Uggeshall. It is far lovelier than its name, a peaceful village with ivied elms and old farms as neighbours for its charming thatched church. In medieval letters below a window of the tower is a request for prayers for the 15th century builder. Above is a thatched wooden belfry which replaced the top part of his tower when it fell 200 years ago. The nave has traces of Norman builders and a magnificent roof supported by six shield-bearers. The 600-year-old chancel has a priest’s doorway, and 19th century frescoes showing the ‘Sower and Harvester’. In a deep-splayed 13th century widow is a quaint figure of Dorcas, some village lady of 100 years ago holding a red garment in one hand and a reed basket in the other. The splendid 15th century font has panels with lions and Tudor roses, four more lions guarding it below, a pelican on its elaborate modern cover.

From the handsome Jacobean pulpit Thomas Sheriffe preached for 54 years till 1842. His daugher Harriet was born in the rectory and became one of the first women in Suffolk to deal as a banker and dealer in real estate. Both Harriet and her father are buried in Uggeshall churchyard.

On a stone in the churchyard we notice two cherubs, one trumpeting and the other listening-in. There was laid to rest in this churchyard in 1938 the Revd Arthur Ashton, a rector who had loved this church for 52 years.

(based on the entry for Uggeshall in Arthur Mee’s ’Suffolk’)

Thomas Sheriffe

Most 'country banks' were established from the mid-eighteenth century onward as developments of the existing businesses of local merchants, carriers, brewers or solicitors. From the mid-18th century money was required for rural economic expansion, which for the most part in Suffolk meant the replacement of wooden thatched family housing by larger brick-built live-in shops and houses. The investment required was at first met by loans from other property owners, who were eventually replaced by bankers drawn from the same wealthy category. The Sheriffes of Uggeshall and Southwold were one such family of local financiers who continued this tradition into the 19th century.

At the end of the 18th century, Thomas Sheriffe was Rector of the relatively small parish of Uggeshall tucked into the north-eastern edge of Suffolk’s clay plateau adjacent to Wangford. According to the Tithe Apportionment of 1838, in addition to the greater tithes of Uggeshall, he also had a substantial annual income of a £380 rent charge, derived from 43 acres of glebe land. This considerable income was augmented by his possession of the living of the parish of Sotherton, from which he received £275 a year. He made a good marriage with the family of Affleck baronets of Dalham, near Newmarket, and successfully continued the Sheriffe family tradition of dealing in real estate. He died possessed of much land and was in negotiation to purchase estates in Peasenhall and Framlingham.

Thomas also appears to have been good at taking financial advantage of the Church of England’s tradition of wheeling and dealing in benefices. We get some idea of how he operated from a Release dated 16th May 1805. In this he acknowledges the receipt of £293 9s., which was repayment of a loan with interest that he made to Thomas Rockhill, who was Uggeshall’s miller, and a substantial landowner. Rockhill had recently died and had not entered details of the loan in his ‘black pocket book’. Thomas Sheriffe came to an agreement with Rockhill’s widow and son that there was such a loan, and that interest was also due on it. Rockhill’s son, who was the main beneficiary of his father’s will, repaid the loan in full with interest.

This out of the way spot belied Thomas’ wealthy background as senior member of the Sheriffe family. The Sheriffes became associated with the property boom in Southwold towards the end of the 18th century, when, along with several other local rich clergymen, through the Harbour Act of 1789, he was appointed one of the Harbour Commissioners. As to how Thomas became a member of this very influential urban body we need look no further than his ecclesiastical living of Uggeshall with Sotherton, which was in the gift of the Earl of Stradbroke, Uggeshall’s major landowner. The Earl was the prime mover in getting Southwold’s Harbour Act accepted by Parliament, and Thomas Sheriffe was one of his bondsmen so to speak, and no doubt thereby he was a staunch supporter of the Earl’s proposals for the commercial development of Southwold. There was another connection between Southwold and Uggeshall at that time in that John Thompson, probably the wealthiest merchant of Southwold, owned farms in Uggeshall and the adjacent parish of Stoven. Thompson was intent on realising the potential of Southwold as a seaside resort. He would certainly have come into social if not financial contact with Thomas Sheriffe, his local rector.

centrecliff.jpgThomas Sheriffe used his links with Southwold as an opportunity to make his own investment in the town, and financed the building of the ‘Centre Cliff Houses’, a terrace of three substantial neo-classical cliff top dwellings, which still exist today to the north of South Green. These properties were described by Robert Wake, in his book ‘Southwold and its Vicinity’ (1842) as follows: -

" Centre Cliff Houses, as they are called, present a very handsome and commanding appearance- not less on account of the gracefulness of the buildings themselves, than of the loveliness with which their enclosed shrubberies and tastefully-arranged and very carefully-tended flower-plots, have contributed to their decoration. These have been erected for the accommodation of lodgers, by the REV. THOMAS SHERIFFE; and consist of fine spacious and handsomely decorated rooms; -the group contributing not slightly to our local beauties.”

The lodgers referred to, were upper class families who were beginning to visit Southwold for the summer season. The first stagecoach between Southwold, Norwich and Yarmouth was inaugurated in 1822. The central house (known by the name of Centre Cliff) is of a more grand design than the two properties abutting either side (East House and South House). This indicates that Centre Cliff was built first and the others added later. According to Bottomley, Sheriffe’s Centre Cliff development was completed in 1829. In this period the town was developing rapidly as a seaside resort and began to spawn appropriate leisure facilities such as a racecourse and a reading room. As noted above, John Thompson was an important local developer and created the first outdoor bathing pool (Thompson’s Folly). He also opened The Casino (a subscription reading room) on St Edmund’s Hill in 1800, which by the 1840s had became the joint property of a group of eight shareholders led by the Earl of Stradbroke. The shareholders included three clergymen, one of whom was Thomas Sheriffe. Clearly, pressure was growing for the Corporation to release common land for building, and this prompted the formation of what may be described as the town’s first conservation group in 1807. The group took a lease on a piece of land called ‘St. Edmunds’, or the Gun Hill, for the purposes of preventing the erection of buildings on the southern cliffs. Its battery of cannons had been disarmed in 1819. At this time a scattering of fishermen’s cottages around the Green was being demolished to provide building plots for many grand villas and terraces.

To all intents and purposes Thomas Sheriffe was an active resident at a time when Southwold metamorphosed from a 18th century front-line naval asset, to a burgeoning 19th century peacetime holiday resort. Although he maintained his base in Uggeshall’s rectory, Thomas Sheriffe is actually described as a residential member of an 1837 committee of Southwold, established to supervise enlargement of the seating accommodation of the parish church; a response of the town to increased numbers of seasonal visitors and wealthy residents. In the same year he was listed as a trustee of the newly opened ‘Southwold Medical and Surgical Institution’, which included a dispensary for the relief and assistance of ‘the sick poor, lying-in-women and infirm persons’.

After the death of the Rev.Thomas in Uggeshall in 1842, it was logical that his second wife Sarah should move to Southwold. In 1843 she was allocated a pew in the parish church and in the 1844 Whites Suffolk Directory she was listed as living at Centre Cliff.

As a rich clergyman involved in speculative property development, Thomas Sheriffe falls into the same category as Rev. Henry Uthoff, Rector of Huntingfield with Cookley, and also absentee incumbent of Aldham (near Hadleigh). Uthoff was another affluent clergyman who invested in Southwold’s property boom. According to Munn, Uthoff built the large bow-fronted house facing east on to South Green, now called Regency Lodge, in 1828. Munn says that he also built Park Villa to the west, which was positioned in extensive grounds overlooking the marshes. In any event, Henry Uthoff was clearly a man of financial and social substance, being related to the Vanneck baronets of Heveningham Hall through the female line. In 1844, his annual rectorial income from Huntingfield and Cookley alone amounted to £800, and in this respect he was ranked as the richest clergyman in the whole of Blything Hundred. Wake states that Uthoff was living in Regency House (circa 1842), but in the 1844 Whites Suffolk Directory he appears in Huntingfield, where he died in 1848 age 90, having spent 65 years as its Rector.

Further information about the Sheriffes may be seen and dowloaded at the following website
Notes on the Sheriffe Family of Uggeshall,Southwold and Henstead

Harriet Sheriffe

Harriet was Thomas’ second daughter. She lived with her parents in Uggeshall until the death of her father in 1842, after which she moved to Southwold, probably with her stepmother. She was a major beneficiary in her father’s will, receiving her father’s real and personal estate. Out of this she had to pay an annuity to her stepmother, who also received a legacy of £800. From then on, as a rich money-lending spinster, Harriet played a prominent role in Southwold society. On Thomas Sheriffe’s demise, which was shortly followed by the death his wife, the Centre Cliff Houses came into Harriet’s possession. Sarah Sheriffe, her stepmother, bequeathed most of her estate to Harriet, providing relatively minor legacies of £100 to her son in law Rev. Thomas Sheriffe of Henstead and £500 to his son Thomas Bowen Sheriffe (262 Womack).

The diary of James Maggs of Southwold for the period 1818-76 is a mine of information about the inhabitants of the town around this time. In Feb 1853 he notes:

“The sea at intervals has made alarming inroads opposite the Gun Hill and as far to the North as the Long Island Cliff (including Centre Cliff) scarcely leaving sufficient width for the standing of the bathing machines opposite the houses of Miss Sheriffe.”

We find Harriet in the town’s 1851 census listed as an unmarried lady of South Green, age 58, described as ‘land proprietor’, with a butler, housekeeper and coachman with 7 servants..

She took possession of the Centre Cliff Buildings as part of her father’s estate. The following provides firm evidence that she was living in Centre Cliff from at least 1855 to the time of her death in 1869. In 1855 Whites Directory she is listed at Centre Cliff. In 1856 she entertained the lifeboat crew at Centre Cliff. Her will of 1869 states that she was residing at Centre Cliff, which, together with South House and East House was one of her bequests.

Before the move to Southwold she was evidently well established as a local money-lender, because in the 1830s she made a loan of £1,200 to William Lincolne, an up and coming young entrepreneur of Halesworth, and his successors, which led to the eventual establishment of Roe and Co’s large department store in the Market Place. As shown below Harriet also dealt in Southwold property, like her father. There are also indentures that indicate that she was financing property deals as far away as Fressingfield, and her will describes her extensive property dealings with the manor of Saxtead. However, the days of the private financier were numbered. Banks were being established in market towns and a branch of the Norwich Crown Bank had appeared in Southwold as early as 1819.

The full extent of Harriet Sheriffe’s great wealth is revealed in her will. She died possessed of the three Centre Cliff Houses and was residing in the middle property. The bulk of her wealth passed to the family of her late nephew, Thomas Bowen Sheriffe. The family had coalesced around his widow’s marriage to Heneage Bagot-Chester and the Sheriffe estate of Henstead Hall. She appointed Bagot-Chester as an executor along with her constant lawyer John Crabtree.

It is interesting to reflect on Harriet’s life in relation to the property rights of women at this time. During most of the nineteenth century they were dependent upon their marital status. Once women married, their property rights were governed by English common law, which required that their husbands legally absorb the property that women took into a marriage, or acquired subsequently. Furthermore, married women could not make wills or dispose of any property without their husband’s consent. Marital separation, whether initiated by the husband or wife, usually left the women economically destitute, as the law offered them no rights to marital property. Once married, the only legal avenue through which women could reclaim property was widowhood.

In contrast, women who never married maintained control over all their property, including their inheritance. These women could own freehold land and had complete control of property disposal. The rationale of the law was that if husband and wife are "one body" before God, they are "one person" in the law, and the husband represents that person.

Harriet died in Southwold in 1869 and was buried in Uggeshall, her birthplace, on 20th December. During her life she was a notable public benefactor. For example, at one time she gave £500 towards the cost of making reparations to the parish church. The burden of financing of Southwold’s very large church had been passed from the Corporation to the townsfolk at the turn of the century. In the 1870s its total cost of refurbishment was estimated as being between £1200 to £1300. It is a measure of Harriet’s social standing in the town and her financial support of its church, that in 1870 a new stained glass East window was dedicated to her memory. This window, which depicted eight scenes in the life of Christ, was destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War.

Miss Sheriffe was a liberal subscriber to the lifeboat station. On October 8th 1852 the station’s first self-righting boat, presented to the town by the Royal Lifeboat Society, had been christened Harriett. James Maggs’ diary entry for this event states that it was named after ‘Lady Gooch and Miss Harriet Sheriffe’. The ceremony included the laying of a foundation stone for a new lifeboat house by Sir E. S. Gooch. Afterwards there was a church service followed by a banquet at the Crown. On several occasions Maggs notes that Miss Sheriffe made financial contributions to the crew of the lifeboat. For example, in 1856 she presented them with money and entertained them at the Swan and Centre Cliff House. She also provided the station with a silk flag with the town’s coat of arms on it. A new boat, also named Harriett, was obtained from the National Lifeboat Institution in 1855. Strange to relate, this boat was renamed ‘Coal Exchange’ in 1869 to commemorate the award of £700 by the Coal Merchants of London to the Southwold station. The coal trade along the North Sea coast from Newcastle to London was the main beneficiary of the lifeboat emergency service. Maggs records the regular harvest of drowned seamen from Southwold’s beaches. As an important member of Southwold’s maritime community, Harriet had christened the town’s new auxiliary carriage lifeboat, Quiver’, a few months before she died.

Further information about the Sheriffes may be seen and dowloaded at the following website
Notes on the Sheriffe Family of Uggeshall,Southwold and Henstead

Arthur Ashton

As rector, he had been in the same parish longer than any other clergyman in the diocese and was only the fourth rector in just on two centuries. He was a great gardener and was known as the primrose parson. The walled garden at the rectory was a mass of yellow primroses and towards the end of the last century Mr Ashton notices a beautiful pinkish-mauve primrose among then. The new strain persisted until at last he began to cultivate this bloom, propagating and spreading the plants each year. The Countess of Stradbroke named the new primrose Helio and after exhibiting it at the Royal Horticultural Show Mr Ashton offered them for sale. The primrose was usually available by Christmas and every week until the middle of April the rector was picking and packing the flowers and sending them to Covent Garden He had more than 40,000 plants. Mr Ashton was known everywhere in Suffolk as a cyclist and for more than 60 years had averaged a thousand miles a year on his pedal machine.