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


Volume 2


Halesworth in the 15th and 16th Centuries 

It was against a background of low population growth and a fall in prosperity that Halesworth was changing from a village to a successful market town. It has been suggested that the trade which passed through its 'flesh market' was encouraging some of the surrounding areas to concentrate on dairy farming and cattle rearing to catch the export trade.

Walberswick in 1451 had thirteen vessels trading with Iceland, and the North Sea ports, while Suffolk cheese was being exported from Southwold to Holland during the 15th century. So by about 1500, a new group of successful dairy farmers had emerged. Grain was sold to merchants dealing in the London coastal trade, and barley was exchanged at Southwold for cloth and linen brought in to that port by Dutch merchants.

Blythburgh, the next port along the coast, was described as being 'at the height of its prosperity with a port and considerable fishing, and quays crowded with craft from overseas'. And before its decline in the 16th and 17th centuries, fishing provided a share of the catch, known as 'the town dole' which was at Walberswick paid to repair the quay, but which often was used for other purposes. Blythburgh's and Walberswick's fall was swift and steep.

As the shipwright built bigger ships, the traders began to seek other ports. An account roll of 1478 sadly records an income of' '16d (7p) and no more, because the Bretons did not come this year with salt'. By the middle of the 16th century, merchants were dealing from Halesworth in a variety of goods. Contracts to provision Calais were being won, and Robert Norton of Gothic House in Halesworth was exporting dairy products to the English garrisons in France. He appears to have held a Royal monopoly, as he had friends in high places. Suffolk cheese was particularly fine, and it was popular because of its good keeping qualities. At the time a soldier or sailor would include in his normal daily ration of food half a pound of cheese and a quarter of a pound of butter.

In 'The Story of a SuffolK House' by Sheila and Michael Gooch (1994) are details of warrants drawn up for goods being supplied. In 1546 a warrant for payment of 160 was drawn up to 'John Soone and Robert Norton towards provision of 2,000 weys of cheese and 800 barrels of butter' (a wey was a weight of about 2 cwt (102 kg). In 1547 they supplied 'grain and other victuals delivered to the King's highness' use at Calais, Boulogne, Newcastle and Berwick... for provision of cheese, butter and bacon they had warrant... for... 374.10s. (374.50p).

The rise of crafts and 'light industry' has been shown by the recent excavations at the 'Angel' and 'Barclays Bank' sites. These indicate that work went on here in the 14th and 15th centuries. A brick structure, believed to be part of a furnace appears to have links with bronze working, and the evidence suggests that bell-castinq was carried out. In the latter part ot the 16th century, it may have been used by two bell-founders, William and John Brend, who were contracted to recast some of the bells of the Parish Church, but by about the 1640's the furnace was no longer in use. It could also have been the work area of a pin-maker or brazier, as a large number of pins of various sizes, along with pieces of copper alloy sheet have been found. This craftsman also produced lace tags, buckles, rings and decorated belt studs.
By the mid 15th century, new types of pottery were being made locally, and the Angel Site excavation opened up a rubbish pit with an almost complete 15th century jug as well as the substantial remains of a dozen more jugs, four large bung-hole pitchers and many other pottery sherds of the same period. In all, a tolal of 2,204 sherds of pottery were excavated of which nearly 70% were of the 1450 - 1500 AD period. This pottery has been identified as similar to that found on other kiln sites between Halesworth and the River Waveney, and are all associated with the Sterff Family who originated from Weybread near Harleston and moved to Metfield, producing pottery wares between 1485 and 1524. We know from the 1524 Subsidy List that there were members of the family at Metfield, Weybread, Wissett and Chediston. Fieldwork at both Wissett and Chediston has produced vessels of the same type. They include large pitchers or cisterns with bung-holes to store ale, skillets (like flat frying pans), tripod pipkins (like three legged saucepans), jugs, pitchers for local brewers and tapsters, or for general sale in the Town Market.

The leather and clothmaking industries had become important in the town in the late 14th century, and by the 16th century a number of trades, including shoe-making, saddle-making and pin-making had become dependent on those main crafts for their own prosperity. The occupations recorded between 1500 - 1599 include several linked to this, - 2 tailors, 1 shoemaker/cordwainer (the cordwainer dresses leather for the trade), a mercer (he deals in fabrics), a cooper, a saddler, a blacksmith, a pinner, a  carpenter, a joiner.

It is likely that the richer merchants were becoming landowners by leasing manorial lands, rebuilding their houses and probably taking part in the activities of the Town. Among the buildings in Halesworth which were built or originally existed in an earlier form, the following are of interest :-

5 The Market Place, is possibly amongst  the oldest buildings in the town. It was the house of the Chaplain, who in the late 14th century was William Bacheler. A piece of wattle and daub taken out during restoration has been dated 1350.

The Social Club, The Market Place. (formerly The Three Tuns) is listed as Elizabethan. (to be described more fully in a future volume).

144 Chediston Street (former Fish & Chip shop) brick facade covering timber frames building of late medieval period, now residential.

The Arbetorum (at the entrance to the Church), Nicholas Barkere lived in a house here in 1377.

Anglia Photographic (next to Arbetorum), Galfrides Turnour occupied a building here in 1377 which probably preceded the present structure.

The Rectory (Off Rectory Street) which is timber framed, brick-nogged and plastered. The oldest parts 16th and 17th centuries with 18th century and modern alterations.

3 Bridge Street, (Antique Shop - formerly King's reproduction furniture) appears to be 15th - 16th century, altered and enlarged in 17th - 18th centuries.

5 The Thoroughfare, (Halesworth Toyshop), there is evidence in the wall built of tile, flint and a narrow brick that it has 16th century origins.

6 The Thoroughfare, (Warner's Wine Bar) also known as 'Dame Margery's', dates back to the 14th century with carvings on the front probably 15th century. They include a central shield which examination has indicated the former carving of three covered cups, - the arms of the Argentein Family.

16 The Thoroughfare, The Gild Hall, (block of four shops including Forbuoys), built pre 1470's  and now divided into several shop fronts. (to be described in more detail in vol.3).

Angel Hotel, John Bunting and Thomas Baxter lived here around 1500.

The Old White Lion (next to Sunshine Hair Design ), its wattle and daub construction goes back to the 15th century.

Gothic House (opposite the Church), From Michael & Sheila Gooch's researches, it is probable that two earlier buildings were united by the street frontage about 1540, and it is recorded as one property in the 1577 Survey of Halesworth Manor, (this is described in more detail in volume 3).

Church Farm (entrance from Steeple End), The present farm is on the site of the former manor. In 1602 it was recorded that 'in this towne was a park and a goodly house, the one now ruined and the other disparked'.

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