The History and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk: Volume 1. Originally published by WS Crowell, Ipswich, 1846.
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There is no subject more pleasing to the thoughtful mind than a contemplation of the changes wrought by time on the face of nature—and few places present a more ample field for such retrospective meditation than the site of Beccles. The spectator beholds from the bold promontory on which it stands a wide and fertile valley, smiling beneath the industry of man. He sees churches, villages, and mansions, thickly studded along its wooded banks, and a winding silvery stream bearing on its bosom the peaceful sail of commerce. Here and there appears the silken pennon of the pleasure-boat fluttering in the breeze, or the patient angler pursuing his "contemplative recreation." A spacious church, encircled by a thriving, well-built town, bounds the nearer view, and completes the picture of the present day.
In remoter ages how different was the scene. Then this tranquil valley lay buried beneath a broad impetuous arm of the sea, whose mighty tides bore along the hostile bark of the ruthless Dane, intent on violence and plunder. The Christian temple— the Beata Ecclesia—which has since given name to the spot, was then unbuilt—but a rude and lofty watch-tower occupied the site; (fn. 1) which, commanding a seaward view of the turbulent estuary, blazed forth the fearful notice of invasion to a beacon placed on the peninsula at Bungay. This in turn communicated with a third at Homersfield; and thus the intelligence was speedily passed along the valley of the Waveney, and into the heart of East Anglia.
The watch-tower at Beccles was, probably, defended by a ditch and rampart of earth; and the protection these afforded to the inhabitants of the neighbourhood in times of peril and alarm, gradually drew together a few simple habitations, which the security of the place, and its advantageous position for the herring-fishery, rapidly increased in numbers and importance: hence the origin of Beccles. In the year 960 the manor of this rising town was granted by King Edwy to the monastery of Bury; a circumstance which doubtless conduced to its prosperity, for the monks were far advanced beyond the barbarous manners of the times in which they lived, and were the depositaries of every useful art and science.
Under the mild rule of these ecclesiastics, who as landlords were less arbitrary than the feudal warriors, Beccles gradually progressed in population and wealth, and its flourishing state was further increased in the reign of William the Conqueror by the arrival of twenty-four burgesses who fled from Norwich to escape the penalties of Earl Guader's conspiracy. (fn. 2) These merchants brought with them a considerable share of the herring-fishery, then an important branch of trade both at Norwich and Beccles, and thus rendered these towns in some measure rival marts. In the course of a century from the grant of King Edwy, the commerce of Beccles had doubled, for at the period of the Domesday Survey the tale of 30,000 herrings, which had been paid to King Edward the Confessor as a fee-farm rent for the manor, was raised by the Conqueror to a tallage of 60,000. The town then contained twenty-six burgesses, besides inhabitants of an inferior grade. All who possessed property in it, could alienate their houses and lands, a privilege, at that time, not generally enjoyed. There was also a market, in which the Abbot had three parts, and the King one. It was one leuca in length, and eight furlongs in breadth, and paid 16d. gelt. It also possessed a church, endowed with twenty-four acres of glebe. (fn. 3) Roger Bigot took care of an estate for the King of about two hundred acres of land, with the profits arising from the fourth part of the market, as before stated. This appears to have been then held as a separate manor, but it soon after fell into the possession of the Abbot, and was united with his principal lordship. (fn. 4) It was probably the manor called in ancient deeds the manor of Endgate, and which was returned in the reign of Edward I. amongst the estates of the Abbot of Bury.
The situation of Beccles at this period must have been bleak, for there was wood sufficient for the maintenance of only eight swine; while the river had receded so slowly that the Abbot's manor contained but ten acres of meadow. (fn. 5)
The early importance of Beccles is further confirmed by the 'Monasticon,' which, referring to the citizens of Norwich, says, "They had not before the Conquest, nor for a hundred years or more after it, any coroners or bailiffs from among themselves; but they had one bailiff only, who, in the King's name, held courts and collected amercements, as was done in Beccles, and Bungay; or in other towns where merchandize is sold." (fn. 6)
King Stephen confirmed to the Abbot the previous grants of King Edwy, reserving to himself "the pleas of the Crown." (fn. 7)
By an ancient inquisition, sans date, it was returned that "the Abbot and Convent of St. Edmund hold the town of Beccles of the gift of Stephen, once King of England; and therein they claim to have the view of Frankpledge, &c.; they know not by what authority; and the Abbot comes and says that himself and his predecessors have held the manor of Beccles, with the liberties aforesaid, from the time of King Edwy, before the conquest of England; and he says that in the book which is called Domesday, it is stated that in the time of King Edward, St. Edmund held the aforesaid town of Beccles: and of this he vouches to warrant the aforesaid book, called Domesday."
The Abbot, as Lord of the Manor, had a right of free-warren in Beccles, but whether this was exercised by grant or prescription does not appear. He also possessed the right of free-fishery in the waters of the Waveney, from Gerard's fleet to Beccles bridge;—a privilege which was afterwards extended as far as St. Olave's;— with a Leet, or power of electing officers for the management and control of the fishery—for the fixing the size of the meshes of the fishing-nets used in the above waters; and for preventing nuisances committed therein. This right of free-fishery, which was obtained by the Abbot in 1268 from John le Bigot, does not seem to have been an exclusive grant, but extended to all the inhabitants of the town; they being subject to the regulations of the Leet.
"Anno 53 Hen. 3. John le Bigot legavit finem Abbati de Bury, et hominibus de Beccles communis piscariæ in aquâ de Beccles a ponte de Beccles usque ad Gerards fleet." (fn. 8)
The Abbot had also a Swannery in these waters, to which belonged a swan-mark, being "a squire and an ollyett: the squire upon the right side of the beak, and the ollyett on the left; and if any swan with an overlayed marke happen to be found in the common streame called the water of the Waveney between the fleete called Gerard's fleet, and St. Olave's bridge, the same belongs to the Lord of the Manor of Beccles in right of the said manor." (fn. 9)
In the 26th of Edward III., the Abbot obtained an exemplification of his liberties between "Coppoliston et molendinum de Werlingham," and in the town of Beccles. (fn. 10)
In the year 1448, there was a suit between the Abbot and the Lord of the Manor of Roos Hall, to determine whether Jerard's Hill belonged to the manor of Beccles or Roos Hall, which seems to have been determined in favour of the latter. (fn. 11)
The manor and advowson of Beccles remained with the Abbots of Bury till the dissolution of that monastery in 1539, and were granted on the 6th of February, 1541, to William Rede, citizen and mercer of London. This gentleman enjoyed his grant but one year; for by an inquisitio post mortem taken at Ipswich on the 6th of April, 34th of Hen. VIII., he was found to die on the 10th of February in that year, seized of this property.
The manor and advowson seem then to have passed to his second son, William Rede, who, dying in 1552, left his widow a life interest in the same. She afterwards married Sir Thomas Gresham, the founder of the Royal Exchange in London; who in right of his wife presented to the church. By an extent and survey of the manor taken in 1587, when Dame Anne Gresham was again a widow, it was determined by a water-leet then held, "that if any fisherman whatever do fyshe in the sayde water (of Beccles) from the sayde fleete unto the sayde bridge (of Beccles) with any manner of nett, the shale or meshes thereof not being in wydnes two inches and an half of the rule (grounde netts, wherewith they take eles only excepted), every such nett is forfeite unto the Lord of the Manor abovesaid, over and above twentye shillings in the name of a payne; and all the fish taken in the same unlawful nett." These salutary measures seem to have been strictly enforced by subsequent lords; and the fines inflicted on several offenders are recorded in the court-books at no very distant period; but it is much to be regretted that a water-leet has not been held for the manor since the 18th of November, 1797.
In 1673, Sir Robert Yallop was Lord and Patron. From the Yallops the manor and advowson passed to the family of Bence, of Henstead, and from the Bences, by marriage, to the Sparrows, of Worlingham Hall. On the death of the late Robert Sparrow, Esq., in 1822, they descended to his daughter Mary, the wife of Archibald Acheson, Earl of Gosford, and in consequence of her decease are now held by the said Earl of Gosford, and Dawson Turner, Esq., of Yarmouth, in trust, to the use of the Earl for life, with remainder to Lord Acheson, his son by the said Mary Sparrow, in fee.
That portion of the manor called Beccles Fen, which was returned in Domesday as containing only ten acres, became in process of time, by the gradual withdrawing of the waters, of considerable extent. At first, perhaps, it merely supplied rushes for the use of the inhabitants of the town; and not being considered of much value by the Abbot, they were allowed to apply the produce to themselves. However, in 1391 the townspeople took possession of the fen or common, and began to exercise this permission as a right; but were soon compelled to yield to the claim of the Abbot. By a verdict, in an action of novel disseisin, 15th of Richard II., between William, Abbot of Bury, demandant, and Roger Atte Lee, and ten others, all described as inhabitants of Beccles, defendants, the rights of the said Abbot William, and his predecessors, were fully established; and the Abbot recovered seizin of the pasture land or fen, which then contained fourteen hundred acres. (fn. 12)
"Although the precise nature of the tenure by which the fen was held, or of the regulations for the management of it, cannot be positively ascertained, the general purport and intent of them may be collected from the proceedings in a Chancery suit instituted by the Corporation against John Rede, in the reign of Elizabeth, now remaining amongst the evidences of the Corporation; in which it is stated, that in the beginning of the reign of King Henry VI., the Abbot and Convent of Bury did, by a deed under their convent seal, grant, demise, and confirm unto divers persons by name, then inhabitants of Beccles, 'a certaine greate ground of marshe, fenne, and pasture, called and knowne by the name of Beccles Fen, or Beccles Common, then, or long time before, beying parcell of the manor of Beccles, parcell of the possessions of the said late dissolved monastery, contayning by estymacion 1400 acres.' To hold to the said persons, named in such deed, and their heirs for ever, to the intent that the fen should thenceforth be and remain as common feed and pasturing, for the beasts of the inhabitants, and tenants of the said Abbot within the town of Beccles: with the privelege of taking thack, rushes, and other commodities thereof, renewing for ever; paying to the said Abbot, and his successors, the yearly rent of £6. 13s. 4d."— "Thus, although the fen was indisputably parcel of the manor of Beccles, there is no evidence to authorize a supposition, that it was ever part of the waste of the manor, or a common on which the tenants had any legal right of commonage; but on the contrary, a sole and exclusive ownership appears to have been exercised by the Abbot and Convent; and that ownership supported by a trial at law with the inhabitants." (fn. 13)
"Thys bylle made the ij de day of Septembyr the iij de yer of Kyng Henry the viij te wytnessyth, that I Herry Furmage, syrvante of Mr. Chambryer of the Monestery of Bury Seynt Edmond, hath receyved of John Waters, John Herryng, John Thorn, and Richard Buk, fenrevys of the town of Beckelys for the yerly ferme of ther fen, x marck of good and lawful mony to the use and be hofte of hys seyd maystyr. In wytnesse here of I the seyd Herry have set to my seal and subscrbyd my name wyth my hand the day and yer a bove seyd. P' me Henricū Furmage."
From this document it appears, that a yearly rent of ten marks was paid to the Abbot for the fen, and that it was governed by four Fenreeves, in the same manner probably as by the second grant of Henry VIII.
In the transactions which took place upon the dissolution of the monastery, relative to the procurement of a grant of the fen from the king, there seems to have been much misunderstanding and contention among the inhabitants. These disputes continued for a number of years to be maintained with much acrimony, and on one or two occasions, with bloodshed; and as they occasioned great expense in law proceedings, they were the original cause of enclosing parts of the common, and demising them for terms of years, in order to defray these expenses. The first grant of Henry VIII. was made in the year 1540, to William Rede, merchant, and his heirs, in trust, for the benefit of himself and others, inhabitants of the town of Beccles. The sum paid for this grant, to the king's use, was £120. Now there seems to have been in the hands of Mr. Rede, the sum of 400 marks, arising from the sale of lands and sheep at Blofield, belonging to a gild in the town; besides a further sum, arising from the sale of plate belonging to the said gild. This money had been placed in Mr. Rede's hands by the 'gildermen,' who by this sale anticipated the king, and left but little for him to seize at the dissolution of the fraternity, which soon after took place. They had before taken upon them to discharge the Abbot's annual fee-farm of ten marks; and it was now determined, that from the fund produced by the sale of their property, the expenses attending the procurement of the grant should be defrayed. It was the application of this fund which gave rise to all the subsequent disputes. The inhabitants charged Mr. Rede with the embezzlement of a part of the money; while he asserted, that he had expended the whole of it, together with other money of his own, on account of the grant. It was, however, at length finally accorded, by an indenture drawn up by Mr. Sergeant Gawdy, of Gawdy Hall, between William Rede, of Beccles, in the county of Suffolk, on the one part, and Thomas Rede, son and heir of the said W. Rede, and John Thorn, churchwardens of Beccles, and others, on the other part; "That wheras the seid Will'm Rede hath purchased of o'r seid sovreign lord ye comen of Becclis—to ye use and comodite of the seid towne for the inh'itants of the same, for the payment and p'chase whereof it was in variance betwyne the said p'ties whether the money wherwith ye seid comen was purchased were the p'per monye of the seid Will'm Rede or ye stock or monye of ye seid inhabitants, whereupon hath rised and growne moche variance and contention, wherefore it is now fully concluded graunted assented and agreed &c. and alsoe it is confessed by the seid Will'm Rede and ye seid other p'ties that the seid comen was purchased indifferently with the money of the seid Will'm Rede and ye moneye of ye seid inhabitants beynge in the custodie of the seid Will'm Rede to ye use of the seid inhabitants, by reason of w'ch seid p'chase there is no money remaynyng in the hands and possession of the seid Will'm Rede. And the seid chirchwardens and inhabitants by thes pt's do dyscharge the seyd Will'm Rede and his executors of and for all and syngler soms of money &c. And it is also further agreed &c. that it shall be lawful to the seyd inhabitants and evry man ells to sey that the seyd comen was bought and p'chased with the money of the seyd Will'm Rede and the money of the seyd inhabitants, remayning in the possession of the seid Will'm Rede to th'use of the seyd inhabitants without offendyng of the seyd Will'm Rede, and yt the seyd Will'm Rede shall not be offendyd wyth the seid report but be content therwith and not to sue or troble eny man for so seying."
Still it appears great jealousies existed in the breasts of a majority of the inhabitants, on account of the exclusive power which was given by the letters patent to the family of Rede, of making rules and constitutions for the government of the fen; a power which does not seem to have been very temperately exercised. The townsmen therefore, three years afterwards, (1543) procured a revocation of the former grant, on the ground of non-performance of certain conditions, and obtained a new grant to themselves, by virtue of which the fen was to be governed by four Fenreeves, chosen annually from among the inhabitants. This gave satisfaction for a time, as it was nearly what they had been accustomed to under the abbots. But considerable expense had been incurred, to defray which, it was resolved to resort to the former expedient of enclosing and demising; and this led the way to fresh disputes, and a renewal of the quarrel with the family of Rede.
For the space of forty years these animosities were kept up with the utmost rancour on both sides; during which time, various suits at law were prosecuted, which proved very expensive and decided nothing. The peaceable householders (for in the whole body of the householders of the town was vested the right of choosing the four Fenreeves) refused to attend at the annual election, on account of the desperate affrays which usually took place on that occasion; and therefore ordinances were made to compel their attendance. At length the authority of the Fenreeves was set at defiance, and every one seized such of the archives as he could possess himself of, and either retained or destroyed them. The latter fate seems generally to have attended them; for notwithstanding an order or constitution, "touching bringeinge in of the evidence," made a few years after, in which heavy fines and punishments were denounced against all such as should refuse "to bring in the said evidences, writeings, accounts, books, rolls, leasses, and all other nots and writeings aforesaid, undefaced and uncancelled, or in as good case as the same now be," very few of these documents are at present to be found.
It would be useless to detail the particulars of these disputes, even if the memorandums of them which remain rendered it possible to do it with impartiality. The issue of them was, a surrender of the fen, with all the rights, &c., to Queen Elizabeth, by an act of the inhabitants in general, assembled at the church, January 26, 1584; the instrument of which surrender was subscribed by the churchwardens and other inhabitants, and sealed with the common seal of the town. But although this surrender seems to have been sanctioned by a majority of the inhabitants, there was still a large party in opposition to the measure, who endeavoured by false reports, and groundless insinuations, to render the promoters of it unpopular. The lower classes were made to believe that their rights were to be done away, and that certain individuals were about to purchase the common to themselves and their heirs: in consequence of which, fresh riots and disturbances arose every day; the pound, gates, &c., were destroyed, and the windows of the guild-hall demolished. The measure, however, which met with so much opposition, was the most prudent that could possibly have been pursued. The instrument of surrender set forth, that it was made to the intent and purpose that the fen might be granted again, in a more effectual manner, to a select body of the inhabitants, who were to be incorporated under the name of the Portreeve, Surveyors, and Commonalty of the Fen of Beccles, in the county of Suffolk. Letters patent were accordingly granted, bearing date on the 2nd July, 1584, by which the Corporation was erected and constituted in the form which it still retains, and to whom the fen was re-granted in as ample a manner as it had been granted by the former letters patent of Henry VIII.
In the year 1605, the charter granted by Queen Elizabeth, and afterwards confirmed by her, was still further confirmed by James I., on the 19th of May. Some attempts were made, about the twenty-first of James I., to invalidate the charter, by one Lockington, and also by a Mr. Vaughan, the rector of Beccles, but they only tended to ratify and strengthen it. Some issues also appear to have been tried about this time, tending to ascertain the magisterial jurisdiction of the Portreeve; when it was found, that his authority extended no farther than to the affairs of the fen, and to enforcing the laws made for the government of it.
In 1652, an order was received by Mr. Joseph Cutlove, the Portreeve, from the Committee for Corporations, then sitting in the Queen's Court at Westminster, to appear before the said committee, with the charter, on the 30th of December, in conformity to an order of parliament, of the 14th of September, in that year, "touching the alteration and renewing of the severall and respective charters of this nation; when, after serious debate had thereon, it was judged most agreeable with and suitable to the government of a commonwealth, that they be held from and under the authority of the same." This order created no small alarm to the Corporation, since, at all events, it would prove an expensive business; and they feared also, lest they should lose their present charter, and receive in return another, which, under a change of the present unstable government, might not prove equally valid and secure. They therefore obtained, by the mediation of certain members, who were friends of the Portreeve, an extension of the time fixed for their attendance on the committee; and this ex tension was renewed from time to time, under various pretexts, till the business was forgotten. Thus, by the good management of the Portreeve and his friends, the charter of King James remained safe and unaltered in their possession, as it still continues. (fn. 14)
By the charter of James I., the inhabitants of Beccles were constituted a body corporate, by the name of the Portreeve of the Fen of Beccles in the county of Suffolk, and the Surveyors and Commonalty of the said Fen. They had a grant of a common seal, with a power to plead and be impleaded, to purchase, give, grant, and demise; to have, hold, and enjoy, the aforesaid fen for ever, by fealty, and a rent of 13s. 4d. to be paid annually at the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, in lieu of all services, exactions, and demands whatsoever. And for the good government of the fen and the inhabitants, the Portreeve, Surveyors, and Commonalty of the said fen, and their successors for ever, were to have the assistance of Common Councilmen selected out of the inhabitants of the town, composed of two classes, called the twelves, and the twenty-fours. The Portreeve to be annually elected out of the twelves, and to continue in office one year. The first Portreeve thus elected was John Baas. They were also empowered to build a council-house, to be called the guild-hall; to erect a prison; to call assemblies; to make laws and rules and by-laws, touching the good rule and government of the fen; and to dispose of the profits for the common utility and benefit of the inhabitants; and other pious and charitable uses. The Portreeve and Surveyors to be chosen on the Monday after Lady-day, and new elections to be made in case of death or displacement within twelve days. The date of this charter is May 19th, the second of James I.
The government of Beccles is now vested, under the Municipal Reform Act of 1835, in a Mayor, four Aldermen, and twelve Councillors. The borough is co-extensive with the parish. It has no commission of the peace, but the Mayor is a magistrate in right of his office, and during the year subsequent to his mayoralty.
The old seal of the corporation bears the date of 1584. On it is a representation of the town gaol, in front of which is a pound enclosing three oxen. The legend is SIGILV': COE: NOVE: INCORPORACOIS: &: BECCLES: FFEN'E.
It is flatly cut, and is now disused, being superseded by that of the present corporation. On the new seal is a very fair delineation of the south porch of the parish church; which, though an exquisite piece of architecture, is an inappropriate symbol of the temporal government of the town. Both these seals are deficient in that picturesque effect which distinguishes those of what modern arrogance has been pleased to call the barbarous ages.
The ancient commerce of Beccles was confined to the herring-fishery. Myriads of these fish must have frequented the estuaries of the Yare and Waveney at that early period; for besides the tale of 60,000 paid annually to the Crown as a fee-farm rent for Beccles, Domesday records many similar imposts payable by the several villages and towns along their shores, varying in quantity according to the wealth and population of the places. For the convenience of those buying and selling this article of merchandize in Beccles, a chapel was erected on the west side of the market-place, and dedicated to St. Peter, he being the patron of fishermen, and a fisherman himself.
In the year 1205, the Abbot of Bury obtained a grant for a fair to be held here for eight days, commencing on St. Peter's day, the 29th of June; which grant is recorded in the Pipe Rolls of that reign in the following terms:
"Abbas de Sco Edmo r: comp: de j marc p: habend: j feria viij dies apud Beccles." (fn. 15)
In the reign of King Edward I., the Commissioners appointed by that monarch to inquire into the abuses committed in the kingdom during his absence in Palestine, reported that at this fair, the Rural Dean had for thirty years past unjustly taken tolls, without any warrant whatever. (fn. 16)
As the waters receded from the valley of the Waveney, the herring-fishery gradually declined, and the chapel of St. Peter became less frequented, and finally fell into disuse. Divine service, however, was performed in it as late as the year 1470, for William Symonds by will, dated the 15th of December in that year, leaves "fabricæ ecclesiæ de Beccles vjd: capellæ Scti Petri de Beccles iiijd." (fn. 17)
Dr. Tanner says, "St. Peter's chapel was never under the cure of the Rector of St. Michael, yet it was no parish church, and no chantry, and had no monks, canons, or friars belonging to it; and yet several persons were buried therein." (fn. 18)
This chapel was seized by the King on the dissolution of religious houses, and granted with the manor and advowson of Beccles in 1541 to William Rede, who disposed of it to be held by copy of court-roll; for in the will of Margaret Thurston, dated the 20th of December, 1595, she deviseth "one ground or yard of copyholde with the houses, buildings and appurtenances called St. Peter's church-yard, or known by that name, in Beccles." And in 1583, it is recorded that "Margaret Thurston, widowe, holdeth to her and to her heirs, by copy of court-roll of the xxvj of her Majesty's reign, all that the olde chirche-yarde at the west end of the olde markett-place, of ould tyme called St. Peter's chirche: the footpaths taken out of the same only excepted; and payeth therefore by year." (fn. 19)
The site of this chapel and cemetery is indicated by Mr. Webster's house and garden. Upon the decay of the herring-fishery, the old part of the town which had principally occupied the low site near the bridge, became gradually deserted. Houses sprung up on the higher ground, and streets were progressively extended to the south of the church-yard. Hence the market-place became inconveniently situated, and a new area was selected for that purpose. This movement seems to have been simultaneous with the rebuilding of St. Michael's church; for in 1379, which is a few years after that noble fabric was commenced, it was returned that Reginald Hakoun and John Fittele had enclosed certain parcels of land near the flesh-stalls in the new market of Beccles, which were valued at 8d. per annum. "Quasd: p'cellas terr: juxta le Fleshstalls, ad no'am Mercat: ville de Bekeles, &c." (fn. 20)
The bridge mentioned in 1268, when the Abbot of Bury obtained his grant of free-fishery "a ponte de Beccles," was probably of timber. The present bridge was begun about the year 1437; for in a will dated that year is a legacy "ad fundationem pontis de Beccles," and in another, dated 1452, we find a bequest "ad facturam novi pontis de Beccles." (fn. 21)
The low spring of the centre arch—for those on the sides are of a later construction —shows that the river has altered very little in expanse and depth since the period of its erection. There was formerly a hermitage and a chapel attached to it, at the foot of this bridge, dedicated to St. Mary, wherein an anchorite, who subsisted by the contributions of passengers, performed divine service. The erection of small chapels on or near the foot of ancient bridges was very frequent in early times, and the most beautiful specimen existing, or perhaps that was ever erected of its kind, is that on Wakefield bridge, built about the time of Edward III. Of the style or elegance of this at Beccles it is now impossible to speak, but it seems to have been rebuilt in the year 1500, when we meet with a legacy "to the new chapel of St. Mary;" and in 1523, William Best, by will, gives to the chapel at the bridge xx.d (fn. 22)
The site of this little establishment is pointed out by a modern public house, called the Hermitage, and is the property of St. Michael's church, its rents being appropriated to the repairs of that fabric. These are at present almost nominal; a lease of the premises having been granted some years since to Thomas Farr, Esq., who covenanted to erect a substantial house thereon. The full value of the estate will revert to the use of the church in 1852.
The participation of Beccles in the horrid persecutions for Religion's sake, which disgraced the reign of Queen Mary, has been already detailed. The scene of these barbarities was the old market-place. Besides the three victims who were burnt to death, Richard Fletcher and Matilda his wife, Richard Knobbing, and many others, were compelled by threats or torture to abjure their faith. (fn. 23)
The most serious temporal calamity on record which ever visited Beccles, occurred on the 29th of November, 1586. On the eve of St. Andrew, in that year, a fire broke out in the chimney of one of the smaller houses in the town, which, being fanned by a violent gale of wind blowing at the time, rapidly increased to an awful conflagration, which it was found impossible to arrest, as the river, though so early in the season, was hard frozen. It raged with greatest violence in the vicinity of the new market. The roof, seats, and wood-work of the church were consumed, though the walls and the stone-work of the windows escaped destruction. The lower part of the steeple remains blackened with smoke in a very remarkable degree to the present day.
Above eighty houses fell a sacrifice to the flames; and goods and property were damaged, and stolen in the confusion, to the amount of £20,000, as even then estimated. If we multiply this sum by five or even four, to bring it to proportionate modern valuation, we shall obtain a vivid picture of the wealth and flourishing condition of Beccles at that day.
A ballad, written by Thomas Delone, entitled 'A proper new Sonnet, declaring the Lamentation of Beccles,' &c., was printed in commemoration of this event; a copy of which, in black letter, has been recently discovered in the library of the Royal Society; having been used in the binding of an old Italian work, printed in 1584. Its merits as a composition are trifling, but it has become a valuable record of this awful calamity. Contributions, in aid of the sufferers from this fire, were raised throughout the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. Blomefield mentions a sum of money as having been collected in the parish of Harpham "for the burning of Beccles." In the book of the Mayor's Court at Norwich, in the reign of Elizabeth, is this entry connected with our subject. "William Fleming, preacher of Beccles, raised in court of Mr. Mayor, £30. 10s. 8d., which was collected in this city towards the re-edifying of Beccles church, which was lately burnt." (fn. 24)
In 1590, Nicholas Moss, of Southwold, gave to the town of Beccles £20, towards repairing the church. (fn. 25) Many legacies for the same purpose were left, and one as late as the year 1600.
In 1662, the town was again damaged by fire. The old manor-house, situated in a back street near the House of Correction; and an ancient timber building in the new market-place, with a few others in the obscurer parts of the town, escaped these conflagrations. The extent of this second disaster must have been considerable, if we may judge from the number of dwelling-houses erected in the style which marks this era. These may be instantly recognised by their semicircular gables, which, following a still older fashion, front the streets.
There was also a third fire in Beccles in 1667; and a fourth, and very considerable one, in 1669. (fn. 26)
1. The Guild of the Holy Ghost, to which fraternity William Smith, of Weston, by will, dated 27th of October, 1504, gave as follows: "Item, I bequeathe to the Holy Ghost Gilde in Beccles, lxxs. viijd. Thomas Leeke, of Beccles, bequeathed, in 1503, to the same guild xxs. William Brett, in 1533, gave the same guild vis. viijd. Tanner says a piece of land appertained to this fraternity called Holy Ghost Close, and was lately a part of an estate of John Crispe; or else his lands joined it.
6. The Guild of St. Nicholas. (fn. 27)
At a meeting held on the 8th of March, 1760, the Corporation of Beccles granted ten pounds "for ye p'curing of farthings for ye com'on utility of ye poore." Dies were accordingly procured, and farthings struck off, and circulated about the town. These were all called in about two years after they were issued, by the command of the Crown. The dies are preserved in the corporation chest, and from them the impressions were obtained in wax, which furnished drawings for the following engravings.
In 1726, the Quarter Sessions, which are held here for this division of the county, were removed from Beccles to Lowestoft, and held alternately in these towns; but after a few years were restored to Beccles. In the same, or the following year, the present Town-Hall was built, at a charge of £423. 8s., towards which the inhabitants contributed £71. 19s. 6d. The materials of the old Hall and Cross sold for £87. 10s., and the remainder seems to have been paid out of the county stock, by order of Sessions. (fn. 28) It would be absurd to criticize the character of a building professing to be an imitation of the pointed architecture, erected at the period in question, when the genius of that bewitching style lay consigned to unmerited neglect. It will be sufficient, therefore, to observe, that in accommodation it is found deficient, and that it is contemplated to replace it by a more commodious structure at no distant period, though nothing definitive is at present determined on.
On the 2nd and 9th of January, 1813, the following order for the alteration of the day for holding the market appeared in the 'Ipswich Journal.'—"At the request of the inhabitants of the town of Beccles and its neighbourhood, I, Robert Sparrow, Lord of the Manor of Beccles, do hereby order and direct, that after Saturday the 23rd of January next, the above market shall be held and kept in the new market-place in Beccles aforesaid, on Friday in every week, in lieu of Saturday, the present marketday. Given under my hand this 26th day of December, 1812. Robt. Sparrow."
In consequence of this notice, Beccles market was held on Fridays for about three months; when the alteration having been found inconvenient, it was restored to the old time, and continues to be held on Saturdays as heretofore.
The Church of St. Michael.
There was a church at Beccles, at the time of the Domesday Survey, endowed with twenty-four acres of glebe. This was, no doubt, the structure raised by the Abbot of Bury, which gave name to the town. The present church occupies the site of this foundation, and was erected about the middle of the fourteenth century. A will, in the Bishop's office at Norwich, dated 1369, contains a legacy "ad fabricam novæ ecclesiæ de Beccles;" soon after which period it was probably completed, as in 1374, Reginald de Ikelyngham leaves by will to the altar of St. Michael's church of Beccles, vjs viijd. (fn. 29) William Symonds de Beccles, by will dated 15 Dec. 1470, "legat fabricæ ecclesiæ de Beccles, vjd." (fn. 30) As the manor and advowson of Beccles formed part of the possessions of Bury Abbey, its architect was, without doubt, a monk of that establishment; and from the mixed and broken materials employed in its walls, it is evidently, in part, constructed out of the older fabric.
We cannot contemplate the entire mass of this edifice, including its tower, without discovering a majestic air about it, well suited to the sacred purposes of its destination, yet it does not possess an exact symmetry of component parts, and is meagre throughout in the distribution of ornament. Its greatest fault is want of elevation; a requisite of ecclesiastical beauty, in which it is vastly exceeded by many of the churches in Suffolk, and it exhibits a heavy and mean clerestory very unusual in buildings of its era. It is of a simple ground-plan, comprising a nave and chancel of equal width and height, being 148 feet long, and 61½ wide, by interior admeasurement, with two aisles extending the entire length of the fabric; and a north and south porch; though before the Reformation it possessed also two small cross aisles or chantry chapels. The two expanded windows opposite to each other in the aisles, whose enlarged dimensions differ so strikingly from the other lights, were originally arches only, without tracery, and being open to the level of the ground, gave access to these oratories. The filling up by masonry of the arch on the south side, to the level of the other window sills, is too obvious to require pointing out. That on the north side is better wrought, but a careful examination will show that a like operation has been effected there.
One of these transept chapels was probably dedicated to St. Mary, for Reginald de Ikelyngham, already mentioned, in addition to his legacy to the High Altar of the church, leaves a donation of xl pence to the Altar of St. Mary. (fn. 31)
But the finest feature of Beccles Church is its almost unique porch. The effect it produces, arising from its bold projection and octangular turret, is very picturesque; and the delicate taste displayed in the conception and arrangement of its enrichments— the minute finish of its parts—and the excellency of its masonry, will ever command admiration. The style of its composition and ornaments is an unfailing evidence of its date, which is somewhat later than that of the body of the church; an opinion confirmed by a will preserved in the Archdeacon's office, dated 1455, wherein the testator gives to the building of the new porch xxs. On its front are the arms of Bury Abbey, and a profile of St. Edmund.
All the enrichments of this elegant porch were originally painted and gilt, agreeably to the usual practice; and fragments of these decorations existed in considerable profusion till about forty years since, when two artizans scraped from its niches and tabernacle-work sufficient lapis-lazuli to render their journey from London, made for this purpose, a profitable speculation.
The room over this porch was formerly used as the Scriptorium of the church, (fn. 32) which accounts for the collection of old books kept there till the last few years. It has a small lattice which commanded a view of the interior of the church, till intercepted by the erection of the organ.
The detached situation of Beccles steeple gains for it many a look, which its majestic proportions might otherwise fail to arrest. And yet a detached bell-tower is not of very unusual occurrence. Without noticing those beyond the limits of the county, it may be sufficient to instance two, near at hand; those at Bramfield and Bury St. Edmund's.
Beccles steeple was begun soon after 1500, and occupied nearly forty years in building. I will not say completing, for it is even yet unfinished. The first legacy given to it is by a will bearing date in 1515, and from that time till 1547 there are many legacies towards building "Beccles Steepul."
The proportions of this tower are a base of 40 feet, by an elevation of 92; and its excellency consists in a broad commanding mass rising firmly from its foundations. Besides the arms of Garneys, Rede, and Bowes, benefactors towards its construction, there are three niches in its western, or principal front, which probably contained the same effigies as were placed in the front of Bury Abbey; namely, St. Edmund, Our Saviour, and the Virgin Mary; or possibly St. Michael, to whom the church is dedicated. The three former figures were in front of the Abbey gate. (fn. 33)
The erection of the tower in its present situation was in consequence of the fear that its weight might carry away the cliff, had it been placed at the west end. There is no doubt, that although its foundations were not laid till long after the church was completed, its site was determined on from the first, as none of the pillars in the church are of sufficient magnitude to sustain so ponderous a mass.
At the end of the chancel, beneath the exterior of the great east window, are the arms of Bury Abbey, and Garneys, with "St. Michael, ora pro nobis," inlaid in flint. In a small niche here formerly stood an image of Our Saviour; for in the will of Osbert Deering, dated August the 12th, 1558, his body is ordered to be buried within the church-yard of St. Michael of Beccles, "at the este end of the said church, against the picture of Christ, standing in the same church wall."
On the sides of the west door are St. Edmund's crowns and arrows cut in several places, and the popish device of the arms of the Holy Trinity. One of the leaves of this door escaped the great fire of 1586.
On entering the interior of this spacious edifice, the pleasure experienced from contemplating its vast proportions is damped by the evidences of neglect and tastelessness which pervade it. A wretched gallery is placed against part of the south wall of the aisle, which is already drawn from the perpendicular, by the injudicious practice—no longer permitted—of digging graves abutting upon the exterior. A regard for the stability of the fabric, if none be yielded to taste, demands the removal of this excrescence. An ill-drawn representation of the Crucifixion, in very opaque coloured glass, disfigures the east window; and urns with flames of fire—emblems of any thing but a Christian's hope—should be removed from the vestry screen. The roof, and the corbels which support its beams, were erected probably soon after the great fire: the latter are ornaments in accordance with no period of the pointed style.
A noble organ occupies the entire western end of the nave. Its position is to be regretted, which blocks out a large window, that in former days diffused a flood of glowing light through the length of the interior.
There are few internal decorations. The font by its style evidently belonged to the older church, and is small and plain. It was repaired in 1470, at the expense of William Symonds, of Beccles, who by his will gave to the reparation "magni fontis de Beccles iijs. iiijd.
It is said to commemorate the family of John Rede, Mayor of Norwich, who died in 1502, though the number of children, placed on the tomb, does not exactly accord with that inscribed on his gravestone, which lies in the chancel, though now covered with pews. On the tomb are represented eight sons and three daughters, while the epitaph says, "John Rede, Mayor of Norwich, dyed the xi of Novr. in anno mdii. Joan his wyffe, with viij sons and iiij daughters, which Joan dyed in anno mdiii." This number of daughters is confirmed by the pedigrees of Rede recorded in the Heraldic Visitations, and as there are no armorial bearings on the tomb, it remains a matter of uncertainty to what family it belongs. A splendid screen of oak, which divided the nave from the chancel, the design probably of some monk of Bury, perished in the fire of 1586.
The windows of this church exhibit a great variety of tracery, much of which is very elegant, though inferior to the still more graceful forms fashionable in the preceding generation. The exuberance of fancy displayed in these may possibly be accounted for, by supposing each to be the gift of some pious individual, who, while he perpetuated his munificence, marked also his taste and ingenuity.
The vault under the south aisle, now used as a charnel-house, was probably a crypt of the older church; as few sacred buildings of an early period were erected without a subterraneous chapel or undercroft. By the Norman architects they were considered an essential and constituent part of every church, and were possibly first constructed to commemorate the practice of the early Christians who worshipped "in dens and caves of the earth." No part of the masonry, however, which can be discerned in this vault, is older than the superincumbent mass; and the conjecture that it was formerly a chapel originates in the circumstance, that in 1509 a legacy was given to the reparation of Our Lady's chapel in the Arch, which would seem to allude to this crypt; because in 1528, and again in the following years, are various bequests to a chapel of St. Mary in Beccles church-yard. (fn. 34)
On the 6th of April, 1643, this church was visited by William Dowsing, who was by no means inactive here. His journal details his proceedings at Beccles thus.— "Jehovahs between the church and chancel, and the sun over it: and by the altar 'my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed,'—and two crosses which we gave orders to be taken down; one was on the porch; the other on the steeple: also many superstitious pictures; the number about forty. Six several crosses; Christ's, Virgin Mary's, St. George's, and three more: thirteen crosses in all. Jesus and Mary in letters, and the twelve apostles."
In 1672, a license for a seat in this church was granted to Robert Batho, and is probably the only faculty pew in the edifice. The following return of sittings which this church contains was made to the Bishop by the Rural Dean, in July, 1844.
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In 1460, William Neve, by his will, desires to be buried in Beccles church, and the following monumental records, which have now disappeared, recorded the interments of several members of the Garneys family:
Robert Garneys, Esq., died xiiij Maij 1411. Kateren his wyef 1405. Peter Garneys died 1413. Edward Garneys died May 3, 1485. Thomas Garneys died 1527. (fn. 35)
On a stone near the vestry door are the arms of Leman, Az. a fess between three dolphins embowed arg, quartering Suckling, Per pale, gules and az. 3 bucks trippant, or. The inscription is now covered by the floor of a pew, but the stone commemorates the decease of . . . . . Leman, Esq., or . . . . . his wife, daughter of Charles Suckling, Esq., of Bracondale, who died of the great plague in 1666.
Rectors of Beccles.
The Hospital of St. Mary Magdalene in Beccles.
This Hospital, which was appropriated to the use of persons afflicted with the loathsome disease of leprosy, was dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene and St. Anthony, and stood on the south side of the town upon the spot now known as St. Mary's Hill. The date of its foundation is not exactly ascertained, but the establishment is mentioned in an escheat roll of Edward III., dated 1362, wherein Sir Richard Walkfare, Knight, Ralph de Hemenhale, Thomas Savage, John de Ulnestone, and Alexander de Brusyard, parson of Barsham, gave to the hospital of St. Mary Magdalene at Beccles xx shillings annual rent, issuing out of the manors of Barsham and Herst.
Tradition relates that one Ramp, who was very much afflicted with leprosy, was perfectly cured of his disorder by accidentally bathing in a spring of water near this spot, where he soon after erected an hospital for the benefit of persons so affected. (fn. 36)
It was governed by a Master who, probably, officiated as Chaplain. Several wills in 1367, and 1374, contain bequests "leprosis hospitali de Bekeles." (fn. 37)
According to the manuscript of Le Neve, Henry Beudes gave a stipend of four pounds to this hospital, but the donation is not confirmed by any existing document. This establishment was not dissolved by Henry VIII.; for Edward VI., in the fourth year of his reign, granted license to Edward Lydgate, a brother of the hospital, to beg daily for the Lazars' house at Beccles. And by a deed, dated 18th day of May, 17th of Queen Elizabeth, "between Humphreye Trame, master of the hospital of St. Mary Magdelin at Beccles, and the bretherne and system of the said hospital, on the one part, and Margaret Hury of Yoxford, on the other part, it is witnessed, that the said Humfry and the brethern and systern, of their godly love and intent have not only takyn the sayd Margaret into the said hospytall beinge a sore diseased p'son wythe an horyble syckness, but also have admytted and made the seyd Margaret a syster of the same hous during her naturall lyff, accordinge to the auncyent custom and order of the same; trustynge in our Lord God, wythe the helpe and devocon of good dysposed people, to prepare for the same Margaret, mete, drink, clothinge, washinge, chamberinge, and lodginge, good and holsom, duringe the naturall lyff of the said Margaret, mete for such a p'son."
The above-mentioned Humphrey Trame, by his will, dated a. d. 1596, gave to this hospital "one bible, one service-book, and ye desk to them belonging, to go and remain for ever, with the hospital of St. Mary Magdalen, to the intent that the sick then and there abiding, for the comfort of their souls may have continual recourse unto the same." (fn. 38)
Soon after this period, it appears that the hospital fell into great disorder and mismanagement; for in 1619, William Stedman, then Master, was compelled to resign his mastership, in consideration of an annuity of £10 to be paid him and his wife for the term of their natural lives, "because that it doth now appeare that the said hospitall is not imployed according to the true intent and meaneinge of the said ffeoffament, in respect of the undue disturbance of some of the said ffeoffees in the placeing of a govnor who do not only abuse the poore here, but also keepe great disorder in the said hospitall." The charges of misconduct laid against Stedman, who in another deed is called a "ffisherman," are of too scandalous a nature to be repeated. It is expressly stated, that even the chapel appertaining to the establishment was the frequent scene of the lewd debaucheries of himself and his profligate associates. By a subsequent deed, however, dated 29 June, 1622, new feoffees were appointed, and Stedman replaced in the mastership.
In 1673, a petition was drawn up by Mr. John Denney, Portreeve of Beccles, and others of the corporation, for presentation to the Bishop of the Diocese, requesting his Lordship, by any means which he shall think fit, to obtain a grant from His Majesty for investing the hospital lands, with its appurtenances, in the corporation of Beccles, for the use of the poor inhabiting the said town.
Tanner relates that he saw, in 1730, a grant, amongst the muniments of the corporation, whereby Charles II., in 1675, granted the aforesaid hospital, with its lands and appurtenances, to the Portreeve, &c., of Beccles, for the maintenance of the poor for ever. This grant, however, is now lost.
In a small book, drawn up in 1807, for the use of the corporation of Beccles, and reprinted in 1826, a translation of a long grant is given, dated 1674, whereby King Charles conveys the lands, tenements, rents and hereditaments, &c., of this hospital, to the Portreeve, Surveyors, and Commonalty of the fen of Beccles, to have and to hold them for ever, paying to the King and his successors, out of the said premises, four shillings of lawful money of England, on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel. In this deed, the chapel and hospital are mentioned as "now wasted;" and yet, which is very remarkable, on February the 12th, 1676, two years subsequent, it is ordered, "yt ye capital house now standing upon the hospitall lands be pulled downe and removed unto one other peece of ye said hospitall ground on ye other side of ye way over against it, to make so many severall rooms as may be there conveniently placed for the habitations of such poore people as ye governors thereof shall think fitt for to place there, and doe appoint the p'sent officers, and their successors, to see the same done accordingly; and the monies disbursed for doing of the same shall be discharged upon their accounts."
There can be no question that the income of this property was intended to be appropriated to the use of the poor of the town of Beccles, although the grant makes use of the word 'Corporation;' and accordingly it is stated, in an order for a lease of part of those lands, to Mr. Crane, in 1675, that "the lands belonging to the Hospital of Beccles, were lately granted to this corporacon, for the use of the poore people of Beccles, and intrusted to the hands of the said corporacon, for the best advantage for them." And again, in 1679, an order was made, that the revenues of the hospital lands should be disposed of for ever thereafter, to the sole use and benefit of the poor inhabitants of the town, according to the King's grant, and that the officers should not dispose of such revenues for any other purpose whatever, without the consent of the corporation. The account of the income of this property was kept distinct from the general account of the Portreeve, until the erection of a parish workhouse in 1684, when the profits of these lands were directed to be appropriated, with other money of the corporation, for the use of the poor therein.
On the 31st March, 1788, a lease was granted by the corporation, to Mr. Thomas Rede, of the Hospital Hill, which is therein stated to contain four acres; and of a messuage and buildings, standing near thereto, for a term of 200 years; commencing from the 5th July following, at the rent of £13 per annum, subject to a fee-farm rent to the Crown, and to a quit-rent to the manor of Barsham, amounting together to 4s. 8d. per annum, which Mr. Rede undertook to discharge. By this lease power was given to Mr. Rede to take down the buildings then standing on the land: and he covenanted to leave, at the end of the term, some houses or buildings, which shall at that time be of the full value of £200. (fn. 39)
In conformity with the Statute de lepreso amovendo, this hospital or lazar-house had a burial ground attached to the chapel, wherein the lepers were buried by themselves. Many human bones, and twelve entire skeletons, were discovered by the labourers employed in preparing the ground for the foundation of the present house, erected by Mr. Rede on the site of the old buildings. Their bones were deposited in the charnelhouse under St. Michael's church. This burial ground was used by the hospital till the year 1590, after which period the corpses of persons dying here were interred in the parish church-yard.
The brief history of the manor of Endgate, which, like the parish itself, has merged into that of St. Michael, has been already detailed, and the patronage of its church, which seems to have accompanied the manor, became simultaneously vested in the Abbot of Bury.
The church, which was a rectory, dedicated to St. Mary, and valued in the King's books at £7. 6s. 8d., stood on the south side of the town. It was taken down by order of Queen Elizabeth, "for that the parishes of Beccles and Endgate had been for many years so blended together, that the bounds and limits of them could not be known in a. d. 1419; when a legal agreement was made by the Bishop, Patron, and Rector of both parishes, that the Rector of Beccles should have the whole tithes of both parishes, and pay the Rector of Endgate £6. 13. 4. pr. an: so that the inhabitants of Endgate have, time out of mind, been esteemed parishioners of Beccles."
The order for taking down Endgate church is dated the 25th of April, 1577, and was granted on the following considerations, viz.—"that in commiseration of the charge the men of Dunwich sustained by the loss of their port, the said Queen Elizabeth gave, or lent, them the money arising by the sale of bells, lead, iron, glass, and stone of Ingate church, in the county of Suffolk, which, it appears, were valued at three-score sixteen poundes eyghtene shillings and four pence."
No traces of this church are discoverable on its site, but some fragments which have been worked into Beccles bridge, in the course of its reparations, prove it to have been an elegant structure, probably surpassing in embellishment, though not in magnitude, the church of St. Michael. A capital of one of its columns has been used for many years as a horse-block, at the King's Head Inn. This fragment is octangular, with a plain moulding.
Peter Garneys, of Beccles, Esq., by will dated the 20th of August, 1450, desires his body to be buried in the north aisle of St. Michael's church, where he had placed a stone for his sepulchre; and bequeathed to the reparation of the high altar of the church at Endgate x marks.
Rectors of Endgate.
There seems to have been no presentation after this period to the church at Endgate. In 1764, when the Rev. Peter Routh took the living of Beccles, a sequestration of Endgate was granted; and again in 1774, when the Rev. Bence Sparrow was instituted to the parish church of St. Michael.
The Manor of Roos Hall in Beccles.
This lordship is entitled in the court-books the Manor of Roos Hall and Ashmans with the members; but no separate court is held for Ashmans, neither are the limits of the latter defined. The chief part of its copyholds are in Beccles, as is the mansion or hall-house; though I am inclined to believe the manor was included in Domesday Book under Barsham, and held at that time by Warin the son of Burnin as tenant of Robert Malet, Lord of Eye; and possibly the estates which Earl Gurth and Bishop Almar then held in the same parish have been subsequently united with it.
The manor was, however, very early considered to lie in Beccles, but by an inquisitio post mortem of Thomas Garneys, Gent., taken on the 6th of May, 1566, it seems to have been then held by him of Thomas Playters, as dependant on his manor of Sotterley, but the service does not appear. (fn. 40) On the 6th of February, 1575, it was determined by a jury to be held of the manor of Beccles, as appears by an ancient deed of that date in the possession of the writer.
In the presentments of the Hundred Rolls, made to King Edward I., the names of Henry Asheman, Reginald Ashman, and William Asseman, are mentioned as landowners in the neighbourhood; and it was from this family, in all probability, that the manor obtained its second appellation. (fn. 41)
The family of Roos appeared as lords of this manor in the previous reign of Henry III. William de Roos was at the siege of Kaerleverock, in Scotland, in 1300, where he displayed much valour, and was afterwards created a Knight Banneret. The family were Lords of Roos Hall, Ringsfield, Sibton, and Redisham, in the eighth of Edward II. (fn. 42) In 1321, Sir Robert de Roos was one of the founders of the monastery of the Carmelite Friars at Blakeney in Norfolk, and probably resided at Roos Hall. "They were not only very ancient," says Sir Richard Gipps, "but also very great, as appears from their several intermarriages with the best families in the county." In the reign of Edward III., Elizabeth, daughter of William Roos, married William de la Zouch, Baron of Harynworth. (fn. 43)
Roos Hall descended to Sir William de Roos, the younger of the two sons of Thomas Roos, who lived in the reign of Richard II. Sir William married Agnes, daughter and heiress of William de Nairford, and by her obtained the manor of Wisset, which passed again with the manor and estate of Roos Hall to Sir Roger de Willington, who married Joan, daughter and heiress of Sir William de Roos. The family of Willington thus became possessed of Roos Hall in 1427. They were of ancient descent, and long seated at Barsham, as they held a third part of the manor of Barsham Hall so early as the ninth of Edward II. (fn. 44) They were also Lords of Blithworth in the tenth of Henry V., and of Wisset in the fifth of Henry VI. John de Willington was a Knight Banneret in the time of Edward I., and was at the tournament of Dunstable, in the second of Edward II. (fn. 45) He bore, Gules, a griffin segreant, or.
Roos Hall passed by purchase from the Willingtons to the family of Garneys. In 1566, Thomas Garneys died seized of this manor and Redisham. They were valued at twenty marks per annum, and were bequeathed, with other lands, to his executors for the term of twenty years, for certain uses specified in his will. He also held forty acres of land, fifty of meadow, eighty of pasture, sixty of bosc, and £19 rent in over Redisham, nether Redisham, Ringsfield, Weston, Worlingham, Beccles, &c. This Thomas Garneys left one daughter, Elizabeth, aged three years, at the time of his death.
Thomas Colby next occurs as Lord of Roos Hall: he was the fourth husband of Ursula, daughter of Edward Rede, and appears as defendant in a Chancery suit against Sir Thomas Gresham, who in right of his wife Anne, relict of William Rede, Esq., was Lord of the Manor of Beccles.
John Colby, of Brundish, married Alice, daughter and heiress of John Brewse, of Hardwick, Esq., by whom he had issue John, who died childless; and Thomas, Francis, and Christopher. Thomas, the eldest surviving son and heir, was seated at Beccles, and married first, Beatrice, daughter of Thomas Felton, of Playford, and had issue Thomas, and several other children. His second wife was Ursula Rede, relict of Sir John Brand, Knight, by whom he had no issue. Thomas Colby, his eldest son and heir, lived at Beccles, and married Amy, daughter of Thomas Brampton, of Letton in Norfolk, and had issue, Thomas, son and heir, Frances, Philip, Amy, Penelope, Elizabeth, Susan, and Mary. (fn. 46)
Thomas Colby, who married Ursula Rede, built the present venerable mansion
called Roos Hall, which he probably finished about 1583, as his initials, T. B. C. with
that date, remain on the water-pipes of the roof. It is a fine old house of red brick,
situated like almost all the residences of former days in low grounds, and was
encompassed by a moat, which, in part, remains. It seems never to have possessed
"The lofty arched hall"
which our ancestors considered almost indispensable to their mansions, and where
"Their clanging bowls old warriors quaff'd,"
but it is furnished with a wide and rather primitive staircase, each step of which is formed of a solid block of oak; and it contains some good and lofty apartments. One of the lower rooms retains its huge and pedimented mantel, and several of the chambers are fitted with the wainscot, divided into small compartments, which succeeded the hangings of tapestry previously employed by our forefathers to cover the walls of their apartments. Its turrets and chimneys are distinguished by richly moulded brick-work, and the entire pile is lofty, imposing, and well constructed.
The tenure of the Colbys was very short, for soon after the year 1600, the manor of Roos Hall was purchased by Sir John Suckling, Knight, Secretary of State, and Comptroller of the Household, to King James I. Sir John occasionally resided here, and at his death bequeathed it to his widow for her life, with remainder to his eldest son, Sir John Suckling, the cavalier poet. Lady Suckling afterwards marrying Sir Edwin Rich, Knight, carried the estate into that family by a transfer which is not very clear. Sir John Suckling had purchased the manor of Barsham Hall in 1613, and charged the manor of Roos Hall with £1000, which he had borrowed to complete the purchase of the former estate; leaving the fee of both lordships to his eldest son; his widow enjoying Roos Hall for her life. In his will, Sir John alludes to this settlement in these words: "Item, I give to my very loving wife, all her apparell, pearles, rings, and jewels, which she now weareth, or hath in her possession; save only one chayne of diamonds, which I lately bought by the help of one Mr. Hardnett, a jeweller, and paid one hundred fifty-five pounds for the same; which is by her to be repayd to my executors within one yeare next after my decease, unless my eldest sonne and she agree about the redemption of the manor of Rose Hall." What the arrangement between these parties was, is not evident; but Sir Edwin Rich died in possession of Roos Hall; and by his will, dated April 24th, 1675, charged this manor for the term of five hundred years with an annual payment of £20, for charitable purposes in favour of the poor of Thetford, his native town.
Roos Hall was sold by Sir Charles Rich, and Mary Frances Rich, his wife, in 1805, to Thomas Rede, Esq., of Beccles, for £12,160, including the timber; whose son, Robert Rede, Esq., afterwards of Ashmans, succeeded, and dying without issue in 1822, left the manor of Roos Hall, after the decease of his widow, who survived him only two months, to his nephew, the Rev. Robert Rede Cooper, a younger son of the Rev. Samuel Lovick Cooper, of Yarmouth, by his wife, Sarah Leman Rede, daughter of Thomas Rede aforesaid, the purchaser of this estate. This gentleman assumed the surname of Rede by Royal license, upon his uncle's decease, and is the present owner of Roos Hall.
The family of Rede has been settled at Beccles for several centuries, but seems to have emigrated from Norwich. Blomefield, the historian of Norfolk, says, "the first of this family from whom any regular account can be deduced, was John Rede, Sheriff of Norwich in 1488, and Mayor in 1496; he was buried at Beccles." The Heraldic Visitations for Suffolk, and the manuscripts in the British Museum, all confirm this statement of Blomefield.
In the above pedigree Sir Peter Rede, Knight, of Bavaria, is entered as the son of John Rede, Mayor of Norwich, on the authority of Blomefield; but I rather take him to be the son of Edward Rede by Izod, daughter and heiress of Sir Humphrey Stanley. If so, he married Joan, daughter of Anthony Cooke, of Quarendon in Bucks, and left an only daughter, Isabella, who died unmarried. Dame Anne Gresham left a son, Sir William Rede, by her first husband, who married Gertrude, daughter of Erasmus Paston, Esq., whose son and heir, Sir Thomas Rede, Knight, married Mildreda, second daughter of Thomas Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, and died without issue. There was also a Sir Robert Rede, Knight, Chief Justice of the King's Bench in the reign of Henry VII. He was probably brother to John Rede, Mayor of Norwich, who died in 1502, but his name is not recorded in the Heraldic Visitations.
From Dr. Tanner's papers it appears that a school was supported in Beccles by the Monastery of Bury, and that the Chamberlain of that establishment had the appointment to the mastership. By a deed, dated at Bury, on the first day of June, 1395, William Bray, Camerarius, in virtue of his office, derived from ancient custom, appoints Reginald Leeke to the mastership of Beccles School, on the condition that he exercises the duties thereof in person, and does not depute them to an assistant.
This school failed altogether on the dissolution of Bury Abbey, in the sixteenth century. But in 1631, Sir John Leman, Knight, devised by will, his messuage and garden, situated in Bally-gate Street in Beccles, with about thirty acres of land in Barsham, and other lands in St. Andrew Ilketshall, Ringsfield, Gillingham, and Geldeston, for the foundation and support of a free school. He wills that forty-eight boys shall be taught English reading, writing, and arithmetic: whereof forty-four shall be inhabitants of the town of Beccles, two of Gillingham, and two of Ringsfield. The whole of the property produces nearly £200 per annum. A license of mortmain was procured by Sir John's executors, and is preserved among the records of the corporation. The school-house is a substantial and commodious building, well adapted to the purpose for which it was erected, and stands on the left hand of the entrance of the town from Bungay.
Henry Fauconberg, LL.D., by his will, dated May 3rd, 1712, bequeathed all his real estates in Corton and the villages adjoining, subject to certain life annuities, upon trust; and devised the rents and profits thereof, after reparations deducted, to make a provision for ever for the encouragement of learning, and the instruction of youth in Beccles: and he desired that whenever a person should be nominated to teach in Beccles—"he being well learnt and experienced in the Latin and Greek tongues, so as to capacitate youth fitting for the university,"—such person to have the rents and profits of the said premises after repairs, &c., deducted, during his teaching in Beccles, and so from time to time for ever. The estates, conveyed and settled pursuant to the testator's will, consist of a house, outbuildings, and 77 acres, 2 roods, and 14 perches of land in Corton; and a cottage and 55 acres, 1 rood, and 16 perches of land in Corton and Flixton. Dr. Fauconberg desires the trustees to receive the rents; who, after making the necessary deductions, are to pay the residue to the master, who is to be elected, from time to time, by the Bishop of the Diocese, the Archdeacon of Suffolk, and the Rector of Beccles.
Dr. Fauconberg died on the 29th of October, 1713, aged 78 years; and is buried beneath a handsome altar-tomb of marble, near the chancel door of Beccles church. He was Chancellor of St. David's, Registrar of the Faculty Office, and Commissary and Official of the Archdeaconry of Suffolk. He resided many years at Beccles. By his arms, cut on his tomb, he challenges descent from Walter de Fauconberg, summoned to Parliament as Baron Fauconberg in 1295: a bordure engrailed being added to the coat of that ancient line.
The minor charities in this town are, £2. 12s., left by Ward, to be distributed annually in bread; and £3 per annum, left by Robert Girling in 1672, for apprenticing poor boys belonging to Beccles to some business.
Beccles is well built, and stands amidst very pleasant environs. The Rev. George Crabbe, the eldest son and biographer of the poet, calls it "the gem of the Waveney." It has a very handsome assembly-room, and a spacious corn-hall, converted to that use from a theatre, and thrown open on Saturday, January 4, 1845.
The public library contains about 2500 volumes, including some ancient works, formerly kept in the apartment over the church porch. Among these are Polyglot Bibles of 1656, (a large paper copy;) and 1655–7, six volumes folio, by Brian Walton; the edition which in solid usefulness is superior to every other.
There is, also, in two volumes folio, the Lexicon Heptaglotton of Dr. Castell, 1669; a work of profound erudition, upon which the author laboured for seventeen years. Five hundred copies of this work brought but £7, though a single copy has since fetched forty or fifty guineas. In 1839, an exhibition, consisting of 182 paintings in oil and enamel, with specimens of geology, medals, prints, and miscellaneous articles, amounting altogether to 654, was opened to the public for the extension of the funds of this institution. The various articles having been entrusted to the committee on loan, by their respective proprietors, much responsibility devolved on the gentlemen forming this department; but, fortunately, every specimen was returned to its owner uninjured. Many of the subjects exhibited were of rare merit. In the winter of 1842 and 1843, the library was further augmented by the proceeds of a series of Lectures on Geology, Botany, Light, the Human Eye, Architecture, Literature, Painting, Ruined Cities, and Zoology, delivered by the gentlemen of the town and its vicinity.
The most important event in the modern history of Beccles was the rendering the river Waveney navigable for sea-borne vessels from the mouth of Oulton Dike to Beccles bridge; for which purpose an Act of Parliament was procured; and the Royal Assent obtained on the 22nd of April, 1831. A second Act, to amend the powers and provisions of the previous Act, received the sanction of the Crown on the 10th of May, 1844; the object of which was to lower and equalize the former heavy port-dues. Shipping of a small description are now enabled to discharge and receive their cargoes at commodious wharfs near the town.
A very considerable trade in malt, corn, coals, and shop-goods, is also carried on in small craft or wherries, of most admirable construction, averaging about twenty tons, which convey their cargoes to and from the shipping at Yarmouth.
The present Town-clerk, and Steward of the Manors of Beccles and Roos Hall, is Edward Colby Sharpin, Esq., the compiler of a small volume entitled 'Death Scenes,' printed for private circulation only, to which he has affixed a short but singularly modest and well-written preface. This gentleman is of Norfolk descent, being the son of the Rev. Edward Sharpin, of Swaffham, but the family is of German extraction, being probably derived from the Scharfens or Scharpfens. If this descent can be made good, Mr. Sharpin is entitled to these arms.
Joseph Arnold, M.D. and F.S.A., whose monument has been mentioned in Beccles Church, the author of several detached subjects in the Philosophical and Physical Journals, and a very distinguished naturalist, was a native of Beccles. He died in the cause of science at Padang, in the island of Sumatra, July 26th, 1818, in the 35th year of his age.
In 1224, Alan de Beccles was the fourth Archdeacon of Sudbury, and the eighth Chancellor of Norwich. He was, probably, a native of Beccles. He died in 1243, leaving behind him the character of a learned, wise, and upright man. (fn. 47)
Odo de Beccles was Bailiff of Norwich in 1246. He was prosecuted and fined for encroaching on the King's ditch, belonging to his castle of Norwich. (fn. 48)
The descendants of Timothy Buck, Master of the Science of Defence, whose successful encounter with the athletic James Miller forms the subject of the Paper in the Spectator, No. 436, are inhabitants of Beccles.
In the Gentleman's Magazine for 1804, p. 305, are notices and an engraving of a curious silicious stone found in a gravel-pit upon Beccles race-course; the surface of which is covered with noduli, much resembling the seeds of the Malva communis: part of a cornu ammonis, and two specimens of Button stone, were found in the same place.
In or about the year 1804, the corporation sold to Robert Sparrow, Esq., 54 acres of land, called Hills and Doles, part of Beccles Fen, for the sum of £3000 (which money was applied by the corporation towards defraying the expense of paving the town of Beccles); but being desirous of purchasing other lands, in lieu of, and equal in value to those which were sold, an annual sum of £400 was ordered to be invested in the funds, in the names of Trustees, to accumulate for that purpose.
A sinking fund was accordingly established, and continued until the year 1824, when, in consequence of a very great advance in the price of Government funds, the Trustees were ordered to sell out all the stock composing the sinking fund, and pay the proceeds to the Portreeve, who was directed to apply the same in discharge of certain bond and other debts, due from the corporation, which were principally contracted for paving the town, and in aid of the poor's-rates, and amounted to about £3000. The old fund was in consequence broken up, and appropriated to the discharge of those debts.
But the corporation, deeming it wise and expedient to continue a sinking fund until they should be enabled by purchases to possess themselves of land equal in quantity and quality to that which they sold to Mr. Sparrow, ordered (8th April, 1824,) that the sum of £100 shall be yearly laid out in the 3 per cent. consols, or other Government security; and that the same, with the interest and income thereof, shall accumulate, and be applied as a sinking fund, until such time as the object of the corporation in re-purchasing land, be fully and completely effected.
The first sum of £100 was accordingly laid out in the 3 per cents. on the 8th April, 1824, in the names of Mr. Crowfoot, Mr. Fiske, Mr. Sharpin, and Mr. F. W. Farr, the Trustees appointed for that purpose, who signed a deed declaratory of their trust, 13th April, 1825.