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The earliest people in the Friston area may have been hunters rather than farmers. Chance finds of Neolithic flint scrapers and flakes and a flint-axe tell us of their presence. The Bronze Age cremation urns found at Snape show that there were settled people here, but no further signs have been found. In the Roman period some kind of small settlement existed on Barber's Point above the Alde estuary. Early this century excavators found pottery, small bronze items, roof tiles, spindle whorl and other signs of human occupation dating from the 1st or 2nd Century AD. The finds from the site together with its location suggest that it was a small farmstead or possibly a lookout post and dwelling. There was a nearby market and settlement at Knodishall, known as Sito or Senomagus, and possible settlements at Thorpeness and Aldeburgh. Further evidence of the Roman occupation comes from the eastern edge of Friston parish on the Alde estuary where evidence has been found of the production of salt from brine.
The first invaders to arrive in the area, after the withdrawal of the Roman army early in the 5th century AD, were a mixture of peoples from Northern Germany - Angles, Saxons and Frisians. The Wuffinga dynasty held power in Suffolk with their headquarters between the Alde and the Deben and one of their kings, Raedwald, is the likely occupant of the famous burial mound at Sutton Hoo. There is, however, another important Anglo-Saxon cemetery very close to Friston on its south-west boundary on the site of an earlier Bronze Age cemetery. The early cremation phase of this cemetery dates almost certainly from the 5th century. The second phase of burials;- including three boat burials,- date from slightly later at the beginning of the 6th century.
The Place Name Evidence
Friston is widely accepted to mean ‘enclosure or settlement of Frisians' and at least one of the urns from the Snape cemetery, found during pipe-laying in 1972, is of Anglo-Frisian type. However the name itself may well have only come into usage at a later date, in at least the 8th century AD, to describe a small settlement or several scattered homesteads of peoples originally from Frisia.
The Conversion of the Wuffingas
Saint Felix converted King Sigeberht of the Wuffingas to Christianity in the early 7th century AD and a bishopric was established in the area - probably at Dunwich. St Botolph is also thought to have established a monastery in 654AD across the Alde at Iken where the present church is. It is possible that this monastery was connected to the Friston bank by a low water causeway and it seems likely that any nearby settlements would have been converted to Christianity during that period. Despite the setback to Christianity caused by the invasion of the Danes in the years following 865 it is likely that Friston would have had a simple wooden church at least, by the end of the 9th century.
During the later Saxon period an important gift of land which was to shape the administrative future of Friston and the wider area for over a thousand years was made by St Etheldreda, daughter of King Anna of the Wuffingas. Following two marriages she gave her dowry lands to found a convent at Ely in 673 AD. This parcel of land known as the Wicklaw was not geldable, that is taxable by the King, but came under the jurisdiction of her abbey at Ely and later the cathedral. It was later known as the Liberty of St Ethedreda. The northern boundary of Friston parish follows this same ancient boundary of the liberty and may in part account for the strange shape of the parish of Knodishall, some of which lies outside the liberty in Blything.
By the 10th century the Saxon division of Hundreds (maybe meaning a hundred hides or units of land sufficient to support one family), had been introduced and Friston is in the Plomesgate hundred. The liberty of St Etheldreda covered six separate hundreds. The names of the hundreds usually derived from the outdoor meeting place of the old Hundred court, for example Plomesgate meaning ‘gate under the plum trees'. Today the name of the Hundred River, which runs through Knodishall and Coldfair Green, reminds us of the boundary between Plomesgate hundred and Blything hundred.
The Norman Conquest
The Doomsday Book has no entry for Friston, although this does not mean that the settlement did not exist in 1086, for it may be included under another landholding entry. Snape is the most likely entry to have included the settlement at Friston. There are two entries for Snape in the Doomsday book and the larger holding measured 3 leagues, or nine miles, in length and ½ a mile in width; there were a further 38 acres held by another man and on that holding a church stood. The overlord of that area was Robert Malet and two Normans, Walter and Gilbert, soon replaced the previous Saxon Lord Edric of Laxfield. The Doomsday Book includes information about landholding at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, as well as at the time of the survey -there had been 46 freemen living on the manor together with 8 villagers and 16 smallholders. The size of population on this manor demonstrates the fact that Suffolk in the eleventh century was a well populated area, indeed one of the most populous counties of England, with a high proportion of freemen and a more liberal version of the feudal system.
The Middle Ages
The earliest existing building in the village is the church, which dates from the eleventh century. The earliest post-conquest domestic evidence in Friston comes from the north of the parish around the Friston Moor area; 13th and 14th century pottery shards have been found in some quantity in this area. The settlement of small farms and cottages around the edge of common land on the western boundary of the parish shown on the early maps is characteristic of early settlement in the clay-land region.
During the Middle Ages the population continued to rise and the wool trade brought great prosperity to Suffolk with much of the land in Friston being used sheep walks. A form of wealth taxation recorded in the Lay Subsidy rolls of 1327 assesses Friston and Snape as jointly having 36 taxpayers; poor people would not have paid tax so their numbers go unrecorded in the tax returns.
Over most of the country there was a sudden decline in population during the 14th century due in part to the Black Death, which struck first in 1348. It took a long time for populations to rebuild, and another tax return for 1524 found only 15 households eligible for taxation. One economic change as a result of the Black Death was the increase in wealth of a few individuals and the 1524 tax return indicates that at least 50% of the tax in the parish was paid by one person, Jone (John?) Palmer.
Friston inhabitants may occasionally have gone to a local market, travelling by foot, pony or ox cart and maybe necessitating a night's stay at an inn. Nearby Kelsale already had a market at the time of the Doomsday Book; a gift of the king to the Bigod family. The Kelsale market thrived until rival Saxmundham was granted a market charter by the new monarch King Edward I in 1272. He had no liking for the Bigods who held most of the land in Suffolk and had been favoured by previous monarchs.
A bronze seal from the Middle-Ages was found in Friston in 1824. It seems to have belonged to the Bishop of Norwich or one of his representatives and have been accidentally dropped by its bearer when about the Bishop's business.
The Local Economy
Agriculture during this period slowly developed and more land was turned over to arable farming; the wool trade suffered from competition from cheaper imports which protectionist legislation did little to help. In the latter half of the seventeenth century Friston had three husbandmen (tenant farmers), four yeomen farming their own land and two linen weavers. Linen can be made from flax or hemp and the latter was grown in the parish, as various fields called hemp-lands on the tithe maps testify. The production of hemp was labour intensive and provided additional income for small farmers. It may have been used in Aldeburgh for sail-making. Friston was not a wealthy parish in the seventeenth century as the hearth tax returns of 1674 indicate, more than half of the households being exempt from paying this tax through being too poor. The decline in herring fishing and shipbuilding affected coastal towns such as Aldeburgh and inland villages, who lost valuable markets for their goods.
Development of the Village
In 1674 there were 31 inhabited houses and 33 households in the parish and although no detailed map exists these were probably clustered around the church. Around a hundred years later on Hodskinson's map of 1783 the Chase's Lane and Donkey Lane area of the village is marked as Friston Green but few houses are shown. Settlements on the edges of uncultivated land are fairly common in Suffolk during early periods but these later ones reflect a new pressure on land and housing because of growing populations and enclosure. Whereas there were no enclosures in Friston at that date, other areas of common land in neighbouring parishes were enclosed.
An increase in families who had no manorial rights may also have caused the secondary settlement on the manorial wasteland to the south of the village centre. This area was known simply as The Common until recently. Poplar Cottage on Chase's Lane, previously known as Clay Cott, is reputed to be the oldest dwelling in the village; built of unfired clay lump it possibly dates from the sixteenth century.
The desire for better communications began during the seventeenth century when travel by carriage, rather than horseback, became popular for the wealthy. Carriages, however, needed better roads than horses and this led to the establishment of the Turnpike Trusts. The costs of road maintenance normally fell to the parish who could rarely afford the repairs, so local gentry established the Trusts and the maintenance was provided for by the levying of tolls on all users apart from travelers on foot. A Turnpike Act was passed in 1792 to improve roads between Farnham and Aldeburgh and Yoxford and Aldeburgh. These turnpike roads cut across Friston parish along the same route as the A1094 and the B1121. There were toll booths at the ends, near Friday Street, at Sternfield and outside Aldeburgh and the roads connected with the slightly older Ipswich to Lowestoft Turnpike. The turnpike roads lasted for around 100 years until road maintenance costs passed to public authorities, when the gates, lodges, etc were sold off.
Some tracks marked on the early maps have disappeared or become footpaths or bridleways. The direction and straightness of these early tracks is interesting as it reflects the routes frequently taken by the villagers and by people passing through on longer journeys.
The Growing Village
The village was well established by the beginning of the nineteenth century, the population being 299 in 1801. There were 40 houses or cottages in the parish including outlying farms and cottages. A map from 1793 shows some of the village and at that time Low Road is the only extension of the village to the south and is labeled Friston Street. Later on the village stretch of B1121 road is known simply as The Street. These figures apply only to the dwellings within the then Friston parish boundary; dwellings on Grove Road and Church Road were in Knodishall.
There was, apparently, no track connecting the village to the Aldeburgh Road along the line of the present Snape Lane. The 1st series Ordnance Survey 1” map completed during the 1830s shows the village in its present layout with a cluster of dwellings near the church and the secondary development fanning out to the south though not with as many houses as later in the century. Further wasteland is marked to the east of the village as ‘Furze'.
Other interesting features of this map are the names High House Farm, in use again today, and Lichfield House which is marked to the west of the village before Moor Farm. A large scale tithe map and apportionment book from 1845 lists all the dwellings in the parish and their inhabitants. This map shows the village fully developed with about 100 properties in the village and a few farmhouses and cottages. By this date the triangle to the south of the crossroads is complete and the village very much resembles its present state. The Knodishall tithe map of the same date shows the houses along Grove Road as far as Ivy Cottage and about six cottages on the east end of Church Road.
The railways came late to East Anglia and the closest lines to Friston were not opened until 1859. The potential of this method of transport was exploited by local industry, notably the Maltings at Snape and Garretts at Leiston. Later it was used to bring holidaymakers to Aldeburgh and Thorpeness. There was no station in Friston parish, the nearest being some miles away so the difference its coming made to villagers is hard to gauge.
The first clear picture of the occupations of the villagers comes from the 1851 census. By now the population had risen to around 450 with 114 occupied houses and the village had just experienced a period of growth. Not surprisingly most men worked as agricultural labourers or in occupations related to agriculture. Mechanisation on farms was rare with all the work done by hand, so it was physically hard and involved long hours, especially in the summer. The main crops grown were barley, wheat, peas, beans and roots. Wages for agricultural workers were low, only about seven shillings a week, and less than factory workers' wages. This was barely enough to feed a family on and often choices must have been made between buying a week's meat or a pair of boots or other necessary items. The family of an agricultural worker would have lived in a tied cottage and paid a low rent, long fixed in the manorial copyhold. These properties were usually in a poor state of repair with no modernisation, but the labourer could not afford anything else, and this ensured that the labourer and his family were obedient to the law of the manor and the rule of the estate owner.
In addition to the 62 agricultural labourers, the 1851 census lists three shepherds, a harness-maker, two thatchers, two millers, three wheelwrights and five blacksmiths. There were also three tailors, two sailors, a couple of gardeners, several bricklayers and nine shoemakers. Not all of the craftsmen would have been self-employed, some being journeymen who worked for a master of the trade, having finished their apprenticeships. There were five blacksmiths in the village and the forge at this time was at Woodside Farm; obviously a site of long usage as the neighbouring wood is named Blacksmith's Walk on the 1845 tithe map. Few women worked outside the home but Friston did have two laundresses, a dressmaker and a seamstress and one of the shops just in Knodishall had a female proprietor. Many older children, that is above the age of 10, worked - the boys as farm or errand boys and the girls as domestic servants.
The Chequers was probably built at the very end of the eighteenth century, when the village was really beginning to expand. Before that there was probably little need for an alehouse as many people brewed their own beer and sometimes sold it as well. There was probably little demand for a coaching inn either as there were other hostelries in the nearby towns. However by the early nineteenth century The Chequers was beginning to be an important meeting place for villagers and people from a wider area. The Association for the Prosecution of Horse Stealers met there at least three times in the first decade of the nineteenth century, its members including three local farmers and interested parties from neighbouring villages. In 1811 there was a Lamb Show outside the Chequers, presumably one of several, at which 50 or 60 score (1,000 or 1,200) lambs and sheep were to be offered for sate. Dinner was served in the Inn at 2 o'clock and the publican was William Scarlett. Another publican, William Sharman, was innkeeper for several decades. There is no record of any other inn in the village.
The famous post mill was built on wasteland in 1812, perhaps indicating that sheep were then giving way to corn and barley in the local countryside, as well as the increased demand for bread flour and animal feed. From 1837 various members of the same family worked the mill until it finally closed in 1973. The mill is the tallest post mill in England at 55 feet high. Whether the mill was built on the site or was moved there is unknown. One theory is that the mill was built in sections at California near Ipswich and moved to the site by horse and cart. Another is that the mill was one of four, which stood as a group above Woodbridge, and was moved to Friston. Joshua ReynoIds who had bought the mill in 1837 built the fine house next to the mill in 1872. There was another mill on the parish boundary just off the track to England farm. This is shown on the 1st series OS map as a turning mill. It was apparently built on a tumulus to catch the wind and drove a lathe, which a woodworker (known as a bodger) used to make chairs and children's toys.
Parish Administration and the Poor
Parish officers had a great burden of administrative duties put upon them ring the nineteenth century, mostly to do with the regulation of the poor and the maintenance of public order. The overseers of the poor, supervised out-relief for paupers - who needed additional help, but not housing. Poorhouses and later workhouses provided shelter for elderly people without means, illegitimate children, the long term sick and people returned to the parish through removal, or who had no other place to go or employment. Parishes that lay close to main routes were often heavily burdened with paupers and beggars passing through and seeking aid and shelter.
Following the Acts of Parliament in the eighteenth century small parish workhouses were built in the Plomesgate Hundred. Friston built one sometime between 1776 and 1803. This was in an out of the way location at the extreme end of the parish across the Saxmundham - Leiston road just off a track called Workhouse Lane which is now a driveway and footpath. It is on one of the first series Ordnance Survey map and must have been for people from Friston, not Knodishall, which was in a different Hundred.
Universal suffrage for men, pay for MPs, and more frequent elections. All but one of these points were eventually adopted and are now embedded into our political system. Friston in 1839 would have had few men eligible to vote, as rural workers were not given the vote until 1885.
One leading local chartist put Friston on the map in 1839. He was Thomas Hearn, a local shopkeeper who opened a branch of the Working Men's Association in the village and aimed to make Friston the ‘metropolis of chartism'. The Friston meetings were held in the Chequers Inn and the Baptist Chapel and the following was good. A rally for farm-workers was held in Friston wd 1,000 people were present. The farmers were alarmed at this and laid on alternative entertainment, and one threatened dismissal for any worker found attending. Later in the same year, on Boxing Day, 5,000 people attended a second rally, some of whom had walked from Ipswich to meet up with Hearn's group and others at Carlton. Although the Chartists failed to get their demands at that time, Thomas Hearn continued to support the movement. In 1851 he was living in Grove Road, probably on the site of the later grocer's shop.
Closing Years of the Nineteenth Century
By the end of the nineteenth century the population was just under 500 with 109 inhabited houses. The census indicates a greater diversity of occupation as new industries opened up in the area and agricultural employment declined due to falling prices and poor harvests in the second half of the century. These new occupations suggest that there was employment outside the parish though still in the local area. Some occupations in the census include a maltster who was, presumably, employed at Snape, a labourer in a foundry, a boilermaker's labourer, a fitter and a mechanic, all of whom could have been employed at Garretts in Leiston. The Howard-Vyses, the Lords of the Manor, must have been keen to preserve their game shooting as they employed two gamekeepers and an under-keeper.
Around 1155 William Martel, or his heirs, gave Snape and Aldeburgh manors to the Benedictine house of St John at Colchester in order to build a cell at Snape where masses were to be said twice a week. Before 1163, Friston manor had been added to this endowment. This gift and income from the manor and the tithes of the church to the Abbey with the right to choose the parish vicar, this being called an priated parish. The abbey was established for 12 monks but rarely had many, the site of it being marked today by Abbey Farm, Snape. The Abbey was closed in 1528 and Cardinal Wolsey used its assets to enrich his college at Oxford. The college commissioned a written survey or ‘terrier' manor in 1536. In the late sixteenth century the manor seems to have owned by Michael Hare of Bruisyard who sold it to Sir James Bacon sometime before 1618 when Bacon died.
The following account of the changes of ownership applies both to the manor and to Friston Hall. A note here should be made about manors: manors do not follow parish boundaries, and Friston Hall centred on Snape where there were four manors - Courletts, Tastards, Rysing and Scotts - which were eventually merged to form Snape Manor of which Friston was a part. The original manor courts would have been held in a barn at the Abbey, later possibly in the Hall, and by the early nineteenth century in the Crown at Snape.
The Friston manor house was built either by Michael Hare or Sir James Bacon and became known as Friston Hall. Thomas Bacon, grandson of Sir James, enlarged the existing house and added a chapel at which stage it must have been a house of some importance and one of the largest in the east of the county. In 1674 it was taxed on having twenty hearths. Lady Jenny at Knodishall had seven and only 45 houses in the whole county had more. Seven years later the house is described as having dove-houses, gardens, orchards, stables, decoy pool and a warren. Thomas Bacon's first wife died young in 1647 and has a memorial in the church, so probably Friston Hall was their main residence.
Sir Henry Johnson is known to have bought the hall and the manor from the Bacon family, probably Thomas's son Nathaniel, sometime in the 1680s, and from other evidence it seems likely that he rented it prior to purchase. Sir Henry had become wealthy through shipbuilding, first in Aldeburgh and later in Blackwall, London and was sometime MP for Aldeburgh. He was knighted in 1679 or 1680 and presumably wished to establish himself by acquiring an estate. A series of improvements and alterations to the hall are recorded including repairs to windows at the hall, Abbey and Decoy House in 1695 and in 1705, being preparations for alterations to the great staircase and other areas. Ten years later the chapel was demolished. Monogrammed iron gates, possibly HJ, are still standing between the remains of the terrace and the kitchen garden.
The Earls of Strafford
Through the daughter of Sir Henry the manor and hall passed into the possession of the Wentworth family. In 1711 Anna (or Anne) Johnson married the newly ennobled Thomas Wentworth, first Earl of Strafford of the second creation, great nephew of the well-known earl executed in 1641. She was an heiress worth £60,000 with estates in Buckinghamshire as well as Friston. He owned property in Yorkshire, London and Twickenham. Prior to his marriage he had been a member of the Royal household, soldier and diplomat and spent much of his time in Europe. He narrowly avoided impeachment in 1715 and thereafter retired from royal duties and politics. Having been born in 1672 he was somewhat older than his wife, although the marriage seems to have been quite happy and they had four children, three daughters and a son. The Earl and Countess certainly visited Friston Hall and a letter from his steward following a visit in 1722 contains a request for the return of various room keys, which he had mistakenly taken with him.
By the middle of the seventeenth century the great avenue of lime trees running south from the house across Aldeburgh Road and down to Snape Common was planted. It is not recorded when or why this great avenue was planted. It may have been to make a grand triage drive down to one end of the racecourse or it may have been planted to commemorate the marriage between Anna Johnson and the Earl of Strafford. The Earl died at Wentworth Castle in 1739 after which the hall was let until the Countess's death in 1754. There were several branches of the Wentworth family and Thomas inherited Wentworth estates in Bedfordshire from Martha Lovelace, Baroness Wentworth of Nettlestead, who was the second of his father-in-law Sir Henry Johnson. Friston Hall passed to William Wentworth, son of Anna Johnson and Thomas Wentworth. He died childless in 1791 and, following the death in 1799 of his cousin who inherited the title, the Earldom became extinct.
The heirs of William Wentworth in 1791 were descendants of his sisters, Lucy, Henrietta and Anne, and the estates they inherited were in many counties and in London. Most of the properties were to be divided up four ways so an accommodation was reached between the beneficiaries to exchange and consolidate their shares. Thus Leveson Vernon, youngest son of Henrietta, acquired some of Snape and the Blackheath area of Friston on the Alde estuary and his cousin Richard William Vyse received the rest of Friston manor. Richard Vyse was only 9 when he inherited and did not reach his majority until 1805. As he had careers in the army, in politics, in his inherited (through his father) Buckinghamshire estates and his paternal grandfathers Norfolk estates, it seems unlikely that he spent much time in Friston. He assumed the additional name of Howard (his mother's name) in 1812. The estate probably remained of interest only for its income and sporting potential.
There was a proposed enclosure in 1817, which would have included Friston Moor as well as Church Common in Snape amongst others. However, this seems not to have happened as Church Common was not enclosed until 1860 and it is not clear when, or if, Friston Moor was enclosed by Act of Parliament. Three generations of the Howard-Vyse family were Lords of the Manor, but apart from building an infants school, they seem to be little remembered in the village. Howard Howard-Vyse sold the manor to his distant cousin Thomas Vernon-Wentworth in 1892.
In 1791 when William, third Earl of Stafford died, two of his heirs were brothers; Henry and Leveson Vernon, the sons of his sister Henrietta. Henry Vernon seems to have inherited land in the parish of Haslewood and his second son Frederick William ultimately inherited this, the Manor of Aldeburgh and the Yorkshire Estates. He added the name Wentworth in 1804, when he received the rest of the Wentworth inheritance from a kinswoman who was heir to the last Earl. Thomas Vernon-Wentworth, who had already inherited the Blackheath estate from his father, purchased the Friston estate from Howard Howard-Vyse in 1885. Many estates changed hands in the 1890's as the economic climate was not favourable to landed families without additional forms of income.
Thomas Vernon-Wentworth died in 1902 and his second son Frederick Charles, the Captain, inherited Friston Manor together with the manors of Snape and Aldeburgh. Between 1912 and 1919 he put several farms and cottages up for sale, one of these cottages still holds the purchase document of the freehold for the sum of 12 shillings and 6 pence (62.5p in current money).
The manorial system officially ended with two property acts in 1922 and 1924. Charles John Wentworth, the Major, inherited in 1947 and remained principal landowner until his death in 1975. Most of the old manor of Friston and the land in the parish of Hazlewood were offered for sale as the Blackheath Estate in 1998, thus ending nearly three centuries of connection with the Wentworth family.
The First House
From 1791 the Blackheath area of Friston has a slightly separate history from that of the rest of Friston. There was no big house at Blackheath then, only two farms, Decoy and Poundhouse. These were allocated to Leveson Vernon, Henry Vernon's younger brother, who died unmarried in 1831. He built a house, keeper's lodge and wall around the eastern boundary. He seems to have treasured the plantations, possibly his own creations, and valued the property although he spent some of his time at Aldeburgh and at his other property, Stoke Park in Northamptonshire. He wrote a long and complicated will with many codicils in which he left his Suffolk property to his ward Susanna Smith Ratledge. She was unmarried at the time of her guardian's death but in 1834 married Captain Thomas Bagnold at Aldeburgh and lived in the house she inherited at Blackheath known as Blackheath Villa. Susanna Bagnold died childless in 1873 and left Blackheath to her goddaughter Susan Pettit, wife of James Pettit junior, whose father was Susanna's tenant at Poundhouse Farm. By 1886 the Blackheath estate had been sold to Thomas Vernon-Wentworth. (Before 1891 the name of Poundhouse farm had changed to The Firs. The old name of this farm must denote that there was a pound for stray cattle and animals nearby.
Thomas Vernon-Wentworth demolished Blackheath Villa and commissioned the architect E. F. Bishop to build a grand red brick mansion in a Venetian Renaissance style with a 50' tower to house the water tank. A large central hall dominated the interior with piano and a grand oak staircase, which led to a first floor gallery and was illuminated by a roof lantern. Several of the rooms were wainscoted in oak and the drawing room in Havana cedar.
The Twentieth Century
Thus after 1892, the Vernon-Wentworths were the major landowners between Snape and Aldeburgh with the great house now being Blackheath Mansion. As Thomas Vernon-Wentworth also owned Wentworth Castle and property in Scotland, Blackheath was used as a sporting estate. On Thomas's death in 1902 his estates were split between his two sons, the elder son Bruce acquiring Wentworth Castle and the younger son Frederick Charles inheriting Blackheath Mansion and Friston. Bruce, who bore his grandmother's maiden name, died in 1951 without children and Wentworth Castle is now a college. On the death of Major Frederick Charles, in 1947 his son Captain Charles John, inherited Blackheath Mansion and estates. The house had been requisitioned by the army during the war and on its return to the family Mrs. Wentworth commissioned local architect Reginald Erith to remodel the exterior in a neo-Georgian style. Since Mrs. Vernon-Wentworth's death in 1992 the house has been sold and the interior redesigned.
Within Living Memory
The watercourse that spasmodically runs through the village has varied in flow according to agricultural practice. It has flooded many times in recent decades but is not remembered as being a regular stream. The lime tree avenue leading from Friston Hall to the Aldeburgh Road was known in the village as ‘the lights' although nobody remembers why. At the end of the avenue there were white gates and railings. The track to the north of the Hall is of relatively recent usage.
One curious architectural feature of the village is the number of single-storey dwellings known locally as ‘bedroom houses'. It seems that if more space was needed another room was just built on at the end, which is probably where the name comes from. Many are brick built and a few are board and tile although there were more of these in the past. The first village ‘building society' house stands on Chase's Lane. In the 1890s a housing club started at Snape and for £5 a year entry the members held a draw with a chance of one winning sufficient funds to build a house. Lucky Bill Saunders won on his second year of entering.
Many houses, particularly those that had a business attached, must have had stables close by - most have now been demolished or converted. There were certainly stables at the Chequers; along Mill Road opposite Dimbola for use by Mr Nunn; at Rose's cottage; at Friston Cottage; and a little earlier at Laurel Cottage; and probably at several other sites.
Friston is remembered as being very much an estate village, in the twentieth century, with the Wentworth family as paternal and interested landowners. (The Vernon part of the surname seems to have been dropped in this century.) The Wentworths must have owned around 100 cottages or farmhouses in the area, many of which were in Friston. A numbered oval enamel plaque on the front door identified each properly. Each farm had at least one cottage in the village proper, usually occupied by the stock man and his family. Other cottages were occupied by other workers on the estate and at one time the head-teacher was leased one of the pink cottages on Church Path. Gaining employment on the Blackheath estate, as it became known, was one way of a young man acquiring a cottage to bring up a family.
Life in a Cottage
Everyday life in Friston changed little in the first few decades of the century and life must have been a financial and physical struggle for many families. Most adults rose at 5.30 or 6 AM in order to make the preparations for the day's work. There were none of the labour-saving devices of today and everything had to be done by hand. The first modernisation came with the supply of electricity in 1928 but most families continued to rely on oil lamps and candles for lighting and a range or oil stove for cooking and heating. The brightness of the light from an electric bulb, albeit from a low wattage bulb, was regarded with deep suspicion by one old lady in the village who used to cover her eyes when the light was turned on and declared that it would make her go blind.
Water had to be drawn from the well, generally shared with three or four other cottages. They are clearly marked on the 25” Ordnance Survey map. There are no accounts of the wells running dry and the water was good although in the summer it sometimes became a little sandy as the level dropped. Later on, with the draining of the sand pit, people complained that their wells ran dry. One lady remembers that her well was 36' deep and that it was a useful place to cool foods such as custards and jellies as they could be lowered carefully into the cool depths in a bucket. Well water was used for cooking and drinking but rainwater from butts was used for clothes and personal washing, all of which would have had to be heated on the range. Mains water arrived in the village in the 1950s and to turn on a tap instead of hauling a bucket of water up from the well must have been a welcome novelty.
The outside earth closet or privy in the garden was the norm and many still stand, either modernised or adapted to some other use. The privy, for reasons of daintiness was built into a washhouse, which was either a detached building or a lean-to on the side of the cottage. One lady remembers the wash-house as having a lovely warm place to hang around in on a cold day, but wonders how her mother managed not to set light to the wooden shed that housed the fire? Washing must have taken nearly all day for a woman with a large family as when washed and wrung, the clothes had to be hung out to dry. On Wet Mondays, it must have been a nightmare as then the clothes had to be dried indoors around the fire. Tuesday was ironing day, done with a flat iron heated on the range or possibly with one of the more sophisticated irons that d hot coals. Wednesday was market day in Saxmundham so the housewife was able to have a break from the domestic chores. However although a bus service started in 1923 many women walked as it was either too expensive or that with a pram-full of small children, it was easier walking. Thursday was for darning and mending. Friday was baking day and the range was heated up for the cooking of breads, cakes and pastries. All the working men took packed lunches and treats were needed for the weekend especially if visitors were expected.
Saturday was for extra cleaning and tidying beyond what was done on a daily basis. Sunday was of course a day of rest for everyone with church or chapel attendance for the adults and Sunday school for the children. Many children went to both the church and the chapel Sunday schools, partly from lack of alternative activities, but also because it made them eligible for both of the Sunday school treats. These were usually picnics in some neighbouring village or scenic place, and were a highlight of the summer. Some children sang in the church choir, which sat in the gallery at the west end of the church, with a certain amount of discrete play being allowed, in order to keep the children occupied during the sermon. Few activities and no work were allowable on a Sunday - one lady recalled being horrified at the suggestion that her soaking carpet should be removed on a Sunday after her house had been flooded.
From the early years of the twentieth century until the end of the Second World War Friston was a thriving, almost self-sufficient, little commercial centre. A lot of the goods sold in the shops were home produced, such as the peppermint Black Balls, apparently the only item sold by one elderly lady to the local children. A lot of villagers produced surplus fruit and vegetables in their gardens and allotments and Aldeburgh provided a good market through the shops and hotels. In the following description of the village shops, it should be noted that not all of them would have existed at the same time (precise dates being impossible to recall), but many must have survived through at least one generation of owner. The longest surviving shop was Studd's Post Office, General Stores and Drapery located on the east, Knodishall, side of Grove Road. This was certainly in existence by 1871 and run by Thomas Studd.
Letters came there twice a day from Saxmundham and there were a similar number of collections. Later on the postman, who had to cycle out from Saxmundham, had a corrugated iron shelter nearly opposite the shop in which he could take a rest before his return journey. Some of the village boys enjoyed chatting to him there and remember him with affection. The shelter is now in the garden of a cottage in the village. Thomas' son eventually took over the stores and with various proprietors it continued until 1980 when it was decided that it was not economically viable to keep it open. By the 1960s the premises belonged to Mrs. Wentworth and when she found it difficult to find a postmaster and shop assistants she took to running the business herself, with assistance from various part-time helpers, some of whom were women who had previously been employed at Blackheath. Major Wentworth collected fresh bread for the shop everyday. Mrs. Wentworth's enthusiasm, however, seems to have outstripped her expertise, resulting in a certain amount of confusion at times.
Another general store in the early decades of the century was Gadd's Stores in the building now called Friston Cottage and previously owned by Pastor William Brown. This was the first shop in the area to sell ice cream and the shopkeeper at one time kept a pet monkey on the counter. Along Mill Road was a small shop, which sold firewood and second hand goods. This was run by Austin Rose who later had a small lorry to take vegetables to sell in Aldeburgh. He also went to Hollesley Bay Colony to sell and collect fruit and vegetables.
The windmill sold animal feeds and flour ground on the premises: from the late 1920s they also had a lorry, which was used to deliver. Mrs. Nunn's shop just past the windmill sold everything from ‘a pin to an elephant'. During the war Mrs. Nunn made meat pies and sausage rolls for sale, which were off ration for agricultural workers. Mr. Nunn had a horse and cart and took vegetables to Aldeburgh to sell. Further down Mill Road in Moss Cottages, Tom Meadows did bike repairs and recharged radio accumulators. He later had a manual petrol pump and ran a taxi. A similar workshop existed in the wooden garage on the other side of Mill road run by Ernie Barnes.
Around the corner on Chase's Lane was a pork butchers and slaughterhouse run by the Forsters. Their son converted some of the stabling along the side of the lane into a bakery, and this later became a house. Further along Chase's Lane on the west corner of Donkey Lane was a curious shop run by the Whig family.
The smithy stood opposite the Chequers pub and the ‘travis', a semi open shed for shoeing horses on the corner of the site, remained there until a few years ago. The forge had two sets of bellows and after being run by various members of the same family closed sometime after the last war. Further along Grove Road was a sawmill, the pit of which has now been built on. Their logs were often stored on the little green opposite until one day they slipped and killed a small child. Also on Grove Road was a shoemaker, and there may also have been a cobbler next to the Homestead. Church Farm was a dairy farm then as now and supplied milk to the community. More recently when the village was snowed in and the milk tanker couldn't get through, Mrs. Reeves delivered milk around the village on a sledge.
In the early days of the Board school children in the village received all their education in the village. In the 1920s the 10 year olds went one day a week to the National School at Snape for either cookery for the girls or ‘manual training' for the boys.
During the war a number of children from an East End school were evacuated to Friston with three teachers, but the school could not physically accommodate all of them so in the mornings the Friston children went to the school and the evacuees to the Parish Hall. In the afternoon the procedure was reversed. The instructions to the children in the event of an air raid were simple: run out of the building and hide in the ditches under the gorse bushes on the heath, then more or less surrounding the school. It is to be hoped that the siren didn't go off too often during school hours!
After the Second World War children left the village school at 11 and went either to the grammar school or the Secondary Modern school at Leiston. The Friston children were issued with a bicycle, waterproof cape and leggings for their journey. To their delight the children of the 1951 class were lucky enough to get brand new bikes instead of the usual reconditioned ones. The girls and boys cycled in groups. If it snowed they walked.
Until Saturday working ended sometime after the Second World War villagers had little leisure time and for adults much of it must have been spent in cultivating their gardens and allotments. However over the years Friston has had many societies for all age groups and the following is a list of some of them. For sport there was a steel quoits team, football, darts, and bowls with there being two greens at one time. There were also branches of The British Legion, a Men's Club, Mothers' Union, and a Community Council. For children there were Guides and Scouts, a Girls' Friendly Society and a Youth Club which met in the stables behind the P.O. Stores. The Scout troop ran for over two decades and was very successful, being the first troop to win the Gilwell penant at an international camp, under the leadership of Mrs Nunn.
Other memories of youthful spare time include walking to Leiston on Saturday afternoons and then back again; those with a few spare coppers might go to the cinema there, or indulge in some window tapping and other fairly innocent forms of mischief. Church or chapel attendance was a necessity for every family until more recent decades and it had its own traditions. In Captain Wentworth's lifetime the household staff from Blackheath would arrive at the church in a car and sit in their appointed pews. The Wentworths would duly arrive and sit in the pew in front of their staff right at the front of the Church on one side of the aisle. The front pew on the other side was reserved for the Friston House family. At the end of the service the people from the village and the Blackheath staff would go outside and line the path to the lych-gate and the Wentworths would walk down greeting people as they went. In later years Mrs Audrey Wentworth is remembered for arriving consistently late at church and for her wonderful large hats.
In September of each year everybody in the village turned out to pick blackberries. These were then sold to the various shops in the village and then taken away by train, probably to a dye works in Ipswich. 6d a pound is the remembered price for these. Some village children also collected rosehips so that their mothers could make rosehip syrup. Collecting any wild fruit for jam making would also have been a task undertaken by many.
By various accounts there seem to have been two incidents of note in the village during the war. One was the crashing of a doodlebug near Friston Hall. which partially demolished the summer house; many people walked up the track to see its remains. Early one morning, presumably towards the end of the war, an American-crewed bomber crash landed in a field near Friston House. but fortunately no-one was killed.
The end of rationing and food shortages was no doubt a relief to all. One lady remembers her mother coming home with one of the first bananas available since before the war. This was given to the young girl but as she was used to orchard fruits she found it dry and unexciting, much to her mothers disappointment. The end of rationing in the 1950s was marked by an event organised by Mrs Audrey Wentworth, known as ‘The Friston Frolic'. She taught the children how to do the Lambeth Walk, which they did from a meeting point along to the heath, presumably Knodishall Whin, where a bonfire was made and the ration books ceremoniously burnt, accompanied by a singsong round the fire.