History of Great and Little Thurlow

A short history of the two villages from Roman times to the present day, describing the historic buildings, the churches, and some notable families and village characters.

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So what do we know about these two small villages tucked away in the south west corner of Suffolk, within a few miles of the counties of Cambridgeshire and Essex? The two villages share the name of Thurlow: Great and Little Thurlow or, as they were once known, Thurlow Magna and Thurlow Parva. Interestingly, although their histories are inevitably closely linked, the villages have developed quite separate identities. Prosperity has swung from one village to the other during their long existence. They have always been part of big estates and as the fortunes and preferences of the estate owners have waxed and waned, so has the investment in the fabric of the villages. The result has been that both villages have survived largely intact with many historic buildings that tell their own stories. 

The name Thurlow may have been spelt Tritlawe and may refer to a mound or assembly hill or famous tumulus. One can easily imagine this if one stands by the windmill in Great Thurlow on a clear day. You can see for miles in any direction, so maybe Thurlow was a good place for a meeting in ancient times.

Roman and Saxon Times

More important for the early settlers, however, must have been the river, fast flowing and clear, with easy crossing points providing an ideal place to settle. Neighbouring Little Bradley has been the subject of archaeological excavation and there is strong evidence of pre-historic settlement and two clearly defined Romano-British occupation areas. So it would not be unreasonable to suppose that this area too has been inhabited since then, although the only real evidence of early occupation in Thurlow came in 1890, recorded by the Antiquarian Society in Cambridge. Mr Wootten, of Great Thurlow, discovered a pit containing amongst other things, pottery shards, a coin and a small figurine, all dating from the Roman period. Professor Hughes, speaking to the Society on March 2nd 1891, discussed the network of Roman roads in the area including the Via Devana which stretched from Wandlebury through Linton to Horseheath. He suggested that the Romans followed the valley from Haverhill to the Thurlows and on towards Newmarket. When he tried to find out if there were other traces of a camp or villa in the village the only clue was the small channel that ran down the hill near to his discovery which was known as the ‘Castle Ditch’.

There is still visible evidence of moated sites, which were a feature of Saxon defence systems against marauding tribes. Several of the local farms have remnants of such moats (the Glebe, the Island, Wadgells and Sowley Green), providing us with further evidence of such continuous occupation.

Norman and Medieval Times

The next historical record comes in the form of the Domesday book, compiled for William the Conqueror in 1086. The villages were owned separately: Great Thurlow was in the possession of Edred, a freewoman, and Little Thurlow was in the possession of Richard, son of the Earl of Gislebert. The entries in Domesday indicate that both Manors had churches and together had eight carucates of land (approximately 120 acres or that which could be ploughed with a team of eight oxen in a year), ploughteams, and a considerable acreage of land with a variety of livestock. At that time there were adjoining manors at Wadgells and Temple End.

This is the first reference to Temple End, which has long been assumed to be associated with the Knights Templar. However, the Order of the Knights Templar was not founded until 1118, when the knights travelled all over Europe as part of the Crusades, and the order was officially suppressed by the Pope in 1312. The Domesday reference to Temple End pre-dates this founding date by 32 years, so one wonders if there was another temple of a different age in Temple End? Nevertheless, the manor of Temple End owned by Rogers Le Bretun and Le Breteuil (who may have been one and the same) was later awarded to the Knights Templar, presumably to help fund their activities. Another archaeological record from the Cambridge Antiquarian Society in 1891 refers to remnants of buildings being uncovered at Temple End in the Ten Acre field, but no further excavations took place. The tithe map shows a Temple Field although this is different from the Ten Acre field. There is strong evidence too from the graffiti in Great Thurlow church and there are three brasses of knights and their families that date from the period and a large number of shields are inscribed in the arch of the Lady Chapel.

More information is available about subsequent Lords of the Manor including Sir Gilbert Peche in 1272, who had the right to hold a fair and market ‘for sheep and toys [a kind of wool]’ here in October. The earliest reference to hunting comes at that time when Gilbert claimed free warren to hunt all furred and feathered animals, except deer and boar. Sir Gilbert Peche was by all accounts a colourful character, and he was tried for ‘taking Master John de Bousser, Archdeacon of Essex at Wroting Talworth by force and detaining him in prison in Gilbert’s manor’.

At about this time a hospital was founded in Great Thurlow and was linked to the hospital at Hautpays in France and later to the church of All Saints in 1291. Edward IV in 1463 included the Hospital of St James, Great Thurlow in the numerous endowments of Kings College, Cambridge. No records of the location exist.

Records exist to show who lived in the villages during this period:
Villato de Thrillowe Magna

Gilberto Pecche Nicholao Poyere Johanne Mauueysin
Matilda Draweswerd Christina Randolf Alicia Robethonn
Johanne de Snichlegh Gilberto Gooche Rogero Sutore
Alicia Soutere Alexandreo Danbour Johanne Lomer
Johanne de Ronhey Stephano de Gretton Alicia Goding
Roberto Raunfrey Johanne Erl Johanne le Barbour
Alfredo Abraham Bartho. Wyberd

Villato de Thrillowe Parua

Willmo de Hanbache Martino at Grene Alexandro de Walpole
Robert le Lord Willmo de Gretton Rogero Bercare
Alano filio Gilberti Roberto Bertelot Rogero de Barkere
Iuone atte Cros Willmo de Bradeleye Roberto att Bregge
Roberto de Swaffham Johanne le Warde Johanne Dernel
Waltero atte Bregge Johanne de Dytton capellano Waltero Berard

and in 1524 in Great Thurlow:

John Bladwell Thomas Carre Thomas Meier
Edward Meller John Meier John Marchall
Robert Knat and a fragment of the remaining document shows four remaining surnames, Loveday, Demok, Wal…yng and Petite

and in Little Thurlow:

William Chirch Thomas Long Thomas Rich William Chirch jun
Ralf Brian Thomas Hallum John Loder John Umfrey
John Dike Robert Randolf John Jerveis William Copcy
Thomas Kempe John Chapleyn John Long Roger Wiknegh
John Isaak Thomas Owres John Barker William Page
John Stamager Thomas Priour John Aldours Ralf Clerke
Nicholaus Clerke Robert Clerke William Baret Thomas Umfrey Simon Page Robert Hallum John Swift John Fissher
Nicholas Cowper

The 1674 hearth tax returns reveal some more familiar names:

Thurlow Magna

Mr Holmes Ro Marsh Richard Man Mrs Mayes
Phill Flenner Jo Mills Jo Barnes Mr Jagard
Fitches Thomas Deekes Abram Fittiles Boyton Webb
Thomas Candler Edward Mowle Tompson Widow Glascocke
Sve Hemstead Jo Pratt Thomas Ewes Doctor Kinge
William Farrowe Ro Bennett Mr Butcher Jo Worledge
Jo Cocke Jo Finche Widow Read Widow Luke
Jo Knights Jo Livermore

Hearth taxes were certified for Callice, Wisbech, Martin, Adkins, Hodskin and Webb.

Thurlow Parva

Mr Ayres Sam Lynton Mr Hill Widow Farrow
Mr Curtis Widow Stowe Mr Person Jo Barton
Jer Mayes Thomas Poulsey James Cocke Ro Smyth
Robert Martin Fr Waever George Willis Thomas Sammond
Mr Owen Jo Calton Ambrose Fish Mr Killingbancke
George Rowles George Hamont William Wilson Jo Pollard
Mary Hill

Hearth taxes were certified for Challis, Wisbitch, Bridges, Delleson, Richard Nugin, Webb, Mylls, Hedge, Adkin and Thurston.

The churches

The two buildings in the village that have survived through the centuries are, of course, the churches of St Peter in Little Thurlow and All Saints in Great Thurlow. The earliest reference is in Domesday and the first recorded priest assigned to Little Thurlow was Rob. Fitzwalter in 1279. The fonts in both churches are about eight hundred years old. The graffiti in Great Thurlow church depict archers practising with long bows which were used to great effect in the Battle of Agincourt in 1425. Other graffiti include music notation, a drawing of a decorated period window, gaming boards, wool shears, a marionette and a depiction of Moses transforming the rod into a snake. The shields inscribed into the arch of the Lady Chapel seem to indicate that the chapel may have been used for some kind of ceremony, possibly connected with the order of knighthood.

Village churches encapsulate the continuity and change in the life of a village, and as we look at the churches as they are now it is easy to assume that it has always been the same; but not so. The churches have changed tremendously through the years. The present fonts probably once graced small Norman naves, similar to the very early nave at Little Bradley. In Little Thurlow church we can tell that extensive building work took place in the thirteenth century, by the three piscinae which exist. The double drain piscina (one side was used for the priest to wash his hands and the other to wash the sacramental vessels) in the chancel can be dated to around 1300. The other two in the aisles prove the existence of secondary altars.

The new large windows inserted in the 14th century would have lit an interior rich in colour, the walls painted, the glass itself probably stained, and the pictures providing a comprehensible illustration to a largely illiterate population. A rood screen would have separated the chancel, which was the priest’s church, from the nave, which was the people’s church. The huge wooden screen with a large crucifix (the rood), maybe flanked by the Virgin Mary and St John, would have dominated the interior in the 15th and early 16th centuries, the only remnant now being the base, stencilled with simple coloured flowers. Many rood screens had a loft, accessed by a small winding stair (which in the case of the church in Little Thurlow is only 15´´ wide), from which musicians played their instruments. Evidence of this period comes also from the ornamental brasses that can be found in both churches, providing wonderful examples of the dress and armour of the time.

Edward VI (1537 – 1553) decreed that such decorations should be removed, so images were torn down and the rood screens were dismantled, although some were re-instated when Mary, a staunch Catholic, came to the throne in 1553. Her reign was short, and Elizabeth I acceded to the throne in 1558, decreeing that England should become a stable Protestant nation. She wanted a standard religion, and indeed the version of her Prayer book (originally printed in six languages by John Daye of Little Bradley) is still used today. The damage to the interior decoration of the churches had been done, the vibrant colours were painted over and much of the ornate carving disappeared.

Further desecration took place during the Puritan uprising in 1649 when Cromwell strove to remove all signs of idolatry from the church. The church became a preaching house with the emphasis on the pulpit, not the altar, and pews were introduced with the most ornate pews for the members of the big house. St Peter’s is a good example, with the large box pew in the chancel. The Soame family enlarged the church to accommodate the enormous memorial to Sir Stephen Soame, which comprises recumbent alabaster effigies of Sir Stephen and his wife and the kneeling figures of his family. It is likely that the family also inserted the clerestory windows and the altar rails during the 1600’s.

In common with countless other country churches, the present interiors of both churches have been much restored in the later centuries. All Saints was restored in 1741 by the Vernon family (who also owned estates in Hundon) and again in 1880. Holdich of London built the organ in 1782 and it was again restored in 1981. The present interiors owe more to these restorations than any other age and St Peter’s was ‘new pewed ‘ in 1843 when the choir stalls were installed. The oak pulpit is dated 1876 and probably replaced a much more ornate affair, although the brass chandelier is much earlier and dates from 1720, as does the 18th century sundial on the south face of the tower.

In addition, the church has several interesting memorial tablets referring to the Soame family, including one referring to a family member of Belle Garden in Tobago, a reflection of the far-flung business interests of the family. Others are memorials to previous incumbents of the living, but one tucked away in the tower offers a salutary warning to us all.

Beneathhis fav’rite Bell poor Andrew lies
No pitying Naiade heard his dying cries
When in the Stour he fell, His Spirit rose
To brighter Climes and left this World of woes
Paues Ringer, Pause for serious thought on vast Eternity,
Perhaps thy God this night may claim
The forfeit Life of thee.

The Soame family

The major influence on the villages came in the late 16th century, a development which was to dominate the villages for the next three centuries. A man named Thomas Soame came to the area in 1582, having married Anne, daughter of Francis Knighton of Little Bradley. Correction: Stephen Soame bought his estate in Thurlow in 1582, Thomas Soame having moved to Little Bradley in the very early 1540s. Ann, who was the niece and heiress of Francis Knighton, had been married previously to Richard Le Hunt who died in 1540.  Thomas and Ann must have married quickly; Stephen their second son being born about 1544.  While Stephen made his fortune in London, Thomas, Stephen’s older brother, stayed on the Soame Little Bradley holding until his burial in the church in 1606.  Three more Soame generations followed in the family house, now the Maltings and land until it was sold in 1703.They were to found a dynasty that endured for the next three centuries, and influenced the fabric of the villages to the extent that many of the historic buildings that make the villages so attractive are testaments to their wealth and influence. There is little information concerning the Lords of the Great Thurlow Manor between 1613 and 1715 so it seems likely that the villages were run as one. Similarly, the Day Book referred to later, includes references to both villages indicating that they were seen at that time as one entity.

Extensive records do exist about this family, and their influence extends far beyond this estate. Their wealth was based not only on their farming interests, but also in later years on coal mining, property and foreign investments. They owned land in Norfolk, Suffolk, Warwickshire and Yorkshire. They had a house in Hatton Garden and owned land in London itself, and eventually had land and interests in Tobago. Thomas’ son was to become Sir Stephen Soame, the Lord Mayor of London and Lord of the Staple, which means he sat on the Wool Sack. This curious term meant that he was in a position to oversee all the imports and exports in and out of London, a prime position from which to make profitable investments. The family were also very far sighted and the records show that they were heavily involved in drainage and fresh water projects in the centre of London and later in the Fenlands of Cambridgeshire. It was they who commissioned Vermuyden to prepare plans to drain the Fens.

Sir Stephen Soame was not a man to hide his wealth. He restored and reglazed the great north window in St Paul’s Cathedral, renovated the roof of the Grocers’ Hall in London and left money in perpetuity for the poor. He commissioned the building of a magnificent mansion at Little Thurlow with extensive formal gardens, ponds and a splendid library. Sadly, the original house burned down in 1809, but sketches and etchings of it still exist. Later family members commissioned a beautifully painted map of his lands in the area which clearly shows many of the houses that exist to this day, and a few that have long since disappeared. The map also shows the extensive grounds and the comparative size of the mansion itself.

In addition, Soame ordered almshouses to be built for ‘eight single poor persons of 64 years of honest life and conversation’ overseen by an usher. Such beneficence came with strings attached and the occupants were required to attend church services twice on Sunday and every Holy Day and working day when divine service was read, and if they did not their pension of 14 old pence per week was to be forfeited and dispensed between the rest of the inhabitants! The almsfolk should be given eight faggots per year and every two years they should have a gown of ‘some northern black cloth or some other decent or seemly colour which shall cost 5s a yard’. He also decreed that a school be built for the male children of Thurlow and the surrounding villages and similar strong conditions were imposed: ‘such scholars as shall once be put to this school shall not upon any high occasion or idle business as gleaning and such like take them from school and after send them thither again.’

Manor Farm was also built at approximately the same time, and may have been the farm that served the mansion. Many of the other houses in the village street also date from this period, and it seems the Soame family kept the village in good repair, as records exist for repairs and extensions to the Cock Inn and other houses. Seventeenth century houses in Great Thurlow have survived, but are fewer in number. The Rose and Crown was a favourite meeting place and records in the Parish Book reveal that decisions concerning the care of villagers were made at meetings held there. Church Farm, the Hawthorns and several other cottages and the wonderful aisled barn next to the church reveal that the village continued to be cared for during this period. However, it was from the late eighteenth century onwards that Great Thurlow was to receive more attention.

Sadly, the great mansion burnt down on the 23rd January 1809, and the present house was completed on June 26th 1849.

The Smith family of Great Thurlow

The Rt. Hon. W.H.Smith M.P. became Lord of the Manor in Great Thurlow 1885. He was the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Leader of the House of Commons and the First Lord of the Treasury. He was also the founder of the newspaper distributing chain known now as W.H.Smith’s. The magazine ‘Punch’ bestowed on him the nickname ‘Old Morality’ as a mark of the esteem in which he was held by all parties in the House of Commons. When he died the estate passed to his soon W.F.D. Smith. It seems likely that it was at this time that Great Thurlow Hall was restored. It would seem possible that the present house either stands on the site of an earlier one or the present house has earlier origins.

Other Georgian houses appeared in Great Thurlow at about this time: the Rectory, Hill House and later the Red House. The Reading Room was built in 1903 and the clock was named the Lady Ester after the wife of W. F. Smith. The School (now the Estate Office) was built in 1873, followed by School Terrace in 1882 . The Meeting House was built in 1836 and was later enlarged in 1853 as a Congregational Chapel. Melton House made its appearance following the Great Exhibition in 1851 from whence it was bought as an exhibit.

Great Thurlow also boasted two public houses The Queen’s Head (now the house adjacent to the garage) and The Rose and Crown.

Other benefactors

Another contemporary figure was John Daye, parson of Little Thurlow, whose last will and testament was published on 28 September 1627. It seems that he was a member of the enormous Daye family (26 children!) of neighbouring Little Bradley, and his father John Daye (d. 1584) was one of the first printers and Master of the Stationers’ Company. John Daye was famous as the first printer to print music and to use an Anglo Saxon type face. His son, John Daye, was a Bachelor of Divinity at Oriel College, Oxford, and his will describes his writing on the psalms and the one hundred and ninety lectures he had delivered on the subject. He also decreed that every householder in the village be given a copy of his own book, Daye’s Descant on David’s Psalms.

Eighteenth century daily life

It is fortunate that records also exist for the daily life of the parish for this period. The Manor Court Rolls for Great Thurlow and the Parish Book also survive, providing insight into the misdemeanours of the villagers, as well as the payments to less fortunate parishioners. Ann Abbot, in 1757, appeared to have ploughed up some of the Common field as far as the Castle Ditch and was ordered to seed it for grazing before the 1st August. In 1791, records show payments for nursing care, provision and mending of clothes and the purchase of shoes. The Parish Book also contains details of the arrangements that were made for the funerals of parishioners and the vigils that were set up in advance of the burial. Indications are that villagers then as now lived to a ripe old age: in 1710 records show that John Mills aged 82 years died, having been clerk of the Parish of Little Thurlow for about 50 years; and in 1714 Mary Wisbitch died on the 14th May, aged 86 years.

Extracts from the Day Book, Great Thurlow, 1791

1 May Give the widow Mitson 6d Extrodney being ill 0 6d
Give Skiltons wife on account of her child being ill 0 6d
A journey to Ketton to Dr Syers concerning the Disturbance at Peper Hall 1s 6d
28 April A journey to Ketton with John Parmenter and give him one shilling and
paid him for his exammynation 2s 0d
30 May For fetching Widow Tilsons wood 4s 0d
31 May Give John Parmenter from where he came from to bear his expenses back 11s 6d
26 June Paid Dame Burlin for nursing Mitsons wife 4s 0d
2 July Paid Master Collins for a pair of bretches of Wm Newman 7s 6d
16 July Paid Master Collins for mending of the bretches of Wm Newman 1s 6d
July Give to Lydia Scotcher to help bye pair of shoes for her child 1s 0d
7 July Paid Thos Maleling for shaven of Thos Rowlerson half a year 5s 0d
29 October Paid Dame Rowlerson for nursing Guymers wife 4s 0d
6 November Give Thomas Martin for a doctors bill 10s 6d
13 December Paid for a waistcoat for the boy Sparbes 3s 9d
January 1793 Vestry Meeting at the Crown 13s 9d
31 March Mr Jones a bill paid Jonas for his horse to bury 5s 0d
October Burying Brands child 4s 0d
For a coffin 3s 6d
27 October Paid for a waistcoat for the boy Rowlerson 5s 0d
Smock frock 4s 6d

The Cock Inn

The building today gives the appearance of a two-storied late Georgian establishment, with hood-moulded windows and other details in the gothic style. In fact, this all results from a drastic remodelling of a rather low building which had a centre range and two cross wings, with first floor rooms in the roof space. A stud now plastered over is said to have the date 1614, which is consistent with its building style. Some of the rafters and other timbers in the present roof come from a medieval structure and may indicate that the hall is earlier. However, the walls were raised and the roof over most of the Cock was rebuilt in the eighteenth century.

The earliest documentation concerning the Cock dates from 1674, when on the May 8th of that year William Soame esquire agreed to lease the messuage called the Cock Inn to Robert Butcher of Little Thurlow. Included with the inn were a close on the back side of the house, and two little pightles lying in the Westfield. The lease was to run for twelve months from Michaelmas 1674 at a rent of £11. An addition to this document extends the lease to 9 years. Robert Butcher did not live to see out his lease as he was buried in 1681. It seems likely that he was succeeded at the Cock by John Millington and thereafter by Mary Millington. Her probate inventory lists 20 hogsheads full of beer valued at £35, another 20 empty hogsheads and malt to use for brewing.

The next known tenant occurs in 1784 when the Reverend Henry Soame let it for 9 years to a baker called William Osborne. The next reference appears in 1841 when Thomas Sparrow was shown in the census return as living at the Cock with his wife Ann and two children and two servants. Ten years later the innkeeper was 34-year old William Sparrow, son of Thomas. By 1852 the tenancy had transferred to Thomas Rowling, thereafter to Ambrose Rowling in 1869 until 1888 when it was leased to the brewery of Greene King with the right to sub-let. Subsequent landlords included George Brown, Charles Nelson, Albert Bradnam, and Frank Rayner. In 1912 the innkeeper was John Rowlinson and three members of his family followed him into the trade, the last leaving in 1971. The inn was sold to Greene King Breweries in 1934.

The Olde School

The Olde School is another fascinating remnant of the Soame dynasty. Used as a school until the 19th century, it was sold by the Charity Commissioners to Richard Pettett Day in 1885. He was the shop keeper who ran a village shop in what is now Corner Cottage, opposite the Olde School. It seems likely that Richard is another descendant of the Daye family of Little Bradley.

The Foundation for the School was part of the original will of Sir Stephen Soame and was limited to the education of boys. It was his intention that the boys should be taught English and Latin and cyphering and that they should be encouraged to go on to Oxford or Cambridge University or into apprenticeships. The whole of the ground floor of the original building is devoted to the school room, and is so designed that it is not possible to see out of the windows from a sitting position. A large podium still remains, as does a large grandfather clock. The role of school master was held for fifty years in the eighteenth century by Thomas Crick, who taught upwards of 880 scholars in his time. His descendants, also Thomas and later Frederick, became rectors in the parish during the 1800s.

The Charity Commissioners became involved in overseeing the running of the Foundation and the memorandum reproduced below re-states some of the requirements of the original terms of the will. It seems that the regulation of the Charity faltered during the eighteen hundreds and a new National School was built to replace it in 1873 and the original building was sold.

Memorandum concerning the Thurlow School

That one in each family of the peasantry is to be admitted upon the establishment or
foundation in the Parish of Little Thurlow as Free Pupils
Also as vacancies occur in The School the next in seniority is to succeed him of the
Also that each scholar is to remain for the space of three years only as Free Schools
Also that no boy is to be admitted into the School upon the Foundation until he can read a page in the Bible
Also The Master of the School to have power of reporting any irregularity of any of
the Free Boys to the Clergyman or Church wardens in order that they may be removed
Also that the parents of the Free Boys are not to interfere with the boys or the Master
of the School in any way
Also that the Master do inculcate good behaviour to the boys out of School and that
they are not to be hallowing or hooting in the Street or any other riotous conduct
Also that the parents of the Free boys do attend to this or they will be removed from
the school
Also applications for admission of boys upon this foundation during the absence of
General Stevenson to be made to the Clergymen of the Parish or to the
churchwardens for the time being.
N.B. All the fixtures to the School appertain to the School
Also that no person can have their child or children educated upon the foundation
as free scholars but the peasants or Paupers who cannot afford to pay for their education
These instructions are taken by order of General Stevenson in the presence of Mr
James Osborne, for further regulations of The Little Thurlow School to which other
instructions may be added if found necessary
January the 19th, 1826 JOHN FRENCH

Nineteenth century

The nineteenth century brought a change in the fortunes of the Soame family. Their mansion house was burnt down in 1809, successive generations of Soames had not proved themselves as astute in business and the family fortunes began to dwindle. The South Sea Bubble had taken its toll and the family presence was left to spinster sisters. Another replacement mansion house was built in 1847, but the sisters quarrelled about who should inherit it. In the aftermath of their deaths, the house was sold to pay the death duties of another branch of the family and the Soame family connection with the village died.

It was in this period that Great Thurlow benefited from the investment of the Vernon and Smith families and new Georgian and later Victorian houses described earlier appeared. Religion and education made their mark. The Congregational Chapel has been a bakery and is now a private house, but the small graveyard can still be seen near the main road.

The National Schools were built in both villages to replace The Olde School. Little Thurlow School had an average attendance in 1900 of 53. This was replaced in 1967 by the new school that has a current roll of 65 children.

There were many separate farms in the villages at one time and some of the house names indicate their origins. These include Street Farm, Temple End Farm, Church Farm, Goldings, Dowsetts, Over Green Farm and Manor Farm (the agricultural land from which of which is now subsumed into the Vestey estate).

The corner in Great Thurlow by the Rose and Crown was once a hive of industry. An early postcard shows the name of Woottens Brewery on the name plate above the door of the pub. The buildings where the garage now stands housed a saddlery where Frank Haylock the inn keeper made and repaired harness. The backroom of the pub held a wonderful selection of sweets. There was also a slaughterhouse behind the Red House which was a butcher’s shop. The village shop has been there for many years although the merchandise has changed. Drapery goods were once sold there as well as almost everything else! The Hawthorns was once a bakery.

Further down The Street towards Little Thurlow, Larkspur Cottage was home to the shoe mender and Hallside was home to the watch mender. The Limes became three cottages, one of which housed the district nurse. May Cottage was a bakery and sweet shop. Trudgetts (then two houses) was a bakery and post office and had a wheelwright’s shop next door. Mungo Lodge had a dance hall and the blacksmith shop on Pound Green has completely disappeared. The two windmills in Little Thurlow can no longer be seen and the only hints left are the names of the houses Mill House and Mill View. The base of the windmill has survived but there is no evidence left of the mill that once stood at the top of Almshouse Hill. Great Thurlow windmill has been restored and stands proudly at the top of Dowsetts Hill. The threshing machine at Manor Farm and many of the farm buildings have vanished and those left have been transformed into luxury barn conversions. The original almshouses were sold and two flint cottages in the middle of the village were given as replacement almshouses, and have just been sold again.

In its heyday the villages boasted an impressive array of tradespeople. There were four pubs: the present Cock Inn, the Rose and Crown, the Queen’s Head and the Red Lion in Little Thurlow Green. Two general stores, the present one in Great Thurlow and what is now known as Corner Cottage in Little Thurlow, two saddleries and post office, a boot maker, a carpenter, a watch mender, several bakeries, sweet shops, a wheelwright, a blacksmith’s shop, a police house and three windmills. Milk was obtainable from Manor Farm and in Great Thurlow there was a brewery, a slaughter house and a butcher shop. A carrier passed through the village daily and within living memory it was possible to catch a bus everyday to London! The village was a busy place, with much activity revolving around horses: for example, a thriving blacksmith’s shop near Pound Green, and stack yards full of both hay and straw stacks supplying food and bedding for the horses and thatching materials. There was also a milking herd in the village and people purchased their milk from Manor Farm. There was a barber’s in Little Thurlow Green and an undertaker’s in Church Road. Many of the allotments in the village were regularly tended. Nearly all the cottages were thatched and many of them were homes to much bigger families than is the case now.

Who then actually lived in the villages at different times? White’s Directory in 1844 provides us with the following lists:

Great Thurlow

George Brand Poulterer George Bridgman Maltster
Samuel Bridgeman Blacksmith John Chapman Wheelwright
John Kettle Tailor Robert Malkin Gentleman
Robert Farrow Beerhouse keeper Thomas Gardner Miller/ Maltster
James Daniels Grocer & Draper Thomas Rollinson Saddler
Richard Rose Victualler Crown John Payne Bricklayer
Rev William Selbie Independent Samuel Talbot Baker
William Snazell Joiner, Builder and Farmer
Samuel; Thompson Joiner Rev William Wayman Vicar
Samuel Woolard Shoemaker


George |Bridgeman
George Golding
Samual Jonas West End
James Pearl Harlica
Rands Pearl Wadgells
Lucy and Christopher Traylen Sowley Green
Barsham Wakelin West End

Little Thurlow

Benjamin Baker Surgeon Benjamin Betts Wheelwright
Mr Simon Choat Mr Rd Collins
Rev F. Crick Curate James Daniels Grocer and draper
Joseph Dearsley Corn miller Hy Farrow Farrier
John French School master Joshua Lee Turner and shovel maker
Joseph Smith Tailor Ezra Neave Collar and harness maker
George Trudgett Baker John Sergeant Beerhouse keeper
James Wakelin Blacksmith John Webb Butcher
Henry Webb Shoe maker Joseph Fitch Shoe maker
Thomas Sparrow Victualler Cock
Wm Vince Grocer and draper

Samuel Bailey Mary Howard Alice Osborne William Osborne
John Goodchild Capt. J. Dench

Village people

Villages are not just collections of houses. It is the people who live in the villages that give them their identity. The Thurlows have inevitably had their fair share of characters and some of the stories that follow have passed into the folklore that is the village.

Millie Talbot (Amelia Hayes)

Millie was the daughter of the labourer from Barnardiston called John Mayes and his wife Elizabeth Mary Carter. Millie lived until 1927 and had a reputation as a healer. It is thought that she was a gypsy child and accordingly she had a close association with the gypsies all her life. It is reputed that the gypsies put a special friendship mark on Millie’s door. Millie lived in the house next to the shop near to Crown Hill. Millie married George Talbot and had 13 children, 8 of whom survived. Some of her gypsy cures included: curing coughs, bronchitis and chest troubles by rubbing hedgehog fat on your chest, and curing chilblains by placing your feet in a bowl of your own urine. As well as being known as a healer or a whit witch, she also acted as the village midwife. Her other talents included swarming bees by collecting them in a container as she banged a kettle on a pan. She also kept a pet jackdaw on a string in the garden that used to peck the legs of the children as they came to draw water from the village pump which was situated in her garden.

Elizabeth Webb

Elizabeth Webb is the author of two poems about Thurlow that appear in the village exhibition. These pieces describe eloquently the pace and kind of peaceful life that she enjoyed when she lived in the village. She ran a small private school from the house that is now known as Wheatsheaf Cottage. Then it was known as the Manse and she taught Elizabeth Frink and members of the Ryder family, amongst others.

Mrs Pemberton Barnes (Mother Barnes)

Mungo Lodge was her home and she also owned all the Mill property. She also owned a Dance Hall that was situated in her garden. She was an eccentric character who walked about with a ‘spud’ – a narrow bladed spade. She used to organise an outing for the children of the village every year. She would hire a coach from Longs of West Wratting and it would be parked alongside the lime trees opposite her house and she would stand by the door and hand the children each a sixpence as they clambered aboard for the trip to Clacton-on sea. She also organised trips to Newmarket with a hamper and once again a sixpence to spend in Woolworths at Eastertime.

Sue Ryder in her autobiography describes her early life at Great Thurlow and includes some lively anecdotes concerning Mrs Barnes. Mrs Barnes organised a trip to the Derby and handed Mrs Ryder a large bunch of red, white and blue flowers with an instruction to present them to Queen Mary. The absence of a funeral bier for the Thurlows also taxed her so she insisted that one should be constructed and that the bier, covered in the Union Jack, should process through the village, followed by a service in Little Thurlow Church. Eight hymns were then sung in quick succession and Mrs Barnes and the exhausted choristers headed for home.

The dance hall was also used for election meetings and at one Mrs Barnes appeared bearing ‘a very heavy box of apples which she then proceeded to throw thick and fast at the party on the platform’.

The Smith Family

One of the families known to have been in Little Thurlow for almost 200 years is the Smiths, and although the Smith name itself can no longer be found, direct descendants still live in the village. Joseph Smith and his wife Elizabeth were both born in 1802 and were married in 1826. They had four sons and three daughters, and in the 1861 census they were to be found living at Overgreen Farm (in the area behind Tara in Little Thurlow Green). Two of their sons were recorded as being agricultural labourers like their father, although their eldest son William, born in 1829, proved to be more adventurous, and emigrated to South Australia in 1854. Their youngest daughter Mary left the village to go into service.

Their son John Smith (born in 1839) spent all his life in Little Thurlow, marrying Eliza in 1858. They lived at Temple End and had four sons and two daughters. John was widowed when his youngest daughter (Kate) was born. In later life he lived at Locks Cottage, where two of his grandchildren were born to his daughter Harriet. All of the children born to Eliza and John are buried in Little Thurlow churchyard and extension, except William, the eldest, who left the village to work in the brewing trade in Burton-on-Trent.

John and Eliza’s second son Thomas was born in 1861, was married to Jessie, and was a blacksmith working in the smithy that stood in the Square opposite Driftside. His daughter Eliza married Dick Sargent, who for years was the village builder and undertaker, and their son Fred continued in the family business at Brookside until the 1970s. Fred died in 1993.

Tom and Jessie ended their days in the middle almshouse, next to brother John, who had lived previously next to his sister Kate, in cottages that have long since disappeared but which were alongside Mill View. Kate married Jerry Wright, and they were the parents of Dora Rowlinson, who lived in Porch Cottage. Their son (Herbert) spent all his working life working at Manor Farm. Dora’s grandson, Paul Atherton, is the sixth generation to live in the village, and he carries on the unbroken tradition of working the land.

John and Eliza’s daughter, Harriet Smith, born in 1866, married Charles Webb from Great Bradley, and made her home in Little Thurlow Green, first in the Old Thatched Cottage, and later at Green Farm Cottages (now one half of Blackbirds Cottage). They had four sons and four daughters. Three sons served in France in the 1914-18 War. Sergeant William John Webb was killed, but Frederick and Harry, who was a signaller, returned home from the front, as they were needed to work on the ploughing engines. They and their father Charles were among the first in the area to work these engines. Fred left Little Thurlow to drive one of the first steam lorries for ‘His Master’s Voice’ Record Company in Hayes, Middlesex. The four daughters and the youngest son all went to London to work in service.

Harry stayed and married Winifred Smith (no relation) of Withersfield in 1924, and they lived with Charles, a widower, at Green Farm Cottages, where they had three daughters and two sons. Harry spent his working life on the land at Little Bradley, Church Farm, Little Thurlow and later on the Thurlow estate. Living in a tied cottage meant a move to 147 The Green, now Fair Rig, for the job at Church Farm. After a further four years, they moved to 2 Council Houses, before in 1953 becoming landlord and landlady of the Red Lion, now the Old Inn. After ten years they made their final move to Rose Cottage in Little Thurlow. Their daughter, Iris Eley (née Webb) is the only remaining member of this branch of the family still to live in the village.

John and Eliza’s son Fred (born in 1869) married Jane and raised ten children in the Thatched Cottage by the almshouses on the Bradley Road. His son, another William (born in 1900), spent all his life working at Manor Farm for the Tilbrook family. Bill and his wife Louie lived at Locks Cottage, where his father had once lived. Bill was a real character, who rang the church bells, kept the boiler going, took the collection (singing on his way), dug graves and kept everything neat and tidy.

Four generations of the Eley family following the maternal line have lived in Little Thurlow. Bill, Derrick and Eileen (Rooks) are Thurlow -born, as was their mother Alice (née Dearsley). Their father, Harry, was the son of Elizabeth and Arthur, who lived in the Square (now 116b). Harry served in the 1914-18 War winning a medal for bravery in the field, and he received a cup for the best pair of horses in the Royal Field Artillery. Sadly, his life was shortened as a result of the gas attacks in that war. Eileen served for four years in the Second World War, finishing as a corporal.

The Dearsley family had a long connection with the Little Thurlow Post Office. Martha Dearsley, née Rogers, ran it when it was situated in what is now Trudgetts. This business later moved to 122a The Street, when the postmaster was Alec Sadler who was married to Martha’s daughter Bessie. They ran the Post Office until it closed in the late 60’s. Martha’s father William Rogers was the post master before this.

Derrick and Eileen were both involved in the work of the Post Office in their time. Derrick used to deliver telegrams as far afield as East Green in Great Bradley. He once accidentally dropped the keys inside the post box when collecting the day’s mail, much to his uncle’s disgust. Eileen, too, did her stint by delivering mail for eight years until the early 50s.

The Rowlinson Family

John Rowlinson, grandfather of Jack Rowlinson who lives with his wife Doris at “Driftside”, took over the “Cock Inn” in 1912. The “Cock” then remained with a succession of Rowlinsons until 1971. John was succeeded by his brother (Jack’s Uncle Orris), then by Jack’s father John in 1922 whose eldest son Sydney followed him from 1949 to 1971.

The second John Rowlinson had seven children. Sadly, their eldest daughter Edna Smith was killed in a road accident involving an army vehicle in 1941.

John (II) farmed the fields at the rear of the “Cock Inn”, with stock including pigs and chickens. He was also a haulage contractor for West Suffolk County Council, using three horses and carts at first, then adding two lorries for his work on the roads.

John also did quite a lot of taxi work using the various cars he owned during his years at the “Cock”. Doris and Jack have records of the taxi service from 1924 including the charges, which were quite expensive. These include many journeys by the vicar, various families and well-known people, usually to the station, and also the Misses Day. There were very few cars around at this time and it is thought that his was the only car in Thurlow at one period.

Adrian Taylor recalls the story that one evening in the 1920’s he had to go to meet a train in Haverhill and went to see if he had enough petrol in the Tin Lizzie. There was of course no petrol gauge in his car, so John took the usual means of light in those days – a candle- but as you may have guessed, while directing the light so he could see in the petrol tank, the candle fell out of the holder into the tank and blew up the car.

Jack tells the story of Brigadier Frink always bringing two men and two horses home when he came on leave during the war. These were lodged and stabled at the “Cock”. Brigadier Frink also owned and rode a retired racehorse, which Jack used to exercise for him.

Jack’s wife Doris was the daughter of the village policeman, Tom Hart, before she married. She has memories of the various families who ran the village shop. Jack remembers the Purkis family of whom Doris only has vague memories.

The Brown Family

The Brown family must have been around in the early to mid 1930s. Mr. Brown appeared as a very mysterious man, always dressed in dark clothes, wearing heavy rimmed spectacles. Mrs. Brown was a very polite, educated and talented lady, a very good pianist and singer. Apparently over-generous when serving customers, she had been known to give money back.

Mr. Brown was terrifying to children, as they always peered through the glass door to see if he was about or was there alone before entering the shop for errands. He was apparently a commercial traveller who would disappear for weeks and his wife would be unaware of his whereabouts. Mrs. Brown made frequent visits the local police station complaining of ill treatment by her husband, although it seems it was a love/hate relationship, as on many visits they were quite happy together! They were not in Thurlow for many years. It was reported that Mrs. Brown committed suicide after they left Thurlow; apparently she put her head in the gas oven.

The Browns were followed by Mr. and Mrs. Hale. Mr. Hale was quite a character (very outspoken) and the correct approach was most important when making a purchase. It was fatal to say, “Have you got a certain item?” His reply would be, “Mr. Hale has got everything”. This being wartime we didn’t always get what we wanted!

Mr. Hale and his son made excellent bread and pork pies. Jack remembers Mr. Hale letting Fred (his son) deliver the bread with a pony and trap around Cowlinge and Bradley East Green areas. Fred did the local deliveries on a trade bicycle.

In later years Mr. Hale’s eldest son took over the business and kept the shop open for a number of years. Sadly, after Ernest Hale left it ceased to remain a shop.

The Day Family

“Here lies the Daye that darkness could not blind…” is the beginning of a memorial inscription in Little Bradley church to John Daye, the famous printer (he printed Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and was one of the first English music printers). He was born in Dunwich in 1522 and died on his way to Little Bradley in 1584.

His second wife was Alice Le Hunt, by whom he had 13 children, but we only know about two of them: Lionel Daye who was provost of Eton and John Daye who was vicar of Little Thurlow from 1622 to 1627. According to the family bible, the Day family are descended from John Daye and Alice Le Hunt.
Further records reveal that William Day lived in Rectory House, Great Bradley with his wife Joanna Seeley Day (née Pettett). He was born in 1788, married in 1813 and died in 1873. His fourth son, Richard Pettett Day, became the shop keeper in Little Thurlow, running a drapers and general store where Corner Cottage is now. In 1853 Richard married his first cousin Mary-Anne Day from Winteringham in Huntingdonshire. They had eight children, four sons and four daughters. The eldest son James emigrated to Australia, where he was murdered on his way back home from the bank on April 27th 1906. The second son William Osborne moved to Leicestershire and married Louisa Jane Goodacre; Thomas Day remained at home, dying at the age of forty seven; John the third son died from influenza at the age of twenty whilst studying at Oxford to enter the church. Tamar, Joanna and Elizabeth all became governesses and returned to Thurlow in their later years. Agnes, the youngest daughter, became a governess for a short time and then during the First World War was a nurse at the military hospital at Netley in Hampshire. She was one of the first physiotherapists!

The Atherton family

One of the best-known families in Great Thurlow was the Atherton family. The family was large and Frederick and Kathleen Atherton had fifteen children, many of whom have stayed in the village. One of their daughters, Kathy Crooks, has written a short piece describing their life, as follows:

‘Frederick and Kathleen Atherton (Freddy and Gert to all who knew them) lived most of their married lives in Great Thurlow. Gert was born in Withersfield, one of six daughters of Tom and Martha Notley. Freddy was born in Gt Thurlow at the Glebe, a house behind the windmill up in the fields, and was the youngest child of Mark and Florence Atherton.

On leaving school at the age of 13 Gert worked for the Tilbrooks at The Rose &Crown in Great Thurlow and Freddy worked in the shop at Little Thurlow for Mr Purkis.

Freddy and Gert got together and married in 1919, both aged 18. They set up home in The Square in Little Thurlow and then began their hard and happy life together. Work was hard to find and by 1923, with three daughters , they were becoming desperate. Then one day the Reverend Basil Fleming of Great Thurlow offered Freddy a job for 30 shillings a week (of which Gert had £1.7s.6d. and Freddy had 2s.6d). This partnership with Rev. Fleming lasted 27 years.

In 1929, now with six children, they moved to Great Thurlow at Church End. Freddy looked after the church, was a bell-ringer, pumped the organ, lit the fires and sang in the choir. The key to the church was also kept at his house (and is still there today, his sons being the custodians).

Freddy and Gert struggled and never had new clothes or a holiday. Freddy would have his holiday time paid in potatoes during the war, and he worked on the land for Great Thurlow Hall to avoid being called up in the army. By 1939 they had twelve children. The baker would call three times a week and leave 15 loaves every time. Having a large family was looked down upon and they had a hard time, but they were suddenly very popular in the war when everybody wanted their clothing and meat coupons.

Freddy was in the fire service during the war. Things were now looking up a bit as several of the elder children were at work and Gert cleaned the church and the school. By the end of the war they had 15 children – 11 of them were boys and later on half the Thurlow football team were Athertons!’

The world wars

Two World Wars took their toll. The First World War claimed the lives of ten villagers and also that of William Ryder who was killed while flying in 1917 near Arras in France. Sadly, the War Memorial in the church records five more victims in the Second World War, four with the same surname as their predecessors, although not necessarily the same family. The telegram boy was much feared during the Second World War in Little Thurlow Green, as four out of the five who were lost came from that part of the village.

The war brought excitement to those too young to understand the horror of war. Two planes came down, one in the field behind Little Thurlow church, setting the haystacks alight in Manor Farm Yard, and another in Little Thurlow Green opposite Green Farm Barn. Children spent many happy hours searching for ammunition and bits of fuselage. The war brought strangers too, the London Irish were billeted at Mungo Lodge and at the Hall and there was a search- light battery at the top of Dark Lane in Little Bradley. Sadly one young soldier was shot on sentry duty outside the Hall gates and two other villagers were fatally injured by military vehicles. The village also played host to evacuees, so there were new and different faces in the village school. As the village was an agricultural village the vast majority of men and women were in restricted occupations and had to stay to work the land, although some saw service and some women left the village to work in London and in the ammunitions factories. There was an active Home Guard and some ex-soldiers from the first war were assigned special duties should the country be invaded. Sandwiched as the village is between two wartime airfields at Wratting and Stradishall, the drone of the aircraft became an all too familiar sound, and the children became experts on the differences in engine noise of the various aircraft.

In conclusion

This gentle exploration of the history of theThurlows reveals much more than perhaps one had realised about these small villages. They have a sense of permanence, with links back to the time of the Romans. We can trace their history from Domesday to reveal self-sufficient village communities that remained largely intact until the middle of this century. The post-war era has seen the greatest period of change as the numbers of people employed on the land has dwindled, and many of the tradespeople have vanished along with their premises. The introduction of the tractor and the car meant a drop in the numbers of employees required to implement the new farming methods and enabled villagers to seek work further afield. The farms, the old schools, the independent church and the almshouses are now private homes, inhabited either by people who once worked on the land or by those who work elsewhere, with the exception of the estate workers, grooms and domestic staff who work for the Vesteys. Some replacement houses have been built but the village is not so active now.

Paradoxically, in spite of these changes, both new and established villagers speak of the sense of community that still exists here. The ‘busy-ness’ has been replaced by the unwelcome increase of traffic, as people speed their way elsewhere to work. No longer are the villages virtually self-sufficient, with the nearest shop and surviving garage in Great Thurlow, and only one pub left in Little Thurlow.

However, the sense of community is still evident. The Golden Jubilee celebrations in June 2002 brought villagers out in their droves to enjoy a party at Little Thurlow Hall where young and old enjoyed a night to remember!

Kate Atherton 15 January 2003