So what do we know about this small village tucked away in the south west corner of Suffolk within a few miles of both Cambridgeshire and Essex? The first and most obvious conclusion is, of course, that there are two villages, 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. The name Thurlow itself may have been spelt Tritlawe, and may refer to a mound or assembly hill or famous tumulus.
This is not beyond the imagination, for if one stands by the windmill in Great Thurlow on a clear day it is possible to see for miles in any direction a good place for a meeting perhaps.
More important for the early settlers, however, must have been the river, fast flowing and clear with easy crossing points 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 is the discovery in 1890, recorded by the Antiquarian Society in Cambridge, by Mr Wootten in Great Thurlow, of a pit containing amongst other things pottery shards, a coin and a small figurine, all dating from the Roman period.
There is still strong 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.
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 entry in Domesday refers to a carucate of land (approximately 120 acres or that which could be ploughed with a team of eight oxen in a year), a ploughteam, an acre of meadow and a church with 29 acres. At that time too 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 founded in 1118, when the knights travelled all over Europe as part of the Crusades, but the order was officially suppressed by the Pope in 1312. The Domesday reference to Temple End pre-dates this order 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 activity. 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 a different field from the Ten Acre field. There is strong evidence too, from the graffiti in Great Thurlow church, that the chapel there may have been used for ceremonial purposes for the order of knighthood. Indeed, 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 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.
At about this time too 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. No records of the location exist.
The one building in the village that has survived through the centuries is, of course, the church of St Peter. The earliest reference is in Domesday and the first recorded priest assigned to Little Thurlow was Rob. Fitzwalter in 1279. Village churches encapsulate the continuity and change in the life of a village, and as we look at the church as it is now it is easy to assume that it has always been the same; but not so. The church has changed tremendously through the years. The present font probably once graced a small Norman nave, similar to the very early nave at Little Bradley. We can tell that extensive building work took place in the thirteenth century by the three piscinae which exist: that in the chancel is a double drain piscina (one side was used for the priest to wash his hands and the other to wash the sacramental vessels), and these can be dated to around 1300 and were only made over a short period of time. The other two in the aisles prove the existence of secondary altars.
Two things governed changes in parish churches then as now fashion and money. 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.
Edward VI (b 1537 d 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 1600s.
In common with countless other country churches, the present interior owes more to the Victorians than any other age and 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.
IN THE MEMORY OF
WHO DEPARTED OF THIS LIFE
FEBRUARY 7TH 1794
AGED 72 YEARS
Beneath his 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.
Indubitably, the major influence on the villages came in the 16th century, a development which was to dominate the village for the next three centuries. A man named Thomas Soame came to the village 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 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 village to the extent that many of the historic buildings that make the village so attractive are testaments to their wealth and influence.
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, he 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.’
Alms Houses, Thurlow
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.
The Soame family members were not the only benefactors of the villagers. The Town House was bequeathed to the poor of the village by Josiah Houghton in 1695 and in the eighteenth century was recorded as being ‘let to three different persons as yearly tenants at rents amounting to £4 per annum and the remainder of it is occupied by paupers’. This charity exists today, no longer as accommodation, but as an annual sum of money derived from land rent that is distributed amongst the pensioners every Christmas.
Another contemporary figure was John Daye, parson of Little Thurlow, whose last will and testament was published on the 28th 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. As one of the early printers, 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.
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 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 Day 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.
This period in village life appears to have been stable and given that no records exist for the ownership of the manor of Great Thurlow from 1613 to 1715 and that the Manor Court Rolls during the 18th century were overseen by William Soame, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the villages were run as one.
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 oV the death duties of another branch of the family and the Soame family connection with the village died.
However, much is known about some of the other significant buildings in the village, not least the village pub the Cock Inn, now the only hostelry left in the two villages. This is another building dating from at least the early 17th century, if not before.
The Cock Inn
The building today gives the appearance of a two-storied late Georgian establishment, with hood moulded windows and other details of the gothic taste. 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 þoor 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 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 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 candidates
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 fro 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 Master
Although the fabric of the village remained essentially intact, the village saw change during the Soame dynasty. Religion and education made their mark. A Congregational Chapel was built in the village street in 1835, and was enlarged in 1853. In the intervening years it has been a bakery, and is now a private house, but the small graveyard can still be seen near the main road. The National School for 80 children which was built to replace The Olde School had an average attendance in 1900 of 53. This again was replaced in 1967 by the new school which has a current roll of 65 children. In addition the original almshouses were sold, and two flint cottages in the middle of the village were given as replacement almshouses. There were five separate farms in the village at one time: Street Farm, Temple End Farm, Church Farm, Green Farm and Manor Farm, all of which are now subsumed into the Vestey estate. Lavender Cottage saw service as a rectory, Larkspur Cottage was home to the shoe mender, Hallside was home to the watch mender, The Limes became three cottages, one of which housed the district nurse, Trudgetts (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. The threshing machine at Manor Farm and many of the farm buildings have vanished, and those left are rapidly being transformed into luxury barn conversions.
Little Thurlow National School, 1873
Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations (The Street, Little Thurlow)
Tilbrook’s threshing machine (Manor Farm yard)
Manor Farm yard, 1960
Little Thurlow Stores (now Corner Cottage)
In its heyday the village boasted an impressive array of tradespeople. There were two pubs, the present Cock Inn and the Red Lion in Little Thurlow Green, a shop now known as Corner Cottage, a saddlery and post office, a boot maker, a carpenter, a watch mender, a bakery, a sweet shop, a wheelwright, a blacksmith’s shop, a police house and two windmills. Milk was obtainable from Manor Farm and nearby 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 daily bus to London! The village was a busy place, with much activity surrounding the use of 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 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.
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 the 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.
This gentle exploration of the history of Little Thurlow reveals much more than perhaps one had realised about this small village of 210 souls. It has a sense of permanence, with links back to the time of the Romans. We can trace its history from Domesday to reveal a self-sufficient village community 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 staV 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 is the village virtually self-sufficient, with the nearest shop and surviving garage in Great Thurlow, and only one pub left in Little Thurlow.
Who knows what the millennium will bring, with a new wave of techno-logy and an ever-increasing demand on us to cut back on travelling and to consider working at home? Maybe the millennium will bring a renaissance to attractive villages such as ours, as more and more people stay at home to work using their computers, which may in turn lead to a different kind of ‘busy-ness’ and a revitalisation of the community spirit.
Some Little Thurlow ‘characters’