Review Number 16 – January 2001

The Beeches and Its Occupants

At a court of Walsham Church House manor held in 1448, John and Alice Bay were granted a messuage with an adjoining croft of 2 acres next to the cemetery of the church of Walsham. The house was the Blue Boar that had been built a few years earlier and the land would have stretched to Grove Road. Ten years later they surrendered ½ acre of their property to John and Joan Robwood on condition they maintained the fences between their land and the rectory ie: the Priory. The Robwoods then built the first phase of the Beeches, the central section of the eastern range. It contains a plain crown-post roof and probably formed the parlour or service cross-wing of a demolished hall that stood on the site of the present garden to the east. The rearmost (southern) bay of this cross-wing is sooted and was originally open to its roof. (1)

Stylised line drawing of a fish (a small one, minnow-like) which was part of the decoration on the 1537 will of John Robwood.
Part of the decoration on the 1537 will of John Robwood

So who was this John Robwood who could afford a large house on a prime site in the centre of Walsham? The Robwood family had been in Walsham for at least 200 years: the earlier spelling was Robhood and it has been suggested there may have been a connection with Robin Hood. The name of Robert Robwood appears on the earliest document for Walsham giving names of people, a tax list of 1283 (2). He owned cows, sheep and pigs and grew wheat, barley and peas worth a total of £1 7s 1½d – amongst the poorest half of the 90 named tenants but wealthy enough to pay tax. During the 14th century the Robwoods lived at the east end of the parish, then known as East End and appeared in the manor courts from 1317 onwards for petty offences such as digging on the commons, presumably for clay or gravel and damaging crops with their animals. There is no record of any Robwoods dying during the Black Death of 1349 but, as only tenants were named in the manor court rolls, it is possible that Robwood women and children died.

After the drastic reduction in population during the Black Death, the shortage of manpower available to work the lord’s land led to the demesne lands gradually being leased to local peasants. The families of the most successful of these peasants went on to become the yeoman farmers of the Tudor period. John Robwood was one of these.

During the early part of the 15th century John, son of Peter Robwood, grew in wealth and stature. He acquired more land: an account of 1427 shows he was granted ‘two messuages and all the tenement called Sparchoys lying at Eastend’ for which he paid 2s 4d pa. Sparchoys tenement was later known as Eastend tenement and I suspect that it was, in fact High Hall (an earlier house on the present site), the manor of which was by now amalgamated with Walsham manor – but I have yet to prove it. From 1431 onwards he leased over 100 acres of land, pasture and meadow, mostly at East End for which he paid 103s 4d pa. – far more than any other tenant. He had his own sheep-fold with the right to pasture them and the right not to put them in the lord’s fold at night for the purpose of enriching the lord’s land with manure. He was elected as reeve, the manor official responsible for seeing that tenants carried out their services of ploughing, harvesting etc. on the lord’s land. He also served, several times, as ale-taster, checking measures and strengths. By 1435 he was an affeerer, one of two men who, at each court, assessed the amount of ‘fines’ to be paid by individuals. In 1441 the lord of the manor was William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk: the feudal system was now virtually at an end and the combined manors of Walsham and High Hall were leased out. From 1441–1444 John Robwood was the farmer of the manor and drew up two annual accounts. He leased the manor site in Summer Road for a total of £44 and was responsible for the maintenance of the buildings and financial obligations such as castle ward (payment towards the upkeep of Norwich and Eye castles). He paid thatchers to repair the roof of the barn and bake-house and a carpenter to make trestles for a table in the hall. He built a new mill-house employing the same carpenter for twenty-two days at a cost of 4d a day. The total cost was 23s 5d. The stream at the Great Meadow was cleaned and hedges around the woods renewed. John was also a regular member of the jury at the court of both Walsham and Church House manors. He certainly needed to be living nearer the centre of the village.

In 1457 John and his wife Joan acquired the land from John Bay and began to build the Beeches. John wasn’t to live there long; he died in 1459 and in his will (3) be bequeathed 11 marks (a mark was worth 13s 4d) to the ‘new stone work to be done’ in Walsham church. His wife Joan and sons John and Thomas were executors. Joan died in 1468, left a will (4) and asked to be buried next to her late husband in Walsham churchyard. She left her best brass pot and also her tenement in Church Street (the Beeches) to her son John – in that order. He was also to have 10 acres of land in West Street on condition that he paid for a priest to visit Rome. She left 1 rood (¼ acre) of meadow in the Great Meadow the rent of which was to pay for a lamp burning in Walsham church in honour of God for her and her friends forever. This was fairly common practice before the Reformation.

The second John Robwood to live at the Beeches had a wife, Elizabeth, but presumably no children because in 1498 he surrendered the house to Stephen Robwood his cousin as instructed in his mother’s will. Stephen had a wife Catherine and a son John. Stephen died in 1503 and his son was heir to the Beeches and considerable land. It was in his will of 1537 (5) that the first known mention of ‘in the Willows’ occurs. Living alongside the stream he, no doubt, appreciated, more than most, the willow trees growing there. He bequeathed his house ‘lying by the churchyard’ to Julian his wife and houses and land in East End to his son John at twenty-seven years. His possessions included two feather beds complete with four pairs of sheets, ‘two pairs of the best and two pairs of the next’, a great cauldron, brass pots, pewter and cattle (he was described as a husbandman). His daughters Joan, Marion, Alice and Isabel received 40 marks each and a share of the household utensils.

An interesting request in his will, easily overlooked, states ‘Also I will that if the King’s Acts be not against it, I will my acre of meadow called Oversare to keep my anniversary day and my friends forever’. Up until the Reformation it was common for people, in their wills, to make provision for masses to be sung on the anniversary of their death for the sake of their souls; legacies designed to promote the testator’s salvation. Making his will in 1537 John suspected that King Henry VIII was about to put a stop to these and other religious practices.

The third John was admitted to the Beeches and lots of land in 1546 aged twenty-seven but was to enjoy it for a very short time, dying in 1548. In his will (6) he left his son John the Beeches when he reached twenty-two years, together with a feather bed, two silver spoons (his father had only pewter), a counter standing in the hall, a cupboard in the parlour under the stairs and ‘a grete chafer to heate water’. The other son Henry was left the houses (one of which was Sunnyside) and land at East End, a feather bed and two silver spoons at twenty-two years. They were each to pay Robert, the third son, £20. His wife Margery was to have the house until John was twenty-two and then ‘a chamber to dwell in at her own choice whether it be my tenement at the East End or my tenement by the churchyard’. She was also to be kept supplied with wheat, malt and wood. He left his three coats to various friends and relatives and his ‘worst apparell to the poore folkes’.

The following year Margery married a William Harrison who declined to live in her property so the executives, one of whom was Richard Hawes who lived at the Lawn, held it. Henry died in 1562, leaving John to be admitted to all the property in 1568 when he reached twenty-two. This John, number four, is the one mentioned in the Field Book of 1577. He held the Beeches, Sunnyside and one other house on the corner of Finningham Road and Bribery, long demolished. The land amounted to 186 acres and was the most that anyone held at that time in Walsham. It was he who enlarged the Beeches by adding the western range in the final decades of the 16th century, which seems to have begun life as a dairy or service wing rather than domestic quarters (1). At least 50 acres of his land was pasture; this might explain the need to build a dairy.

This, the final, John died in 1599. His will (7) and inventory (8) describe him as a gentleman. He left the Beeches and Sunnyside (no mention of the third house) to his wife Dorothy and then to sons George and James. She was to provide meat, drink, lodging and apparel to the sons and a daughter Mary until they reached twenty-two. Another son, Samuel, also inherited land. James and Samuel entered their share of the land at age twenty-two (George must have died as no more is heard of him). James surrendered his share of the land to Samuel and in 1628 Samuel surrendered it to Francis Morris of Essex. The name Robwood then disappeared from Walsham documents.

Dorothy, now a rich widow, married a rich vintner from London, Thomas Cook gent. who had property in Bury St. Edmunds including a house next to the Angel Inn. The Beeches was granted to them both in 1603 and now contained 1¼ acres. In 1616 Thomas died and two years later Dorothy married Richard Page gent.. They apparently had no wish to live in Walsham and surrendered the Beeches to Francis Pendleton gent. who surrendered it the following year to George Complin a local man living at Four Ashes Farm. He died in 1637 leaving the Beeches to his son George who was required to pay his mother Susan a quarterly sum. Another son, William was left Four Ashes Farm and became High Constable – but that’s another story.

The second George was a successful farmer and served regularly on the manor court jury. When he died in 1668 leaving seven sons, George, Thomas, Joseph, James, Theophilus, Cornelius and Samuel and a daughter Elizabeth, he made provision for the younger sons to be maintained until they reached an age when they could become apprentices. His wife Elizabeth had died in 1665. George was described as a yeoman in his inventory (9) in which his goods were appraised and valued by Thomas Martin who lived at Church Farm and William Rainbird. His house was well furnished with chairs and beds for his large family:

In the hall – a long table, a joined form, three buffet stools, a small table, eight chairs and three cushions. Also a musket, an old musket, a shot gun and the usual fire irons and equipment.

In the parlour – a table, a carpet, ten leather chairs, two leather stools and a pair of cob-irons.

In the hall chamber [the room over the hall] – two feather beds, two feather bolsters, a flock bolster, a pillow, a rug, a coverlet, three blankets, a great chest, six chairs, a livery cupboard, a form, a great table, twenty pewter dishes, a chamber-pot, a candlestick, three saucers, eleven pairs of sheets and twelve towels.

The parlour chamber was used for storage and contained ten fleeces of wool, three comb and three bushels of grey peas and other lumber.

The back-house chamber and buttery chambers held more beds and cupboards.

In the dairy chamber five score and five cheeses.

In the barns and stables were a cart, a tumbrel, ten loads of hay, a plough, a pair of harrows, three colts, two mares, a foal, a horse, fifteen milking cows, a bull, eight heifers, three calves, five pigs, eleven ewes and lambs.

His clothes were valued at £5, he had £5 of ready money and he was owed £120. The total value of the inventory was £316 1s 8d

By 1695 when another survey of the parish was written the Beeches was held by the heirs of George Complin and in 1689 Thomas Complin, as guardian of the heirs of George, had been ordered to repair the house.

There is now a 100-year gap in the history of the residents of the Beeches. The 1817 Parish Map shows George Boldero as the owner and Robert Plummer a shopkeeper as occupier. By 1842 when the Tithe Map was drawn it was owned and occupied by Robert Hayward Hatton. The names of later occupants are taken from Suffolk Directories –

  • 1888 – Frederick McNaught surgeon
  • 1896 – Alban Butler
  • 1912 – Malcolm Poignand MD and Ralph Poignand MB
  • 1916 – Ralph Poignand physician and surgeon
  • Malcolm Poignand died in 1913 aged 62 years and Ralph in 1951 aged 72 years. They are both buried in the churchyard extension (10)

Dr. and Mrs. Russell moved into the Beeches in 1952 and a surgery was held there until 1993. It became part of the Woolpit practice but the Walsham surgery was considered, by the Family Practitioner Committee, to be no longer viable. Dr. and Mrs. Russell continue to live there in retirement. By a strange coincidence both Ralph Poignand and Dr. Russell were educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and trained at St. Thomas Hospital, London.

Audrey McLaughlin
  1. From an initial report by Leigh Alston who surveyed The Beeches in 1999
  2. ‘A Suffolk Hundred in the year 1283’ edited by Edgar Powell CUP 1910
  3. Suffolk Record Office (Bury) IC 500/2/9-258
  4. Suffolk Record Office (Bury) IC 500/2/10-434
  5. Suffolk Record Office (Bury) IC 500/2/20-16
  6. Suffolk Record Office (Bury) IC 500/2/21-442
  7. Norfolk Record Office (Norwich) Pecke 17
  8. Norfolk Record Office (Norwich) Inv. 16/21
  9. Suffolk Record Office (Bury) IC 500/3/13-61
  10. Gravestones in Walsham le Willows 1999
  11. Court Rolls of Walsham and Walsham Church House – SRO(Bury) HA 504/1 Account Rolls of Walsham – SRO(Bury) HA 504/3

I am indebted to Jean Lock for transcriptions of the wills and inventories

NRO (Norwich) Inv. 16/21 – Inventory of John Robwood [Robhood] gent. 1599

An Inventory Indented of all the goodes and cattells of John Robwood of Wallsham of the willowes in the County of Suff. gent. made prised and vallewed the 17th April 1599 and in the 41st yeare of the Reigne of our Sovereigne Lady Elizabeth by the grace of god of England ffraunce & Ireland Queene defendres of the fayth etc. by Robert Clerke Thomas Crispe Thomas Page senior Stephen Vincent [Vynsent]

In the Hall
Imprimis a longe framed Table with a frame & a forme   10s 0d
Item a Counter doble leafed   5s 0d
Item a great standinge Cubbart   20s 0d
Item three buffett stooles and two little Stoles   2s 6d
Item one waynescote Chaier and an other Chayer   5s 0d
Item two Cobirons & two hakes   5s 0d
Item one little Chayer and fower Dornix Cushions     18d
Sum   49s 0d
In the Parlor
Item a posted bedstead the fetherbed with the furniture      
£3   0s 0d
Item one framed table and two joyned formes   7s 0d
Item one lyvery table & a great chayer   4s 4d
Item a great chiste one little and three window Cushions   3s 0d
Item two Carpett Cushions and one tronke   6s 8d
Sum £3 11s 0d (sic)
In the Parlor Chamber
Item one Livery bedstead with the testor a flocke bed with the bolster & a Dornix Coverlett   16s 0d
Item a deske a waynscote box and a round table   6s 8d
Item two Cobirons     6d
Sum   23s 2d
In the hall Chamber
Item a Corslett furnished a longe bowe & a Crosbowe and shaftes   40s 0d
Item a lyvery bedsted a fetherbedd and boulster a blancket & Coverlett   30s 0d
Item a great Chist a hamper a stoole a trundle bedsted a flocke bed a boulster and coverlett   14s 0d
Item two bordes a payer of Tressells and one tubb     4d
Sum £4 4s 4d
In the kitchen
Item two brasse pottes a possnett two skylettes & fyve kettells   40s 0d
Item a Caldren a Chaffer twoe Cullenders a chafindishe   10s 0d
Item a warminge pan 6 candellstyckes an ewer   10s 0d
Item 2 Speetes a cobiron alatch pan a fryinge pann   6s 8d
Sum £3 6s 4d (sic)
In the Backhowse
Item two wyne vessells two half barrells 4 fyrkens and nyne tubbs   10s 0d
Item flich tubbe a Cheese tubbe saltinge troughe and a kneadinge trough   3s 0d
Item a Collrake a peele a washinge stoole a salte box a forme     12d
Sum   14s 0d
In the Buttery
Item a beerstole a payer of quearnes two baskettes & 2 jugges   2s 6d
In the Cheese chamber
Item a table a tressell & a Coffer     12d
In the Dayry
Item Tenn mylke bolls two churnes six cheesefattes two dishes   9s 0d
Item a cheese presse 4 payes 6 keelers a Choppinge bord and other smale Tryfells   10s 0d
Sum   19s 0d
Lynnen & Napery
Item tenn payer of sheetes tenne pyllowbeares      
£3   6s 8d
Item tenn towells eight Table clothes & two dozen napkyns   50s 0d
Sum £5 16s 8d
Item two dowblett two payer of hose two payer of shooes and a jerkyn   46s 8d
Item 2 Clokes two hattes two payer of stockinges & agoune   53s 0d
Sum £4 19s 8d
Item one boll of sillver 14 spoones two pottes lypped with silver £7   0s 0d
Bord & Tymber
Item in bord & tymber andother lumber   40s 0d
Item one Bay geldinge   40s 0d
Item six mylch neates      
£14   0s 0d
Item two yerlinge   30s 0d
Item three shottes   20s 0d
Item certayne bookes   20s 0d
Sum £19 10s 0d
Item in pewter 80 lbs fower pewter peeces a bason and ewer   40s 0d
Sum total £58 17s 0d
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