The American Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz said about our attitude to history that 'If we want to know what it felt like to be alive at any given moment in the long odyssey of the race, it is to poetry we must turn. The moment is dear to us, precisely because it is so fugitive, and it is somewhat of a paradox that poets should spend a lifetime hunting for the magic that will make the moment stay'.

It is in this sense that community history is a poetical quest to capture 'moments that are dear to us'. These wikipages are virtual memorials that act as documentary symbols around which people assemble their thoughts about significant events. Memorials are valuable because they enable us to draw together diverse ideas which otherwise would not be readily associated with each other, but can be associated with a symbol because, in itself, it lacks specific meaning.

Theberton, like all Suffolk villages, has an physical memorial to the dead of two world wars. In 2001 the National War Memorial Database was launched, and the men of Theberton are represented in this enterprise. These 21 villagers have been resurrected through this database and fleshed out with the attached comments of their living relatives. The community also has another unique war memorial established to commemorate the crew of the German airship that was brought down in the village. Then there are other memorials to people who passed through the village and are recorded in its archives. An example is the documentation of the 1824 enclosures of Theberton's common land, which are maps and lists that illuminate the 14 people involved in the apportionment of land in lieu of the ancient rights attached to their properties or offices.

Then there is the sad poetry of census entries exemplified by Trena Noy, born in Theberton in 1868, forced by rural economics to leave her loved ones to become a servant in far off Beckenham. The tragic roots of the Noys are in the countryside in and around Theberton, where in 1557 John Noyes, shoemaker martyr, was burnt alive on Laxfield village green because he did not believe that bread and wine became the body of Christ in the Eucharist. His friends and neighbours were forced to bring the embers of their fires to fuel the pyre and witness his martyrdom.

James Kemp, carpenter architect

On the 16th October 1726 James Kemp of Theberton made his will. The following is the essence of his bequest.

"...I James Kemp, carpenter..."

"...sell all my Stock in Trade, Timber, and other personal estate...
(with which) I desire all my Just Debts may be paid, and after
payment thereof, I give and bequeath to my son James the sum of
Two Hundred pounds to be paid to him at his age of Twenty One
years, and in the meantime, the Interest thereof be applied
towards his maintenance and education..."

"...I give and bequeath to my daughter Anne the sum of One
Hundred pounds to be paid her at her age of Twenty One years
and the interest thereof in the meantime be applied towards her

"...I give and bequeath to the child my wife is now with all the
sume of One Hundred pounds at it's age of Twenty One years,
and the interest thereof..."

"... I give to my brother John Five pounds..."

"...all the rest and residue of my personal estate I give to my

He died the following month. This is the poetry that embeds this moment of Theberton's history in the mind.

James had married Ann Mollett of Darsham in 1721 when he is described in the marriage licence as an architect. He was probably a carpenter architect, which in that period described the profession of housebuilder. The couple had three children, James, Anne and Mary. He appeared to be seriously ill during the late stages of Anne's pregnancy and died before Mary was born.. The above extracts from his will indicate the provisions he made for this family during this uncertain time, including his unborn child. Mary was baptised shortly after the death of her father and the will was proved 24 January 1727. The amounts of money he bestowed on them indicate that he was very well off for that time and place.

James’ ancestry has been traced back to one, Norman de Campo, of Peasenhall, who was sheriff of Suffolk at the time of the Norman Conquest. For generations, Norman’s descendents had circulated through Suffolk from the Waveney to the Orwell valleys, but their heartland was centred on villages along the edge of the Blyth watershed. James of Theberton’s immediate ancestry can be traced through four generations of carpenter architects, property owners, yeomen farmers and land surveyors from William Kemp of Framlingham. The family tradition probably goes further back to the Kemps who built for for the Cistercian monks of Sibton Abbey in the final century of the monastic movement.

The villages where Kemps have left records of their presence, still retain examples of domestic, commercial and industrial carpentry, mostly dating from the 17th century which really mark the end of the trade in local grown timber. Thomas Mills, an important benefactor to the Framlingham community in the 17th century was one of the last local dealers in wood, who exported timber from his Suffolk woodlands from the port of Snape to his warehouse at Wapping Stairs in London. There are also significant family traditions of carpentry in the Laxfield area from the 16th century. This is particularly apparent from the history of the Etheridge family. The most famous is William Etheridge of Fressingfield who was a national figure in the design and construction of bridges. It is probable that the Etheridges and Kemps shared a local apprentice system and socialised through the wood trade. The Etheridges described themselves as 'architects' as did James of Theberton. This period was probably the peak of the 'age of wood' when new timber-framed houses were springing up in towns and villages throughout a prosperous Suffolk. A measure of this house-building boom was the 1589 Cottage Acts of Queen Elizabeth I, which stated that in future no cottage was to be built unless four acres of land went with it. These thatched-roofed houses were all built to a traditional common plan so its is logical that a house building carpenter would also have been able to design the new property, particularly as many of those remaining today show evidence of idiosyncratic ideas within a common layout dictated by the size of timber trees. In this situation there would be little distinction between a 'carpenter' and an 'architect'. In contrast, the term joiner was applied to the craft of furniture making, which literally involved skills in joining together different kinds and shapes of wood. These skills overlapped with those of the wheelwrights, who nevertheless remained a distinctive craft group well into the last century.

The demand for carpenter builders coincided with great changes in vernacular architecture. The main innovation was the box frame construction incorporating a chimney, allowing the installation of a ceiling over the ground floor with space made available for new rooms above. Before the Reformation, to take a well-known approximation for a date, the normal East Anglian house had its main room or 'hall' open to the rafters. The change, with smoke going out through a chimney instead of swirling around the hall until it found its escape through a louvre, perhaps with a smoke bay to help, began the revolution in domestic comfort, which transformed the house unequivocally into a home.

An axial chimneypiece that has its brick sides running at right angles to the ridge reveals the first types of house. The door is normally directly in line with the chimney so that it opens into a small 'baffle entry' with progress ahead being blocked by the brick side of the chimney, while doors opening right and left lead one, into the parlour, and the other into the hall/dining room. A dominant type of this period is the three-celled house. The lack of symmetry resulting from door and chimney being placed one-third of the way along the ridge is the hallmark of survivals from this pre-Civil War period. They are still thick on the ground in the Blything parishes, where they formed the homesteads for the traditional '80-acre farms' until a few decades ago when the amalgamation of these small family units made the house redundant. They remain, solid memorials to the 16th century Etheridges, Kemps, and their like.

The wooden heart of the Kemp’s 15th century buildings was traditionally hidden by plasterwork on the outside. In the Tudor period the cage-beams were exposed, and oak-framed farmhouses and cottages are the most enduring fashion products of the British property market. Enduring in two senses: not only have they been in demand continually since the revival of interest in vernacular English building techniques, but they also last a very long time. Some date back to the 13th century.

Probate inventories of the 16th and 17thcenturies show a relatively rapid increase in the use of furniture, which hitherto had hardly been referred to in East Anglian wills. These important social changes of this 'age of wood' were slow, but no other period can quite match the rise in domestic comfort, brought about by the work of carpenters and joiners, until the arrival of electricity.

However, we must not forget that these homes were built to house the yeoman farmer, his blood kin, and his extended family of servants and labourers. These original inhabitants lived in unbelievable squalor, up to 14 sleeping in the 'traditional Suffolk farmhouse', such as those built by the Kemps. This space is now considered adequate for no more than a couple with a small family. We forget just how grim these hovels were, not only in medieval times but also until the 19th century. The water supply was a pond or moat outside and the privy was a hole in the garden enclosure. Now, the oak-framed cottage with a thatched roof has become a sort of rallying cry for antiurban sentiment.

The Kemps passed rapidly through Theberton and James’ son carried the next generation through Rendham and Sweffling as yeoman farmers. A full account of the Suffolk Kemps and their kin down to the present may be accessed at

Charles Montagu Doughty

In the Encyclopedia Britannica for 1811 the life of the still living British explorer and writer Charles Montagu Doughty was summarised as follows.

He was born in 1843, the youngest son of the Rev. C. M. Doughty of Theberton Hall, Suffolk. In 1875 he made an adventurous journey through northern Arabia, remaining nearly two years in the country, and, after many hazards and hardships, finally emerging at Jidda. He published the results of his observations in a work since recognized as a classic worthy to rank with the records of the Elizabethan voyagers. Travels in Arabia Deserta, issued by the Cambridge University Press in 1888, received at first little recognition and brought its author no material reward. But gradually its fame spread amongst travellers and lovers of literature until the rare copies of the first edition were scarcely procurable at any price, and in 1921 a facsimile reprint of the two volumes was issued at 9 9s. The value of Doughty's work as a traveller had by that time secured universal recognition; nothing was left for any future explorer to study between Damascus and Mecca which Doughty had not already closely studied, and in 1912 the Royal Geographical Society bestowed on him its Founder's gold medal. He had done other work previously, and he published several volumes; but he remains, in the estimation of the literary world, the author of one book. It should, however, be noted that in 1866 he brought out On the Jostedal-Brae Glaciers in Norway, and a collection of inscriptions copied by him in Arabia was published by the Academic des Inscriptions et BellesLettres in 1884. His later years were devoted to poetry and poetic drama. In 1906 he published an epic in six volumes The Dawn in Britain, followed by Adam Cast Forth (1908), The Cliffs (1909), The Clouds (1912), The Titans (1916) and Mansoul, or the Riddle of the World (1920).

An abridged version of Volume 2 of 'Arabia Deserta' is available on-line.

Douighty's 'Chronicles of Theberton' published in 1920, is also available in a digital format.

'Passing through'

Passing Through

Nobody in the widow's household
ever celebrated anniversaries.
In the secrecy of my room
I would not admit I cared
that my friends were given parties.
Before I left town for school
my birthday went up in smoke
in a fire at City Hall that gutted
the Department of Vital Statistics.
If it weren't for a census report
of a five-year-old White Male
sharing my mother's address
at the Green Street tenement in Worcester
I'd have no documentary proof
that I exist. You are the first,
my dear, to bully me
into these festive occasions.

Sometimes, you say, I wear
an abstracted look that drives you
up the wall, as though it signified
distress or disaffection.
Don't take it so to heart.
Maybe I enjoy not-being as much
as being who I am. Maybe
it's time for me to practice
growing old. The way I look
at it, I'm passing through a phase:
gradually I'm changing to a word.
Whatever you choose to claim
of me is always yours:
nothing is truly mine
except my name. I only
borrowed this dust.

Stanley Kunitz