-Saxon period.

The Domesday Book of 1086 describes Dunwich as possessing three churches, estimated to have a population of 3,000 (cf London’s 18,000). In the Middle Ages the village was a thriving international port the size of the City of London's square mile, built on fishing, trade and religious patronage, with eight churches, five houses of religious orders, three chapels and two hospitals. The main exports were wool and grain, and the main imports were fish, furs and timber, from the Baltic and Iceland, cloth from the Netherlands, and wine from France. Greyfriars Monastery was established by Franciscan monks in the 1250s, on lower lying ground closer to the sea

On 1 January 1286 a storm surge reached the east edge of the town, destroying buildings; prior to that, most recorded damage was loss of land and damage to the harbour. The storm was followed by two further surges the following year, the South England flood of February 1287 and St. Lucia's flood in December. A fierce storm in 1328 swept away the entire village of Newton, just a few miles up the coast, and another large storm in 1347 swept some 400 houses into the sea. The Grote Mandrenke, or Saint Marcellus's flood (*) around 16 January 1362 finally destroyed much of the remainder of the town. 

(*)         An intense extratropical cyclone, coinciding with a new moon, which swept across the British Isles, the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark around 16 January 1362, causing at least 25,000 deaths.

The 1286 storm swept away the monastery, along with many homes and other buildings, and the crumbling stone walls today are the remains of the ‘new’ friary, rebuilt in the late C13th on land half a mile from the sea; these now stand perilously close to the edge of the cliffs, illustrating how storms, surges and coastal erosion turned the tide on thriving Dunwich, some of which was later built on higher ground. Most of the buildings present in the 13th century have now disappeared, including all eight churches, and Dunwich is now just a small coastal village; a popular local legend says that, at certain tides, church bells can still be heard coming from beneath the waves.

Dunwich by JMW Turner

Arthur Mee reported that “even as it prospered, its doom was coming from the sea”, and perhaps somewhat unfairly given the many storms, he wasn’t impressed with “just 20 houses and an Inn”

Flixton

The original Flixton Hall, built in 1615 by John Tasburgh, sadly burnt down in the C19th. A great new building was erected to rival many of the grandest of estates, even considered as a possible royal residence in competition with Sandringham, which won due to better rail links with London.

In 1753, the Tasburgh male line became extinct and the estate passed to the Wyborne family; subsequently the estate was sold to the first of the Adairs, who then resided at the hall for nearly 200 years.

Flixton Hall in a 1797 engraving

In 1948, the whole Flixton Estate of 2,970 acres, then under the management of Major General Sir Allan Shafto Adair, was offered for sale; there were 21 farms, several small holdings, two licensed public houses, two schools, three village post offices, various houses, numerous cottages, marshlands, woodlands, and grazing rights. Everything was purchased by Metropolitan Railway Country Estates Limited, though the family did retain ownership of Flixton Hall, Flixton Park, Home Farm and Home Woods.

Due to later heavy death duties, Flixton Hall, including its massive library, then had to be sold in 1950. Despite efforts by both the East and West Suffolk County Councils to buy Flixton Hall and 250 acres of the land, for use as a joint farm institute; it was actually sold privately to a speculator. Two years later the speculator had removed and sold all of the protective lead from the roof, and water was causing serious problems to the interior; he applied and (amazingly) gained permission to demolish the building in June 1952. As a result, one of the most magnificent buildings in East Anglia was allowed to disappear forever; only the shell of part of the ground floor survives today, and it is used for farm storage.

Flixton Hall today – John Fielding

Stephen’s superb talk was most comprehensive, incredibly interesting and hugely enjoyed by everyone present, so the time simply flew by; he concluded by saying that this talk was just half of the research he has done on Suffolk’s lost heritage, so at some point we will have part two to look forward to

 

Our next event will be at 7.30 on Wednesday 17th May, when Dr Nicholas Amor will talk about Keeping the peace in medieval Suffolk, a time considered a lawless period, when rival gangs of retainers terrorized the countryside. Following careful study of Suffolk’s C14th archives, Nick contends that the fear of crime was actually greater than reality, until an alliance was forged between gentry and village elite, to become a powerful force to shape Suffolk society.

On Wednesday 21st June at 7.30, Pip Wright will tell us the true story of the poachers of Rickinghall. He will concentrate on Joe Whistlecraft, a man who regarded regular imprisonment as little more than an occupational hazard of his chosen way of life. He was convicted over 100 times, mainly for poaching, and widely known as the man who got away with murder; it’s going to be great.

 

We very much look forward to welcoming guests to the Parish Room Little Waldingfield on these dates.

 

Andy Sheppard                                                                                                                   23rd April 2023