Old Schoolhouse from bottom of Schoolhouse Lane

The history of an ancient double-hedged track and its place in the landscape

Written by Denis Bellamy & Ruth Downing 1987; revised 1996 & 1999 and is currently undergoing further revision in the light of new information about ownership. Also, the tables and figures are being reviewed.

"What is new among us is not patched artificially on to the old, but grows organically out of it, with a growth like that of your own English oak, whose every year's leaf crop is fed by roots which burrow deep in many a buried generation, and the rich soil full of a thousand years" Charles Kingsley "Two Years Ago"


The enlargement of Suffolk farms during the last thirty years of intensive agriculture has obliterated many hedgerows and farm tracks before their cultural significance was recognised. Schoolhouse Lane, in the Suffolk parish of Chediston, is a rare survivor. It originally gave access to fields on the hillside to the south of the village from an ancient road (the B 1123) linking the catchments of the Blyth and Waveney valleys, and the market towns of Harleston and Halesworth. Schoolhouse Lane was accessed from the main road by a ford (Fig 1).

Fig 1 Sketch map of part of Chediston parish showing the field system as it was about a century ago based on the 1840 Tithe Map and Apportionment(shaded fields owned by Church Commissioners were farmed by Hill Farm)

Such relict landscape features are worthy of preservation as material elements of local social history, and also because they add character to a landscape and bring diversity to its biology. It is in this spirit that we have compiled the following study of Schoolhouse Lane and its place in history.

General description

The name "Schoolhouse Lane" was coined by the authors in recognition of the fact that the track originally left the main road from Halesworth to Linstead and crossed a ford by the side of a house called 'The Old School House'. This cottage was listed in the Tithe Apportionment of 1840, when it was in the occupation of a family called Cady. The school, across the road, was not built until 1914 and the track existed before this time. In the Apportionment, Schoolhouse Lane is simply described as a 'drift', as are most anonymous farm tracks in this part of Suffolk. Its ownership was then shared between Hill Farm, which owned most of the straight bottom section, and the Church, which kept the rest in hand. At that time a large proportion of land on the southern bank of the stream (Chediston Beck) was owned and managed from properties to the north. In particular, the main glebe lands of Chediston were situated across the stream from the village, on the western side of Schoolhouse Lane, where the track terminated (Fig 2).

View of Chediston School across old ford, now a private dwelling

Fig 2 Relationship of Schoolhouse Lane to farms and the village

In the Tithe Apportionment some of the glebe was still owned by the Church. This amounted to 58 acres (about 90% of the parish glebe), and was farmed from Hill Farm across the road to the northwest of the ford. Clearly, Schoolhouse Lane was vital to gain access to fields on the southern bank of the stream.

IMGP0341.JPGThe track has been isolated and without purpose for at least half a century. Excavations to improve the flow of the stream destroyed the crossing and it has now been blocked by construction of a carparking space alongside the Old School House. There is no right of way along Schoolhouse Lane. It does not connect with any other track and was never part of a footpath network. Indeed, it is isolated from the main north-south parish right of way (Packway), which crosses the stream about a quarter of a mile to the east of the old ford and leaves the parish to the south of Chediston Grange.

At the time of the Tithe Survey, two fields, known as Little and Great Glebe, belonged to Home Farm to the west of Schoolhouse Lane. 'Home Farm' became, 'Low Farm', then 'Marsh Farm', and is now known as 'Walnut Tree Farm'. These two fields had probably once belonged to the Church. In 1925 the upper Church fields were sold to the owner of Chediston Grange. Since all these fields belonged to farms on the southern bank of Chediston Beck and could then be accessed from farm tracks on either side of Schoolhouse Lane, destruction of the ford in the interests of better stream drainage was no loss, and was not opposed. As a redundant, isolated track, with no public right of way, Schoolhouse Lane is now disused, and was virtually impassable at the time we began our study. Its situation in relation to the farms, the village and former glebe lands is shown in Fig 2.

The bottom part of Schoolhouse Lane became part of Walnut Tree Farm when the Downings bought Hill Farm in 1952. The top part now belongs to Chediston Grange. From 1987, when the first survey was carried out, to the present time, the only management has been to open up the middle of the track to enable the owners to walk the whole length. The hedgerows on either side contain several large oaks, and over the years substantial multiple trunks had grown from the many old coppice stools. It is one of the few landscape features remaining in a valley that has not been denuded of hedgerow trees by enlargement of the fields.

The most recent development has been the inclusion of the lower section of Schoolhouse Lane in a MAFF Countryside Stewardship Agreement with Downing Farms. The objective is to revitalize the old Field Maple, Hornbeam and Ash coppice. As part of this project, nest boxes have been positioned on the mature Oaks in an effort to aid diversification of the local bird population.


Schoolhouse Lane offers an easy climb up a gentle slope from the valley bottom, rising about 100 ft to the edge of the clay plateau. The lower part of the track is curved, following a shallow gully running down off the plateau to the stream. For the most part the track is situated in the bottom of this gully. However, the first 30 metres it is aligned slightly to the west of the gully bottom, and the base of the track slopes down from west to east following the incline of the western field (Fig 3). In other words at this point it seems once to have been part of the western field, which in the Tithe Apportionment was called Cady's Hill. Further up, the absence of a ditch, and the presence of a headland to the eastern field suggest this section was originally taken from the eastern fields.

Fig 3 Diagrammatic east (left) to west (right) section across the lower section of Schoolhouse Lane.

At about 200 metres up from the road the track turns sharply to the west and runs as a broad terrace parallel with, and just below, the edge of the clay plateau between Chediston and Cookley. The first part of the dogleg is a 5-metre wide track between two prominent lynchets. (Fig 4).

Fig 4 Cross-section of the upper part of Schoolhouse Lane (east-west run of the dogleg)
After about 50 metres it turns south at a right-angle (the 'dog-leg'), and after another 50 metres, runs out onto the plateau to continue to the south as a simple ditch boundary. On the Tithe Map at this point the drift gave access westwards via a wide headland to 'Little Glebe'. There was also a path marked along the other side of the headland in `Shed Field', which passed a field building, entered `Further Six Acres', and terminated at a field on the parish boundary. The latter field is a site where Roman Samian Ware pottery fragments have been found.

All field boundaries, which abutted onto the lower curved section of Schoolhouse Lane, were straight, and the hedges of the fields to the east and west did not connect across it. For example, it appears that the prior existence of the dogleg boundary forced later surveyors to lay out an L-shaped field to the west ('Three Acres"; Fig 1). The upper east-west section of the track seems to have been taken from the southern fields. In parts the track is slightly below the bottom of its hedges, but it cannot be classed as a major 'sunken way'.

The general conclusion from all of these observations is that the track was created after the surrounding field system was laid out, and that the fields were created at different times.

Taking a broader view, the first part of Schoolhouse Lane is one of four north-south orientated boundaries running up the side of the valley in shallow gullies that separate different field systems. These are marked 1 to 4 in Fig 5. Only Schoolhouse Lane is not ditched all the way. The others vary in the depth of the ditch. The most dramatic one is number 3, which in parts is about 10 ft deep and is a major obstacle to movement of farm machinery from east to west. The ditches carry very little water, even in winter.

Fig 5 is taken from an early OS map before the school was built. It shows the parish boundary to the south, which abuts onto the parishes of Linstead and Cookley.

Fig 5 Positions of Walnut Tree Farm and Chediston Grange in relation to Schoolhouse Lane and the southern edge of Chediston Parish

Character of the field systems

The character of a field system is expressed in the size and shape of the compartments, the number and size of individual hedgerow trees, and the effect of management on the structure of the hedgerow as a boundary and resource for timber, poles and fuel.

Old hornbeam coppice stool
The field systems on either side of Schoolhouse Lane as it was mapped in late Victorian times may be compared with how they looked in the 1980s (Fig 6). Then, very little was left of the original patchwork of hedgerows that were originally lined with freestanding trees. An idea of the landscape features that have been destroyed can be obtained by examining the remaining features of Schoolhouse Lane, and those of Compartment 348, and boundary 4, which formed a common boundary of Compartments 350 and 351. Large oaks still dominated the remaining hedgerows. The hedges were composed mainly of the multiple trunks of secondary growth from massive coppiced stools of ash, hornbeam, and maple. Each stool occupied several feet of the hedgerow, the largest, a Maple in boundary 4 being about 7ft wide. These stools have not been managed for many decades, and the suckers, having grown to multiple trunked trees, were a dominant feature in the landscape.

Compartment 348 from Schoolhouse Lane
Compartment 348, once an old drift and now an `ecological island', is particularly interesting because it has many features of Schoolhouse Lane. It is about three times wider, but the coppice stools, which delineate its boundaries, are of the same size and species. It has a very large dry pit excavation at the lower northern end similar to that at the top of the first stretch of Schoolhouse Lane. The ground within the compartment is flat, and on a level with the surrounding land. Although nettle ridden, particularly in the vicinity of some old Pheasant feeders, there are patches of Dog's Mercury and Primroses, which are characteristic of the ground flora of Schoolhouse Lane. In 1840, it formed a connection between Compartments 347 and 349 (Great and Little Guiselmere). All three compartments were owned by a William Pattison, of the Duke of Wellington Public House at Chediston Green, as an outlying unit of a small farm. The other fields in the block between Schoolhouse Lane and boundary 4 were divided between Hill Farm and Upper Farm. The whole unit is now leased to Walnut Tree Farm, which gains access through a gap made in the bottom of the track alongside the stream.

Fig 6 The field systems on either side of Schoolhouse Lane (1882)
This map is earlier than that in Fig 4: the numbers are the Tithe Apportionment designations


There is a correlation between the age of a hedge and the number of shrub and tree species in it. The results of a survey of the distribution of trees and shrubs in Schoolhouse Lane in 1986, give an average for the first 90 m of 7.7; for the next 100 m to the dogleg, 5.4; and for the dogleg 5.0 Other fields on Walnut Tree Farm averaged about 5 species per 30 m length.

There are several ways to express species diversity of hedges. In Fig 7 the data for the whole of the eastern and southern part of Schoolhouse Lane is presented as a histogram showing the number of times a particular species was found in a 30 m length. Thirteen species were found, the dominant species being ash, hornbeam, hawthorn and oak. The rarities were spindle, hazel, crab apple, and Midland hawthorn.

Fig 7 Species of eastern and southern hedges of Schoolhouse Lane.
Total length of hedge 400m; frequency determined in successive 30 m lengths


A = Acer (Maple);
Ca = Crataegus (Hawthorn)
Co = Cornus (Dogwood)
Coy = Corylus (Hazel)
Cr = Malus (Crab Apple)
Crm = Carpinus (Hornbeam)
E = Euonymus (Spindle)
F = Fraxinus (Ash)
M = Crataegus (Midland Hawthorn)
P = Prunus (Blackthorn)
Q = Quercus (Oak)
S = Sambucus (Elder )
U = Ulmus (Elm)

The frequency of species in successive 30 m sections is given in Fig 8.

Fig 8 Frequency of tree species in successive 30 m sections along eastern and southern hedges from north to south.

The highest frequency was found in the first section, with a decline in species number towards the centre of the first north-south length. The diversity then increased, but did not reach that found in the initial section. The range in diversity was between 10 and 5 giving an average age of 5-600 years from first establishment.

Another survey was carried out in which each specimen tree was counted in successive 5-metre stretches for the first 100 metres (Table 1).
The survey showed that Elm gradually became the dominant species in the first 25 metre length. This appeared to be a suckering clone, and its vigorous competitive growth may well have reduced the diversity of this section, and the diversity of some of the other 30 m sections in Fig 8, by competitive exclusion. The survey also provided evidence for the zoning of other species, particularly Maple, Hawthorn, and Hornbeam. The latter species was more commonly found in the upper southern sections, where a number of very large former pollards were found. In terms of numbers of individuals, Elm was by far the most common tree species, most of the specimens being small maidens. All of the mature Elms in the Blythe Valley have now succumbed to Elm disease. This does not kill the root systems of clones, and there is periodic re-growth until the bark becomes suitable for reinfection. These clones may therefore be perpetuated in hedgerows by frequent coppicing.

With regard to other hedgerows in the vicinity, none of those selected gave the highest 30-metre frequency found in Schoolhouse Lane. There was also an indication that different hedges had different species compositions (Table 2). According to the dominant species these differences produced: -

- "hawthorn hedges";
- blackthorn/hawthorn hedges
- oak/elm/ash/apple/hawthorn' hedges;
- ash/hawthorn/hornbeam/oak" hedges.

Apple and cherry trees usually occurred in isolated clusters indicating a short-distance spread by seeds from a pioneer invader. Isolated bullaces (plums) and willows were also found occasionally. One pear tree was located in the hedge running down to the road to the west of Packway Farm.

Table 2 Frequency of tree species in five widely separated hedges (A-F) of Walnut Tree Farm (formerly Marsh Farm)
A & B = numbers in successive 10 m sections
C = total numbers in a length of hedge
D, E & F = numbers in three selected 10 m sections

The distribution of trees and coppice stools in Schoolhouse Lane is presented in Table 3. It is clear that the two sides of the track differ in terms of biodiversity and the past impacts of woodmanship. The numbers of trees and coppice stools in the different sections are presented diagrammatically in Fig 6. Altogether there were 28 Oaks; 20 Ash stools, 17 Maple stools and 31 Hornbeam stools. The western hedge contained almost 50% more trees and stools that the eastern one. A fairly common feature of the Hornbeams was that the smaller trunks and suckers were becoming moribund, and several had died.

With regards the ground flora of Schoolhouse Lane within the two boundary hedges, it is nettle-free and is dominated by Dog's Mercury and woodland grasses. There is a high frequency of Primrose. Generally, the species frequency of ground flora is low because of the high degree of shading from the hedges, which at the time of the survey for most of its length were 5-10 m high. There has been much regeneration between the hedges, particularly with respect to Hornbeams, which are now small trees. A few years before the survey, a 10-metre section at the junction of a former field boundary on the western side was cleared. The space is now a mass of brambles, and oak is regenerating naturally in the gap.



Origins of Schoolhouse Lane

From its relationships with the field boundaries that joined it, and its alignment in relation to these boundaries, Schoolhouse Lane was created by taking in a portion of existing fields along their hedgerows to facilitate getting to fields along the southern crest of the valley. The objective was to access a system of densely packed fields, which were cultivated from homesteads across the stream on the southern side of the valley. The creation of tracks along the edges of fields was a common practice and, until recently, there were many local footpaths, between farms, and from farms to the nearest road, which dog-legged around the edges of rectangular fields. Fields also took precedence in the layout of major cross-country routes. Before it was straightened, the B 1123 from Halesworth to Harleston had many right angled bends, several of which still remain between Linstead and Metfield forcing the motorist to brake sharply into the slow motion world of the packhorse and ox-drawn cart.

Fig 9 Four field systems, which impinge on Schoolhouse Lane

Evidence that Schoolhouse Lane was fitted into pre-existing field systems is first, that it follows a natural gully which was the boundary between two blocks of land, which are very different in terms of the shapes and sizes of compartments (1 & 4 in Fig 9). This gully-boundary is probably older than the adjacent field systems, which were probably laid out at different periods.

After the track was established the hedgerows on either side were under different management, both from side to side, and from section to section, depending on whose field the track was taken from. The block of fields to the east, with its centre on compartment 338, was in multiple ownership. In its turn, the compartmentation of this system differed from the next block (4 ) to the east.

A second line of evidence that Schoolhouse Lane is a secondary feature that developed from an earlier field system comes from taking a bird's-eye view of the track and its surroundings. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Schoolhouse Lane took a dogleg to the west in order to go around a pre-existing boundary, which delineated block 3, and that this boundary also influenced the division of block 4.

Northern lynchet (ancient wood bank?)
Finally, the great heights of the lynchets above and below the track as it skirts the upper field indicate the antiquity of the boundary at this point. Where an ancient wood abuts on arable land, particularly where the land slopes away from the wood, there is often a change of ground level with a lynchet on the open land caused by ploughing. It may be that block 2 marks the position of a former wood, and the ploughing above and below the boundary has produced the present dramatic terrace. Now, the only evidence of woodland in the vicinity is a small strip of trees about a mile to the south. Its name Spring Wood indicates that it was an ancient coppice. Another feature pointing to the antiquity of this block of plateau land is the discovery of fragments of Roman Samian Ware on the surface of one of its fields. Similar evidence of Roman occupation has been obtained from field walking the plateau fields in adjacent parishes. Block 2 could be the site of a Roman estate, the rectilinear northern edges of the block marking part of the original estate boundary.

Before the hedges that divided them were removed, villagers would have been very much aware of the unique character of different blocks. In particular, block 2 on the clay plateau, with its large rectangular fields, would have had quite a different sense of place to block 1 on the hill side, with its dense tree-lined and coppiced hedgerows running down to the narrow flood plain of the beck. The multiple ownership of Block 1 as it appears in the Tithe Apportionment, and the wide variation in size and shape of its compartments are indicative of the strong influence of ownership history on landscape character. In other words, local sense of place used to be a consequence of the give and take necessary to accommodate all the rights of villagers at the time a large number of relatively small open fields were subdivided into farms. Block 1 in outline could be a relic of the earliest divisions of village land.

Scenic and wildlife values

Schoolhouse Lane has a very important scenic value in a parish, which like most others in Suffolk, has been denuded of hedges and standard trees. To this value can be added its high biodiversity equated with the range of hedgerow species, which is as great as anywhere else in the country, and the number and distribution of very old coppice stools, which by the 1980s had grown in neglect to form multi-trunked trees showing signs of degeneration. It is also particularly notable because of the large number and density of Hornbeams. Hornbeam does particularly well in this part of Suffolk where it was probably an important species of the wildwood. As a habitat, its diverse assembly of plants and animals expresses a unique linear blend of balance, inter-relatedness and dynamic change over hundreds of years. Although a semi-natural accidental survivor as a hedgerow, it represents a genetic continuity with the primeval ecology. In this it is not unusual because most of the hedges of Chediston are hundreds of years old and when they were created there was a larger seed bank for them to fill up with varieties adapted by natural selection to the mosaic of local conditions. This local adaptability probably accounts for the survival of sweet apples in some of the Chediston hedgerows, which may well have a cultural connection with Roman colonists who first introduced them to the British Isles.

Needless to say, Schoolhouse Lane is a jewel that should be protected, rejuvenated, and sustained by not taking from it more than it is capable of making good within the foreseeable future. Unlike the ancient coppice stools, which can only survive with active management, the standard trees can look after themselves. Hedgerow stools developed in close association with the local community, which cropped them for many centuries. In this respect many of them are probably older than the oldest trees in the parish. In contrast with the lives of local people, actively managed coppice in woods or hedges is potenitally immortal. It is a biological heritage that transcends the life of its managers. In a neglected state the stools in Schoolhouse Lane actually have a limited life span. Hornbeam in particular was deteriorating, and the multi-trunked character of all the old stools made it likely that windblow would eventually cause them to split, with the danger of infection of the base. A recommendation of the Farm Stewardship officer was that it was important to begin a new coppice cycle as soon as possible, and this recommendation has been acted upon.

Schoolhouse Lane, along with all the other hedges of Walnut Tree Farm, is now included in the national wildlife stewardship scheme. Coppicing hedges back to ground level is traditional management practice in Suffolk, and this is the main management practice that is being applied to the track. The strong root system throws up vigorous multi-stemmed growth from the cut stool, providing a habitat, which is bushy and warm from ground level. Rotational coppicing every 15 to 30 years provides further diversity of hedges. There is already evidence that Oak is reseeding naturally and the moribund Hornbeams are producing new growth. It was appreciated that this would change the landscape, but it was done in an ordered sequence to minimise the scenic impact.. The operation has boosted the ground flora, and stimulated the natural regeneration of trees from the local seed bank. Also, by foregoing wall-to-wall arable, along the valley side the reinstated coppice cycle is an important local sign that the primeval spiritual compact between people and wildlife is alive. Schoolhouse Lane thereby continues as a living system, and a symbol of sustainable countryside management when so many other ancient biological features have recently succumbed to the accountant's bottom line and are now just lines on old maps.

Of equal value to the community is the place of Schoolhouse Lane in the social history of the parish. It provides a focus for unravelling the many centuries of local land management which, at first imperceptibly, and more recently with an accelerating force, have blurred or destroyed the handiwork of Saxon settlers, Norman magnates and Tudor surveyors. The following section takes up this theme.

Antiquity of local field systems

The earliest map available for the whole of Chediston is associated with the Tithe Apportionment of 1840, and shows Schoolhouse Lane as it is now, but part of a more complex pattern of fields. For the origins of local field systems the authors have scrutinised the documentation of other parishes. For example, maps exist in the Scrivener archive of the old Sibton Abbey estate, which show that, for several parishes, fields marked on the Tithe Apportionment were present in the mid 18th century. Going back further, the abbey rent rolls reveal that enclosed farmsteads were in existence in the 14th century alongside open fields. The abbey had outlying farms in Cookley and Linstead. Evidence that Chediston had a partly enclosed open-field system at this time is an enclosure of about 2 acres listed for Cookley Grange situated in 'Snakermerefield' which was actually in the parish of Chediston. Cookley Grange was on the boundary of Cookley with Chediston, to the east of present day Chediston Grange. The name Snakermerefield indicates that this open field extended to the bottom of the valley and that stream was permanently ponded to form a mere in those days. This kind of documentary evidence is taken to mean that enclosure in Suffolk was a gradually process which started in the early medieval period and was probably largely complete by the end of the 16th century.

The earliest local evidence giving a minimum age for the Chediston field system as shown on the Tithe Apportionment is the investment of Town Farm in feoffees during the reign of Henry VII. In the 1840s, Town Farm consisted of 30 acres let for £26 a year, the rent being used for repairs of the church and other charges to be imposed on the parishioners. If this arrangement coincided with the creation of the farm its age is in agreement with the species diversity of Schoolhouse Lane and other local hedgerows.

Apart from giving access to the southern fields from farms across the stream, Schoolhouse Lane, with its ancient hedges, would have been a long-standing valuable source of coppiced wood for local families. Coppice stools are impossible to date, but from the great size of those in Schoolhouse Lane, particularly those of Hornbeam and Ash, they must have sustained many centuries of woodmanship.

Historical divisions of land

British landscape research has repeatedly shown that many topographical features are much older than we usually think. Until the advent of powerful farm machinery, each generation wishing to change local land use had to adapt to previous usage with billhooks and spades. There could be no clean sheet until the invention of the bulldozer!

The main blocks of land surrounding Schoolhouse Lane, which delineate fields differing in size and alignment, probably have their origins in the development of the local manorial system. In particular, the occasional curvilinear boundaries onto which rectangular L-shaped or triangular fields abut, are probably relicts of ancient land compartments, which may go back a thousand years or more. For example, in the Domesday survey Chediston had 10 small manors each consisting of between 20-30 acres of ploughland, with additional wood and pasture. There is a good chance that some of their boundaries survived into modern systems of compartmentation. At the Conquest, the parish was much the same size as it is now but the land in agricultural production occupied only about 15% of its present area. There was therefore much land still to be divided up. We should expect that many centuries of local land deals influenced the field systems as they appeared in the Tithe Apportionment.

As elsewhere in the county, Chediston's Domesday manors probably developed from the homesteads of the first settlers who would have divided up the valley land before they tackled the more difficult and exposed, poorly drained clay plateau. The earliest forms of boundary were natural features such as streams, gullies, and plateau watersheds. Here we should not forget that every undulation on the valley sides is evidence of the action of glacial meltwaters, and would be more obvious features for the first homesteaders to stake a claim.

Things were less clear cut on the plateau. The name Chediston is most likely derived from a stone marker, a glacial erratic, given territorial significance by the pioneering Saxon family of Ched, or some such name, to set their northern boundary on a featureless watershed. Families in the next valley to the south appear to have made their territory clear to Ched's people with another glacial boulder, Roca's stone (i.e. Rock Stone Farm, in Cookley).

Fig 10 Domesday estates of Bigod, Earl Alan and Balastarius

At the time of the Domesday Survey, Chediston's farms were allocated to three of King William's henchmen. Alan Bigod received the largest portion, a long-narrow block which probably coincided with most of the land from Halesworth up to the cross roads by Linstead Church. Alan, Earl of Richmond, was allocated a smaller, more equi-sided block, contiguous with his larger holding in the northern parish of Wissett. This is likely to have been the rectangular western extension of the parish, bounded by the 140ft contour between Wissett and Linstead Parva. Its manor house was probably sited in 'The Grove', an ancient mounded site dated archeologically to the reign of Edward II, but probably much older. The other recipient of William's largesse was Guiselbert Balastarius, the 'engineer' in charge of his cross-bowmen. These local gifts were but a small part of William's generosity to those who had in effect made him King.

Guiselbert's farm may have been situated in the vicinity of modern Upper Farm. The evidence is the field names given in the Tithe Apportionment for two fields in Block 1 called Great and Little Guiselmere in the block of land to the east of Schoolhouse Lane (i.e. a corruption of 'Guiselbert's' fields by the ponds). In the estate maps produced for W H Pattison these two fields are mapped separately as the 'Gulesmere Lands' consisting of 'Gulesmere' and 'Little Gulesmere', in total about 7 acres. The ford and the bottom part of Schoolhouse Lane, together with the Block 1, may date from this time as a boundary of Guiselbert's manor (Fig 10). The first section has the highest species diversity of any other local hedge surveyed.

Fig 11 Chediston's manors in the late medieval period

The later conversion of Suffolk's feudal manors into a system of private holdings was a gradual process culminating in the creation of the "80-acre yeoman farms" of Tudor times. By the 17th century it is safe to assume that all Chediston was farmed and mostly in private hands. Its old feudal lordships were associated with seven manors, called Norton Bavents', 'Chediston' alias 'Cheston ; 'Wrights' alias 'Glemham', 'Dame Majories ; 'Blenches' alias 'Blanches'; 'Rawlins' (which had the rectory and advowson of the church), and 'Hovells'.

Bavents went with the lands of Chediston Hall, east of Chediston village. Hovell's originally commanded a large area of land on the southern bank of the stream, an area occupied by the Apportionment holdings of Bridge Farm, Chediston Grange and Lower Farm. (Fig 11). The other manors had also emerged from the old estates of Bigod, Richmond, and Balastarius. This late multi-manorial system may have had its seeds in the jigsaw of small independent farms, which comprised the Saxon village.

Origins of Walnut Tree Farm

It is highly likely then, as now, that the most densely managed area in Domesday Chediston was along the main road from the village, westwards to where it climbs up onto the exposed clay plateau through Linstead. Both Chediston and Linstead are border parishes of the old Blything Hundred. The eight farms shown in Fig 2 could be the heirs of some of the Chediston’s Saxon manors. It is quite remarkable that most of them are aligned along the northern slope of the valley about 50 ft above the stream, with their field systems extending across it. Apart from Chediston Grange, Walnut Tree Farm and Bridge Farm, the southern bank was farmed for centuries from this string of northern farmsteads on the warmer side of the valley, reaching from the boundary with Linstead, eastwards for about two miles along the slope to Chediston village.

These farms probably represent the southern holdings of several manors. Their stream lands and fields on the southern valley slope could be the heritage of Saxon parcellation to ensure that each production unit had a good mix of the valley's local resources. Therefore the ford at the Old Schoolhouse was a long-established crossing point for owners and tenants who lived north of the stream, and this feature might be earlier than the full length of the track. A later crossing was made via a brick bridge across the stream to the east of Walnut Tree Farm. Private access points were created by the owners of Hill Farm and Brook Farm to have more direct route to their fields on the southern bank, which were situated on either side of Walnut Tree Farm.

Chediston’s Tudor family farms survived until the 1950s. Some idea of their long-standing territorial features can be obtained from the boundary of Walnut Tree Farm (alias Burlwards; Home Farm, Low Farm; Marsh Farm) as it was at this time (Fig 11). This 75-acre farm was exceptional in being on the southern bank of the stream accessible by its own bridge. It was sandwiched between the flood-prone stream, and the parish boundary with Cookley. The eastern boundary of the farm began in the bottom of a gully (marked 2 in Fig 5), and followed its curves until there was an extension around the edges of three fields that extended to Schoolhouse Lane. The farm boundary terminated in a natural curve at the parish edge. In the introduction to the Tithe Apportionment the property was singled out as exceptional in that from 'time immemorial', when it was known as Burlwards, it had been free of the payment of all tithes., The exact significance of this is not clear except that it must represent an ancient production unit derived from Hovell's Manor with ecclesiastical connections that rendered it free of church fees. It may be significant in this respect that, in the 13th century Robert Hovel and his wife gave property to Blythburgh Priory. There is a high degree of probability that this benefaction was Burlwards, alias Walnut Tree Farm.

The original layout probably set the farm boundary for its whole length in relation to the natural lie of the land. That is to say, the farm in the 1950s had probably been enlarged from its original plan by the inclusion of the three fields to the east of its natural gully-boundary, which belonged to Wrights. Two of these fields, Great and Little Glebe, had probably been purchased from the Church (included in Low Farm in the Tithe Apportionment), and were probably created as part of the layout of block 4 in Fig 8. All of this is circumstantial evidence that Walnut Tree Farm, delineated by a natural gully, a stream and a watershed was a self-sustaining production unit of Hovell's Manor, which was in turn formed from the amalgamation of some of the small Saxon farms listed in Domesday.

The species composition of hedgerows is not helpful in this context. The diversity of the few remaining hedgerows of Walnut Tree Farm varies considerably. Some of them have old coppiced stools of Maple and Ash. Most of the east-west boundaries are more diverse than those running from north to south. There is one hedge, which is composed of virtually pure Blackthorn. Since this was represented as a dotted line on the 1882 Ordnance Survey it was a late planting, probably to make an arable field stock-proof. On the whole the relatively low biodiversity is in favour of a more dynamic management of hedgerows than one would imagine from the visual impact of a walk up Schoolhouse Lane.

If Walnut Tree Farm was the site of one of the pre-Conquest farms, its descent through Hovell's Manor, and development from a mixture of open fields and enclosures, which stressed east-west divisions, would account for the pattern of hedgerow diversity. This makes the point that, as is usually the case, landscape studies reveal more problems that they solve. In attempting to explain a small scenic feature we have opened up wider issues related to a Saxon territorial base that has been constantly exploited and refashioned through the ages. We hope that this will stimulate others to fill in the gaps and discover new evidence to test our hypotheses.

Fig 12 Walnut Tree Farm 1952