By 1349 the population had risen to about 1000 – every available corner of land was ploughed for food. Then the Black Death struck halving the population. Court rolls give the names of 119 tenants who died – wives, children and servants must be added to that number.
There is now (June 2008) a new book, The Black Death Plague by John Hatcher published by Weidenfield, which gives far more details of the Plague and it makes some interesting references to Walsham le Willows. See review of The Black Death Plague by John Hatcher (TimesOnline). This you will find is well worth reading and although it is based on certain facts you will also find that there are elements of 'embellishment' included, but never-the-less it is still very worthwhile!
Heriot 1 cow – Item that John Hawes held on the day that he died a certain tenement the size of which is unknown, after whose death the lord had 1 cow as a heriot. And that William and Robert his sons are his nearest heirs who have entry by the said heriot. [The Hawes family lived where the Rookery now stands] Other deaths recorded here are Thomas Dormour, Edith his wife, Walter Osbern, Bartholomew Jerico, John Osbern, William Cranmer, William his son and Robert his son.
Life on the manor continued as normal – for each death the lord collected a heriot – the best beast as a death duty.
One of the items in the manor account rolls is for building work done on the manor site along Summer Road. The following buildings were repaired from time to time, mostly by thatching and carpentry – the lord’s house (although he was rarely resident) and the knight’s room (for visiting aristocracy). Also a chapel, bailiff’s room, lodge, kitchen, stable, sheepcote, cowshed, barn, dairy, granary, oat barn, wash house, pea barn, hay barn and walls topped with thatch. The dovecote was at the back of the site – in the field known, until quite recently, as Dovehouse Close – another hated symbol of feudalism – the lord’s pigeons fed on the peasants’ crops but they were not allowed to harm them.
Cost of mill – In stipend of John Manser and his sons for one and a quarter days making cobbles and bedding them in the mill and for making one key for binding the heads of the axles of the mill – 9d, taken between them per day – 7d. In pegs bought for the top-plates of a house at the mill – ½d. Sum – 9½d. Approved. Cost of sheep-fold – In one barrel of tar bought for sheep salve – 4s 3d. Item in oil bought to mix with the same for sheep and lambs of this manor and wethers from Wattisfield – 5s 1d. In expenses of various men helping to grease hoggets at times this year – 10d. Item in 282 sheep and 394 lambs from this manor and wethers from Wattisfield, washing and shearing this year – 10s, from which in the price of 1 bushel of wheat sold to them. In reddening bought for marking sheep twice – 2d. Sum – 20s 4d. Approved.
There were two windmills – post-mills – one along Mill Lane, north of Ridings farm and one north of Badwell Road. Peasants were obliged to grind their corn at these, the lord’s mills, paying for the service. Although they were not allowed to use their own mills, plenty of broken hand querns were found during field walking – Evidence that they did.
Most of St Mary’s church was built in the early 15th century and gradually evolved to its present form.
Evidence – look at the wall above the chancel arch where the line of the original gable can be seen.
Evidence – in their wills, nine men left money or goods to be used for building work on the church.
The first court of William de la Pole and Alice his wife was held on 9th February 1441. After William’s untimely death in 1450, Alice continued as lady of the manor until her death in 1475. Their son John then held his first court. His wife Elizabeth was born Elizabeth Plantagenet, sister to Edward IV and Richard III – she influenced the decorative scheme of Walsham church eg. the rose en soleil which was Edward’s favourite device.
At least ten houses remain, although much altered, from the 15th century – Garden Cottage, at Four Ashes is one of them.
Once the population was reduced, there was no need to grow so much grain – the land began to be enclosed for pasture. There were fewer peasants to farm the lord’s demesne (his own land) and he started to pay for this work to be done. The tenants then began to pay cash rent, relieving them of their onerous duties – the feudal system was coming to an end.