A Lot Of History In A Small Space…
by Bernie Bell - 08:45 on 08 June 2023
A Lot Of History In A Small Space…
When we lived in Suffolk, our neighbour’s little girl was doing a school project about the history of the area around where we lived and I put together some information for her - not putting too much shape on it - as I thought she should do that herself. Our local area was full of interest – though I think everywhere is, if a person pays attention. There’s a kind-of Orkney link, in that the immediate area around where we live here holds much of interest too…
I wrote it as a walk, describing things as a walker would come to them. I drew a little map, so that I could say ‘A’ and ‘B;’ and things like that…
“Walking along, we come to ‘A’ on our right, and ’B’ on our left.
‘A’ is the site of the old Workhouse and in the field to your left - ‘B’ - you can sometimes find bits of old clay pipe, usually the stems. These mostly date from the 18th and 19th centuries. We like to picture the old men - and the old women, as women used to smoke clay pipes too - sitting outside the Workhouse, puffing away on their pipes – one of the few comforts they had.
One time , we were walking along the section of the path marked with crossed swords on my map, when we met a metal-detectorist who said he’d been told that there had been a Civil War battle in that area. He’d used his metal detector and found a musket- ball, which he reckoned to date from the 17th Century. It would be more likely to be a local skirmish than a full-scale battle, but it looks like that could be another piece in the jig-saw puzzle of the history of this area – a Civil War skirmish.
He’d also found a flattened thimble of un-known date, a military button which he thought to be from the 18 hundreds. A small child’s silver thimble - again flattened - with a pleasing pattern on it – which would have been a very prized possession at one time. And a silver sixpence dated 1926! There’s been a lot going on in that field.
As we walk round, we come to the field opposite Workhouse Wood ('C'). In the first part of this field you’ll notice a lot of bits of brick and pieces of tile, and also a lot more pieces of flint than is usual. We wondered if there was some kind of building here at one time, possibly associated with the farm? Walking along, there is less brick, tile and flint in evidence.
On your left is Workhouse Wood ( ‘D’). It’s possible to tell the age of a piece of woodland by the number and different kinds of species present. Mike, who I bow to as Mr. Biology-Man says that the number and different kinds of species in Workhouse Wood indicates that it’s a little pocket of quite ancient woodland.
He also says that the number of woody species in an old hedge can indicate how old it is. In any 100 yard stretch there is roughly one species for every century of age. Judging by this, the hedge alongside the path between Workhouse Wood and St. Andrew’s Church could be at least 500 years old - possibly older.
And so we carry on to the farm – Flixton Old Hall ( E). The owner at the time told me that the core of of the house is much older that the rendered exterior would indicate, having thick, solid stone walls, wide old floorboards in the attic, and a steep pitch to the roof - which could indicate that it was thatched at one time. She also told me of how they discovered an old well in their garden.
She was lying on the grass by the house, and could hear gurgling noises. She told her husband, who dowsed the area ( he’s a good dowser). He focused on one place, and started to dig, and found an old well which had been capped - when he removed the cap the well proved to be very deep.
Even more interesting, it was where two small streams met – hence the gurgling noises. He built a little wall round it and it became a feature in their garden – as well as being a little bit of the history of the Hall which had re-surfaced after being forgotten.
And on, to the church (F)…
…….which might have been associated with the Hall – as that was often the case – local big house – with associated church.
We saw that it was called St. Andrew’s on the Ordnance Survey ‘Pathfinder’ map of the area, and Mike read in a book called ‘A Suffolk Landscape‘ that the site was originally Roman, and it’s thought that the tiles which were used to make the ‘herringbone’ pattern in the walls may actually date from the Roman era.
A neighbour told me that there are Roman sites along a line from Blundeston, through Flixton, through Camps Heath and on, to Lowestoft.
We believe the site to have been in use even earlier than that. More of which, later.
The mother of the owner of the farm at the time of which I write grew up at the farm, and remembered a priest coming to the ruins of the church each year in the Spring and conducting a service there. Her mum would lend him a table, which he’d place at the Eastern end of the ruin, where the alter used to be (early churches were aligned West-East with the alter at the Eastern end).
He’d then conduct a service to bless the crops. I like this, as it means that the church is only the most recent expression of man’s acknowledgment of the significance of that situation. Who knows, maybe it was a Roman shrine before that? Or maybe the Bronze Age people who built the mounds (K)….
…..venerated that site in some way?
There’s a window in the church wall which Mike and I like to see as a ‘window on time’…..
We would stand in the church, look through that window and picture all the different kinds of people that could have been seen from that spot – Neolithic, Bronze Age, Roman, Middle Ages, 17th and 18th century and the old folk from the Workhouse – all that history and time passing – all associated with that little corner of Flixton. We felt it had a real spirit or sense of place – of timelessness. It’s just a little ruin in Flixton, but if you connect up all the history around it, there’s been an awful lot going on there for a long, long time.
You might be thinking to yourself – Neolithic? Where did the Neolithic come in? On Sunday the 29th of May 2005, there was a service held in St. Andrew’s for the first time in over 50 years, and for this service the area around the ruin was cleared carefully and sympathetically……
When the area around it was cleared it was possible to see that the ruin of the church stands in the centre of an earthen henge monument, with a gap in the henge facing West. Henges usually date from the Neolithic. A church, placed in an ancient henge monument. ‘New’ religion joins or dominates ’old’ religion?
Some archaeological excavations took place at the church in the 1960’s, and the Lowestoft Archaeological Annual Report of 1966 – 1967 mentions the possibility of there being a wooden screen across the end of the church. These ‘rood screens’ were used to divide the area of the church where the congregation were and the sanctum where only the priest was allowed.
This could be said to carry on a tradition of ceremonies being only for the initiated, in an inner sanctum. This goes back through Roman to Pre-historic sites where ceremonies were carried out in an external ‘courtyard’ before the priest would go through into the mound or temple.
Add all this together, and you get a sacred site based on a ridge of higher land in what was once marsh-land – the marshes are still only a short walk away.
And now I’ll continue to make some more connections. On, to the Flixton Holes ( G). It’s thought that the old village of Flixton may have been on this site, but it was wiped out by the Black Death in the 14th Century. This happened to quite a few villages - everyone either died or left, so the villages were abandoned and ended up as lumpy bits in the landscape.
We can add to the picture of Flixton at that time - the Hall, the church, possible buildings across from the wood, and possibly a village at what is now known as Flixton Holes.
And so to Laurel Farm ( H). Most of the present structure is Georgian, but someone who was staying there noted that there is a mature Holm Oak in the garden, and said that could indicate that there was a house on that site in the late Middle Ages….
When work was being carried out to build a wall in the garden, some courses of foundations were found, the most intriguing feature of these being the outline of a hearth – not a fireplace as in a modern house, but a central hearth as in an old Hall?
The picture now builds to a building on the site of Laurel Farm in the Middle ages - maybe a farm, their nearest neighbours would be at Flixton Old Hall and they all attended the church with villagers from Flixton (plague-ridden or not!).
Add to the picture, what was Hope Cottage (I). Our neighbour who lived there had deeds which show a building on that site dating from the 18th Century and the brick work for the base of the building was still visible at the front of her house. The church was in use until the 17 hundreds, so I can picture the people from Hope Cottage and Laurel Farm going across the fields to the church to meet their neighbours from the Hall.
What now looks like a few scattered buildings in the landscape will have once been a thriving community of neighbours.
I use the past tense in relation to Hope Cottage as it was sold, bulldozed, and new house built on the site. The Hope Cottage that was bulldozed was no great loss, being a 1950’s pre-fab, but presumably the remains of the original Hope Cottage - being the outline of its base in front of the modern house, and a section of old flint wall, have now disappeared under the new houses and a piece of the history-puzzle has been lost.
I suppose that the things which we now treasure as old might have been unwelcome when they were new! I can imagine the people at Laurel Farm being very put out about the a ‘new’ cottage being built across the road from them.
So it goes.
And my last point is…wells.
There’s a well outside Old Hall Farm, a well outside Laurel Farm, a well was outside Hope Cottage but some over-zealous workmen filled it in when they built a conservatory. There’s a well in the garden of Number 5 Mobbs Cottages (J) – which used to be the workers cottages for Laurel Farm.
When the only source of water was from natural springs people will have chosen to live near springs where they could sink wells and get fresh water.
Going back possibly thousands of years, people chose to live in this area and maybe worship at the site of what is now St. Andrew’s Church.”
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