Blyth Estuary (blue) bounded by the land above 5m contour; parish boundaries dotted

The above sketch map shows the extent of the Blyth Estuary at the present time. The tidal stream runs from the mouth of the river at Southwold to the A12 trunk road, which crosses the Blyth valley between Bulcamp and Blythburg Quays. Before the road was embanked, the marshes reclaimed and the river straightened and canalised, the estuary extended westwards for a further two miles as a brackish water marsh to the first point where the river could be conveniently crossed at Blyford. In those times local river traffic and maritime trade plied between Southwold, Walberswick, Reydon, Wangford, Blythburgh and Bulcamp, each of these communities having a quay, or staith, on the shore. Even after the Blyth had been straightened to allow navigation inland to the market town of Halesworth, Reydon and Wolsey's quays were used commercially to import coal and limestone and export agricultural produce.

Bulcamp has a somewhat mysterious history. It was listed as being a manorial community in Domesday. When Bulcamp parish was surveyed for the Tithe Apportionment in the 1840s, it was described as a distinct manorial entity, but most of the land (about 1500 acres) was free of tithes. This implies that it was at one time under ecclesiastical control. Now it is classed as a hamlet and there is no record of it ever having had a church.

As a manor, Bulcamp was first mentioned as being associated with the manor of Henham in the papers of Sir Roger de Gant at the beginning of the 14th century. The two manors then passed down as an inheritance package to:-

'Sir Thomas de Kerdeston, who in 1492 granted the manor, and also Henham Manor, except the old park and meadow-land called " Skynnor," and the services of certain persons, to Sir John Carbonel, Knt., William de la Pole, 4th Earl of Suffolk, and others, no doubt by way of settlement'. Subsequently the manor became vested in Sir John Rous, Knt., who died seised in 1652, when it passed to Sir John Rous of Henham Hall, Bart., from whom it has descended in the same course as the Manor of Henham in this Hundred to the present Earl of Stradbroke (ref. 'Manors of Suffolk').

It was in 1544 that Sir Anthony Rous of Dennington, whose descendants became Earls of Stradbroke, purchased Henham Old Hall, and probably the manor of Bulcamp was part of the deal.

The descent of Bulcamp manor is clear, but what about the land?

Regarding Bulcamp's tithe-free lands, there are two local possibilities for them once being under ecclesiatical occupation.

The first possibility is that at some time in the distant past they were granted to Blythburgh Priory. The records (Victoria County History) state that the tithes of Blythburgh, Bramfield, Thorington and Blyford were paid to the priory. There is no mention of Bulcamp.

Only about 13 acres of Bulcamp was subject to tithes, which consisted of Bulcamp workhouse with its gardens, occupied by the Blyth Union Guardians, and 3 acres of marsh, occupied by Nathaniel Micklethwaite. The rent charge of the tithable land that could be cultivated was allocated to the Improprietor in lieu of tithes, who appears to have been the Earl of Stradbroke of Henham Hall. Lord Stradbroke also seems to have owned most of the tithe free land, but Michlethwaite and Rev. Jeremy Day also occupied some of it (it is not clear whether they were owners or tenants). Regarding the 3 acres of tithable marsh allocated to Micklethwaite, the Earl of Stradbroke was directed to make an annual payment of £15 to Sir Charles Blois, lord of the manor of Blythburgh.

By the end of the century, Bulcamp had become incorporated as a hamlet into the parish of Blythburgh and this fact, together with the above reference to the rights of Sir Charles Blois, could be taken to mean that its lands were originally the property of Blythburgh priory. The reallocation of monastic estates took place between 1536-40 and on 29 February, 1537, a pension of £6 was assigned to John Righton the ex-prior of Blythburgh; the three canons were turned out penniless. The house, site, and all the possessions of the priory were originally granted by the crown to Walter Wadelond, of Needham Market, for twenty-one years, at a rental of £59 9s., but in November, 1548, the reversion was granted to Sir Arthur Hopton, lord of Blythburgh. Subsequently by a tortuous geneaological route the Hopton's Blythburgh interest passed to the Blois family who inherited Blythburgh manor.

The second possibility to account for Bulcamp's tithe free status, is that its lands were once part of the estate of Wangford Priory. The Victoria County History states:-

'The taxation of 1291 shows that the benefactions to the priory had been fairly numerous. The prior held lands and rents in Wangford and adjacent parishes of the annual value of £12 1s. 11½d., and also a mill at 'Surgueland,' worth 20s. a year. The spiritualities included Reydon with its chapel, and Stoven, and these appropriations were worth £22 a year. The Valor of 1535 showed that the priory then held the rectories of Wangford, Reydon cum Southwold, Covehithe (North Hales), and Stoven, with portions from the churches of Stoven and Easton Bavents'.

There is no specific mention of Wangford Priory occupying land at Bulcamp. However, as far back as 1328, Roger de Kerdeston, who was then lord of Henham and Bulcamp, had property interests in the parish of Stoven. In this connection, the rectory of Stoven was in the hands of Wangford Priory, which supports the idea that the de Kerdestons particularly favoured the priory. Indeed, Henham was actually a hamlet of Wangford. The Stoven benefaction suggests that the de Kerdeston's, or their predecessors, could also have been minded to grant their Bulcamp lands to the priory.

What of the above connection of Bulcamp with the Hoptons of Blythburgh? In the descent of the manor of Henham (together with Bulcamp) to the Rous family, it passed through the estates of the de la Poles to the Brandon Dukes of Suffolk. From the State Papers in 1538 we learn that the Duke of Suffolk sold the manor of Henham to the King. Sir Arthur Hopton, of Blythburgh, was appointed housekeeper at Henham Hall, which had become the King's demesne. Hopton, however, appears to have been enfeoffed of the manor, for in the same year he conveyed it to Sir Anthony Rous, Knt., of Dennington, in Suffolk, who, on the 28th August, 1533, had been appointed Comptroller of Calais. This brief encounter of the Hoptons with Bulcamp could account for the 3 acres of Bulcamp land mentioned in the Tithe Apportionment as belonging to Sir Charles Blois of Blythburgh.