The Church in Flatford
There is a local oral tradition that at one time there was a church in Flatford.
- Both Rev. Pattison in his book ‘East Bergholt in Suffolk’ and J.F. Elam in his booklet on St Mary’s Church in East Bergholt discuss the possibility of a church in Flatford. Neither came to any conclusion.
- The William Brasier Map of 1731 names the field adjacent to Valley Farm as ‘Church Field’. He also shows three adjoining Glebe fields close to Haybarn. Just north east of Haybarn he shows ‘The Old Parsonage’ which fits with the fact that in 1714 the Reverend Edward Alston had moved the rectory to the ‘New Rectory’ (now known as the ‘Old Rectory’) in Rectory Hill, East Bergholt.
The above suggests that there might have been a church in Flatford.
Local farmers have reported a small area to the south east of Haybarn where there are many stones and at least one very large stone in the same area. So perhaps there was a church to the south east of Haybarn. This has remained speculation and proof had seemed to be impossible.
Breakthrough – Will of John Gryth 1446
The breakthrough in research came from a document in the Suffolk Record Office which shows the transcription of the Will of John Gryth written in 1446 which says:
“to Margaret, my wife, all my messuages lying against the chapel of Bergholt with my woods and pastures and a tenement, Gryths, lying in the Wile (Valley)”
The Brasier Map of 1731 calls the area to the east of the current Constable exhibition “Gryth” and there were at least 3 generations of the Gryth family who were cloth makers.
Meaning of the word “Chapel”
So what did John Gryth mean by “chapel” in 1446, over 200 years before The Act of Toleration in 1689 which legalised nonconformist worship and the building of its chapels?
- The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that the word ‘chapel’ came from the French and entered the English language from the 13th Century. It meant ‘A subordinate or private place of worship’. They give a common use of this for ‘a small house of worship usually associated with a main church’.
- The Oxford English Dictionary define it as ‘A place of Christian worship other than a parish church or cathedral especially a place of public worship of established Church, subordinate to, and dependent on, the parish church’.
As a result we can say that in 1446 there was a church in Flatford, subordinate to St Mary’s Church in East Bergholt, probably to the south east of Haybarn and there is other evidence which would support this location.
What happened to Flatford Church?
Logic tells us that during the period of the Cloth Trade the population of Flatford would have risen dramatically with the arrival of cloth makers and all their employees, hence the need for a small church or chapel in addition to the main church in East Bergholt. When the Cloth Trade declined the population would also have declined and so Flatford Church may have become redundant.
Simon Gallup 2021