A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.


Volume 1

east anglia

The Kingdom of East Anglia in 550 AD

About 550 AD the New Kingdom of East Anglia was in being, and run by a ruling family called the Wuffings. The most powerful was Raedwald who was overlord of all South Britain from 610 - 624 AD. His seat of government was at Rendlesham, just north of Woodbridge. On a visit to Kent, he was persuaded to introduce Christianity into East Anglia, and he was baptised in 616 AD.

St. Augustine had arrived in Kent in 597 AD in order to re-introduce the religion to the nation. Raedwald founded a monastery at Bedricoworth (Bury St.Edmunds) and his step-son Sigbert succeeded him in 628 and invited St. Felix to come to be the first Bishop of East Anglia in 630 AD. The See was based at a place which Bede names as 'Dummoc' which is now accepted to have been Dunwich. In 675 AD a Bishopric of Elmham was founded as an extension of the Bishopric of Dunwich.

As there are two Elmhams in East Anglia - North Elmham in Norfolk and South Elmham in Suffolk there has been some doubt which was meant. At South Elmham St.Cross, on the Wissett Rd are the ruins of a small 11th century building standing within a Roman enclosure. It is thought to have been erected to commemorate an earlier Saxon Minster, probably a wooden structure which stood on or nearby the site, and this was the religious centre for the Elmham Diocese. However at North Elmham above East Dereham, Norfolk, are the ruins of a Saxon Cathedral also dating back to the early 11th century. It is on a site which had been in use from about 800 AD or even earlier. So the doubts remain which was actually 'Elmham'.

It is generally believed that on his death in 624-5 AD Raedwald was buried with great ceremony in a ship burial which was found at Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge. The excavation by Basil Brown took place in 1938 and he disovered the clear impression in the soil of a wooden ship 26.6m long and 4.6m wide with space for thirty eight oarsmen. The treasure, now in the British Museum, included bowls of ornamented silver, a mass of Anglo-Saxon jewellery, a golden harp, a helmet and many other things.

On the death of Sigbert, the throne passed to Anna who became king in 635 AD. Sigmund and Felix were the first of the East Anglian Saints, with Sigbert's feast day on January 25 and Felix's feastday on March 8th.

King Anna had considerable trouble with neighbours in the Kingdom of Mercia which spread across the Midlands of Britain. It seems that in 654 AD, he was chased from Cambridgeshire by King Penda, the pagan king of Mercia until he reached Blythburgh, where King Anna and his army turned and gave battle. According to K.N.Johnceline, in his history of Wenhaston the site of the Battle of Bulcamp was where the Blythburgh Hospital stood. In this fight King Anna and his army were soundly defeated and King Anna and his son Firminus were killed.

Legend has it that the tramp's shelter in the embankment of the A145 leading from the A12 to Beccles, near the entrance to Henham Park, marks the spot covering a well which in turn was the site where King Anna was killed. Both bodies were buried in Blythburgh Church, or possibly the Priory, and it became a place of pilgrimage, before they were reburied at Bury St Edmunds in the 11th century.

Tradition records that to the south and east of the font in Blythburgh Church, in the broken brickwork of the flooring, are the remains of two purplish-black marble slabs which are now believed to be those that covered the bodies in the Saxon Church. A wooden carving of Anna and his daughter Etheldreda who was Abbess of Ely formed part of the Rood Screen which is now incorporated into the Priest's stall in the Choir.


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