A community perspective from the 1840s to 1920s contains entries for the community from the Suffolk Directories of White (1844) and Kelly (1929) and William Dutt’s gazeteer of Suffolk (1927; first prepared in the 1890s)

Dutt's Suffolk, 1927


Southwold, one of the quietest and most delightful watering-places on the E. coast, is 110 m from London by rail. (A narrow-gauge railway branches off from the G.L.R. main line at Halesworth and has stations at Wenhaston, Blythburgh, Walberswick, and Southwold.) It is a healthy place, standing on fairly high ground commanding a good sea view, and having a breezy common on the S. side and very picturesque surroundings. For the visitor with archeological and rambling inclinations it is a good centre, for, within easy walking distance of it are the ruined churches at Covehithe and Walberswick and the ruins of the decayed town of Dunwich. The sea-front provides a charming promenade along the crest of the cliffs, and a small pier has been built, at which the passenger steamers call as they ply between London and Yarmouth. There is a quaint beachmen's colony of wooden sheds bordering a road leading to Walberswick Ferry: this, to many visitors, is by far the most interesting part of the town.

In the thirteenth century Southwold was a hamlet of the neighbouring parish of Reydon, and the abbot of Bury was lord of the manor. It received its charter of incorporation from Henry VII, and became somewhat prosperous on account of the decay of Dunwich, the choking up of the harbour there resulting in shipping making use of that of Southwold which in turn became almost unapproachable. William Waynfleet, writing in 1666, said: “Southwold being an island environed with salt water, might be made the strongest in those parts; it has nine good guns, but only four fixed, and not ammunition enough for two hours skirmishing; the town is poor, and cannot do what it would, and the country does not help, though they say it would be their destruction if the town were held by an enemy; it is the nearest town in England to Holland, and the best bay." Six years later (on May 26th, 1672) the Battle of Sole bay was fought off Southwold between the allied fleets of England and France, under the Duke of York, Lord Sandwich, and Admiral D’Etrees, and the Dutch fleet under De Ruyter. The allied fleet, numbering 101 ships, were surprised by De Ruyter (who had 91 men of war, 54 fire-ships, and 23 tenders) while at anchor. The French ships, attacked by Bankert, soon sheered off, and the fighting was mainly between the English and Dutch. The Dutch vice-admiral Von Ghent, was killed, and De Ruyter was wounded, and lost three of his ships; on the English side the Earl of Sandwich was blown up with his flag-ship the Royal James, and five other ships were lost. An old ballad writer relates:

They battered without let or stay
Until the evening of that day,
'Twas then the Dutchmen ran away;
The Duke had beat them tightly";

but the assertion made in the last line is not quite in accordance with the facts of the case. By this fight the town was only the better off in the possession of a few stray cannon-balls; but as a result of a subsequent land battle-that of Culloden -it became possessed of a battery of guns; for the Duke of Cumberland, on his way home from Scotland, landed at Southwold, and presented to the town some 18-pounders which had been taken from the English at Prestonpans and recaptured at Culloden. These guns are now on the Gun Hill.

The church (of St Edmund) is a large and handsome Perp. building, erected on the site of an earlier one destroyed by fire about 1430. It has a fine tower, with unusually constructed belfry windows: they are divided down the centre by a narrow buttress. The W. doorway and window are worthy of attention: above the latter is the inscription " Sct Edmund ora p. nobis." The S. porch is very elaborate, and has a room with a groined ceiling, and lighted by two windows on the S. Above the aisle windows is a cornice of grotesque figures, heads, and quatrefoils. The clerestory has a splendid range of lights, and is surmounted by a light, open lantern. At the W. end of each aisle is an ornamental turret, by which access can be obtained to the roof. The W. window has very good tracery; that of the E. window is modern. Within, the rood-screen, which has fine carved work and fretted spirelets, at once attracts attention. The paintings on the panels have been restored. At the N. end of the screen is an old carved wooden figure, or "Jack in Armour," which formerly stood on a bracket over the W. arch, where it was connected with the clock. This figure holds in its left hand a sword and in its right hand a small battle-axe, with which, when a cord is pulled, it smites a bell and announces to the organist that the minister is about to leave the vestry. Note also (1) the stalls and misereres in the chancel; (2) the paintings on the chancel roof; (3)the pulpit; and (4) a carved oak chest.

In the churchyard are the graves of Agnes Strickland, historian of the Queens of England, and her sister and biographer, Jane Strickland. also that of Thos. Gardner, the historian of Dunwich, having on the stone the epitaph :

"Betwixt Honour and Virtue here doth lie
The remains of old antiquity,"