Woodhall Manor, Sudbury Suffolk

Woodhall Manor, Sudbury Suffolk

The site of at least two previous moated manor houses

In early Saxon times a lord’s ‘Halle’ stood within the defensive walls of the old borough town. The original manor of Sudbury even prior to the Norman Conquest, appears to have been entwined with the farmlands of Woodhall. As subsequently were the lands of ‘Places Manor and those of St Bartholomew’s Priory. In Anglo-Saxon times the manor of Sudbury belonged to the mother of the Mercian earls Edwin and Morchar. It is not clear precisely where she resided when visiting the area.

The Domesday Book refers to Countess Alvera with an estate of 3 carucates of land, 1 Villein, 63 burgesses living at the Hall or Manor House, 6 serfs, 3 plough teams in demesne and 55 burgesses in demesne with 2 carucates of land. These had 4 plough teams There was also the Church of St Gregory, with 50 acres of free land and 25 acres of meadow. Likewise, a mill and 8 acres of meadow in the borough, and one market and money coiners. There was also a soc in the town.

Clearly post-Conquest, the De Clare’s who became the Lords of the Manor, resided at Clare Castle where most legal dictates and documents originate from. The ancient hundred of Babergh had held its meetings in the near vicinity and it logically came to be that local matters were dealt with at a manorial court held in the location of Woodhall.

The Domesday Book indicates that Sudbury was a ‘Soke’. Therefore, the Lord of the Manor had the King’s authority to exercise independent criminal jurisdiction from earliest times. At some time following the Norman Conquest, the small manor of Woodhall c1230 was granted to Richard Fitz Gilbert, afterwards Earl of Gloucester and Hertford. It formed a portion of the great Honour of Clare.

In the times of Edward, the Confessor, Sudbury was in the territory of the hundreds of Thingoe and Babergh, granted by Edward to the Abbot of Bury and known to be part of the ‘Liberty of St Edmund’. When c1259 Richard de Clare eventually acquired from Simon de Lutton the Abbot of Bury St Edmund, his lordship gained the privilege known as ‘Return of Writs’ within the bounds of Sudbury.

From its early times the town was controlled by the manorial lord. He appointed bailiffs to receive fines, fees, and tolls – including the market and fairs. Burgesses held tenements in return for agricultural labour. The lord provided protection and safety from outside interference. His permission allowed the people to drive swine into neighbouring woods and to pasture cattle in common, on the surrounding waste. Constitutional progress, in time, allowed various immunities over the manorial lands.

When Gilbert de Clare, 4th Earl of Gloucester, styled ‘Hereditary Steward of St Edmunds Abbey’ fell at the battle of Bannockburn in1314, the manor passed to his sister Lady Elisabeth de Clare (Lady de Burgh, granddaughter of King Edward I). In 1330, it was in the hands of the Mortimers, Earls of March. In the time of Edward IV, it became vested in the Crown and so remained for over 100 years.

An extent of the manor was given in1369 in the Inquis p.m of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and Elizabeth his wife and also in 1398 in the inquisition p.m of Roger Mortimer ultimately vesting in the Crown in the person of the Duke of York Edward IV. At the death of Edmund Earl of March 1425, Sudbury and Woodhall were held from the Crown by Anne Mortimer. Sudbury Manor is mentioned in the Inquis p.m of Sir Richard Corbett who died in 1524 leaving a son and heir, Richard Corbett. In 1553 it was granted by the Crown to Sir John Clike, and two years later it was leased to Sir Edward Waldegrave. The following year it was annexed by the King and Queen to the Duchy of Lancaster. In 1577, Frances Pawlett was the lessee of Sir Edward Waldegrave.

Two years later, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Steward of Clare Manor, brought an action against John Skynner Mayor of Sudbury, on behalf of the Corporation, claiming profits of Court and Evidences for Woodhall & Sudbury Manor, under a grant from Edward VI. In 1610, the Manor was granted to Sir Robert Crane. It then passed to his daughter who married Sir Ralph Hare, Bart. Mary Crane inherited the Manor in 1642. Her widowed mother, Susan Crane had married Isaac Appleton. Sir Ralph Hare died 1671 and the Manor then passed to his son Sir Thomas Hare. Sir Thomas died 1 January 1694.

The ownership of Sudbury Manor remained under the jurisdiction of the Duchy of Lancaster. Over the recent centuries, Woodhall has been occupied and farmed by a variety of merchant tradesmen generally described as residing gentlemen. In 1750 John Taylor Esq was living at Woodhall as Lord of the Manor. Sir Algernon Peyton Bart., held Woodhall in 1764. The estate again changed hands in 1788, when Wood Hall was put up for sale as ‘consisting of the Manor of Sudbury, with Court Leet and Court Baron, with quit rents, fines, reliefs and herriots, etc; a good Farmhouse, barn, stables, out-houses, &c, and near 300 acres of Arable, Meadow and Pastureland’. The tenant, Andrew Hayward whose lease expired at Michaelmas, was paying rent of £165 a year. The Manor was sold by Mr Christie at his Great Room in Pall Mall, on 21 February.

It would appear that in1805, the manor was vested in William Jones, who by his will, was a ‘common brewer, merchant and farmer’ (former owner of the Lion, Greyhound and Maldon Grey, the Maltings in Wiggan End. William Brazier Jones, his son or grandson later died ‘in estate & manor’ in 1846. In 1850 “following the death of the owner” Woodhall was again put up for sale and let at £700 pa to Thomas Meeking. In 1863-1864 a sale was made of lots and lot75 of Woodhall estate was put up for sale by William Brock.

The lands of Woodhall Manor had stretched from the boundary of the borough town and reached into East Street (Wigan End) and Girling Street. In 1840, Thomas Jones owned a piece of land in Newton Road. It was an enclosed strip between his property and the road (typically waste-land). It was a strip of grass. 17 freemen petitioned the mayor, claiming access – “upon which we have enjoyed the right of feeding cattle from time immemorial”. At That time the Corporation claimed verges under the Charter of Charles II – freemen had rested or fed their cattle at particular times of the year when the meadows were too wet.

Was it a ‘right of common’ or a right of ‘property’? People created muck heaps, dug for clay or gravel. Thomas Jones was an established politician, Councillor and Chief Burgess. NB Thomas Jones was elected Mayor, which included the fateful 1844 election that lost Sudbury’s franchise and representation in Parliament. Via the Reform Act, in1844 allowed Sudbury open voting by the £10 voters. The 1838 Sudbury Act released shackage – adding compensatory land to the freemen’s Common Lands.

Back in 1425, an assessment of Sudbury found Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, had died possessed of Sudbury and the Manor of Woodhall, held of the King in capiti –

Capital messuage + 800 acres of arable, 21 acres of meadow, 32 acres of pasture and 31 acres of underwood. There were two watermills, one windmill and a fulling mill. Fee-farms of Portman’s Croft pasture, rent from 62 ancient booths, fee-farm of tolls of market and fairs, Rent of two permanent stalls in the marketplace. Rent of fishing, up to Sudbury Bridge. 12 weavers Shops and Picard’s tenement.

A final demise of the old farm/manor house, shown above, occurred 15 October 1944 when American 486th Bomb Group B17 43-38137 crashed at Woodhall Farm, Sudbury.

Alan Shelley

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