From ‘illegal’ castles to ancient scratch dials, uncover the history of Lindsey

David Wallace and David Ross have written a book on the history of Lindsey in Suffolk

David Wallace and David Ross have written a book on the history of Lindsey in Suffolk - Credit: Charlotte Bond

The height of lockdown was a turbulent time filled with uncertainty – but for some, it provided a chance to reflect. 

Many people left the hustle and bustle of the city for a more relaxed pace of life in the countryside, including the likes of David Wallace.  

A former resident of London and Tokyo, David moved to the village of Lindsey with his wife the week lockdown was announced, and has lived here in Suffolk ever since.  

“I semi-retired in 2018, so my wife and I divided our time between Japan and England. But due to a few health issues over the past five years, we decided we didn’t want to live in the city anymore,” he explains.  

David Wallace and David Ross stood outside Lindsey's St Peter's Church

David Wallace and David Ross stood outside Lindsey's St Peter's Church - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Looking for a place to live, David got in touch with his good friend David Ross, a long-time Lindsey resident who suggested he move to this neck of the woods.  

“We lived in a little bungalow next to the Old Rectory in Lindsey for what we thought would be a few weeks at the start of the pandemic.” 

But as we all know how the pandemic panned out, David and his wife ended up living in Lindsey longer than they had anticipated, and made it their home for around a year. 

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David, who now lives in Long Melford, hasn’t forgotten his Lindsey ties however – and it was the love he felt for the village that inspired him to work on a six-month-long passion project alongside David Ross. 

St Peter’s Church from across Lindsey Tye

St Peter’s Church from across Lindsey Tye - Credit: David Wallace

The two – who have been friends for 45 years – spent the latter half of last year working on ‘Lindsey Through The Ages’, a guidebook that covers the history of the village, with a strong focus on its St Peter’s Church.  

But what compelled the pair to put their book together? 

“The time my wife and I spent in Lindsey was enough for us to fall in love with the place. And although it was difficult to get to know people due to lockdown, people were friendly and welcoming nonetheless – from a distance, of course,” explains Mr Wallace. 

“I actually wrote a book in 2020, documenting my experiences of lockdown. It was basically a photobook, comparing my last six months in Tokyo with my life in Lindsey, and how the two differed.  

“I took lots of photos including several of the church and included them in the book, which I gave to friends - including to David Ross and his wife Kathryn. They really liked the photos and David suggested we might put something together on the church, as no one had done so previously.” 

David Ross has lived in Suffolk for almost all of his life, and has been living in Lindsey for over a decade. He is a member of the parish church council as well as The Friends of St Peter’s, and is a regular churchgoer.  

“I, by contrast, am not – but I do know a lovely church when I see one. I regularly visit churches even though I don’t worship, as they’re places of quiet contemplation and reflection.” 

So what is it that David and David love about their local church so much?  

David Wallace and David Ross inside the historic Lindsey church

David Wallace and David Ross inside the historic Lindsey church - Credit: Charlotte Bond

“This particular church, like many others in Suffolk, goes back hundreds of years. Lindsey’s church is 700 years old, and has been passed down through 25 generations. It’s a small congregation, but there are few people who live in the village who haven’t been touched by the church in some way – whether that’s due to a baptism, a wedding, or even ending their days in the churchyard.  

“We want to make sure people are aware of the historical importance of the church, and the village itself with this guide. I wouldn’t say it is a quintessential English village but rather one with an enormous history and heritage as well as an important present.” 

The two got to work digging for historical facts and information, consulting locals and experts along the way to help fill in any gaps.  

“We’ve made a point to say within the book that we’re not historians, but it’s been a fascinating journey making contact with people who know about the history of Lindsey. For example, we were delighted that Suffolk church specialist Simon Knott was happy for us to include his lovely description of St Peter’s within our book. Another key source was D.P. Mortlock’s excellent 'Guide to Suffolk Churches’.” 

As their book progressed, the two found out some fascinating facts about the place they call home.  

Firstly, let’s start with the church.  

According to the Domesday Book of 1086, there’s been a church in the settlement for 1,000 years. Parts of its current church St Peter's, however, date back to the early 14th century.  

As you make your way inside, you can see and feel how ancient it well and truly is. It’s furnished with lime-washed wood, white walls and cold stone. Both its porch and doorway way date back to the 1300s.  

The priest’s door to the church. At the sides are the remnants of scratch dials

The priest’s door to the church. At the sides are the remnants of scratch dials - Credit: David Wallace

The church was also once home to a tower which was removed in the 19th century as it was deemed unsafe and replaced with the Bellcote.  

Its square font dates from around 1300, or perhaps a little later given that Suffolk craftsmen were often quite conservative and resistant to new fashions and ideas. 

Towards the end of the church, there is a 17th century memorial to Nicholas Hobart and his family, adorned with a garland skull beneath. A prominent local, Nicholas Hobart (1542-1606) and his wife Elizabeth Clopton had nine sons and 11 daughters.  

The Hobarts came from here in the Brett Vallet, but another more significant branch of the family would up sticks for grand Blickling Hall in Norfolk, and one of their descendants would give his name to the capital of Tasmania. 

Medieval graffiti can also be found on the piers within, with the easternmost pier containing horned mitres from the 12th century – indicating it was probably from an earlier building. 

Mysterious medieval graffiti adorns the piers of the church

Mysterious medieval graffiti adorns the piers of the church. The horned mitres are thought to be from the 12th Century which would suggest they are from an earlier building. - Credit: David Wallace

But one of the most interesting features of this church has to be the scratch dials that can be seen on its exterior.  

“Also known as mass dials, these were a very early and primitive form of sun dial. They were used by priests to advertise the time of the next service. Usually in the form of a semi-circle about ten inches across, they were scratched into the south wall of the church.  

“A hole was bored at the centre and a number of lines were scratched from the hole to the arc. The priest would place a short stick in the hole, and when the sun shone, the shadow of the stick would indicate the time of the next service. I thought it was a wonderful thing – I had no idea it existed before we started doing this. It’s very practical, and makes you think about congregations gone by.” 

A scratch dial on Lindsey church

A scratch dial on Lindsey church - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Away from the church, David and David also managed to uncover an even older and more ancient gem within the village. 

Unbeknownst to many, Lindsey was once home to its very own castle which is believed to have been constructed sometime shortly after the death of Henry I in 1135.  

“Henry I’s death in the 12th century precipitated a war of succession between his daughter and designed heir to the throne Matilda, and his nephew Stephen who saw himself as the rightful successor.” 

The civil war – which lasted from 1135 and 1153 – saw Matilda take control of the South West and the Thames Valley area, while Stephen had strongholds in the South East. However, much of the rest of the country, including East Anglia, was held by rebels who refused to support either side.  

As a result, much lawlessness broke out, and a number of castles were built across the region without royal approval.  

Known as adulterine castles, Lindsey’s castle was one of these illicit formations (as were those at nearby Milden and Offton).  

Historical records show it was built in typical Norman fashion – a motte-and-bailey castle, with a wooden or stone keep on a raised area of ground. 

“It doesn’t exist anymore however – and all you have left are the old earthworks. This is because at the end of the war, as part of the treaty of 1153, such castles were ordered to be destroyed. It is thought Lindsey Castle was one of these – but there is evidence the castle continued to exist into the 13th century.” 

Map of Lindsey in 1700

Map of Lindsey in 1700 - Credit: Reproduced by permission of Andrew Sturgeon

Who’d have known that such a small village is home to such a rich and fascinating history?  

David and David released their book last month, and the reception so far has been nothing but positive – with one villager getting in touch to say how proud it makes him feel to live in Lindsey. 

“We just wanted to make sure that the people who live in and around the village are aware of the importance of the church and Lindsey itself. The church itself has been handed down from 25 generations of people living here – luckily it’s still in this beautiful condition, and needs to be kept that way for future generations.” 

‘Lindsey Through The Ages’ by David Wallace and David Ross is available at St Peter’s Church and Hollow Trees Farm Shop for a suggested donation of £10.  

All proceeds will go directly to funding the church’s maintenance and upkeep. To find out more, email David at david@repgr.com.  

Donations can be made at justgiving.com/crowdfunding/lindseystpeters 

Lindsey at a glance  

Here are some fast facts about the Suffolk settlement:  

  • Located in mid-South Suffolk, Lindsey is around four miles from Hadleigh and six miles from Lavenham.  
  • It consists of three hamlets – Lindsey, Lindsey Tye, and Rose Green. 
  • There are around 160 residents in Lindsey spread across 70 dwellings.  
  • Lindsey is geographically positioned at the centre of the Wool Towns of Hadleigh, Lavenham, and Long Melford. 
  • Lindsey’s role in the Wool Trade can still be evidenced through the many homes which date from the period, in some of which cloth would have been woven. The village also has one of the finest examples of a Tudor Barn in the county. Now a private residence, it would have been operational at the time when the trade was at its peak.