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Foxearth Local History Society – 14th May

It is quite surprising what can be discovered about an apparently ordinary subject if one puts one’s mind to some careful research and this was demonstrated in David Burnett’s talk to the Foxearth and District Local History Society on Tuesday 14th May. Who would have thought that the Sudbury district of Chilton could have such a wealth of history but the journey through time taken by David revealed evidence dating from Bronze Age settlements and many changes to the present day industrial estate. Excavations in 1997 produced signs of late Bronze age occupation, by post holes and ruts in the clay, and of later Iron age round houses. The discovery of a 7th century coptic bowl near Chilton Hall suggested a Saxon settlement. Nothing has been found to suggest any Roman involvement. An entry in the Domesday Book of 1086 describes a small village of about 11 men and 1 plough and in mediaeval times a number of lords held the manor of Chilton. St Mary’s church in Chilton was built in the 15th century. Among various benefactors the church benefitted in 1430 from the will of Sir Andrew Butler.

A significant influence in Chilton seems to have been the Crane family whose five generations – from 1436 to 1643  – were responsible for the building of Chilton hall  and improvements in the church. Each of the five was named Robert and each left their individual mark on the manor. Among the bequests by various Roberts were those for renovations of the church and the building of the tower, funds for the employment of a priest and for prayers and a daily mass to be said for 99 years and the completion of Chilton Hall in 1550. The last Robert was knighted by James 1st and served as MP for Sudbury for several periods. When he died in 1643 the baronetcy became extinct as he had no sons. The parish registers show that the sons of this dynasty had a very poor survival rate; the cause is not known but was possibly due to some inherited condition.

The village gradually declined and in about 1800 the Hall was badly damaged by a fire with the site being turned mostly to arable farming. By the late 19th century industry began to take over with brick works, lime pits. a corn mill and coconut matting factory; again fire caused rebuilding. The last rector of the church was Rev. John Milner who served from 1898 until 1949 after which the building  was declared redundant. Chilton was important towards the end of World War 2 when an airfield was constructed in 1944 and used by the US Army Air Force as a bomber base.

Mr Burnett  – who has published his book on Chilton, the first 3,000 years – illustrated his talk with many slides and gave much more interesting information than can be included in a brief report. He was warmly thanked by Secretary Clare Mathieson supported by an appreciative audience of about 30.

Next meeting: Tuesday 11th June – a visit to Bulmer Brickyard when Peter Minter will talk about recent restoration projects.  Please meet at the Brickyard at 7pm 


Ken Nice

Foxearth and District Local History Society – 9th April 2019

The Foxearth and District Local History Society meeting on 9th April attracted railway enthusiasts  when Robyn Lloyd Hughes talked about the rise and decline of the Stour Valley Railways. Between 35 and 40 members and guests heard an expert description of the origin of the line and of the development of railways in general.

The lecture included many photographs and Robyn began  with one of some Roman gates. These were constructed to allow the passage of two centurions, side by side, with their baggage/weapons. Carts were then built of the same width and as these were used in the countryside uniform ruts would be created which in turn became supported by wooden planks (plateways); then iron was used for more strengthening. Along these reinforced routes horses could pull linked carts – and the idea of moving wagons along tracks was born. It took some 1,800 years of course but eventually we had railways! Stephenson’s “rocket” of 1825 was the first engine.

The concept of a local rail network was the brainchild of John Wilks junior – a Sudbury lawyer born in 1793 who served as a Whig MP for the town.In 1824 he promoted a company called The Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex Railroad Company. He was however an unscrupulous character – involved in forgery and fraud – who earned the nickname of “Bubbles Wilks” because of the number of joint stock companies he floated all of which failed. In 1849 the businessman John Chevallier Cobbold was influential in constructing the line that linked up Colchester,  the Stour Valley, Sudbury and Halstead; Norwich was later connected and the company amalgamated with the Eastern Union Railway. The project included the building of the Chappel Viaduct with its impressive 32 arches. At 1,020 feet it is the longest bridge in East Anglia and one of the largest brick-built structures in the country. There were many illustrations of locomotives in various stages of development and it was not unusual for them to be servicable for 50 years. For some years the railway did not dispense with “horse power” as the beasts continued to be used for shunting rolling stock into sheds. The Stour Valley Railway line from Shelford to Marks Tey opened in 1865 with connections to Melford and Bury St Edmunds following soon after. In 1967 the Beeching axe was wielded with just the Sudbury to Marks Tey section (the Gainsborough line) surviving after a protracted battle. Robyn presented some interesting fare comparisons. In 1849 the Sudbury to London single fare was 4 shillings and 10 pence equating to one penny a mile – this was for 2nd class travel with 1st class being half as much again; in 1956 the figure was 9 shillings and 3 pence and today it is £33.90! In 2004 the possibility of reopening the Cambridge to Haverhill route was raised and this is an ongoing campaign with local MPs voicing strong support more recently.

This was a fascinating talk in which Robyn demonstrated his detailed knowledge of the subject including the evolving types of locomotives over the years. He dealt expertly with some related questions and was warmly thanked on behalf of a most appreciative audience by Secretary Clare Mathieson

Clare drew attention to the Lavenham Festival on the weekend of 17th to 19th May. There will be celebration of the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the US Army Air Force at Lavenham  airfield ,  a craft fair and various other attractions.

Next meeting: Tuesday 14th May at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall  when David Burnett will talk about Chilton – the first three thousand years.

Ken Nice.

Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Society held its 20th Annual General Meeting in Foxearth Village Hall on 12th March 2019. There were 28 members and guests present’

Chairlady Lynda Rumble welcomed all  especially Mr Slater,  Web site administrator for the Melford History and Archaeological Society.

A financial report was presented by Secretary Clare Mathieson showing a very satisfactory surplus of £420 in last year’s activities and a bank balance of £2,500 of which £986 was the “ring-fenced” book fund. A grant of £250 from the Foxearth and Liston Parish Council was gratefully acknowledged. It was agreed that membership and guest fees should remain at £10 pa and £2 per visit respectively and Mark Mathieson was thanked for keeping the books. Clare reviewed a successful season in 2018 and outlined an attractive programme for this year; highlights would include a visit to the Stow Maries Great War  aerodrome, including lunch in the officers’ mess: also  President Ashley Cooper and Lord Phillips reviewing their  memories of Sudbury Market Hill and businesses around.(full programme available on

Thanks to all members who helped by writing reports, providing refreshment, setting up the room and managing the web site were voiced by Ashley. Particular mention was made of Lynda and Clare who run the Society so expertly. On the question (by Clare) of whether we needed a larger committee the unanimous view seemed to be not to change a winning team – and a substitute’s bench would be superfluous! Ashley expressed his delight at the vibrancy of the Society citing members’ contributions such as John Geddes’ research into Foxearth burials, Corinne Cox’s archaeological test pit excavations and Isobel Clark’s gravestone researches.

Andrew Clarke spoke about our constantly growing web site – with new material offered as he spoke – and noted that it was admired world-wide attracting about 2,800 visits each day.

After a break for wine and some delicious canapes past Chairman  Alan Fitch entertained us with reflections on his life so far. Born in pre-war London Alan experienced some family difficulties. A move towards Epping Forest just before war started  fired up an interest in climbing trees – without mishap. This facility later served him well when he had a sign making business for 40 years and never lost his footing on a ladder; he saved that for after he had retired! Evacuation to Buckinghamshire during the conflict saw him (aged seven) fishing and  – under the influence of a very much older colleague -smoking a pipe to deter midges.After Walthamstow Technical College Alan worked for a time at a division of J Arthur Rank where he was fortunate to meet such celebrities as Edmundo Ros and the boxer Freddie Mills and it was here that a fascination with cinematic technology developed. Called up for National Service  Alan opted for the Royal Air Force signing for 4 years on the promise that he could follow his interest in mechanical engineering. He became a crack rifle shot, He met the love of his life, Jo, they married in 1958 and were blissfully happy until she sadly died. Alan later married again and this wife encouraged him to practise faith healing – a talent he had not discovered! And this is the point at which the narrative ended. Surely, Alan, there’s more to come – at least another instalment. We wait with bated breath as an appreciative audience demonstrated.

Next meeting: Tuesday 9th April 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when Robyn Lloyd-Hughes will talk about The rise and decline of the  Stour Valley Railways.