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Dutt's Suffolk, 1927
Things of the spirit
A place of fisherfolks' quaint dwellings, ancient and weatherworn, and straggling in a picturesque disorder, so that their very carelessness attracts the eye of the artist- a village reeking of the salt tang flung up by the winds of the grey North Sea which roarsand tumbles at its very doors- a hamlet of strange dykes and lush marshes, with behind it the avers of rolling and unproductive heathland- Walberswick exists as a more quiet and welcome substitute for those busier towns which line the Suffolk coast, and entice worn and jaded townfolk to their doors when the placid ocean gleams with a silvery sheen beneath the darting rays of the Summer sun. And sprinkled among the older buildings- buildings whose yards are crowded with nets and all the varied appurtenances of the fisherman’s craft- are modern villas, prim-looking, and more important perhaps and yet lacking the air of dignity which only age can bestow, and lacking also the colourful tints that years of weather have painted with a brush many an artist would envy.
Going by way of Southwold over the ferry which forms the link between the two places, the tower of Saint Andrew's Church stands lonely and almost, beckoning-a landmark ofdistinction - until one actually crosses the river, and then it seems, lost to the eye, but eventually when the newer part of the village is left behind it once again comes into view, and the first glimpse proves somewhat disappointing. For Walberswick Church today is like a king shorn of his crown, a mere fragment of its original self, the building, in fact, being but a portion of a mightier edifice erected here in the latter part of the fifteenth century. Close by are the remnants-ivy-encrusted and pitiful in their utter ruin-of part of the South aisle, out of which the present building was erected, but these remains still seem alive with the memories which time itself has failed to destroy veritable "sermons in stone" in their rude and yet not inglorious aspect.
But the history of Walberswick Church is a tragedy of human effort baulked and thwarted by the cruel hand of fate. In the time of the Domesday – and maybe before-a thatched religious edifice stood on the marshes South of the present church, but this was demolished in 1473, and its "last visible remains" disappeared about two hundred years back, when a certain Robert Blackmore ploughed up its ancient Cemetery. This older church seems to have been a building of some importance, for we read that it was "adorned with images and accommodated with an organ," whilst in the fourth year of Henry the Sixth's reign work was begun on the steeple, which was intended to be a copy of that in Tunstall, Norfolk. However, the inhabitants of Walberswick apparently thought that their native town was worthy of a better place of worship than their fathers had erected, and they accordingly subscribed towards the erection of a new building - a building which was to be more suitable for a town of the size and importance of Walberswick, for Walberswick at that period was a port which, through its trading and fishing vessels, was known a long way from the shores of its home county. This new church-an edifice of a certain magnificence- contained two aisles, besides at least two altars and an organ, whilst it also possessed a chapel to Saint Mary the Virgin, and the images of St. Andrew, St. James, St. John, the Trinity and Our Lady, these latter being removed form the original building.
The roof was covered with lead, and six pillars and seven arches separated the aisles from the nave.
Unfortunately, however, Dowsing and his satellites performed a considerable amount of mischief here, and later on a worse fate was to befall, although even earlier than this the rot had set in. For in 1539 King Hal had seized the tithes, and after this the prosperity of the town commenced to decline, and because of this the church also lost a large part of its congregation, whilst in 1585 the great bell- a mighty affair of some seventeen hundred pounds in weight - was sold.
It was not until 1695, however, that the church as we know it today came into being, or, at least was transformed into its present condition. During that year the inhabitants put forward the somewhat unique plea that the church was too large for the parish, an average of forty souls comprising the congregation, and because of this, permission was given to remove the roof of the nave, chancel, and North aisle, and also to sell three of the four remaining bells, the proceeds accruing from this demolition being used for the repair of the South aisle, part of which is the present church.
This building consists of flint with stone dressings, and has a nave, chancel, and embattled and pinnacled Western tower nearly a hundred feet in height containing one bell. Entrance is gained by a rather beautiful South porch, containing some splendid carving and two windows. But, as may be readily understood when it is realised that the edifice is but a remnant of its former greatness, the interior is somewhat disappointing. True it is, that the nave has a large number of floorstones, but unfortunately the matrices are missing, although in the chancel are several more, one of these bearing the date 1534.
There are the remains of a beautiful screen, dating from the fifteenth century, on which are delicately carved panels, believed to have been originally decorated with various paintings. The pulpit, is of oak, also splendidly carved, whilst the octagonal font is exceptionally good and well preserved, the figures of birds and animals which decorate its pedestal being almost life-like, so clear-cut and plain they appear.
On the South wa11 is a tablet, to the fifty-one men of Walberswick who participated in the Great War, a brass commemorating the six who paid the supreme price, this bearing thesimple inscription :
"To the Glory of God and in honour of Walberswick men who fell in the War 1914-1919."
In connection with this the story of a different tragedy is told by another tablet on which is the following:
"In Memory of 7 Fishermen, Parishioners of Walberswick, who Drowned at Sea, Sepr.30th 1883", after which appear the names of those who died. And studying this humble epitaph it is as well to realise the truth of the saying that " peace hath her victories no less renowned than war," and that men whose hazardous calling leads them in all weathers and all extremes of climate into the screaming wastes of the sea, that other people may be supplied with food, deserve a niche for themselves in the wall of self-sacrifice, even as others who dared everything when their country called - and not in vain- for succour.
For although no one would wish to belittle the men who gave up everything to fight and die for their country, it should be understood that even at the present time in these alleged piping days of peace, people are risking, in cold blood and without the fervent enthusiasm born of the maddening clash of arms, their very existence in work of which the average man knows nothing-work which, prosaic and ordinary enough to them, is yet worthy of ranking equally with many a deed of which the poets sing. And such an epitaph as the above is usually all that tells their tale - a tale which only imagination can piece together and make understood in all its stark and grim reality.
On the North wall is a mural monument to various members of the Rose family, one of whom-Captain Algernon Winter Rose M.C. - was killed in France in 1918. Another soldier is commemorated by a brass tablet, on the other wall, which records the death in Baluchistan of Lieut. Miles Ransome Turner, who, after serving in the Afghan Campaign of 1919, passed away in the following year at the early age of 20.
There is something about the exterior of St. Andrew's Church which arouses a feeling of sadness allied with a certain surprise. For, gazing at the mighty arches which are all that remain in composite form of the original building, one cannot, help thinking, how pitiable it is that, this was ever allowed to fade into oblivion. And yet, circumstances would have it so, and after all, nobody can change circumstances, however they may struggle- that is, of course, if they are beyond human effort- and the story of Walberswick is one long epic struggle and stress, a struggle against the chain of eventswhich brought it to the ground, and yet, withal, never humbled its pride.
Strange it is how small things have a bearing upon the prosperity of a people, and stranger still when religion is partly to blame for the decline of a town. For the vagaries of the latter undoubtedly contributed to the cause responsible for Walberswick's downfall. At one tine possessing a large population, and doing an immense trade in fish, besides being one of the chief ports for the shipping of butter and cheese-in 1451 it had thirteen barques trading to Iceland and the Faro Islands, besides twenty-two fishing vessels-the town had a succession of charters from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries exempting its tradesmen from tolls and taxes upon their business. At the Dissolution, however, when Roman Catholicisim passed to a considerable extent out of favour, fish began to lose its value from a religious point of view, and partly through this the prosperity of the industry began to decline, whilst the gradual crumbling of the erstwhile mighty Dunwich also had its effect upon the industries of its smaller neighbour.
But probably even this would not have caused that ruin, utter and complete, which tottered Walberswick to the dust, and transformed it from a shipping port of some note into a small and almost significant village, had not another element taken a hand in moulding the destinies of its people. This was that probably worst and most to be feared of all human enemies, fire- fire which with its scorching breath laid siege to much of the ancient Walberwick, not once, but several times. In the sixteenth century this destructive fury launched its first attacks on the town, and in 1633, 1683 and 1749 it again placed its fell hand amongst the ruins left by its former visitations.And perhaps the most terrible thing about it all is that some of this is believed to have been the deliberate work of some persons of criminal propensities-people who either smarting beneath some injustice, or possessing the mania of incendiarism, wrought ruin and devastation at their misguided will.
Another cause of Walberswick’s downfall was an inundation – flood and fire seem to be bedfellows! -in the middle of the sixteenth century, when much valuable timber and property was destroyed.
During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Manor of Walberswick was in the possession of the Hopton family, and about the year 1590 it passed to Sir Robert Broke or Brook. The latter seems to have been considerably unpopular with his tenantry, and in accordance with the common spirit of an age when might was usually the adversary of right, he stole- not too strong a word, that – the commonlands of the inhabitants. This happened in 1612 or thereabouts, and some thirty years later the people regained their own, but shortly after trouble arose through their cattle being driven off and various other measures. Ultimately it came to a fight between the hirelings of the Lord of the Manor and the men of Walberswick and this was apparently as fierce as it was bitter, for four unfortunates lost their lives in the struggle, through which the battleground was ever after called "Bloody Marsh." About the middle of the seventeenth century the manor passed to the Blois family, to whom it belongs to-day. But despite the blows which Fate has dealt so cruelly upon the fair face of Walberswick, she is yet fast recovering from the succession of savage attacks which laid her low. Although her trade has never returned, and as a seaport she has had her day, she is beginning to reap not the actual harvest of the sea, but a harvest almost as rich. For this pleasant village is catering more and more for visitors - visitors who appreciate something different from eye-wearying promenades and concert parties; and through this, houses have sprung up everywhere-houses which, although so different from the fishermen's dwellings, are yet a subtle compliment to them. And thus Walberswick – haunt of artists, of poets, of those towhom beauty calls with a soft entreaty – bids fair to enjoy her own again.
November 11th 1927.
Dutt's Suffolk, 1927
Walberswick, adjoining Southwold, is the most picturesque village on the Suffolk coast. For several years it has been very popular with artists, who find in its quaint old cottages, bridges, ferry, and fine old ruined church good subjects for pencil and brush. It can be reached from Southwold by a ferry across the River Blythe, and has a station on the Southwold railway. Nearly all the villagers have rooms to letbut during the summer months it is often difficult to get lodgings here, so great the village's popularity. The church was built by inhabitants of Walberswick (then a port and market town of considerable importance) between 1473 and 1493. It consisted of a chancel 41 feet a length, nave 27 feet wide, aisles, porches, and a tine lofty tower. Its entire length was 124 feet and breadth 60 feet. It had a clerestory of 18 windows, and its tower had a wooden spire. The destruction of part of the town by fire in 1633 and the damage wrought by Dowsing were partly responsible for the church's decay, and three subsequent conflagrations, together with the depression of the fishing industry which followed the Reformation, reduced Walberswick to such poverty that its inhabitants were unable to restore it. In 1695 they petitioned to be allowed to take down the roof and N. aisle, and sell some of the bells, in order that they might render a portion of the S. aisle fit for the holding of services. Permission to do this was granted, and the present small church was built soon after. It contains little of interest apart from a good font and some carved oak panelling. The tower of the old church has been restored.
Walberswick, an ancient village, near the sea, on the south side of the river Blythe, one and a half miles S.S.W. of Southwold, and three and a half miles N.N,E. of Dunwich, has in its parish 339 souls, and 1771 acres of land, including about 130 acres of open salt marshes and heath, on which all parishioners have a right to graze cattle or geese. It is a place of great antiquity, and was once a considerable town, which carried on an extensive commerce both by land and sea, especially in fish: having, in 1451, thirteen barks trading in Iceland, Ferro, and the North Seas, and twenty-two fishing boats employed off this coast. The alteration of the port, which ruined the town of Dunwich, proved a source of increased prosperity to Walberswick, which continued to thrive till the middle of the sixteenth century, when the alteration made in the established religion proved detrimental to this, as well as to many other towns of the coast, whose principal support was derived from the fishery. From that time, Walberswick began gradually to decline, and repeated and destructive conflagrations hastened its ruin. Before 1583, it suffered severely by fire; in 1633, a great part of it was burned; In 1683it was again visited by a similar scourge; and in 1749, about one third of the small remains of the town was consumed. But since the haven of the Blythe has been improved, by the erection of piers at its mouth, Walberswick has increased its population from less than 200 to 339 souls, and has now a quay for vessels of 100 tons, and a lime-kiln which burns the lime and makes coke under one process, built in 1839, by Mr Samuel Gayfer, the present proprietor. Sir Charles Blois, Bart.,is lord of the manor, which is mostly freehold, and the other principal landowners are Mr. William Borrett and Charles Peckover, Esq. The church (St. Andrew) was rebuilt by the parishioners, who commenced new fabric in 1473, and finished it in 1493. It was a large and handsome structure, and contained a chapel of Our Lady, and images of the Holy Trinity, the Rood, St. Andrew and several saints. Though it suffered considerably from the puritanical visitors of the 17th century, it continued nearly entire till 1696, when the inhabitants, unable to support the charge repairs, took down the greater part of it, reserving only the south-west angle for divine service: some of the outer walls of the chancel are, however, still standing. When entire, the church was 124 feet long, and 60 broad. The tower, which is 90 feet high, was partly blown down in 1839, but was repaired the following year. The benefice is a perpetual curacy, valued in 1835 at £41, and enjoyed by the Rev, Richard Harrison, with that of Blythburgh. Sir Charles Blois is patron and also proprietor of the tithes, which were commuted in 1840, for a yearly modus of £193.Here is a small Independent Chapel, erected in 1831. Lampland Marsh, let foe £5 per annum, has been held from time immemorial for the reparation of the church. Upon 34 acres of enclosed marsh, every householder has a right to turn one head of cattle. On 40 acres of salt marsh, all parishioners have the right to turn what stock they choose, and the poor avail themselves of the privilege by feeding upon it great quantities of geese. A heath of eighty four and a half acres is an open pasture for all resident parishioners, who have also the liberty of cutting furze, turf, ling, &c. The tenant of Westwood Lodge has also the right of turning sheep upon this heath, adjoining which is three and a half acres of open marsh, stocked in the same manner. This marsh might be enclosed and improved at a small expense.
Walberswick is a parish and village, separated from Southwoldby the river Blyth, 1 mile south from Halesworth, in the Eye division of the county, hundred, petty sessional division and union of Blything, Halesworth and Saxmundham county court district, rural deanery of north Dunwick, archdeaconary of Suffolk and diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich: it is an ancient place and was once a town carrying on an extensive fishing trade. The church of St. Andrew, erected about the end of the fifteenth century, and partly rebuilt in 1696, is a building of flint with stone dressings, in the Perpendicular style, and consists of a portion of the south aisle of the former church, a south porch and a western embattled tower 90 feet high with pinnacles and containing one bell: the interior of the tower was in 1893 thoroughly restored at a cost of about £800: there is an ancient font finely carved with figures: the pulpit is of carved oak, and there are some remains of a 15th century rood screen with carved panels, once adorned with paintings: there are 200 sittings. The register dates from the year 1656. The living is a vicarage, united to that of Blythburgh, joint net yearly value £320, with residence, in the gift of Sir Ralph BarrettMacnaughten Blois bart. and held since 1928 by the Rev. Arthur Donald Thompson A.K.C.L. There is a Primitive Methodist chapel. The Townlands charity consists of 283.5 acres of land, yielding from £150 to £200 annually, which sum is divided amongst the poor parishioners. Sir Ralph Barrett Macnaughten Blois bart. D.L., J. P. is lord of the manorand principal landowner. The soil is light, with a considerable quantity of heath land and marsh; subsoil, sand. The chief crops are wheat, barley and roots. The area is 1,978 acres of land, 5 of water, 22 of tidal water and 41 of foreshore; the population in 1921 was 408.
Post, M.O. & Tel. Call Office.Letters through Southwold, Suffolk, which is the nearest T. office.
Railway station (L.&N.E.)
Things of the spirit
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