Walsham le Willows

A Brief History of Walsham

The 1500’s

Photograph of part of a rental of Walsham manor dated 1509 beautifully written in medieval Latin.
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Evidence – part of a rental of 1509 showing rents, in money, owed by each tenant. Walsham town held St. Katherine’s and Master John’s Close.

The 16th century saw the open fields being enclosed with hedges and used as pasture. When the land was first surveyed in 1577, over half the total acreage of the parish was used for grazing.

Coloured head and shoulders portrait of Sir Nicholas Bacon wearing a dark jacket with white ruffs round the neck and sleeves. He is wearing or holding various badges of office.
Sir Nicholas Bacon 1509–1579.

Painting of the crest of Sir Nicholas Bacon – a grey pig or boar on a red and white striped stand.
The crest of Sir Nicholas (pun intended).

After schooling in Bury St. Edmunds he trained as a lawyer and rose to become Lord Chancellor under Queen Elizabeth. He became lord of Church House manor in 1551 and of Walsham manor in 1559. Although unpopular locally, it is due to his careful keeping of manorial documents in his muniment room at Redgrave Hall that we have access to so much of Walsham’s early history. In 1577 he commissioned a survey of all the holdings – the Field Book – and it is possible to recreate a map showing who lived where.

Photograph of part of the will of John Robwood written in English and showing the first known spelling of Walsham in the Welowes.  It is decorated with a stylised fish.
This will of John Robwood dated 1537 is the first known addition of “Willows” to the place name of Walsham.Enlarge image icon

Painting of the game place as it may have looked in the 16th century. Two figures are acting on a raised, circular stage surrounded by an audience seated on a grassy bank under poplar trees.

One entry in the Field Book describes the Game Place – “a place compassed rownd with a fayer banke sett with and cast up on a good height and havinge many great trees called populers growynge about the same banke, in the myddest a fayre round place of earth wyth a stone wall about the same to the height of the earth made of purpose for the use of stage playes”. It was situated in Summer Road – an amphitheatre on a half acre site. Small companies of visiting players entertained villagers with plays featuring “Mankind and Mischief”. Such acting spaces influenced the circular theatres like Shakespeare’s Globe in the 1590s.

A major effect of the Reformation in Walsham was the dissolution of Ixworth Priory in 1539. From the 12th century until this time, St. Mary’s had been served by priests from the Priory. The grave of one of them, William Potenger, is in the south aisle. After 1539 priests were appointed, indirectly, by the Crown and Church House manor became Crown property.

Painting of the English Royal Arms. The shield is quartered – two quarters contain two golden lions on a red background and two quarters contain three golden fleur de lis on a blue background.

The English Royal Arms from 1405 to 1603 – in the east window of St. Mary’s church, the 1878 restoration inserted the shield back to front.

Photograph of Church Farmhouse – a rectangular building covered in ochre coloured plaster with a tiled roof.

Church Farmhouse was built c1530 and occupied by Walter Martin. He was a blacksmith – in his will of 1555 he left his “stethys and hamers” in his shop to his sons Nicholas and John to carry on his trade. The parlour was added c1580.

Hand-drawn map of Walsham le Willows 1577 showing the greens, woods and known houses.
Map of 1577 based on information in the Field Book.

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