The History and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk: Volume 1. Originally published by WS Crowell, Ipswich, 1846.
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Willingham St. Mary.
Fifteen free-men held Willingham in demesne under Burchard, a wealthy Saxon, in the time of Edward the Confessor; but at the period of the Norman Survey the parish was returned as the lordship of Hugo de Montfort. It was one leuca in length, and one in breadth, and paid five pence gelt. In the ninth of Edward I. it was the estate of Elizabeth Bruisyard.
In 1480, Robert Bumpstede, of Willingham Saint Mary, was buried in the chancel of Saint Mary's church at Sotterley, near the entrance of it. John, his eldest son, and Robert Bumpstede, chaplain, another son, were his executors: he gave his manor of Willingham to Marion his wife, and sealed with, argent, on a bend engrailed gules, three mullets of the field.
The manor afterwards passed to the family of Aslack; for by a deed, without date, but probably about the year 1450, Elizabeth Aslack, widow, daughter and heiress of Thomas Bardolph, Esq., grants to Robert Clere, Knt., and others, the manor of Willingham, in Suffolk, to hold for the use of the said Elizabeth for life, and after to William Aslack, her son, and his heirs, with remainder to Thomas, her son. By an inquisitio post mortem, taken on the 8th of April, twenty-third of Henry VIII., William Aslack was found to die June 17th, 1531, seized of the aforesaid manor, and Thomas, son and heir of Christopher Playters and Elizabeth his wife, sister of the said William, was his heir. The lordship, thus transferred by heirship to the family of Playters, was sold about two centuries afterwards to Sir Thomas Robinson, of Worlingham, from whom it passed to the Sparrows, by a like transfer, and again, by marriage, to the Earl of Gosford, its present possessor.
The property of William Neirford and Parnell his wife, one of the daughters and co-heiresses of John de Vallibus, included, inter alia, "a Knight's fee which Ralph de la Mancy holdeth in Willingham." (fn. 1)
In 1350, Alexander de Erle owned an estate in Willingham and Sotterley, and was settled there. His elder brother is supposed to have been the ancestor of the Erles of Heydon, in Norfolk. (fn. 2)
We learn from Domesday Book that there was a church in Willingham, at the time of its compilation, endowed with forty acres of glebe, valued at seven shillings. It was dedicated to St. Mary, and the patronage has always been in the Crown, though the Testa de Nevill says, "the church of Willingham is in the gift of the King and Robert de Seintes." (fn. 3) And again it says, "Ecclesia de Weston, et ecclesia Sce Marie de Wylingham sunt de don: Dñi Reg.; et Mag: Simo de Thaneit illas tenet de dono Dñi regis." (fn. 4)
In 1526, Willingham St. Mary was united with the rectory of North Cove, though the livings were not consolidated till the 24th of January, 1743. (fn. 5)
The church was in use till after the year 1500; for in 1503, and in 1509, legacies were made to the "awtor of Wellingham of our Lady," and in a will dated 1529, a legacy is left to the reparation of the parish church of Willingham; so that it would seem to have fallen into decay about that period. (fn. 6) Its remains are now scarcely visible.