The Account of Walsham High Hall Manor
The Manorial system was in existence for centuries. The occupant of a piece of land had to supply the owner of the land with goods and services as the owner demanded. Before the Norman Conquest the land in Walsham was held by a wealthy landowner named Aki who also held land in adjoining villages. A Manor in Walsham is mentioned in the Little Doomsday Book of 1086. It was held by Robert de Blund (sometimes spelt Blount) from Guisnes near Calais. Later documents mention Church House Manor, High Hall Manor and Walsham Manor. Other names, such as Wyldecaties, Overhall and Easthouse were used.
During the recent renovations of the present High Hall which dates from the late 16th century, an archaeological survey found 11th to 14th century artefacts such as pottery fragments and evidence of a hearth in the form of a depression in the ground. There were pieces of oyster shells. Oysters were a common feature of the diet from this period. It is tempting to speculate that these objects were from the time of Robert de Blund. The building of non defensive moats around Manor Houses in Suffolk is thought to have begun during the 12th – 13th century, so it is unlikely that there was a moat at High Hall in 1086.
We are very fortunate in Walsham in that there are still a number of medieval documents surviving that give us information. Some of these have been transcribed into modern English. Among them are detailed documents of the accounts of High Hall from 1326.
In 1327 Nicholas de Walsham was lord of the Manor of High Hall in the first year of the reign of Edward III. It is not known if he actually lived there but it can be assumed he was often at the Manor as there are a number of references to his clothes in the accounts.
“item to Gilbert Salwetay for linen cloth bought from him for the lord 2s. 4¼ d. made for the lord.’
“item from the same Gilbert for making a doublet for the lord, price to the lord 8d.’
“item in one ell of hemp bought for making the lords stockings 1d.¼d.’
An ell was approximately 45 inches long in England although it varied in other countries. The texture of hemp cloth varied from fine to coarse.
Contrary to popular belief the Manor House was not always a large house, although it was superior to other houses in the Manor. The accounts mention repairs of daub and thatch to the house. It would have been timber framed with wattle and daub walls. Around the Manor House was a moat (still in existence) this was used to stock fish for use on certain religious fasts, or when fresh meat was not available and was also built as a status symbol. The Church House Manor of Walsham owned by the Priory at Ixworth had a fish pond which is still at Fish Pond Farm.
Although there were some obligations for the tenants since the time of the Normans, now when they did work they were often paid. If it was work due to the lord such as boon work, which the tenants were obliged to do for the lord free in return for tenancy of their holdings, they were not paid, but he provided them with food. An entry reads…
‘services of free and customary men between the feast of St. Peter (June 29 th) and the feast of St. Michael (September 29th) bread baked from mixture sufficient for one meal of pottage with legumes and two herrings, and for their supper corn of which 20 loaves are from the bushel and two herrings.’
The herrings were salted herrings which were only eaten by the peasant class; the nobility had fresh fish from a moat or fish pond on religious days. Pottage was a slow cooked thick stew of vegetables with grain such as oats added and very occasionally meat if available, this was a staple diet of the poor in medieval times.
The accounts of High Hall list:
“in salt bought for pottage for the Manorial servants 2d.’
“in making one clay pot for pottage for the Manorial servants ½d.’
“in one ladle bought ¼d.’
“item released to one maid making pottage for the Manorial servants from the feast of St Clement (November 3rd up to the feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross(May 3rd for 23 weeks 1 quarter 3 ½ bushels.’
A quarter was 8 bushels. This expenditure is listed under the expenses of oats.
Incidentally the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross was said to have been when St Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, in the 4th century discovered the Cross during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
An odd item which appears in the accounts is the mention of…
‘item baked for the Lords horses per occasion as shown in the viewing 1 qr 1 bus 3 pecks of wheat by tally against Robert the lords groom“ “item baked for the same horses after viewing per occasion 1 bus 2 pecks of wheat by tally before the aforesaid.’
This would have been horse bread, which was a bread made usually from peas, beans, or even acorns. It made a very heavy dense bread. In the item quoted it was surprisingly made from wheat. Although its primary use was for horse feed, it was eaten by the peasants in time of food shortage. Understandably they hated it.
Surprisingly there is no mention of milling expenses at the date, the earliest mention of mills is when Robert de Valoynes ( a descendent of Robert de Blund) had two windmills in 1282, but this was when Walsham Manor and High Hall Manor were combined. One was between Crownland Road and Clay Street, the other was along a lane leading from Badwell Road to the Ixworth Road. (Review 18. Walsham‘s Two Medieval Windmills). It is possible that they used a quern (two circular stones worked by hand). In the early days of the History Group we found fragments of a quern when field walking, so we know that they were used in Walsham.
“in one lock with a key bought for the bake house door 1½ d.’
Other places were also considered vulnerable…
“in one lock ( illegible ) bought for the pantry door 2d.’
“in one lock with a key bought for the sheep house door 2d.’
Although it mentions a sheep house there is no listing of sheep expenses in the accounts. But it does list under pasture leased, “and from 5s. received from pasture leased this year.”
He obviously intended to keep some of his own as an entry quotes,“in fifty six oak trees for beams bought for the sheep house 5s. 2d.”
The accounts of High Hall give details of almost every expense; some examples are…
‘in handles and hinges bought for the poultry house door ½ d., in repairing the lock ½d.’
Nothing was overlooked in the meticulous keeping of the accounts of High Hall. In this article I have tried to give an idea of what different items cost and what life was like for those at High Hall, but it only covers one year in the life of the Manor. The accounts for it cover several years. In 1374 the Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of St Edmunds held the Manor, but that‘s another story. The title of the Manor is held now by Lord Baden Powell.
There is much more information on High Hall in the Court Rolls of Walsham le Willows edited by Ray Lock. I believe that Ray Lock or Audrey McLaughlin transcribed the accounts. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their transcription of many Walsham documents.
The Lord Baden Powell gave us information on the title.
- S.R.O. HA 504. Walsham High Hall Accounts.
- S.C.C.A.S. Report No. 2012/037 Walsham High Hall.
- Towards a Landscape History of Walsham le Willows by S.E.West and Audrey McLaughlin.
- The Accounts of High Hall are on CDs available Walsham History Group Publications | 01359 258535
Origin of the name Walsham
In the Doomsday Book of 1086 it is Walsam. In 1095 Bury Abbey spells it Walesham. It is suggested that the first part is the old English Waels. If so the original form was Waels-ham: (home of the Welsh, possibly relating to surviving Romano-British inhabitants. Willows is not mentioned until 1537 in the will of John Robhood. It is spelt “welowes” in his will. I have a copy of that will.