Origin of WesthallWesthall was not included in the Domesday survey. However, it has been generally assumed by local historians that in the densely settled Saxon lowlands of this part of Suffolk it was the western ‘nook-community’ of Brampton, tucked away in a secluded valley that leads from Brampton’s parish church up onto the remote plateau between the Blyth and Waveney river catchments. In this respect, it was on the frontier of the Anglo Saxon migration from the coastal valleys towards the more intractable wooded soils of the western claylands. The arrangement of the 19th century boundary between Westhall and Brampton suggests that Westhall was created after Domesday as a separate parish by a more or less equal diagonal division of land between the two communities (Fig 1). A large section of this division (the red-dotted line in Fig 1 marked ‘A’) takes a remarkably straight cross-country trajectory. In contrast, the undulating parts of the boundary either follow watercourses or the curves of field enclosures. The latter were probably part of the early settlement pattern of small irregular-shaped family holdings in the valley near Brampton Church. The portion of Westhall’s western boundary, marked ‘B’, also has a relatively straight alignment. Both A and B can be taken to mean that these sections of Westhall’s limits were laid out in an unoccupied featureless countryside, each being the result of a distinct bout of surveying. A large portion of B follows Butt’s Road, which may be an ancient ridgeway from the river crossing of the Blyth at Halesworth to the Waveney at Beccles and Bungay. This route may well pre-date the so-called Roman Stone Street that runs parallel to Butt’s Road about a mile to the west. There is no clear evidence as to the date of Westhall’s boundaries.

Fig 1 Parish boundaries of four parishes contiguous with Brampton (broken black line represents hundred boundary;
red-dotted line represents cross-country parts of parish boundaries).

The only pointer to a manorial alliance between Brampton and Westhall are the court records of Brampton manor that show the advowson of the two churches, together with those of the adjacent communities of Redisham, Shadingfield and Stoven, were focused on Brampton Hall (Table 1). This was probably the outcome of a gathering of manors under a single owner. In the 17th century, Westhall’s manor of Empoles, had most of its lands in Brampton (see below).

Table 1 Entries from the court rolls of Brampton

1339- Edmund son of Robert del Clyf and Katherine his wife v. Augustine de Clyf, parson of Brampton Church and John Paf chaplain of the manor and advowson of the Church in Brampton.

1411- Augustine de Cliff presented to the Church in Brampton

1435- William de la Pole presented to the Church in Brampton.

1438- William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, John Belley, and John Wareyn v. John Gramond and Isabella his wife of the manor called Brampton Hall, and advowson with appurtenances in Brampton, Westhall, Redisham, Shadingfield, and Stoven.

1442- William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, John Belly, and John Wareyn v. William Wood and Margaret his wife, of the manor called Bramptonshalle and advowson with appurtenances in Brampton, Westhall, Redisham, Shadingfield, and Stoven, and the advowson of the Church of those manors


Warner, using stylistic evidence to compare St. Andrew’s church at Westhall with others in the vicinity, raised the possibility of the parish originating as an Anglo-Norman ecclesiastical estate dependent on the Cluniac community of Wangford. Starting with the late 11th century core of the modern parish church, he proposed a hypothetical sequence of architectural changes by which a small Romanesque monastic chapel was extended to function as a parochial church for Westhall’s expanding population in the early 13th century. Maybe this grand 13th century building extension, which undoubtedly occurred, coincided with Westhall gaining its independence of Brampton. A key event in this grant of independence may have been the award of a manor in Westhall, together with a market charter, to Hubert de Burgh by King John in 1229. Hubert appears to have consolidated his position in Westhall by building his manor house within a massive six acre double-moated enclosure on the edge of Mill Green (Great Green). This site, known as ‘Moat Yards’, one of the largest moated sites in Suffolk, now lies behind a close of bungalows in the centre of the village. This was probably the origin of the manor later known as Westhall Manor. The de Burgh manor house appears to have been abandoned in the late Middle Ages and the stewardship transferred to nearby Manor Farm on Nethergate Green.

Westhall is particularly rich in moated sites, some of which have been tentatively identified by Warner as the centres of other manorial enterprises. The most significant of these have been added to the following parish map made by Richard Barnes in 1812 (Fig 2). Moated sites were first constructed in England between 1150 and 1200, the majority belonging to the period 1200-1325. A declining number continued to be built until about 1550. Westhall and Brampton are particularly rich in these water features (Fig 3), which supports ideas that they were part of a common process of land division in the 13th century centred on a collection of newly formed manors.

Fig 2 Moated sites in Westhall (W) and Brampton (B) and other parishes (Suffolk Historical Atlas)

Fig 3 Westhall at the beginning of the 19th century (based on Barnes’ book of farm maps as assembled by Warner)

The process of manorialisation of Westhall continued into the next century. The Empole or Enepole family are recorded as being in possession of a manor in the 14th century. This property was held in the 15th century by the Crofts. It was bought in 1533 by Nicholas Bohun.

A third manor of Bacon’s was in the hands of Simon Bacon in 1305. It passed through the Wingfield family during the reign of Henry IV and was acquired by Nicholas Bohun in 1535. His son, Francis, on inheriting these two properties added to them by the purchase of the manor of Westhall (this was probably the old demesne of the de Burghs).

A fourth Westhall manor named Barrington’s was vested in Sir John Barrington in 1375 and remained in that family until 1562 when Thomas Barrington sold the property to Francis Bohun.

Fig 4 Westhall Hall (from Warner’s transcription of Ladler’s map of the Bohun estate dated 1665)

Francis Bohun had thereby established himself as the sole lord of Westhall. He also had extensive property in Brampton. A local date stone marked ‘FB 1570’ supports the idea that Francis built the Elizabethan mansion that became known as Westhall Hall to the north of the old moated site of Empoles. On a map of the Bohun’s estate made by Ladler in 1655, the position of the earlier moated manor house was indicated to the south of the Bohun’s Elizabethan house in a field by the river labelled as ‘Ye Moote Yards’ and the ‘Scituateon of Empole (Fig 4). The site, quite distinct from that of the de Burgh manor, is at the far eastern tip of the parish between the ‘way to the sea’ and a ‘revolet’ (rivulet; Scales Brook).

A rambling inscription in Westhall Church records the Bohun’s royal connections to the Plantagenet kings. The family continued in Westhall as players on the national stage from where an Edmund Bohun (died 1699) was appointed Chief Justice of Carolina. The family also had connections with the colonisation of Canada, for in October 1696 Francis Bohun died and was buried at sea whilst returning to Westhall from Hudson Bay. A notable member of Westhall’s Bohun dynasty is Edmund, whose diary has survived to provide a vivid account of his character and times in the latter part of the 17th century.

Empole’s manor was occupied down to the 19th century as Westhall Hall. The last of the male Bohuns died unmarried in 1780. By the end of the 17th century all four manors as one legal entity had come into the hands of the Adairs of Flixton. The house was described in Copinger’s Manors of Suffolk:

“… as a spacious square building, flanked at each corner with a small turret and entered by Tudor archways,the whole of unsightly brick and altogether destitute of any architectural pretensions”

One half of the building was demolished in 1808 and the remaining part used as a farmhouse. The building was purchased in 1829 by William Rouse, afterwards the Earl of Stradbroke. He rebuilt it in 1860 in a Dutch Renaissance style. It was demolished in the 1990s and its name now lives on in West Hall Farm.

Westhall Wood

Westhall was manorialised late in the medieval period and we can speculate that this was probably because it originated as a wooded waste or common for the embryonic Brampton community. In the late 17th century there was a large piece of woodland remaining. This was called Westhall Wood and was part of a substantial outlier of Bohun’s manorial estate amounting to about 80 acres. The wood covered an area of about 40 acres (shown as the large block of land in the south east corner of the 1665 map, Fig 5) and abutted another woodland belonging to another landowner on its western boundary, which was marked ‘Mr. Brocke His Woode’. The field names of this outlier, such as ‘New Layd Close’ and ‘Bush Close’, both situated on the eastern side of Westhall Wood, are evidence that this was a wooded area that was undergoing clearance for cultivation. By 1812 Westhall Wood had been felled and the site divided into six arable fields. At this time, only 14 of the 495 field names, which included the terms ‘grove’, ‘stubbings’ and ‘wood’ could be taken to indicate an origin from woodland.
Fig 5 Bohun’s ‘Westhall Wood property’ (Ladler’s map of 1665, compared with the same piece of land in the 1812 map)

The block is laid out more or less as a rectangle defined and divided longitudinally by hedges running in a north-east direction. Its western boundary, which separated Westhall Wood from Mr Brocke’s wood runs as a remarkable straight line across country cutting across a rivulet draining into the Westhall’s main brook. In the larger perspective of the parish it can be seen that the parallel eastern boundary of the wood is a common right of way, known as Scalesbrook Lane (Fig 6). This lane linka Westhall Wood with Scalesbrook Wood, which still exists to the south, on the parish boundary with Holton. The southern boundary, another straight line, is a packway. As a distinct entity this block of land is a candidate for being part of an earlier independent manor that was aquired by the Bohuns..

Fig 6 Bohun’s land in the larger perspective of Barne’s 1812 map

Pattern and process in land compartmentation

The Ladler map of the Bohun estate in 1665 defines a property that extended deep into Brampton up to the Uggeshall boundary, and was laid out as a network of ‘closes’ and ‘meades’ in more or less equal numbers. On average, closes were nearly five times larger than meads and the two categories were probably used for different purposes, namely closes for arable and meades for grassland. Incidentally, the inclusion of two very small isolated strip fields in the north west corner of the Bohun 1665 outlier hints at the complexities of land ownership as it had developed historically up to the 17th century.

Regarding the process of sub-division of Westhall into its agricultural enterprises that were mapped in the 19th century, we really have to work backwards and forwards from the Tithe Map and Apportionment, scrutinizing field surveys for evidence of changing patterns of occupation.

Fig 7 Property ownership/tenancies 1840 Tithe Map (Compartments in common ownership/tenancy are marked in the same colour)

It is important to bear in mind that through the centuries, land ownership has always been fluid. For example, comparing the two maps of Westhall of 1812 and 1840 shows that the social dynamics of the community was producing small yet significant changes in land ownership, field compartmentation and adjustments of the parish boundary. These changes were probably a continuation of processes of enclosure, expansion of property holdings and increasing field size that had gained momentum in the previous century. They continued after 1840 and culminated in the landscape upheaval of the 1850s when Westhall’s four commons were enclosed. This enclosure was the termination of a socio-economic process that began after Domesday as ever more land was brought into cultivation.From the Tithe Map and its Apportionment it is evident that in the 1830s the farms in the northwest corner of Westhall were set out in a pattern of well-defined blocks (Fig 7), which extended from the Cox Common and its extension (Westhall Green) in parallel ribbons. The long axis of numerous rectangular fields making up these ribbons tend to run at right angles to the edge of the common. It is clear from the pattern of distribution of fields that the two small tributaries of the watercourse that drain northern Westhall into Redisham were basic property boundaries for this process of land compartmentation. These water courses, although barely discernable today, are the only topographical markers in an otherwise flat landscape. With respect to the two farms which span these streams, it is logical to assume that they were expanded by later purchase of additional fields across the watercourses.

Most tenements are concentrated at the edge of the common land. The smaller fields tend to be associated with the distribution of these tenements, but on the whole, the long rectangular land holdings suggest that they began by the side of the common as small strips of cultivated land. The brown fields dotted white were catgegorised with the same set of numbers on both the 1840 and the 1812 maps, but in 1812 they were arranged in a different sequence. This may be taken to mean that they had once been farmed as a unit in different ownership. The fields coloured yellow stand out because of their distinct pattern and the fact that they are at the extreme north eastern edge of the parish. This block of land was part of a compact property owned by Rev. George Leman. In the 1840s it consisted of 124 acres in Redisham plus the adjacent Westhall block marked in yellow. It was farmed by John Mapleston of Redisham.

Actually, scanning the 1812 Westhall map by eye reveals that the entire parish was divided into many distinct blocks of land defined by the shapes and the pattern of packing of the fields within them. The shape of one of these blocks, centred on modern Stradbroke Town Farm and Red Barton Farm, was of interest to Warner, because in outline it resembled the commons as they were mapped before enclosure in the 1850s. He assembled evidence from field walking that ancient tenements had once existed along its edges. Warner suggested that this block could be the result of an earlier bout of common land enclosure.

All the evidence suggests that the distinct field patterns arranged in clusters, which can be discerned in early maps of all Suffolk’s parishes, were the result of a centuries-long process of adapting the cultivation of Westhall’s soils to the prevailing economy. Tenements, owners and occupiers came and went and the next episode of farming entailed a new arrangement of property boundaries and the building of new homesteads. Copyhold manorial land gradually became freehold. As families moved beyond self-sufficiency and entered a market economy, small strips just sufficient to support a family were amalgamated and merged to make larger commercial holdings.

Warner has made the point that the concentration of the smaller strips around the church and one or two places elsewhere is evidence for the existence of open field systems in Westhall. It is by no means certain that a fully blown feudal system was ever widespread in Suffolk. The evidence, such as it is, suggests that small multi-manorial estates were commonplace characterised by a mixture of small scattered strips side by side with larger closes, both copyhold and freehold.

As far as the commons are concerned, they appear to have been gradually reduced in size by private arrangements with the lord of the manor. Also, there was an ever-present pressure of encroachment eating away at the edges. As late as 1843 a petition was organized by Sir Robert Shaftoe Adair, lord of the manor of Westhall, on behalf of 22 commoners, who between them had a total of 102 rights to turn beasts onto the ‘stinted commons’ and ‘waste’. The Adair petition was set out as a case for eliciting a legal opinion from London lawyers on how to proceed to bring actions for trespass. The manor also appointed ‘Reves’ or ‘Supervisors’ of the commons on an annual basis. The small area of eastern fen land was also stinted, and a list of Fen Reeves has survived for the period 1699-1758.

The overall quantitative situation of land ownership that had been reached in Westhall by the first half of the 19th century is shown in Fig 8, where the amounts of land individually owned in 1840 and 1812 have been plotted as histograms. This analysis shows that there were slightly less landowners in 1840 and the size of their holdings had increased. In particular, the number of persons owning more than 100 acres had quadrupled in three decades

Fig 8a Tithe Apportionment (44 Owners: 8 with area greater than 100 acres)

Fig 8b Barne’s Survey (47 Farms: 2 with area greater than 100 acres)

.Land was not distributed continuously as a statistical norm between owners. This is evident from comparing the shapes of the histograms, which show that the population of owners was more diverse in 1840. There were seven points of inflection on the 1840 histogram, each of which indicates a distinct category of owner in terms of the acreage they owned. In contrast, in 1812 there were only two distinct points of division of the population, which correspond to those people with more than 100 acres of land and those with less than 2 acres. About half of the population in 1812 owned less than an acre of land. This is evidence for there being less economic stratification in the mid 19th century.

The 1854 enclosures

In 1854, Westhall’s five commons were enclosed by an Act of Parliament. This brought to an end a way of life which, although only a small fragment of the day to day activities of the village, would have been recognisable by their Saxon forebears. The Act affected only 32 people who were the owners of land with rights to utilise the commons. Although we have no description of these rights, they probably ranged from pasturing cattle to collecting kindling. At the time, they were unlikely to have been rigorously applied by everyone who was entitled to use common land. Nevertheless, the Act recognised the rights and made provision for an allocation of fields to be made from the commons after enclosure in lieu of these rights. In total, the 32 villagers held 126 rights and the commons were divided into 78 fields for the purposes of making the allocations. In relation to the four hundred or so fields owned by the commoners, they benefited on average by a 25% increase in the size of their Westhall estates. At the end of the allocation, on average, two common rights were equated approximately with one additional field. This variability was probably due to the fact a right was specified for a particular purpose: for example, a right to graze a cow throughout the year was worth more than a right to collect kindling at a specified time.

Fig 9 Relationship between the rights held by each commoner and the allocation of fields

There was great variability in the relationship between the rights of owners and the number of fields allocated (Fig 9). For example, a group of 12 commoners were allocated only 1 or 2 fields irrespective of the number of rights they held. At the other end of the range, one individual with 2 rights was allocated 8 fields.

Fig 10 Relationship between the size of the farm (number of fields) and the number of common rights attached to the owner.
There was a similar variability between the size of the holding and the number of common rights it held (Fig 10). A clue as to why this was so emerges from a consideration of one of the holdings consisting of 5 fields with 12 common rights, the largest number attached to any one property. This was part of the estate of Sir Robert Shaftoe Adair, who was lord of the manor, and his common rights were listed for Manor Farm, which was in the hands of his tenant, George Newbury. This property, although small, was at the centre of the Adair’s Westhall estate, consisting of four farms, including Manor Farm, bordering Mill Common and Nethergate Green. Considering the situation of all commoners it seems their rights were attached to individual tenements, most of which were freehold and had over the years become incorporated into larger and larger estates. It just happened that the George Newbury tenancy was listed separately from the rest of the Adair estate, whereas for other landowners the tenements with common rights were included with their other properties, which did not have access to common land. As a rule, tenements with common rights were situated close to one of the four commons.

The eventual outcomes of the 1854 enclosures were profitable for several commoners who held rights on Mill Common, the largest piece of common land, because it was here that some of the enclosed fields were later used for housing developments by which a new village centre was created.

The airfield

Arguably the biggest upheaval in Westhall’s landscape came with the Second World War, when in 1943 a large parcel of land in the southwest corner of the parish was requisitioned as part of Halesworth Airfield (Fig 11). This flat plateau was the site for the main runways and perimeter track, with bomb storage facilities in Scalesbrook Wood. The supporting infrastructure was centred across the border within the Holton Park estate.

Fig 11 Map of Halesworth Airfield

A sequence of landscape changes in this area of the parish can be traced from the first post-enclosure19th century OS map up to 1975, when the runways had been developed as a farm for the mass production of turkeys (Fig 12). There is also a map prepared for the sale of airfield land in 1962, which shows the runways and perimeter track superimposed on a map of the original field system (Fig 13). Scalesbrook Lane and the fields, which were enclosed from Bohun’s Westhall Wood, were all buried beneath thousands of tonnes of concrete . The lane ran from Holton, entering Westhall across the Scalesbrook boundary, and continued along the western side of Scalesbrook Wood to Scalesbrook Cottage, then on to Brick Kiln Farm. The site of Scalesbrook Cottage is now covered by the southwestern runway. The public right of way through the lane has been diverted to the east, where it follows the perimeter track to rejoin the terminal portion of the old lane just before Brick Kiln Farm.

Fig 12 Mapped time-line of the airfield in Westhall

Fig 13 Part of map prepared for the sale of airfield land (1962)

Colours represent the different sale compartments

Construction of the airfield also obliterated at least a thousand years of landscape history inscribed within a distinct pattern of field boundaries, which was the outcome of the lives of many generations of the occupiers of this few hundred acres of the parish. Scalesbrook Wood is now the only living witness of this human history. It is probably the remains of a portion of Westhall’s ancient community woodlands, which once extended northwards as part of a much greater wooded resource. In its present neglected state, criss-crossed by wartime concrete roads with overgrown earthworks and derelict buildings, Scalesbrook Wood stands as a forlorn living memorial to Westhall’s woodsmen who managed it through the centuries, and also bears witness to the four hundred airmen who died during the airfield’s brief period of wartime operations (Fig 14).

Fig 14 Scalesbrook Wood, 2007.