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Dunwich, Suffolk Villages & Towns - History, Genealogy & Trade Directories

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Dunwich Whites 1844 Directory

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DUNWICH, on the sea coast, 4 miles S.W. by S. of Southwold, and nearly eight miles N.E. of Saxmundham, and S.E. by E, of Halesworth, is a decayed and disfranchised borough and parish, now having only 237 inhabitants, and 1334A. 3R. 27P. of land, half of which is open heath and sea beach. It was the capital of East Anglia, and the See of a Bishop, and formerly held no inconsiderable rank among the commercial cities of the kingdom. Its market, which was held on Monday, is now obsolete, but it has still a pleasure fair, on the 25th of July. Though now only a small village, standing on a bold cliff, overlooking the German Ocean, it is said to have been a large town, with six or eight parish churches, and a great number of chapels and monastic institutions, all of which, except the ruins of All Saints Church, and some remains of the chapel of St. James’ Hospital and the Maison Dieu have been washed away by the incursions of the ocean. It sent two members to Parliament, from the 23rd of Edward I., till disfranchised by the Reform Act of 1832. The privilege of returning the members was vested in 32 electors, most of whom were resident in distant parts of the country. The constitution of the borough was based on annual elections and universal suffrage among the resident freemen, in all maters of corporate interest. At the time of the municipal enquiry, the number of resident freemen was reduced to nine, and the non-resident to about 18, and they still elected yearly their own magistrates and officers, consisting of two bailiffs, a recorder, coroner, &c., who occasionally held an admiralty court, granted by charter of Edward VI., but the local jurisdiction was nearly obsolete; there was no borough gaol, and the corporation could suggest no reason for any longer retaining a separate jurisdiction, consequently the borough was not included in the Municipal Reform Act of 1835; but as the corporation are lords of the manor, and possess property and rents yielding an annual income of about 150, (including a heath of nearly 300A., on which the burgesses have the right of cutting fuel,) two bailiffs and other officers are still elected yearly; and the same persons are generally re-elected. The present bailiffs are Frederick Barne and John Robinson, Esqrs., and the former gentleman owns a great part of the borough, and has a handsome seat here called Shrubbery Hall, but here are several smaller owners. On all coals landed on about six miles of sea beach, claimed by the corporation, they levied a toll of 3d. per chaldron some years ago; and they claim small sums from wrecks, fines, and fees; but about twelve years ago, they incurred a debt of 1000 in a legal dispute with the corporation of Southwold, about a puncheon of Scotch whiskey, which had been removed from the Dunwich beach by the water bailiff of Southwold. The Dunwich corporation established their right to the whiskey, but incurred this debt for the payment of costs. Only two houses in the borough were valued in 1835, at the rent of 10 and upwards. The sea is perpetually encroaching on the borough and parish, and during the last ten years upwards of 20 acres have been lost. In 1833, flood-gates were erected for the protection of the marshes. The town has a few boats employed in the herring and sprat fishery, and has a new parish Church, (St. James,) built by subscription, at the cost of 1600, in 1830, in lieu of the ancient church of All Saints, which has been in ruins and disused about seventy years. It is a neat structure of white brick, in the Gothic style, with a circular tower. The benefice is a perpetual curacy, worth only about 40 per annum, in the patronage of Frederick Barne, Esq., and incumbency of the Rev. Wm. Weddell, M.A.
Though many of the traditional accounts relating to Dunwich are probably fabulous, it is unquestionably a place of great antiquity. It is conjectured by some to have been a station of the Romans, from the number of their cons discovered here. So much is certain, that in the reign of Sigebert, king of the East-Angles, Felix, the Burgundian bishop, whom that monarch invited hither to promote the conversion of his subjects to Christianity, fixed his episcopal see at Dunwich in the year 630; and here his successors continued, as is related under the ecclesiastical history of the county, for more than two hundred years. When an estimate was taken of all the lands in the kingdom by Edward the Confessor, there were two carves of land at Dunwich, but one of these has been swallowed up by the sea before the Domesday Survey, when it was the manor of Robert Malet, and contained eleven Bordarii, twenty-four freemen, each holding forty acres of land, 136 burgesses, 178 poor, and three churches. It became the demesne of the crown about the beginning of the reign of Henry II., at which time it has a mint, “and was a town of good note, abounding with much riches, and sundry kinds of merchandizes.” The annual fee-farm rent then paid by it was 120. 13s. 4d., and twenty-four thousand herrings. This was probably the period of its highest prosperity. Under Richard I., Dunwich was fined 1060 marks, Orford 15, Ipswich 200, and Yarmouth 200, for unlawfully supplying the king’s enemies with corn. These sums may afford some idea of the relative importance of those towns at that time. King John, in the first year of his reign, granted a charter to Dunwich, by which its inhabitants were empowered, among other things, to marry their sons and daughters as they pleased, and also to give, sell, or otherwise dispose of their possessions in this town as they should think fit. This charter, dated at Gold Cliff, 29th June, 1 John, cost them three hundred marks, besides ten falcons, and five ger-falcons. In the reign of Edward I., after this town had considerably declined, it had eleven ships of war, sixteen fair ships, twenty barks, or vessels, trading to the North Seas, Iceland, &c., and twenty-four small boats for the home fishery. In the 24th year of the same reign, the men of Dunwich built, at their own cost, and equipped for the defence of the realm, eleven ships of war, most of which carried 72 men each. Four of these vessels, with their artillery, valued at 200, were taken and destroyed by the enemy, while on service off the coast of France. In 1347, this port sent six ships, with 102 mariners, to assist in the siege of Calais; but during the war with France, most of the ships belonging to it were lost, together with the lives of about 500 townsmen, and goods and merchandise to the value of 1000. A still greater loss, however, was sustained by the town in the removal of its port, a new one being opened within the limits of Blythburgh, not far from Walberswick Quay, near Southwold. This circumstance, while it greatly increased the trade of these places, caused that of Dunwich to decline in the same proportion; and, combined with the ravages of the ocean, gradually reduced this town to poverty; in consideration of which, the fee-farm rent paid to the crown was abated at various times, till Charles II. fixed the amount of it at one hundred shillings per annum. But the present decayed state of this once flourishing place, is owing chiefly to the encroachments of the ocean. Seated upon a hill composed of loam and sand of a loose texture, on a coast destitute of rocks, it is not surprising that its buildings should have successively yielded to the impetuosity of the billows, breaking against, and easily undermining the foot of the precipices. The following general view of their principle ravages is abridged from Gardener’s Historical Account :-
A wood called East Wood, or the KING’S FOREST, extended several miles south-east of the town, but it has been for many ages destroyed by the sea. The land must consequently have stretched far out, and have formed the southern boundary of the bay of Southwold, as Easton-Ness did the northern. In a furious irruption of the sea, in 1739, its impetuosity exposed the roots of a great number of trees, which appeared to be the extremity of some wood, which was in all probability part of this submerged forest, which also had another wood called West Wood. We have already seen, that out of two carves of land, taxed under King Edward the Confessor, one had been washed away at the time of the Conqueror’s survey. The sea, agitated by violent east, or south-east winds, continued its conquests quite to the town, for whose preservation, Henry III., in the 6th year of the reign, not only required the assistance of others, but himself granted 200 towards making a fence to check its inroads. Dunwich suffered considerable damage on the night of January 1st, 1286, from the violence of the winds and sea, by which several churches were overthrown and destroyed in different places. In the first year of Edward III., the old port was rendered entirely useless, and before the twenty-third of the same king, great part of the town, containing upwards of four hundred houses, which paid rent to the fee-farm, with certain shops and windmills, had fallen prey to the waves. After this, the church of St. Leonard was overthrown, and in the course of the same century, the churches of St. Martin and St. Nicholas were also destroyed. In 1540, the church of St. John Baptist was demolished, and before 1600, the chapels of St. Anthony, St. Francis, and St. Katherine, together with South gate and Gilden gate, were swallowed up, so that not one quarter of the town was then left standing. In the reign of Charles I., the Temple buildings yielded to the irresistible force of the surges, and the sea reached to the market place in 1677, when the townsman sold the materials of the cross. In 1680, all the buildings north of Maison Dieu Lane were demolished; and in 1702, the sea reached St. Peter’s church, which was dismantled and soon undermined. The Town Hall shared the same fate. In 1715, the jail was absorbed, and in 1729, the farthest bounds of St. Peter’s church-yard were washed away. In December, 1740, the wind blowing very hard from the north-east, and continuing for several days, occasioned terrible devastations. Great part of the cliff was carried away by the violence of the waves, which destroyed the last remains of the church-yard of St. Nicholas, together with the great road formerly leading from the Quay to the town, leaving several naked wells, the tokens of ancient buildings. King’s Holm, otherwise called Leonard’s Marsh, then worth 100 per annum, was laid under water, and covered with such quantities of shingle and sand, as to be ever since of very little value. The Cock and Hen hills, which, the preceding summer, were forty feet high, had their heads levelled with their bases, and the ground about them was so rent and torn, that the foundation of the chapel of St. Francis, situated between them, was exposed to view. The remains of the dead were washed from their repositories, and several skeletons appeared scattered upon the beach. A stone coffin, containing human bones covered with tiles, was also seen, but before it could be removed, the violence of the surge broke it in two pieces. Near the chapel, were found at the same time, the pipes of an aqueduct, some of which were of lead, and other of grey earth. The following year, in digging a trench for the purpose of draining the marshes overflowed the preceding winter, were discovered several old coins, and other curiosities, of which Gardener has given a representation in his History. Dunwich had but one church in the time of Edward the Confessor, but in the reign of the Conqueror, two more had been added. The erection of the former is ascribed to Felix, the first bishop of Dunwich, to whom it was dedicated. It is farther reported that this saint was buried here in 647, but that his remains were afterwards removed to Soham, in Cambridgeshire.” Afterwards, Dunwich contained six, if not eight parish churches.
St. John’s Church, a rectory, was a large edifice, and stood near the great market place, in the centre of the town. In a will dated 1499, there is a legacy of ten marks for some ornaments for this church, with the following clause :- “If it fortune the church to decay by adventure of the sea, ten marks to be deposited by my attornies, (or executors,) where they think best.” About 1510, two legacies were given towards building a pier against St. John’s church. The last institution to it was in 1537. The inhabitants, to prevent its being washed away by the sea, took it down about the year 1540. In the chancel was a large gravestone, under which was discovered a stone coffin, containing the corpse of a man, that fell to dust when stirred. On his legs, we were told, “were a pair of boots, picked like Crakows,” and on his breast stood two chalices of coarse metal. He was conjectured to have been one of the Bishops of Dunwich. St. Martin’s, likewise a rectory, is thought to have stood on the east side of the town. The last institution to it was in 1335. St. Leonard’s was an impropriation. It probably stood eastwards of St. John’s and was early swallowed up by the sea; for in a will dated 1450, the testator devised his house in the parish, anciently called St. Leonard’s. St. Nicholas’, a cruciform structure, was distant twenty rods south-east of the Black Friars. The last institution to this rectory was in 1352. The utmost bounds of its cemetery were washed away in 1740. St. Peter’s, also a rectory, stood about sixty rods north-east of All Saints, and had a chapel on the north side of it, called St. Nicholas’s. This edifice, on account of the proximity of the sea, which daily threatened its overflow, was, by agreement of the parishioners in 1702, stripped of the lead, timber, bells, and other materials. The walls which alone were left standing, being soon afterwards undermined by the waves, tumbled over the cliff. The churchyard was swallowed up by the devouring element, not long before Gardner published his History, in 1754. All Saints’ is the only church of which any portion is now standing. It is built of flint and free-stone. The square tower is still pretty entire, but of the body of the church, nothing but the greater portion of the exterior walls remains, and cattle graze within its area. It appears from Gardner, that about the year 1725, part of this edifice was demolished, and its dimensions considerably reduced. In the south-aisle, which was then pulled down, were magisterial seats, decorated with curious carved work, and the windows were adorned with painted glass, which, through the carelessness of the glazier, was broken in pieces. Most of the gravestones had brass plates with inscriptions, all of which were embezzled by the persons employed in the work. We find that, in 1754, divine service was performed here once a fortnight, from Lady-day to Michaelmas, and monthly during the rest of the year; but it was discontinued a few years afterwards. Recent inscriptions in the churchyard, shew that it is still occasionally used as a place of interment.
In the time of the Conqueror, all the churches then erected, or to be erected in Dunwich, were given by Robert Malet, to his priory at Eye, in his charter of endowment. The prior and convent accordingly presented to all instituted churches, and had tithes out of most of them, together with all the revenues of such as were impropriated, finding a secular priest to serve the cures. According to the Register of Eye, Dunwich has two other churches dedicated to St. Michael and St. Bartholomew, which are there recorded to have been swallowed up by the sea before 1331; when the prior and convent of Eye, petitioned the Bishop of Norwich to impropriate the church of Laxfield to them, alleging, among other reasons, that they had lost a considerable part of their revenues at Dunwich, by the irruptions of the ocean. Besides these churches, Weever mentions three chapels, dedicated to St. Anthony, St. Francis, and St. Katherine. The site of the first is unknown. The second stood between Cock and Hen Hills, and, as well as St. Katherine’s, which was in St. John’s parish, is supposed to have fallen to decay in the reign of Henry VIII. Here was a house belonging to the Knights Templars, and afterwards to the Hospitallers, endowed with a considerable estate in Dunwich, and the contiguous hamlets of Westleton and Dingle. To this establishment, belonged a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist, built for the use of the tenants of the manor, whose houses were distinguished by crosses, the badge of the Knights. Here were also two monastic institutions, belonging to the Franciscans and Dominicans, or Grey and Black Friars. The first was founded by Richard Fitz-John, and Alice, his wife; and its revenues were afterwards augmented by Henry III. The area encompassed by the walls of this house, part of which yet remains, is upward of seven acres. They had three gates; one of these, the eastern, is demolished; but the arches of the other two, standing close together to the westward, continue nearly entire. They have nothing remarkable in their construction; but, being covered with ivy, form picturesque objects. The largest of these gates served for the principle entrance to the house, and the other led to the church. A barn is the only building now standing in this enclosure. The Black Friary was founded by Sir Roger de Holish. In the eighth year of Richard II., the sea having washed away the shore almost up to this house, some attempts were made to remove the friars to Blythburg. They nevertheless continued here till the dissolution, when the site of this house, as well as that of the Grey Friary, was granted, among other possessions, to John Eyre. Both of these monastic establishments had handsome churches belonging to them. Two other ancient Religious institutions here were the Leprous Hospital of St. James, and the Maison Dieu, noticed below, and of which there are still some remains.
ST. JAMES’S HOSPITAL and the MAISON DIEU were very ancient hospitals, which went to decay many years ago, but what remains of their endowment has long been consolidated as one charity, under the government of a master, for the support of aged widows and poor persons of Dunwich, and particularly such as affected by insanity, or loss of speech, or labour under any peculiar affliction. The master is appointed by the corporation and other principle inhabitants, by yearly election, but the same person is generally re-elected. He receives the rents, selects the objects, and dispenses the benefits of the charity, and exhibits his account at a public meeting on May-day. The charity estate, by means of various exchanges, was much improved some years ago, and now consists of two double cottages, a fish house, several out-buildings, and 96A. 23P. of land, at Dunwich, and 23A. 2R. 33P. at Heveningham. The rents amount to about 93 per annum, which, after paying for repairs and other incidental expenses, is dispensed in weekly stipends of from 2s. 6d. to 6s. among nine or ten pensioners, except about 5 paid for medical attendance, and a few pounds distributed in small sums among the general poor of the parish. An annuity of 30s., used formerly to be paid out of 30 acres of land at Brandeston, supposed to have anciently belonged to St. James’s Hospital, which was founded by Walter de Riboff, in the reign of Richard I., for a master and several leprous brethren and sisters, and had extensive possessions, the greater part of which were lost many years ago, through the encroachments of the sea, and the rapacity of the successive masters, as was the case with the revenues of the MAISON DIEU, or God’s House, which was dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and was abundantly endowed as early as the reign of Henry III., for a master, six brethren, and several sisters. There are still some small remains of the chapels or churches which were attached to these hospitals.
The land called Pot Break and North and South Cliff Pieces, is let for 21. 6s. per annum, and is described in the terrier as belonging to the parishioners, without any declaration of trust. The rents are applied in the service of the new church. In 1566, John Page, alias Baxter, bequeathed his estate at Carlton, to be sold subject to the yearly payment of 3 to the poor of Dunwich, and 2 to the poor of Laxfield. His executors, in the 11th of Elizabeth, conveyed the estate to trustees, for the poor of these parishes, and for a long period it has been under the joint management of the corporation of Dunwich and the churchwardens of Laxfield; the former receiving five-ninths, and the latter four-ninths of the annual proceeds. It consists of a farm of 43A. 2R. 27p., at Carlton Colville, let for 74 a year, subject to some deductions for land tax, &c. The five-ninths of the clear rent received by the corporation of Dunwich have been uniformly, as far as is known, applied as part of their private revenues, without any reservation for the poor, among whom they ought to distribute at least 3 a year.

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