Research by Simon Gallup – 2017
I have spent many hours in Ipswich Record Office going through Court Rolls and other documents. One of the things I have been looking for is the truth about Willy Lott. Finding information about Flatford is made complicated by the fact that there were four Manors in East Bergholt. The Old Hall Court Rolls are reasonably complete but for the other manors the information is only extracts and covers very limited periods of time.
Some people say that Willy lived in Gibeons Farm for his whole life and I can understand why. His gravestone says “Sacred to the memory of William Lott, who departed this life July 12th 1849, aged 88 years.” Underneath and in a very different style and font it says “He resided at Gibeons Farm, near Flatford Mill in this parish, for all his life”. Both logic, and HC Lott, who is the Lott family historian, say that he was born and brought up in Valley Farm, where his father was farming and moved to Gibeons when his father took over there at some time after Richard Chisnel who was farming Gibeons in 1731. His father was certainly living in Gibeons by 1798 when the Land Redemption tax shows John Lott junior (Willy’s elder brother) occupying Valley Farm and John Lott senior (Willy’s father) occupying Gibeons. It’s logical that Willy would have moved to Gibeons with his father leaving Valley Farm to John junior and his family. John junior married in 1789 and that could have been a trigger for John senior moving.
The earliest reference to the story I can find was in 1875 ‘Bits from Bergholt’, which was written by the Rector, when it said “Willy Lott resided in Flatford for 88 years and only slept one night away from his home.” I think that this is the correct version, but that his home moved from Valley Farm to Gibeons at some stage.
The gravestone is strange as in the mid C19 just the bare details of name, date of death and age would be given as there was no need for extra details. I have never seen a stone of that age with extra details and I have discussed this with an expert who thought that the second part of the inscription sounded like a late Victorian addition when tourism started and people from outside the area would be interested in Willy and Constable.
The last time I went to the Record Office it was very quiet and the staff became interested in what I was doing and they spent a lot of time searching for other documents that might help. The final result is that we could find nothing to confirm or disprove the story that Willy lived at Gibeons all his life.
It is possible, although unlikely, that Willy lived at Gibeons all his life. We need to ensure that what we say is as accurate as possible and I think that we should say that he lived in Flatford all his life and only spent one night away from it. Not so dramatic but accurate!
Simon Gallup. November 2017