Hadleigh is a beautiful market town, rich in history and full of character, in the heart of the rolling Suffolk countryside.
Hadleigh lies in the valley of the river Brett. The land to the West rises rapidly and is mainly agricultural land, crossed with footpaths. At the top of the rise where the land flattens out is a ‘Green Lane’ believed to be of Roman origin.
To the East of the river is a wide valley with the land rising at a ‘gentler’ incline and it is on this land that most residences have been built.
Archaeological excavations undertaken in 2000 indicated that the valley had been occupied from the stone age, with an area where flint tools had been produced, approx. 7000 B.C. Close to this site were uncovered Bronze Age burial rings dated 2000 B.C. When the new industrial estate in Lady Lane was being constructed and also on the land in the area of Beaumont Community Primary School, 2000, post holes showed evidence of Iron Age occupation, 1000 B.C.
As in most of Suffolk and North Essex there is much evidence of Roman occupation, Colchester being their first capital city. The local tribe, the Trinovantes having initially accepted the Roman occupation were used a slaves and one might presume that they would have joined the Icaeni in the ‘sack’ of Colchester. There is evidence in Hadleigh of Roman occupation both in the excavated farm near the By-pass, the Villa at Town House Farm, and through out the old part of the town various roman remains have been found. We probably owe our original town lay out to Roman occupation.
Following the demise of the Roman occupation there was evidence uncovered at the Bronze Age burial site of three Pagan Saxon bodies thought to be around 600 A.D. However for the next few centuries this part of the country was predominantly under Danish rule and Hadleigh’s history becomes much clearer from the end of the 9th century. In 870 the Dane, Guthrum defeated and killed King Edmund and moved on to fight Alfred the Great in Wessex. Having eventually been defeated by King Alfred, and, dependent on his conversion to Christianity Guthrum was given parts of East Anglia to rule, and is reported to have died and been buried in his royal town of Headleaga, now Hadleigh.
The land continued to be ravaged by Danish marauders and in 991 the Ealdorman of the area, Byrhtnoth, died fighting the Danes at the battle of Maldon in Essex. Byrhthnoths’s will puts Hadleigh firmly on the map, in that he left his Manor in Hadleigh to the Priory Church in Canterbury, later to become Canterbury Cathedral. This Manor, Hadleigh Hall was the largest of the Hadleigh Manors, which also included the Manor of Toppesfield Hall and the Manor of Lafham (also known as Pond Hall.) And later, Cosford Hall and Mausers also known as Hadleyes in Hadleye.
The Norman conquest changed the face of the country and they divided the land up into estates which were given to individual lords. However Hadleigh Hall was firmly in the hands of the Priory Church at Canterbury where it remained until the later 19th Century. Hadleigh Hall lies to the North West side of the parish churchyard. The medieval hall was demolished and the present building erected in the 19th century.
A survey taken by Canterbury in 1306 shows that the towns folk were already greatly involved in the making of woollen cloth and by the early 15th century was one of the richest cloth manufacturing towns in the Country.
It is suggested that the first wooden church was built by Guthrum. The earliest part of St Mary’s church is the tower built in the 13th century and around 1450 the church was greatly enlarged to the building that you see to-day. The inside of the building has been altered every hundred years or so and modernised to suit the use of the time.
In the picture you will see that the church had a second porch on the southern side built for the Guilds but removed in the 19th century.
To the South of the church is the Guildhall. The part of the building facing the churchyard was built in the 1430’s and a Market House / Wool Hall was constructed. The building was owned and managed by the Hadleigh Market Feoffment, who still own the complex.
In the 1450’s the Trustees sold a piece of land behind the Market House to the Guild’s, who had been meeting in the church. The Guilds Halls were built, but were not joined to the Market House. However following the reformation Henry abolished the Guilds their goods were sold and their Building put onto the Market. The building was bought back for the town and put into public use. At around that time the Guildhall was joined to the Market House, however it was shortened when part of it was demolished in 1850’s for the building of the Victorian New Town Hall.
Also in the churchyard is our third important building the Deanery Tower which was built by the Archdeacon of Suffolk, William Pykenham as a gateway leading to the Parsonage House, which lay in what is now the Rectory Garden. The Parsonage House was demolished in the 1830’s and a new Rectory built attached to the Deanery Tower. This being much large than the current house and partially demolished in the 1961 to make a more suitable house for the Rector.
These three buildings in the Churchyard are all listed at Grade 1. All three being built mainly in the same century but all of very different Suffolk materials, Flint, Brick and Timber
Up until the 16th century Hadleigh was an extremely prosperous town primarily through the production of its woollen cloth. During the centuries as clothiers increased their wealth they outgrew their houses in Hadleigh and moved out of the town buying large rural estates, or moved to London where many of them became merchants.
The woollen cloth produced in Hadleigh went out of fashion with finer wools and silk being woven. It would seem that Hadleigh, having lost its entrepreneurs did not change with the times and as a result by the time we reach the 17th century the town had descended from affluence into extreme poverty.
In more affluent town people could afford to pull down their old timber framed houses, but here in Hadleigh they continued to be lived in.
An improvement in the economy in the late 18th and early 19 century together with the coming of the Railway, brought some changes in that many of the residents, particularly in the High Street, could afford to modernise their houses. Although many people changed the frontages to their properties in line with trends of the day much of the interior retained its medieval format. Due to this period of ‘hardship’ we are fortunate to have the many beautiful properties that are still in existence.
Hadleigh to-day enjoys the second largest number of listed buildings in Suffolk.
There are also some interesting groups of properties that identify the period in which they were built. Queen Street, built on the site of the Tythe Barn in 1845 is a perfect example of its period and the two Regency houses in Church Street, the only pair of that design in the Town.
Throughout the streets in the older parts of the town are fine examples of our housing heritage, the cottages along Angel Street and George Street with its mixture of old cottages including the only thatched property in the town, the Row Chapel, the Pest houses at the Green and the Flying Chariot to name but one of the property of the many in Benton Street.
The Hadleigh Town Council Archive holds a large collection of documents relating to the history of our ancient town.
Here’s a PDF document explaining more about this, with details of how to access this valuable resource.