How many of these ‘lost’ Suffolk villages have you heard of?
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Britain’s landscape has changed vastly over the centuries. It should therefore come as no surprise that many towns and villages across the country no longer exist.
“Suffolk is no exception, losing perhaps nearly 100 settlements - if not more,” says Charlie Haylock, a Suffolk-based historian who has spent years examining the origins of placenames and surnames here in the county.
“In some cases, their legacies have lasted in some unexpected ways.”
But how does a settlement become ‘lost’ in the first place?
One reason is disaster, as Charlie explains. “Villages during the medieval times were mainly self-supporting, with everyone relying on each other for survival. In some settlements, when a pandemic such as the Black Death was upon them, great numbers of the population died and the village could no longer survive. The remaining folk left to live elsewhere, invariably taking with them the name of the village as their surname.”
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According to Charlie, instances where this happened include Dunningham in the west of the county, and Brewington in east Suffolk.
“Scotchmere, believed to have been between Bury St Edmunds and Thetford, may have had the same fate, as did the village of Stallworth. However, the Suffolk surnames of Dunningham, Brewington, Scotchmer, Scotchmor(e), Stallworth, Stallworthy and Stollery still exist today.”
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Another reason for a village disappearing is coastal erosion.
The shape of the county’s coastline has changed dramatically over the course of the millennium, and has unsurprisingly resulted in the complete disappearance of some settlements.
“The name of the lost Viking village of Minsmere comes from the Old Scandinavian word ‘amynni’ and the Old English word ‘mere’, meaning, ‘a pool by the mouth of the river’.”
In 1452, the first recording of ‘Amynnesmere Havynne’ was found, and referred to a small village of around 10 homes. Sadly, these were all lost to the sea by the 16th century.
“The river is named after the lost settlement, and of course the famous RSPB Minsmere has maintained the name,” he adds.
Another Suffolk town which has been claimed by the North Sea is Slaughden, just south of Aldeburgh.
“Back in the times of yore, both Aldeburgh and Slaughden were approximately one mile from the sea. In fact, Aldeburgh’s Moot Hall used to be in the centre of town - but can now be found on the sea front.”
While Aldeburgh still stands today, Slaughden did not stand the test of time. “During the 1500s, Slaughden was a thriving and important location with a fishing fleet, a mercantile fleet and a naval fleet which provided five ships for Elizabeth I to fight the Spanish Armada.
“The settlement was considered more important than Aldeburgh and was shown to be so when, in the Napoleonic Wars, a Martello tower was built to defend Slaughden and not Aldeburgh. It is the most northerly Martello tower and uniquely, the only one to be clover-shaped. This was to protect against an attack coming from both the sea and the River Alde.”
However, during the 19th and early 20th century, Slaughden was hit several times by storms and tidal surges. This eventually resulted in the village completely disappearing in the mid-1920s.
“The last house left standing in Slaughden was aptly named ‘The Hazard’,” adds Charlie.
A third reason for a village becoming ‘lost’ is through emparking. “This was done by greedy landowners from the 1600s to as late as the early 1900s. From 1604 onwards, over 5,000 Parliamentary Enclosure Bills were passed allowing landlords to enclose land, and at the same time, remove the right of commoners' access.
“Between 1604 and 1914, a total of nearly seven million acres was enclosed by landlords - which accounted for one fifth of all the land in England. Some landowners, especially in the Tudor and Stuart era, would have a village vacated and destroyed to improve the view from their mansion or great hall.”
A number of Suffolk villages suffered this fate, including Croscroft which was south of Beccles, Little Redisham near Ringsfield, and Manton near Kettlebaston. Croscroft was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as having a population of eight households, while the latter had 27 households.
“At the end of the 1700s, the Duke of Grafton enclosed the complete village of Fakenham Parva, or Little Fakenham, into the grounds of Euston Hall. It is suggested the village was in the way of the view, and was totally demolished and ploughed under.”
One of the most common reasons however for ‘lost’ settlements is the expansion of larger villages engulfing smaller ones, with manor lords often merging ‘lost’ villages into other parishes.
This happened to a number of Suffolk settlements, including Alston, which became part of Trimley St Martin in the 14th century.
“The Creetings have also seen changes - Creeting St Olave is now part of Creeting St Mary, but there is a plaque today on the site of the long-disappeared church of St Olave. Dunningworth is now part of Tunstall in east Suffolk, and all that is left today is Dunningworth Hall.
“The village of Felchurch was engulfed by Washbrook, but the name still exists in Felchurch Road in Sproughton. And Hallowtree became part of Nacton, with the activity centre in Nacton being named after said ‘lost’ village,” adds Charlie.
Other ‘lost’ villages which have since merged into other settlements include Hazlewood, which became part of Aldeburgh (but the name lives on thanks to Hazlewood Marshes), Loudham which is now a part of Pettistree, and Westbroom which became part of Woolpit.
“However, perhaps the most famous ‘lost’ village is Bulcamp. In 653m it was the site of a ferocious conflict between the East Angles and the Mercians known as the ‘Battle of Bulcamp’. This is when the King of the East Angles, Anna, was killed alongside his son Jurmin. Both are believed to be buried nearby, and at that location many years later, Blythburgh Priory was built in the 12th century.
“Bulcamp remained an independent small village and was recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book with eight households. Although Bulcamp has since been incorporated into the parish of Blythburgh, it has remained a small hamlet north east of Blythburgh on the other side of the River Blyth.”