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


Volume 1


Halesworth during the late Norman Period

The town of Halesworth gradually developed in the 13th century when the weekly market and annual fair were licensed in 1222, and as other forms of light industry and commerce flourished, its value to the lord of the manor became apparent. As the feudal landowner, Richard de Argentein would be in the position to obtain far more profitable rents and leases from these new ventures, than from the income of the arable lands they replaced. The establishment of the market alone would bring in, not just the rents from the market stalls, but also the ground rents, fines, transfer charges on the houses and business premises which would be built on plots around the actual market area. Market tolls would also roll in, and by establishing the town on his land, the lord of Halesworth Manor ensured that no one else was likely to get part of his profits.

It would be wrong to discount the part played by the River Blyth in the town's prosperity. Recent excavations at Buss Creek at Southwold have revealed that old timbers brought to the surface as the creek was being cleared, have turned out to be from 900 to 1000 years old. The timbers appear to have come from one large trading ship of which a two metre section of the hull and the 400 lb side rudder have been located. One of the timbers had a craftsman's mark on it, and it is possible that the ship came from the continent.

The villagers of Halesworth would be mainly living in post, daub and wattle cottages, like those inhabited by the Saxons a century or more earlier. This wattle was a framework of hazel sticks which were wedged between the larger timbers of a medieval house. Then they were covered with the daub, a mixture of clay, straw, horse hair and manure. This was an unpleasant task, for it involved throwing handfuls of this mixture at the hazel twigs, and then patting it smooth. When it was dry, the daub would be plastered more carefully and washed with a coat of lime. The cottagers large cooking pots and spouted pitchers were still made of earthenware, and the cooking was done on a brick hearth set into a stamped-down clay floor. To keep the fire alight over night, a curfew or fire cover would be put over the glowing embers until morning, when the fire would be built up again. Fortunately for us, the excavations made on the sites of such dwellings in Halesworth produced the remains of the food they cooked. These include chicken and rabbit bones, egg shells, mussel and oyster shells, and the heavier bones of oxen, sheep and cattle.

The Norman overlords and the Saxon villagers lived at separate social levels, using different words for food or animals. Ox, steer and cow are Saxon words, but beef is Norman. Calf is Saxon with the Normans using veal. Sheep is Saxon, but pork Norman, deer Saxon and venison Norman. So you would breed your animals in Saxon, but eat from them in the Norman tongue.

It was often the case that a person's name indicated where they lived or what they did. So Thomas de Halesworth's name (1150) tells us where his estates originally lay, as does William Halesworth in 1380, but other names in Halesworth documents tell us who travelled into the town from outlying villages and settled here. Such as John Walpoole (1524), William Mideltone (Middleton – 1380), Thomas Kelsale (1524), or Bendis Kersey (1524). Other times the names tell us their occupations, my own surname is Sparkes, which is present in the documents in the form of Sparhawk (1380). This could mean that my ancestors were either falconers to the lord of the Manor who were involved in the training of sparrowhawks or they might have been peasants who worked as sparrow catchers to provide meat for food. Yet my great, great Grandmother's surname was Feweracre, so we can assume that her father had a small-holding of about 4 acres in size.

Other 'trade' names are more recognisable, such as John Barber (1580), Thomas Turner (1580), John Cooke (1524), Robert Fuller (1524), a fuller was a man who was involved in cleaning the cloth of its fats and impurities, and Thomas Smith (1380). Other names can be more complicated, such as William Palmere (1380), a Palmer was a pilgrim who had been to the Holy Land, or there was Godfrey Sumpter (1577), and a sumpter was the man who drove a pack-horse to carry goods. Some names from the past you will still see in Halesworth, such as John Pryme (1380), John Newell (1524), Samuel Noller (1580), and John Stannard (1380).

It is also possible to find out how much things cost in the late 14th century from Halesworth documents taken from 'The account of Robert de Bokenham, Sergeant of the Manor of Halysworthe, Michaelmas Eve 1375 to Michaelmas Eve 1376' :-

1) John Wyand of Beccles paid 2s (10p) a year for a stall in the market place which was on a site 5.8 m x 3.7 m.

2) Thomas Hoclee (Hockley) paid sixpence (5p) to rent 1.5 acres of land in 'La Heyefeld' (The Hayfield).

3) John de Thorpe paid 43/4d (2.17p) to rent the windmill for a year. (The villagers were obliged to have their flour ground at the lord's mill, but sometimes they had an illegal small hand mill which could be easily hidden away. Part of one of the stones of a handmill was found in the excavations at Halesworth).

4) A leatherworker paid 20 pence (8p) for the hide of a cow that died at the Manor Farm.

5) A boy was paid 12 pence (5p) for scaring birds.

6) 1 lad going with plough when ploughing fallow (land) for 5 weeks 4s (20p).

7) 352 harvesters hired 3d a day 4.8.0 (1.25p per day 4.40p).

8) Expenses for 352 harvesters hired for one day - 3 meals a day and expenses of 9 customary tenants with one meal at noon 15 pence (6.5p).

9) Beer for harvest 40 shillings (2.00), no more because they have cider.


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