To understand the origins of the parochial territory of Spexhall requires examining its condition and that of its neighbours at the time of Domesday. The Domesday survey tells that most of Halesworth was in the hands of a powerful Norman baron, Earl Hugh. He was pressing his claim on the remainder of the vill, which was contested by another of King William’s henchmen, Earl Alan. The latter was the major lord of Wissett. A clue to the settlement’s connection with Spexhall could be Halesworth’s ownership of Domesday woodland that could provide pannage for 300 pigs. This is a substantial amount of land that could have been sited on unoccupied claylands to the north of the town. Another large area of pannage was included in the survey of Wissett, again amounting to 300 pigs. These figures are not accurate but are taken to represent orders of magnitude for comparative purposes.

When the first map of Halesworth was made in the mid 18th century, a detached portion of Halesworth was embedded in Spexhall (Fig 1). Subsequent adjustments of this anomaly between Halesworth and Spexhall accounts for the narrow northern extension of Halesworth parallel to Stone Street, the main road to Bungay.

Fig 1 Compartmentation of outlying titheable lands (modified from Warner, 1987)

]In the 1842 Tithe Apportionment, in addidtion to two blocks of fields belonging to Halesworth embedded in Spexhall (shaded in above map), there was also a part of Spexhall that was titheable in Westhall. Westhall was not listed in Domesday, probably because at that time it was part of Brampton. These arrangements indicate that this flat, and still relatively uninhabited landscape, which is part of the watershed between the Blyth, Wang and Waveney, was pre-Conquest wood pasture, with common land rights held by villages to the south. Subsequently, the block of land straddling Stone Street, a supposed Roman road, became shared between the three communities, each having specified amounts of common land, and these commons were subsequently enclosed to give the parochial boundaries as shown in the Tithe Maps. This virtual snapshot of the northern edge of Blything in 1086 illuminates the process of clearing and settlement of upland forest. The process had long been a feature of the spread of the English, as families moved west, exploring Suffolk’s network of streams to access the heavy clay cornlands.

The fact that Spexhall church appears to have originated to serve a chapelry of Wissett, suggests that Spexhall was actually a post-Conquest community created on the eastern plateau lands of Wissett. Wissett's pannage for 300 pigs reinforces the idea that there was a large tract of woodland available to the parish that was probably the plateau land upon which Spexhall was eventually established as an independent parish, where it shared common rights with Halesworth and Westhall.

There are also intriguing arial relationships between the lands immediately to the north of Halesworth and the territory of the three north-eastern parishes of Brampton, Westhall and Sotherton, to the east of Stone St. These three parishes are situated on the edge of the clay plateau with their communities focused in three small valleys with streams feeding the River Wang (Fig 3). If their churches are taken as the main points of settlement, it is clear that the 75 ft contour is a key to the original suitability of these valleys for their first communities. From the churches, the parish lands rise up the valleys to the west, where, in the case of Westhall, the boundary is for the most part aligned north to south, parallel to Stone Street, from which it was separated by about half a mile of territory belonging to Halesworth and Spexhall. The northern boundaries of Spexhall, Westhall and Brampton coincide with Blything's Hundred boundary, as did Halesworth's detached northern block of land.

Fig. 3 Plateau-edge parishes of Brampton, Westhall and Sotherton

The name Halesworth (various early spellings are Halesuuorda, Haleurda, Healesuurda) may have originated as a local description of 'the farming community (urda) of the nook (hale)'. Hal or hall is common to the designations of Spexhall, Westhall, Titshall (an isolated wood in Brampton), Spexhall and Ilketshall. In line with this, there is evidence that these communities spread out from small well-watered valleys at the northern edge of Blything Hundred, up onto the intractable wooded clayland of the high plateau. This plateau between the Blyth and Waveney catchments was probably an impediment to north-south communication from the earliest times. In this respect, Stone Street is regarded as a local engineering initiative of the Romans, to drive a route across the impenetrable claylands between Halesworth and Bungay. This was probably in order to connect the Romano-British farms of Blything with military installations on the Yare and Waveney.

Finally, the establishment of parish boundaries was most likely to be the result of competition between the 'nook' communities for the empty claylands. In this connection, Brampton may be regarded as a prototype of Halesworth, with its church sited above a stream crossed by a minor road. At Domesday it was about twice the size of Halesworth and like Halesworth its lord successfully petitioned Henry III for a market and fair (1251), as did the lord of Sotherton (1226). The latter rights were later transferred to the secondary community of Westhall. This signalled the beginning of the decline of Sotherton relative to Westhall, and by the 17th century it was only half the size of its northern neighbour. At this time (1674) Brampton had 20 households, Westhall had 46, and Sotherton had 21. In contrast, Halesworth had 226 households at this time, and the retail revolution, which boosted the population of Halesworth, had bypassed its northern neighbours, and even the coming of the railway did not significantly enhance their agrarian economies. In contrast to Halesworth, Spexhall, like its eastern neighbour Westhall, remains to this day as a sparsely populated, out of the way place, and rare example of extreme rurality.