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


Volume 3


Farming in Halesworth in the 17th Century

As part of the Waveney farming area, its hinterland of good agricultural land reached the higher ground some four or five miles to the north and south of the Waveney Valley. Although mainly worked by pastoral farmers, they also had dairy herds. Wheat was the most important crop, with hay being equally valuable. The herds were often of a fair size, and most of the inventories of the period include cattle, which were the most important animals, with horses and pigs next, and sheep a good way behind, as sheep rearing did not give such a good return with the price of wool so depressed.

Pig keeping was usually combined with dairy farming so that the pigs could feed from the skimmed milk. But as the Suffolk hard cheese was produced from the skimmed milk left over from the butter making, little was now available for the pigs. The cheeses were called 'Suffolk Bangs' as they were likened to cannon balls. Daniel Defoe, the author who wrote 'Robinson Crusoe' also strongly recommended Suffolk butter, saying 'I have known a firkin of Suffolk butter sent to the West Indies, and brought back to England again, and has been perfectly good and sweet as of first'.

A dairy farmer could prosper on a far lesser acreage than was viable for an arable farmer, and they were not so reliant on the economics of the time. Butter and cheese could be sold to the armed forces - the Constable of South Elmham St. Margaret was ordered in 1660 to send two firkins of butter and half a 'waye' of cheese to Walberswick to be delivered to the Navy - or they could sell their dairy products just as easily at local markets such as Halesworth, Harlesdon or Bungay. It seems that Woodbridge was the major port in the area for the export of butter and cheese in the early 18th century, but others feel that the harbours of Dunwich and Walberswick were also used. With Bungay on the Waveney and Halesworth on the Blyth, there was access to several ports along the East Anglian coast.

Large increases of population led to a greater demand for food which kept the farmer busy and prosperous, although in the Hearth Tax of 1662 - 68 the Suffolk population was estimated as reaching 142,000 (increased to 172,110 by 1700) long lists of empty houses at Halesworth, Woodbridge and Hadleigh bear witness to the decaying wool trade. The flourishing state of the dairy farmer can be linked to the large sales of monastic land sold off by the Crown following the Reformation, with the larger Suffolk landowners increasing their estates.

Prices are estimated to have risen by 700%, but the wages of the workers increased by a much lesser 300% in comparison, so ensuring a very good return for the vendors.

By the 1680s annual and daily wages would include:-

1682 - Annual Wage - Bailiff 6

Carter 5

Common servant over 18 yrs 3.10s.0d (3.50)

Common servant under 18 yrs 2.10s.0d (2.50)

Hired servant with meat & drink 1.2s.0d (1.10)

Ordinary harvest man 18s (80p)

Day Wages - Haymaker with food and drink 5d (2p)

Woman Haymaker without food and drink 3d (1p)

Man reaper without food and drink 10d (4p)

Common labourer - Summer 6d (2p)

Common labourer - Winter 5d'(2p)

Women and children - weeding 3d (1p)

Halesworth records of the 16th century give us details of the property changes over the years, also the commodities used in addition to coin of the Realm in payment and annual dues:-

'Thomas Ffeltham holds a tenement called Palmers and pays per annum one gilly flower'

Thomas also holds:-

'Freehold one enclose of land, meadow and pasture lying in Mells called Shepecolelands and pays in rent per annum 12s (60p) and 1lb of pepper'.


A firkin was a tub of butter about 10 ins dia and 10 ins high and weighed about 56 lbs (25.4 kg) and a 'suffolk' weye of cheese was 256 lbs (116 Kg) 


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