Flatford - Early Years

colour photo of River Stour at sunrise
Sunrise on the River Stour

Parish of East Bergholt

The parish of East Bergholt is just over 3000 acres and was established by Anglo Saxon times. It was divided into four manors with Old Hall Manor the principal manor containing part of Flatford hamlet. It is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1084 as the royal parish of ‘Bercolt’, it being held as the personal property of the king. East Suffolk is mainly an agricultural area and, until the mid 16th century, was very involved with the the cloth trade.

Flatford – Two Manors

Flatford was part of two manors, Old Hall and Illaries. T

  • The task of finding the history of Old Hall manor is made  difficult by the poor condition of many rolls and by the fact that until 1734 the information recorded in court rolls was  in Latin.
  • The Manor Court Rolls (which begin in 1382) recorded most major decisions relating to the property, the inhabitants and incidents occurring in the manor.
  • During The Peasants Revolt in 1381 the bailiff to the Old Hall Manor  was forced to produce most of the Court Rolls and they were publicly burnt in front of the church gate.
  • The Illaries Court Rolls are in a much worse state – only excerpts exist and they cover only very limited periods!

Flatford Buildings

The principal buildings in Flatford today are timber framed buildings which are good examples of a range of early buildings. There is:

  • Bridge Cottage – a small cottage, typical accommodation for a family working on the river, in the mill or on the land – much altered over hundreds of years.
  • Valley Farm – a rich persons house possibly belonging to a clothier or farmer or someone who was both.
  • Willy Lott’s House – a farmhouse
  • Flatford Mill – a watermill originally a wooden structure which was rebuilt in brick in the 18th Century.

Early Human Activity

The earliest sign of human activity in Flatford is a site about 150 yards downstream of Willy Lott’s which was later known as the Swans’ Nest. In his book, published in 1923, Rev Paterson describes it as being a rectangular enclosure about 45 by 32 yards surrounded by a wide moat. He considered that it was a defensive position built perhaps by the Romans or Anglo Saxons to prevent boats moving upstream.

Population of Flatford

It is unlikely that the number of cottages and houses in Flatford today would have been sufficient to accommodate the number of work people and their families needed to work the local farms, the mill and the river activities.  Although firm evidence is rare, there are some pointers:

  • The Domesday Book records East Bergholt parish as having two churches which seems at least one too many for such a small place.  One church is known to have been in East Bergholt village, the other is thought to have been in Flatford. This in itself suggests a larger population.
  • In 1713 William Brasier’s map named the field adjacent to Valley Farm in Flatford, as Church Field again suggestive that a church had once stood in Flatford in this field.
  • In 1714 the Reverend Edward Alston moved the rectory to the ‘New Rectory’ (now known as the ‘Old Rectory’) in Rectory Hill, East Bergholt. 

Peter Tonks 2017