Bernard & Heather Quinlan's,  'A Gentle stroll' around Chelsworth Village

We start this walk in the heart of Chelsworth, beside the pair of hump-backed bridges that stand across from the “Peacock” Inn.

Here, long before the age of photography, stood Chelsworth Lower Mill. It was demolished in about 1750 by Lord of the Manor Robert Pocklington, and replaced by the second span of the bridge.

Leaning over the church-ward wall of the further arch of the bridge, you will see his initials and rank, with the date, stamped below – “R.P. Esq. 1754”.

Chelsworth’s chief historian, Geoffrey Pocklington, recorded that in wartime the bridge was damaged by a tank - but evidently it survived, and against all the odds it continues to do so.

These scenes convey the tranquil delight of Chelsworth’s stream as it passes under the bridge.

It is recorded that the punt was constructed by Geoffrey Pocklington, and the photograph is precisely dated at 11th June 1911. The handwritten notes below these and other Pocklington family pictures are in the hand of Frederic Pocklington.

Over the bridge stands Bridge House, once the farmhouse for a hundred-acre estate called “Pylcrekes”, as the Court Rolls of the Manor record.

Like most of the property in Chelsworth, it was “owned” by copyhold tenants of the Manor - and all its changes of ownership, whether by inheritance or by sale, can be traced back to the 16th century, when a man called Robert Reason purchased it.

A short way, further the right, you may see the remaining parts of Robert Pocklington’s mansion, built in George II’s reign (c. 1750).

Happily, this drawing survives to remind of his Chelsworth Hall - but the main building was lost at the end of the 19th century, and the new hall was built higher up on the hill to the south.

Heading east towards Bildeston, we will see some of Chelsworth’s most attractive houses and gardens

We look across the meadow and along fine houses that in recent years have been known as the Old Rectory and the Old Manor (with the Old Forge beyond). In former days, they were known as “Prynchets” and “Bonds” respectively, after their owners in the 15th and 16th century.

The Old Rectory (Right) – now happily renamed Princhetts - was bequeathed to the parish forever in the will of Samuel Maynard, the rector of Chelsworth in the early 18th century.

Despite militant objections (including a successful action in the High Court) by Geoffrey Pocklington and others in the 1930s, the house was later sold by the church and the proceeds re-deployed when the benefice was merged with neighbouring parishes.

The open ground to the right is called Shop Meadow, after the blacksmith’s shop that stood at its far end, before being moved across the road to stand by the Old Forge cottage.

 

An 1843 plan (thankfully abortive) for building a railway through the middle of the village reveals that the stocks were here at that time.

Other cottages - one called Mouses, another called Turners - stood in this meadow, too, but fell into disrepair and were pulled down a century ago

The Old Forge, possibly the most photographed subject in the whole village, presents a typical view of the way the dwellings have changed over the past hundred years – from a simple pair of craftsmen’s cottages to a delightful half-timbered treasure of a home.

The forge itself and the maltings beyond, seen in the bottom left picture on the previous page, have long gone, and the Victory Hall, a World War I army hut which is the parish’s Memorial of the Great War, now stands in their place.


   

Beyond Chestnut Cottage, to our right, the quiet road called Parsonage Lane runs down towards Culfen, mentioned in the grant of 962 AD which is Chelsworth’s (and Suffolk’s) oldest deed. The Parsonage House which stood down the lane has been gone these past 200 years; only its barn is left.
   
Turning your back on the hill, enjoy these two delightful aspects of the entry to the village: the one setting the charming old cottages among bright, leafy trees that soften the hard contour of the modern road, the other with a gentle perspective of the old stone-bedded and fenced village street.

 

Invisible on the right is Barrards, once a simple cottage but greatly enhanced in the early 19th century by the then rector of Chelsworth (also Lord of the Manor of Lindsey) the Rev. J. G. Smyth.

Alongside once stood a fine mansion house, at one time owned and occupied by a son of the distinguished Spring family of Lavenham. The picture here (a poor one, sadly) shows the state of those buildings in1875, featuring Miss Catherine Cautley, whose sister Arabella Tattersall is remembered in a stained glass window in the church

Further up the road that leads to Bildeston, the approaches to Chelsworth Hill are no less of a hazard today than when the narrow incline had less traffic to carry.

Hill House, on the right, was built in about 1880 by one Clement Poole, who learned his trade from carpenter Peter Gage in the workshop behind the Peacock, where his son George Gage was “grocer and beerhouse keeper”. Clement married Peter’s niece, Louisa,, and both lived well into their nineties.

 

This postcard is one of six that was presented in 1990 by the Scudamore family, who built the present Chelsworth Hall in about 1900. The cards, in mint condition, provide our best record of the village at the turn of the century - if only we had more !

To the right is the home once lived in by Mary Peacock, who gave her name to the inn.

 

Later pictures show the front of the Peacock Inn as the village shop. Sadly, the shop closed in 1977 when more and more residents came to own cars and the village trade moved further afield.

 


Like the Old Forge, the house beside the pub has seen a transformation in the past century.

The picture here shows the family of Frederick and Maryann Gage in about 1870 – despite appearances, all the children here were boys ! Frederick was the son of Henry Martin Gage, one of three brothers who lived in Chelsworth in the mid-1800s and raised large families. Gages are buried along the East side of the churchyard. Here, they are standing in front of their butcher’s shop; later, in the 1920s, the house became the village post office.

Today, it is a fine old house called Jackdaws Ford. (This is a translation of the name “Caford” which appears in Chelsworth’s charter of 962 AD. It was mistakenly located here in Geoffrey Pocklington’s book).

Walk on further, and look back along the street. Imagine the scene as it was in centuries past.

To the left were the cottages we still see today - but observe that there was one other house amongst them, so that there were no open grounds in between. To the right, there were more dwellings. The furthest, visible in this old picture, was called Mouses. Closer on the right was another cottage, at one time derelict but refurbished as a poorhouse in 1700.

A second cottage, across the road, became a poorhouse at about the same time when the tenant defaulted on his mortgage to the Overseers to the Poor. Another house called “Swallows” lay further along towards the church, beyond the cattle pound which stood beside the poorhouse. The whole area was cleared in the 19th century, and the pound relocated, to make room for Pocklington’s parklands.

Turn again, and ahead lies the Grange, possibly the most distinguished house in the village, and the subject both of historical interest and of artistic appreciation. The old photographs show that little has changed in the aspect of this old farmhouse, at one time owned by the rector of Chelsworth and later by the Green and Cutbert families. A hundred years ago, it was the home of the Pocklingtons when declining fortunes obliged them to sell the Hall.

 

We can now give our attention to the church’s setting, not high on the hill as so many Suffolk churches are, but beside the stream and across from the old Chelsworth Hall.

In fact, that was not the first Hall; the original was built close to the church, at its West side, and stood until about 1400.

Nearby, too, on the left stood Chelsworth Upper Mill, once a fulling mill where cloth was treated, and later a corn mill. It fell victim to Robert Pocklington’s desire to open up the lands facing his Hall, so that in the style of the day he might have a clear view across a newly-widened stream and open parkland.

Railway Plans submitted in 1843, and again in 1844, called – incredible as it may seem – for the line to pass between the church and the river in this area. Thank Heavens it was never built !

At the turn after the Grange, the road points north (and in days gone by, ran all the way to Hitcham). See the contrast between the old photographs and today’s view - not just the cottage that is no longer there, but the trees and palings, and the sharp corner - all now gone. They were replaced , in the interest of road safety, by the grass-green, spring-flowered meadow where we have placed the millennium village sign.

The clothes, too, are worthy of interest - the postcard is one of the set dating from 1900. Postcards were produced in considerable numbers and many of our photographs are taken from them.

Further up the road stands Ivy House, for generations the home of the Woodgate family, and before that of the Raynhams, who with the Gages constituted a sizeable proportion of the village population in the 19th century

 


The Woodgate family albums provide many fascinating insights into the ways of farming and farmworkers, not least in these photos of the end-of-harvest picnics in the years just before the Great War; in many of them we see the proud figure of the matriarch Granny Woodgate in her bathchair.

Other snaps remind us of the days before tractors and combine harvesters.
At the corner stands the schoolhouse, built in 1870 to the design of Col Frederic Pocklington and closed in 1927 because of falling rolls We cannot resist reproducing this little group of school photographs.
The log books of the school survive, and make fascinating reading, as they tell of the standards and methods of those days, of illnesses, absences and deaths, of regular, generally critical inspections and frequent changes of teachers.

 
 

Now we can walk along the remaining stretch of the street towards the bridge that leads out of the village towards Monks Eleigh.

Photos show that several buildings served at one time or another as the village post office, including the Peacock Inn, Jackdaws Ford and, here, Deysfield Cottage.

Half-way along, we see the cottage that was called “Mary Webbs”; Mary Webb herself died there in 1708 but her name lived on into the 20th century.

The house, now called Woodstock Cottage, was notable also as the hiding place of the loot stolen from Chelsworth Hall in 1922; a block of melted-down silver was found under a bed two years afterwards, following some indiscreet talk in the local pub.

 

We have now reached the west end of the village. Turning back, we can compare the approach as it was in the l930s with the present view.

Heavy road traffic has been responsible for the replacement of the hump-back bridge; farming technology has taken away the stackyard on the left and the farm buildings to the right - but saddest of all, perhaps, the storm of 1987 brought down the great elm that framed the entry to Chelsworth and left it much the poorer for its passing.

We believe that this is the true site of Jackdaws Ford, mentioned in Chelsworth’s Charter as a key marker of the village boundaries.

Cakebridge Lane, to the left, together with its continuation as Mill Lane, once came all the way down from Kettlebaston, and ran on South to the Roman road (now Clay Hill) across the valley, as well as to the fulling mill.

The house to our left, once the home of William Gage, was much earlier known as Clovers, at which time it was a larger hall house complete with crown post, medieval timbers and jettied upper story. A similar house called “Howletts” stood on the site of the stackyard, and was bought and demolished by Robert Pocklington.

Looking over the right shoulder, note the carved corner post which is about all that remains visible of “Hills”, yet another big house taken down by Robert Pocklington.

The stream here is identified in Ordnance Survey maps as the Brett (rather than the river running down from Lavenham), but ancient records, described it as Walsham’s Brook or the Wagger.

The little bridge over the stream at the West end of the village has a similar inscription to that on the bridge where we started – “R.P. Esq. 1754”.

Now make your way back along the street and note once again that an old cottage has disappeared. We cannot date this picture accurately, and surprisingly we have not found a villager to recall the farther building; but its name of old was “Marshes”, and thatcher Thomas Raynham lived here in 1839.

Records indicate that in past centuries each of these cottages was occupied by two or three families, as were many village dwellings.

Another cottage called “Monks” used to stand where now a path leads up to the row of houses built by the District Council in 1977. It disappeared in about 1800

 

The first house on the left is Mary Webbs; and then a cottage that, once again, has not survived. In this case, however, we have a record of what happened.

In l935, in the days before electrification, candles burning by windows were a constant danger; and one night, in Ada Gosling’s cottage, one set fire to a curtain and the best efforts of the Bildeston Fire Brigade could not save the building.

Approaching the schoolhouse again, we see from another Scudamore family postcard that the cottage now called Deysfield was at one time the post office. (Dey was the rector in the mid-16th century and owned the land behind).

Three separate families lived here in the 1840s, and in the 1920s the west end housed one Albert Hardwick, who led the burglary at Chelsworth Hall.

 

On the crown of the bend opposite the old schoolhouse, we can look across towards the houses shown on the postcard entitled The Corner, Chelsworth. A substantial cottage stood there until 1937, when as council records show, it was condemned and pulled down. Its occupants were rehoused in the first pair of council houses built at the west end of the village. It was owned and occupied for many years by members of the Gage family, and a close examination of the old pictures suggests that, like other Gage dwellings, it incorporated a butcher’s shop at one end

Let us end our walk by crossing the bridge and taking the road towards Lindsey. Past the turning to the Old Hall, we come upon houses for which we have no old pictures. Bridge Farm Cottages to the left are new; but the Old Coach House, below, and Gardener’s Cottage were converted from farm buildings relatively recently
   

The top of the hill marks the site of Chelsworth Common - the road ahead ran through its centre, bending only to pass round Lower Common Farmhouse. Further on is the cottage that was once a poorhouse, extended in the early 19th century - but the only pictures we have of these are those of the 1870 census - also on this web site

The road to the right is the New Road created by Robert Pocklington in 1750 to replace the old highway that passed by the riverside and past the front of his new Hall, to his evident displeasure. The later Chelsworth Hall lies behind the trees.

Rounding two bends at the top of the hill, we pass Rush Cottage, one of the two poorhouses built up here in the 19th century to replace those which formerly stood in the centre of the village.

Our pictures here were taken over fifty years apart, but each shows a shining new thatch - in the 1930s with a charming lady called Mrs McNamee, and in 1990 with the McAllisters.

We hope you enjoyed your 'stroll' around Chelsworth and you will return for another walk.