Wetherden, Suffolk

Wetherden, Suffolk

Wetherden is a village in the county of Suffolk which was recorded in the Domesday book as 'Watdena' or 'Wederdena' The village has an estimated population of 540, the majority being OAPs.

Although small in size the village can boast a baptist chapel, St Mary's Church which was built in the 15th century, Village Hall and one village pub the Maypole.

The village playing field is home to Wetherden F.C who play in the Ipswich Sunday football league.

The Domesday Survey of 1086 offers an insight into how the village and church were run at the time.

The present church stands on or near the site of a pre-Norman church, which is referred to in the survey. This was in all probability a flint and stone construction with a thatched roof. The Norman conquest was followed by much church building. The church we know today stems from what is now the chancel, being the first part built in the 1330's -1350's.

The survey mentions a Hugh de Montfort, an ancestor of Simon de Montfort, and a supporter of William the Conquerer, as having “half of a church” here, and the Abbey of St Edmundsbury having “half a church” It tells us that Hugh's half had previously belonged to the Lord of the Manor of Haughley and Wetherden – at the time - one Gutmund of Hagenet (Haughley). Holding half a church meant providing half the income to the Rector – in those days 15 acres of (farmable) land and one acre of meadow, went with the church. The land was farmed with eight plough teams, and there was sufficient wood to support four hogs, and six acres of meadow, according to the Domesday Book. There would have been sheep here too, for the name of the village at that time was Wederdena, meaning 'Wether Valley' - wether being rams and dena old English for 'dene' or 'valley'.

Later Lords of the Manor – the de Scales Family – came to a new arrangement in the 12th century which resulted in their rights to this income transferring to Blackborough Priory in Norfolk, a connection to which remained until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.

In the second half of the 15th century the manor of Wetherden was acquired by John Sulyard who built Wetherden Hall in the north east of the parish; little remains of the original building with a moated farmhouse occupying the site today. The Sulyard estates in Wetherden were eventually sold off to Lord Thurlow in 1811, and Haughley Park, which had been their home since the 17th century was sold to the Rev William Crawford, who was another great benefactor to the village.

The main village of Wetherden developed around the church but there are secondary settlements at Base Green, Little London and Upper Town which may have grown around the homes of the resident gentry at Wetherden Hall, Pulham’s (Mutton Hall) and Darsham’s respectively. Records tell us that, in 1603 at the end of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, there were 176 adults living in Wetherden and that by 1851 there were 541 which is about the same number as today, but of course with far fewer dwellings.

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Throughout the centuries farming has played an important role in village life with sheep, pigs and dairy cattle grazing our pastures and the large open fields of medieval Wetherden were divided into individual strips of barley, oats, rye, peas, hops and hemp. These fields have long since been enclosed and today the land supports a more intensive growing of cereals and sugar beet.

Although there were markets at Haughley and Stowmarket communications were poor and until the early 20th century the village was necessarily self sufficient with local craftsmen and retailers providing for the people of Wetherden.

The White’s Directory of 1844 lists a plumber, painter, school mistresses, two corn millers, shoemaker, maltster / beerhouse keeper, blacksmith, wheelwright, victualler, grocer, auctioneer and 12 farmers. Few are employed on the land now and we no longer have shops, or a post office. The Maypole Inn is open and active, and the land opposite is open as a public parking facility for villagers and pub users. Recently, also the Village Hall has been updated and hosts a variety of activities for villagers.

The majority of working residents travel to Stowmarket, Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich. There are a few second homes and indeed some people still work in London, retreating here when they can.

As to the education of the villagers, records show that Wetherden had a Sunday school in 1818 and day schools from 1833, but in 1868 universal education was established with a school built by public subscription; it was endowed with the interest from £1,500 bequeathed by the Rev Crawford, of Haughley Park. In 1912 the average attendance was 82 but by the beginning of the 1980’s there were fewer than 20 children on the roll and our school finally closed in 1985 with children travelling instead to the school at Haughley. The school building was used by the Wetherden under Fives Pre-School, which however finally closed its doors in 2014.

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