Little Bealings is a small village lying three miles to the south west of the market town of Woodbridge and correspondingly five miles to the north east of Ipswich. In terms of acreage it is only 795 acres in total area and is situated in the south western tip of what is known as the coastal sandlings. For a glimpse of life in Bealings between the 1900s and the 1940s view our Gallery pages.
Today much of this land is divided between arable and woodland, of which most lies along the southern perimeter adjacent to the Martlesham Road. This area has been largely developed over the last 100 years into residential properties. Similarly to the south along the Playford Road, much of the housing now stands on what was once part of the old heath lands. To the rear of these properties the heath land has been developed into an area of sand and gravel pits for mineral extraction.
The old centre of the village lies to the north of these two areas in the valley of the river Fynn, which flows out through Martlesham creek to the river Deben. Some burial sites were discovered in the area of the gravel pits exposing part of an extensive urn-field burial site when the top soils were stripped away.
These finds have been dated from the late Bronze Age (1700BC) and were the burial urns of the Beaker and Urn Folk which are usually found under low earthen mounds. (SIAH, Vol. XXXVII. 1958.) Other later finds come from the Iron Age (500BC) to Roman coins and Romano pottery sherds and date from the fourth century AD. More Saxon finds from the fifth to the eleventh centuries have been discovered elsewhere in the village, showing the change and migration from the continent of Europe, which was taking place as the Roman armies and fleets were withdrawn from Britain to Rome.
You can see from these findings that the area is steeped in history and has seen enormous change, much of it through raiding parties from the Low Countries and Scandinavia involving the Saxons, Danes and Vikings. About this time a hoard of Roman coins was buried in a small box made of bone on land which today is the site of the village hall. These were discovered by a small group of boys from the village in 1934, who were playing in the sandpit that then existed on the site. There were about 500 coins in total, most of them dating from AD 379 to 395. This important find was donated to the Ipswich Museum collections, by Gerald Smith a local farmer.
One more particularly interesting find was a Saxon Sword Knife, which has been depicted on the wooden village sign erected at the boundary of the two villages by the bridge over the River Lark. This was found by Major Moore of Great BeaIings, who was a keen archaeologist and contributed much to the local knowledge of the two villages. (PSA. 2nd. Series. X. 17,18). This find is resonant of the very origins of the name Bealings. The name is derived from old English and is shown in the Domesday Book as 'Parva Belinges' and from the element discussed under BELAUGH in the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Place Names. According to this reference, it could have had several meanings - I quote 'a point of time, interval to interspace, following from this a clearing in a glade or forest or a piece of dry land in fenny country.' This latter meaning does have a ring of truth to it, if you consider the two rivers both draining into the Deben and the valleys that are today protected from flooding by the sluice gates at the mouth of Martlesham creek. It is quite probable that Little Bealings came into being in the 10th or 11th centuries when the larger parish of Great Bealings, was expanding with the increasing population and development of new land for more pasture and arable production. (P 31, David Dymond and Peter Northeast. A History of Suffolk 1985.) This has to be put in context with the Saxon period of the history of the county, which has come to light firstly at Sutton Hoo in 1939 and more recently in the early history of Ipswich whose very name and street plan also stems from those times. (Ipswich 1971, The Archaeological Implications of Development.)
Similarly West Stowe, the site of an early Saxon village near Bury St Edmunds, has thrown some light on the Saxon domestic scene albeit in an isolated country position but part of the picture of what our own villages might have resembled in their original Saxon form. (See references from S.E. West (archeaologist). This is the period that used to be known as the 'Dark Ages', but today much more is coming to light, though it is very much a race between the developers and the considerable changes taking place in our countryside and towns.
From this period which saw so much development, invasion from the continent, death and destruction, the establishment of Christianity endured despite many setbacks. Redwald of Sutton Hoo was converted to Christianity and it was his son Sigburt who founded and established a monastery at Bedricsworth, now Bury St Edmunds. This was a time of great expansion for the church throughout East Anglia and Norman Scarff established that at least four-fifths of the medieval churches were in existence by the time of the Norman Conquest. Is it possible that our present church could be standing on the site of an even older building?
With the subsequent Domesday Survey in 1086 Little Bealings was already well established by the Saxons, and influenced by the successive waves of Danish invasions into our region, Suffolk in particular.
All Saints church was established and built at the end of the thirteenth century, when the bishop of Norwich installed the first incumbent and rector, Giles Dodingesles in 1296. It consisted firstly of the chancel and the small nave portraying its early English origins with 'Decorated windows and priests door, with the tower and southern porch entrance through its base as a later addition, being built sometime in the 14th century. The north aisle was added in the 19th century in 1850/1 during the early part of Queen Victoria's reign, in similar vernacular style. The font made in the 15th century is eight sided decorated originally with eight carved panels though of these only two remain, the rest having been badly damaged and mutilated together with the once decorated buttresses around its base. Probably this was done in the 1640s during the period of the 'Commonwealth' under Cromwell. On the outside of the church in the masonry of the south wall there are traces of a possibly earlier building dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. Visitors to this ancient little church should refer to the church guide written by Roy Tricker, which gives a more detailed account of its history and development from its earliest beginnings.
In the Domesday Survey taken in 1084 after the Norman Conquest of 1066 you see a settled pastoral community with a wealth of small rich farms with stock filled meadows, arable and woodlands adapting to life under their new lords. It is a picture also of how well the country had been managed under Edward the Confessor, how the shires thrived under the administrative and social structure that had developed. The shire was an earldom and each shire produced a levy of men known as the 'fyrd' who served in times of war. Every small hamlet had to produce one man equipped for military service for a period of two months a year with food and horse for transport. However, this survey shows how the lands and farms of the earls were sequestrated and forfeited for opposing William 1st on the battlefield. Bishop Odo, who had ridden with William on the field, was given the two manors of Little Bealings and much more elsewhere in the county of Suffolk. William himself took amongst others the estates of Ipswich, Samford and Lothingland in Suffolk.
From this period life became more settled. The wealth of the regions grew accordingly with every bit of land being used to increase the production of the farms. This included the marshes and fens for fishing and reed gathering, woodlands for building materials from the oaks and high elms, and smaller trees such as ash which were coppiced for the lathes, wattle and daub. This was the manorial system at its height and is shown in wills from the late 1400s. The will of Dame Elizabeth Wyngfeld, widow of Sir John Letheringham states that a watermill was working then in Little Bealings. Othcr wills of this period speak of bequeathing land, small tenements, cattle and sheep with personal possessions of heavy cloaks, fine linens, copper pots and other utensils of great worth. In nearly every will of that period you see 'a request for any moneys still owing to the church of All Saints, for tythes forgotten to be paid. In several wills for moneys to be paid towards the fabric of the church, often in particular to the gilding or beautification of the Tabernacle in the chancel'. These wills give a picture of a religious ordered society, and settled rural community. (Peter Northeast's Index to Abstracts of medieval Suffolk Wills 2006). The manor house in Little Bealings has its origins in this period with documents found in its walls telling of a land transaction in the 14th century.
There are two other houses left in the village from that age, one in The Street, the old Home Farm (now a private house) which title speaks of manorial times from the late 1400s. This house has been identified as an 'open hall' by Sylvia Coleman, a noted historian and authority on old timber buildings and is similar to Edgar's Farm house originally from the village of Alton near Tattingstone, which is now rebuilt in its new location at Abbots Hall museum in Stowmarket.
Further down the Street is the imposing old Grove Farmhouse, which is thought to date from the early 16th Century. This house is complimented by an old dovecote of a slightly later date, built originally as a way of obtaining a source of food and protein, though in later years more appreciated for its ornamental and architectural features.
Looking east from this house there is a pastoral view of parkland dotted with mature trees and scattered copses, which is the setting for The Grove a large neo-classical and elegant looking house, much altered and dating from Elizabethan times.
The history of this estate is fascinating in as much that it is well recorded. The various owners have all made their contribution particularly Perry Nursey and his wife who lived there from 1795 to 1824. He was an artist of some skill painting in the romantic style of nature in the countryside. To him goes the credit for the first large extension of the property, transforming it from an Elizabethan farmhouse into a gentleman's country estate. He was a close associate and friend of Sir David Wilkie, RA 1785-1841 whom he entertained on several occasions at The Grove. Perry Nursey is best remembered as the teacher of the artist Thomas Churchyard. Another of his friends was Edward Fitzgerald of Boulge, famous for his translation of 'The Rubayat of Omar Khayyam'. Sadly Nursey ran into financial difficulties and had to sell the estate in 1824 to James Colvin. He then engaged Nursey to design another grand alteration to the mansion extending eastwards with the additions of a new south entrance, new drawing and dining rooms with bedrooms above. His son Baznett David Colvin inherited the estate in 1847 and during his time the east coast railway line to Woodbridge and Lowestoft was constructed across the property and opened in 1859. (Anthony RJ. S. Adolph Suffolk/Norfolk Life No 123 Nov 1999). Sadly, Bealings lost its station during the famous Beeching cuts in 1965.
Moving on through successive owners to 1901, the property was bought by Canon Lawrence, and Archdeacon of Suffolk who made further alterations to the house together with much new building and other works around the estate. He was a retired clergyman of independent means and quite different from his predecessor being it is said autocratic in manner and a man of strong ideals. His wife, a woman of quiet disposition, ran the household with a number of servants and maids.
Whites directory of 1844 gives a picture of the Victorian village of Little Bealings, of the people, from the gentlefolk to the tradesmen, shopkeepers and farmers. No mention is made of the Penny or Dame School of which R.N. Shawe was the principle benefactor. From the census returns of 1881 a fuller picture emerges listing all the occupations of the villagers giving us a glimpse of a quite different village to that which we inhabit today. A great number of the men are listed as labourers working on the farms with a few in other industries such as brick making, malting, coprolite extraction and milling. Others were involved as shepherds, gamekeepers, thatchers and gardeners. In addition there were blacksmiths, a wheelwright, shopkeepers, a postmaster, schoolteachers, a station master, signalmen, porters and farm bailiffs. The women and young girls were employed in the houses as cooks, maids, domestic servants and laundresses. Some of the larger houses employed a governess to look after the teaching of their children. Women and children were also required to help gather the harvest.
Indeed to this end the school summer holidays were known as the harvest holidays and would on occasion be adjusted in wet years to accommodate the gathering in of the harvest. Little Bealings was in the 19th century composed of small mixed farms with both dairy and arable production. From this census you also see that sheep rearing was another considerable part of this story. You see listed shoemakers, tailors and needle-women completing the picture. There were also smallholdings where pigs were reared and vegetable produce grown. Virtually every thing needed was available within the village or in its close vicinity.
Enormous pressures were at work in the countryside with mechanisation increasing apace. This caused much migration to places like London, Ipswich and other towns and places in East Anglia and some even went to the cotton mills in the north west, such was the need for work. Others went even further migrating to the dominions and many young men went into the army or navy. The recession finally came to a close at the onset of WWI, with the need for increased food production, which raised the farming industry out of its troubles.
Suffice to say this is not the complete picture but part of the story of the great changes that were taking place and with wide reaching repercussions for all. Gladstone's Education Act of 1870 brought further change with the opening of Bealings Board School in 1877. This gradually turned a very illiterate population into one, which could read, write and had a basic knowledge of arithmetic as it was then called. The educational joumey had begun and the progress of Bealings School is to be told in a separate study.
WWI saw many young men from Little Bealings involved in either the army or the Royal Navy. Even the Grove was affected when a detachment of Norfolk Yeomanry were quartered there for a period before being replaced by successive different military units and eventually by the Royal Flying Corp, whose need was presumably greater on the opening of Martlesham airfield in 1916. Many young men fell in this war and are recorded on war memorials throughout our land. This sacrifice was not enough for it was repeated in WWll just 21 years later. For Little Bealings it was a scene of evacuees arriving in the village, finding homes for them all and fitting them into village school life. The Grove turned into a military hospital staffed at first by V AD nurses, who were later replaced by a unit from the RAMC. Soon it was a case of air raids, shelters, of bombing and scenes of planes being shot out of sky. Down below the Homeguard was busy guarding key buildings, patrolling the roads and doing military exercises as we faced the imminent threat of invasion. Later as the RAF defeated the Luftwaffe's attempt to gain control of the air in the Battle of Britain the war was carried to Germany. Prior to 'D Day, on June 6th 1944' the lanes, heaths and fields were filled with army units and the noises of army vehicles and men preparing for the great invasion. After that came a sudden peace in Little Bealings and every where else in England while the real battles ensued on the beaches of Normandy, across France and into Germany. Peace came early in May 1945 and in the Far East in July 1945.
J.T. Pawsey (Author)
Note Jan 2021: The webmaster understands updates will be available later this year when a book on the History of Bealings is expected to be completed.
For more information on historical finds search on : Map - Suffolk Heritage Explorer