Home > Clubs & Groups > History and Film

History and Film



Wickham Skeith and the Hennikers of Thornham Magna – Part 2


My thanks to Nigel Merriam & Romaine Elsden who have provided much of the information in this month’s History Notes.


Last month I discussed the development of the Thornham Estate by the Henniker family, starting in the 18th century up to the sale after WWI of 21,000 acres. Another significant sale took place on 27 July 1948 of 4500 acres & it is this sale which was of particular significance to Wickham Skeith. By this time, the Hennikers owned Hall Farm, Green Farm, Place Farm, Starhouse Farm (partly in Thornham Magna) & Upper Eastlands Farm (partly in Finningham). There were also 12 cottages in the village belonging to the estate for sale: nos. 121, 122, 124-6, 131-6 + two others. Many of these old estate numbers are still used today.


It seems that most of the farms & cottages in the 1948 sale were purchased by the Metropolitan Railway Company. This was one of the main London Underground companies but in 1933 it, along with the other underground operators, was taken over by the London Passenger Transport Board. I can only presume that the main business of the company by 1948 was to support its pension scheme. The MRC than sold many of the properties to the tenants or others, no doubt at a profit. I think I need a visit to the London Transport Archives in the future to find out more. In the meantime, if anyone has any more information on this aspect, please let me know.


Green Farm was purchased by the Mullengers & remained in the family until after the death of Jack Mullenger’s wife Doris in 2013. Hall Farm was purchased direct from the Hennikers by William Ernest Elsden (Romaine’s grandfather) & is still in the Elsden family.


Starhouse Farm had two owners after 1948, the Kerridges and the Taskers, until 1959 when Nigel’s father, Hugh Merriam, bought it. Place Farm, where Hugh Merriam was tenant, was not put up for sale in 1948 & Nigel has a theory on why this was. “Place Farm was never offered for sale, I am told, because the north facing land that runs down to the Low Meadows, beside the Thornham Road, was a particularly good yielding partridge drive! So, instead of buying the farm for £4.50 acre, it cost £1800 per acre in 1984!”


Pete Davidson  pjdavidson42@gmail.com





Thornham Estate sale poster





Wickham Skeith and the Hennikers of Thornham Magna – Part 1


Changes in farming have transformed the countryside in the last 100 years. Some of these changes are obvious. The move from manual labour to mechanisation means that we now have a village where very few work on the land. Farms in this area have moved from mixed arable and livestock to nearly 100% arable. Hedges were removed to make larger fields in the post-WWII drive for cheap and plentiful food. There have, however, been some less obvious changes. Who, outside of the farming community, has noticed the extraordinary reduction in ploughing each year in the move to minimum till or zero till cultivation? Annual ploughing, a practice carried out for over 4000 years, has seemingly disappeared overnight.

Another major change has been the move, which started after WWI, for farmers to own their own land rather than farm as tenants. Up to this time most land was rented out by landlords and one of the most important landowners for Wickham Skeith was the Henniker family of Thornham Magna.

If we look at the apportionment associated with the 1840 Tithe Map (see History Notes in the May 2021 newsletter) we find that of the 1770 acres in the parish of Wickham Skeith only about 30 acres were owner occupied. All other properties were rented out. Around 300 acres were owned by “The Right Honorable Lord John Henniker”. His holdings consisted of Place Farm (leased to Edmund Craske); Green Farm (leased to Robert Rose); Puppins Farm (at the junction of Daisy Green Lane with Grange Road – leased to George Mullenger) and a number of cottages round the green. He also owned Eastlands and Star House farms which had some lands within the parish.

Thornham Hall and estate had been purchased by Sir John Major in 1765. On his death in 1781 it passed to his two daughters. Ann, the older one, was married to Sir John Henniker who became the 1st Lord Henniker in 1800. The Henniker & Major families had close links throughout the 18th century trading with Russia & Scandinavia. In particular with the supply of masts to the Navy.

The Thornham estate remains with the Henniker family to this day. Many in the village will remember the 8th Lord Henniker who died in 2004. He & his wife Julia were involved in charitable work with vulnerable people in London. They also used the buildings & open spaces for workshops, a field centre & they opened up the estate lands to the public. The Thornham Walks are a lasting legacy.

During the 19th century successive Hennikers added lands, eventually owning many thousands of acres across north Suffolk. We can perhaps see a high point in the fortunes of the estate in November 1863 when Lord Henniker hosted festivities at Thornham Hall lasting a week to celebrate the 21st birthday of his son & heir. There was a sumptious dinner for the tenant farmers; a feast & sports for up to 400 cottage tenants; and three balls on successive evenings.

In the 1880s increasing financial pressures saw the sale of some outlying farms but this was dwarfed by a large sale after WWI of 21,000 acres. Then in 1948 most of the remaining landholdings, totalling 4,500 acres and including all of the properties in Wickham Skeith, were sold. It is this sale that I will discuss next month.

Pete Davidson  pjdavidson42@gmail.com

Figure 1: Thornham Hall in the 19th century. Much of the house was demolished before WWII

& the remaining part was destroyed by fire in 1954



 Thornham Hall001










Ordnance Survey 1st edition 1885




Village Maps – Part 1

The accompanying map (which I hope has printed OK) is a small section of the Wickham Skeith Tithe Map of ca. 1840. Most parishes produced such a map after the Tithe Commutation Act of 1835. The original idea of tithes, where a farmer gave one tenth of his produce to the church, had changed significantly since the Reformation with many tithes being owed to lay people – sometimes in goods, sometimes in cash. The Act was intended to standardise these payments. Along with each map is an Apportionment - a list of lands, their occupiers, their owners and the tithe beneficiary.

These maps & their apportionments are an invaluable resource for historians. As many of you know, Wickham Skeith tends to do things differently and our Tithe Map is no exception.

Firstly, it’s huge – much larger than the normal Tithe Maps. The original is in the National Archives at Kew and measures 130cm X 160cm (4’3” X 5’3”). There are also 2 copies in the Suffolk Archives & I have some photograhs.

Secondly, although approved by the Tithe Commissioners in 1840 it’s actually an earlier map which has had a few alterations. The title says: A Rough Map of the Parish of Wickham Skeith which contains 1770 acres 1 rood 25 perches surveyed in 1823 by John Hayward. (1 acre = 4840 sq yds; 4 roods in 1 acre; 40 perches in 1 rood.)

Thirdly, although 99% of Tithe apportionments have the field-names, the Wickham Skeith fields only have numbers.

For a long time there were some unanswered questions. Why was a parish map made for the village in 1823? Where were the field-names?

The answers can be found in the Henniker Archives. Much of the land in this part of Suffolk was owned by the Henniker family who lived at Thornham Hall and there are extensive estate records held at the Suffolk Archives. Here we can find a document, written in 1829, relating to the Parish Map, with a list of fields with their names, areas, their owners and occupiers. I’m now 95% certain that the reason for the survey was to assess liability to pay the poor rate.

Everyone who looks closely at a map sees something different, but I think there are several interesting points from the map of the Green:


1. There were a lot more cottages and farm buildings than now. It is difficult to believe, but in the 1851 census there were 56 households around the Green with 269 people. The area would have been a hive of activity.

2. The Green was larger than today – particularly to the north. The area at the front of the Place & where the Village Hall is now, was still common land. What is now Homeleigh at the north west corner was clearly on an encroachment that would soon extend towards Hall Farm. The shop (now the Old Post Office) was on the Green, but the school (now Hamelin) was yet to be built.

3. Building plans and the Grimmer appear inaccurately drawn. This was because the purpose of the map was to record land & its area – that aspect was done accurately.

Next month I’ll have a look at the 1st large scale Ordnance Survey maps of 1885 – arguably the greatest maps ever produced.

Pete Davidson   


WS 1840 Tithe Map 








Floods in the Street 1912



This picture shows floods in the Street on Christmas  Eve 2020. It's taken from the same spot as the 1912 picture.  It looks as though the water level reached a 

similar height, but it was far too cold to paddle this time.


Floods in the street Christmas eve




More water, water everywhere ……


My thanks to Nigel Merriam who has written this detailed reply to last month’s article about the water supply:


    “I remember the water main being put in which was just as I started prep school, so around 1957. Until then, everybody used the pump unless you had your own well and pump installed. We had one at Place Farm, which also supplied the village hall, the school house and Hall Farm. There were two very large galvanized holding tanks on raised framework which gave sufficient head for everywhere. They were situated in what was probably a bedroom in the house which we referred to as the tank room! Freddie Rose, at Brookside in the Street, had a well and had fitted a pump previously. When the main water supply came to the village he declined to be connected, saving him the cost of the water rates. However, in the drought of 1976 the well dried up!


   The one on the Church Lane junction was the most popular. The one on the Green was the most recent installed, but they did not like it. Apparently, there was far too much iron in it, I do not know if it had rusty pipes or there was iron in the aquifer, so the women still had to walk down to the Kitchen! In 1990 I uncapped the one on the Green, put down a submersible pump and used the well to fill up the Grimmer after we had cleaned it out. I vaguely remember the one in the Street. I think it was almost opposite my house, beside the road, somewhere in front of the garage at Pantiles.


   Of course the pumps were not the only supply of water. The majority of houses had access to a good pond, which they kept clear of trees so as not to pollute them with leaves. The Grimmer had some oak steps going down into the water and I can well remember people getting buckets out of there. There was a large pond in what is now the back garden of Head’s Nook, this provided water for six or seven houses that backed onto it, I can remember the steps. I believe that drinking water always came from the pumps, but they would use pond water for washing up and even clothes washing!


   The farms all had large ponds with stoned, graded, solid access for the horses to drink and the water carts to get to. The tumbrels were regularly reversed into the ponds to swell the wooden wheels to keep them tight.”


Thank you Nigel for that. Some further information from Jenny Harvey is that there was also a pump outside the Council Houses in Grange Road. Does anyone have a photo of that pump or of the one on the Green? The lady in the photo of the Kitchen Close pump in November’s newsletter was Cissie Draper.


If you have any information to add or any suggestions for future History Notes, do get in touch. Pete Davidson



Cottage Grimmer south side


This photograph is of a cottage that used to be on the south side of the Grimmer showing the steps that Nigel refers to in his article above. 

The thatched cottage is long gone but the house to the right is the late John Hempstead's. 





Water, water everywhere ……

We take so much for granted these days; turning on the tap for safe, drinkable water is one amenity we couldn’t imagine being without. Mains water didn’t come to the village until the 1950s and even then it wasn’t supplied to all houses, only to outside standpipes for some. Some houses had their own wells and hand pumps and a few of these are still there. However, most residents had to use one of 3 public pumps. There was one on the Street. (Where was it – can anyone tell me please?) Another was on the Green between the Grimmer and the old Post Office where the two Chestnut trees are. The third one, and the only one we have photos of, was at the end of Church Lane outside 8 Kitchen Close.

Chruch Lane Water Pump 1 

The postcard, from the late Alan Lummis, dates from 1925/6, soon after Kitchen Close was built. The pump can just be seen on the right hand side.

Chruch Lane Water Pump 2 

The close up of the pump is from Marion Bland and shows Cissie with the 2 buckets she was about to fill with water. Collecting water was a daily task and the pump was a place where people would meet for a chat in an era when the pace of life was perhaps a bit slower.

According to Parish Council minutes, the pump here was closed in 1957 and tenants had to use an outside standpipe. The pump on the Green was removed in 1959. As to mains sewerage, that didn’t come until 1968.                                 Pete Davidson





Wickham Skeith & Dr Barnardo’s

 EmmaMaggie Brook 1891EileenDoris

Emma, Maggie Brooke 1891, Doris and Eileen.


Monday 4 May 1890 was a significant day in the history of our village. As the school log book records: Admitted four children from Dr Barnardo’s Home, who are boarded out in this village. Maggie Brooke, Elizabeth Baker, Harriet Martin, Ruth Bailey.


Those few words mark the beginning of a relationship with the children’s charity Dr Barnardo’s which continues to the present day. Between 1890 & 1950 more than 200 children were fostered in Wickham Skeith. During that time up to 20% of the children in the village at any one time came from Barnardo’s.


Why did so many people take in these children? For some it may well have been for altruistic reasons but for others it was the money paid by Barnardo’s for each child. Before WWI they paid 5 shillings a week at a time when the basic agricultural wage was only 15 shillings. So if a family took on 3 children it was like having another wage.


In the years before WWI the Barnardo’s children often only stayed for a couple of years & were then sent to Canada. It’s an extraordinary fact that between 1870 & 1930 over 100,000 children were sent to Canada, 30,000 of whom were sent by Barnardo’s. For many of these children it was a new start in a rapidly developing country & they did well. However, large numbers were badly treated & child emigration has left scars still felt by their descendants in Canada to this day.


Maggie Brooke, one of the 1st four girls to come to the village, was the first from Wickham Skeith to be sent to Canada. And hers is a really poignant story. She settled in well in Ottawa helping a family to look after their two young boys. However, she fell ill & Barnardo’s brought her back to England at the end of June 1899. She came to stay with her original Wickham Skeith family – George & Abigail Dorling of Willow House – but sadly died of TB on 11 August. She was just 19 years old.


After WWI most Banardo’s children stayed here until they left school at 13 or 14. They then had to return to Barnardo’s to be trained – the girls usually for domestic service & the boys either to learn a trade or go into the Navy. Wickham Skeith retained a strong pull for some of them & a significant number returned to live in the area. Many of us remember Doris Mullinger at Green Farm & we still have Eileen Pearce in Bacton & Emma Cable in Grange Road - all former Barnardo’s girls.


Pete Davidson








 THe Mills Wickham Skeith








Wickham Skeith Floods.


1.   Floods in the Street 1912. It looks like it is summer time because the trees are in full leaf. Pete Davidson has done some research and apparently there were floods in Suffolk on Aug 28th 1912. The road bridge over the River Dove was not built until 1938; it was just a ford for vehicles with a footbridge which you can see in the background.

Old floods 2.jpg

2.   Floods in the Street 2020. A photo taken from the same spot, Christmas Eve 2020. It looks as though the water level reached a similar height, but it was far too cold to paddle this time!

2020 flood.jpg




History Notes : Wickham Skeith Field-Names


200 years ago there were around 400 fields in the parish of Wickham Skeith & each had its own name. Over the years, farming has changed with fields being integrated to enable the use of large machinery. Field-names have changed, or in many cases disappeared, and it’s a subject I’ve been interested in for a long time.


Many of these names are easy to explain. Ten Acres, Great Field & Little Field refer to their size. Some describe location e.g. Church Field, Chancel Field, Thwaite Pightle etc. (Pightle means a small field.) Others describe some feature of the field which may be long gone: Mole Hill Close, Thistle Field, Wet Close etc. Here are a few of particular interest:


Peace Field

I was told a long time ago that this field, to the left of the track to Birdshedge Wood, was where a peace treaty had been signed – in the Civil War or between the Saxons & the Vikings. Sadly the true origin is much more mundane. In 1829 it was called Pease Field – land where peas were grown.



This is another local story I must challenge. No it’s not named after the nuns (there weren’t any) at the Abbey (there wasn’t one). Nunn is a common Suffolk surname & fields were often named after their owner or tenant. Sometimes these names don’t survive so the field opposite the Chicken Farm is now called Daisy Green Field but used to be Upper Martins.


Hulver Tree Field

Hulver is an old Suffolk word for Holly so this field must have had a holly tree.


Hoggetts (Upper & Lower)

There are two possible reasons for this one. Hoggett was a common Suffolk surname but also a hogget is a lamb between 1 & 2 years old.



Some names go back a long way. This field just up Cotton Lane, now part of a much larger field, was Dabsheds in 1829 & the similar Dabshot in 1564. Possibly it has something to do with clay daub used for the walls of buildings.


Sand Field

This is a field with an even longer history. It has been Sand Field for at least 250 years & goes back even further. In 1564 it was Sondefeild & in 1310 it was Sond lond. Unsurprisingly it’s a sandy field.


Bird Skye

This is a strange one – it’s the field behind Brookside on the Street. If you trace the name back it has nothing to do with birds, the sky & certainly not the isle of Skye. In 1829 it’s Bird Skie. In 1613 it was Buttskeyth & in 1530 it was Buckeskeyth. The skeyth part is straightforward. As I explained in the October newsletter, Skeith refers to the area around the Street & skeyth appears in a number of early field-names around there. As for the Bucke, perhaps it refers to deer. Names like this presumably change because they were mainly used in spoken communication & only written down when the ownership or tenancy changed. With the Suffolk tendency to stress the 1st syllable of a word, such an evolution makes sense.


There are many other interesting field-names in the parish including an extremely vulgar one that I can’t put in a family publication!                                Pete Davidson  pjdavidson42@gmail.com