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


Volume 3


Halesworth Murder

Very mysterious is the charge laid at the feet of a Mr. Norton of instigating two murders at Halesworth between about 1615 and 1620. The account was published in a contemporary tract and a resume with illustrations is printed in the 1990 Guide of Halesworth.

'One Mr. Norton, dwelling in the towne of Halesworth, in High Suffolke, being a man though of faire possessions yet of a very foule and evil favour, both in regard of his profession, as being no better than a Church papist, the most dangerous subject the land hath, envied the land of his neighbour, and compared to David coveting Naboth's vineyard, hath murdered two of her sons and a daughter and concealed them in a pit, which when emptied discovered the skeletons...'

Two murderers were sentenced at Bury Assizes in 1620. A 'church papist' is one who goes to church but still remains a Catholic and Henry Norton with whom this story could be linked was not a church papist. It is suggested that it was attributed to the Nortons to whip up some anti-Catholic sympathy.

Gothic House was sold by William Norton to Thomas Feltham in the 1580's, whose family came from Westall.

One of Feltham's ancestors had provided the Rood Screen in Westall Church in 1512 as it carries the inscription 'Pray for the soul of Thomas Feltham and Margaret his wife'. Thomas's own mother came from Halesworth, and among the other properties he had purchased in the town was a building in the Market Place known as 'Walpoles'. Over the years this became an inn called the 'Three Tuns' and more recently changed into the Halesworth and District Social Club. This building has several similarities to Gothic House, with identical ceiling mouldings and a fireplace that looks as if it came from the same hand, so as it is of a similar date, it is probable that it was built by the same builder. The Three Tuns yard had some form of barn or outbuildings which were used as a theatre in Halesworth before the custom built new theatre (now the Rifle Hall) was built.

Thomas Feltham sold Gothic House to Hugh Base who was a Suffolk man who went to London to make a fortune. He had connections with Beccles, and by 1604 was living in the house in Halesworth. He died in 1609 and Edmund Norton was made guardian of his daughters, as he had married Hugh Base's widow. When she died, Gothic House passed to Thomas's daughter Elizabeth who married Sir Richard Saltonstall. The Saltonstall family were involved in business in the City of London connected with the Merchant Adventurers of England. One of the family was Richard Saltonstall who joined John Winthrop in 1630 on his journey to America, where they founded Boston, Massachusetts.

Elizabeth Saltonstall's ownership of Gothic House passed, on her death, to her son Richard. He surrendered it to the Lord of Halesworth Manor in 1642, when it was re-granted to John Bedingfield - the new owner.


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