A spiritual site for over 2000 years.
A Historic House
Considered to be one of the finest rectories in the county, principally Georgian in appearance, despite a timber frame medieval building underneath, the house has classically beautiful features and large rooms filled with family history. Outside there are delightful gardens, a herb garden and an orchard.
Waldingfield was a place of special religious significance, illustrated by the large numbers of Ring Ditches; the burial places of Bronze Age Chiefs. Bab or Babba, after which this district "Babergh" became known, must have been paramount. His burial mound, located nearby, became a meeting place for centuries.
When the Celts arrived, this religious significance was reinforced. The sacred spring around which all religious life was focussed, is now located beneath the house. Belgic graves located nearby tell us that the Trinovantes were the ruling class here, who traded with the Romans.Great Waldingfield Church
Waldingfield comes from the word "Walla" which is Middle English for a spring or well and "Inga" referring to a local tribe. True to the sacred tradion of this area and needing a well watered and sunny site, the Romans built a Temple here. They added roads such as the Roman way and the road to Long Melford.
The Romans also followed the Celts tradion of clearing the woodlands and farming. The Celts received harsh treatment after Boudica's rebellion was put down.Boudica
The Ingas were Wuffas people, probably from Sweden, who reigned in East Anglia from 575 AD. His descendents include King Edmund The Martyr, who was the last in his line. Though little is known of their pagan religion, they almost certainly continued to worship at the sacred spring.
This continued until Christian missionaries successfully challenged their beliefs. In 937 AD, King Athelstan ordered the building of a church tower in every estate of every thegn.Aethelstan
With the arrival of the Christians, it was logical to site the church on the mound and the Rectory at the Spring. Whilst we know the church was constructed before 1066, we know that much of the benefice became church property from at least 991, bequeathed by an Eardorman called Britnoth.
The area was placed within the Danelaw, villagers prospered and the Babergh 100 met every 4 weeks at Bab's mound to exercise justice.St Lawrence Church
Manors began to multiply as they gave or sold land to raise money for favour or to go on crusade. Three manors are listed in "Wallingfield Magna" in The Doomsday Records. Whilst the medieval period was a catalogue of disasters, by the 14'C Waldingfield was prospering.
The church now had 40 acres of land and lived well, paying no taxes. During this period and into the 16'C, the region generated enormous wealth from the wool trade. Lavenham became renowned for its Blue Broadcloth which is why so many fabulous buildings were created.The Woolpatch - Long Melford
By the late 15th century, lavenham was among the richest towns in the British Isles, paying more in taxation than considerably larger towns such as York and Lincoln. The church is known as a cathedral church due to its size and grandeur. In 1487, Henry VII visited the town and fined several Lavenham families for displaying too much wealth.
In the 1500's the then Rector, John Hopkins, together with Thomas Sternhold, complied the Book of Psalms and set it to English Metre. It is the 3rd Best selling book of all time.The Book of Psalms
During the 16'C, there was a dramatic decline in the regions' fortunes due to the production of cheaper, more fashionable cloths. Despite this, the region is still home to several renowned silk manufacturers, catering to the major fashion brands and Royal familes across the globe.
The absence of wealth meant there was little modernisation for generations, leaving a vast number of outstanding Medieval and Tudor architecture. In 1525, 10,000 men from Lavenham and nearby villages took part in a serious uprising that ultimately failed.Lavenham Guildhall
This was a time of great hardship, sickness, uprisings and civil war. In 1626, plague arrived taking many lives and creating rising crime. By 1640, men were being pressed into the Parliamentarian armies. Lavenham was on the Parliamentarian side. Our local heaths became their stamping ground.
There is even a field called Cromwell field in Great Waldingfield, supposedly used by Cromwell's soldiers and local Lords, loyal to the king were attacked.Cromwell
The Stuarts - 17'C
In 1631, the rector Nicholas Bloxham was deprived of his appointment for "simony" (selling absolution), a malicious claim by another priest, Andrew Sandelands. He was cleared in 1641. But, in 1643, his nemesis succeeded in having him sequestered by "The committe for Plundered Ministries". It took him until 1661, before he was finally reinstated to much rejoicing.
In 1665, the Great Plague arrived, not helped by the Suffolk Witch trials, facilitated by the infamous Witchfinder General.Sequestrations in Suffolk
In 1729, Clare College Cambridge acquired the Rectory. In those days, the house was thatched with ten rooms and a number of useful out buildings. In 1789 the back of the house was largely rebuilt by the Rector, Thomas Boyce, at his own expense. This patronage continued with a succession of Rectors.
By 1846, the roof was tiled and the timber framed structure was encased with the Suffolk white bricks you see today. By 1865 the house encompassed 19 rooms.Coat of Arms - Clare College
In 1812, the Inclosure act saw many people lose their land to the benefit of the local Manors including the Rectory. Poaching became both a way of life and a necessity. The local magistrates presided over these cases at The Bull Inn, Long Melford. At this time, the magistrates included the then Rector, Francis Cresswell.
He can't have been very popular having in effect taken away their land. But villagers stuck together and few people actually went before the magistrates. In 1837, tithes were commuted. The Old Tithe Barn, was located on the site of The Old Stables.The Old Rectory
In the 1840's, the Rector gave some land to build a school. Villagers jumped at the chance and by 1856 there was a school house with children walking from as far as Sudbury.
In keeping with the history of this site, he contributed to the tradition of one religion absorbing another. The church was furnished with items he collected from pilgramges, marble from temples in Rome, alabaster from a temple near the Sphynx and syenite from a statue of Rameses II at Thebes.Rectory/Plan for the School
In 1866, the library was remodelled with Reredos and panelling taken from Sir Christopher Wren's church, St Michael's of Cornhill, which was rebuilt after The Great Fire of London in 1666. The following is taken from visiting scholars keen to examine these 17'C pieces...
"The Reredos are by William Cleere, restored by Sir Gilbert Scott. The cherubs and other parts may be Grinling Gibbons. The painted panels of the Ten Commandments are by Robert Streater, ‘sergeant-painter’ to King Charles II. The bannisters on the staircase are taken from the communion rails of St Lawrence Church."Extract from Pevsner
Before the world wars there was a gentleness to the pace of life in Suffolk. The Great war changed everything and life was never the same. Tragedy struck again between the wars, a combination of an influenza epidemic and the great depression saw village numbers fall again.
During the second world war, the home guard was based at The Rectory and a bell installed on the roof for emergencies. The Americans constructed an airfield on the heath. 486 Bomb group.Map of the Airfield
After over 1000 years of church ownership, the Rectory was sold to a developer who demolished a wing. However, the Rectory, the church, the old school house and a dozen or so cottages are now protected within their own Conservation area.
Successive generations are devoting their time to restoring and updating this sacred site, filling it with their own rich history, much of which is on display. We thank all our guests for their contibution to the conservation of this small slice of English history.General Sir John Lawrenson