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History of Freckenham

It is hard for us to realise that Freckenham started to decline in importance before London was more than a village. Neolithic (very nearly 7,000 years ago) remains such as shaped flints bear evidence to early man's activities in the area; a flint axe was found half a mile east of Freckenham House in 1884. Freckenham was very well placed from a survival point of view when survival was man’s main difficulty; on three sides the village was protected by the vast marshy Fens, impenetrable to these without local knowledge. On the fourth side the earthworks in the field by the church provided means of defense. It is likely that the earthworks here were some 15 to 20 feet in height, gradually settling with the effect of rain and earthworms. This protection and the light, easi1y-cultivated soil made the site an attractive place to live. Conjecturally the village's name may derive from FRECENA, Saxon for "the home of strong men or warriors".

With the eye of faith, one can speculate on the shape of the village before the Romans came. It is likely that the Icknield trackway passed near the village. A quay for cargo boats and fishing smacks coming up the channel, which is now the Lea Brook, can now be visualised at Bennett's Garage [demolished in 2006 and replaced by two houses]. Possibly a ferry to Isleham plied from the quay before a causeway was built. What is certain is that a minor hoard of 90 gold Iceni coins was found in 1885, dating from Queen Boadicea's reign, in the Mortimer's Lane area; this suggests a settlement on at least roughly the present site. Some of these coins, in remarkably good condition and known as the Rumbelow Hoard, are now in the British Museum. The world renowned Mildenhall Treasure, which may rank higher in merit, is also there from this district, but dates from the end-period of Roman power.

The Romans came and went; scattered remnants of this, our country's only occupation by a foreign army, have been unearthed along North Street. It is quite likely that Freckenham was a semi sea port look-out for perhaps a platoon or section of Roman soldiers or native militia. In the later years of the Roman Empire, before it rotted from its centre, the village may have seen one of the many Saxon raids and invasions; possibly one of these raids was the source of the many human bones in the field by the church. Unknown are the dates when Christianity supplanted the previous rites of Kelt or Druid; there is the possibility that a British Church was established after a fashion in East Anglia as early as A.D.63. Christianity kept having to be preached again though as, first pagan Angles and Saxons, and then Danish Vikings, invaded.

By the year A.D. 896, local history starts to be based on written records. The Dark Ages recede, and probably accurate facts replace supposition and conjecture. In this year King Alfred gave “Freckenham in the County of Suffolk and my small estate in Yselham (Isleham)” to Burricus, Bishop of Rochester, and gave its freehold in perpetuity with dire threats on any of his successors who changed "this my will and gift". We do not know what part Freckenham played in Alfred's almost constant war to control the Danes, but after Alfred's death Freckenham enjoyed a brief spell of peace, ruled from Rochester. Between 935 and 984 the Danes sold the village, though it was subsequently restored to the Bishop only to be lost by Ethelred the Unready to the Viking Sweyn, or Swegen Forkbeard, with very considerable bloodshed. He sacked Norwich, burnt Thetford and, as nothing is ever heard again of the Castle at Freckenham, it is likely that it was he who demolished it. The village, or what was left of it, remained in Viking hands until their final expulsion in about 1046. Harold, son of Godwin, then acquired Freckenham as a private possession.

After the Norman invasion in 1066, Freckenham was one of 22 manors bestowed on William the Conqueror's half brother Odo. However Odo fell swiftly into disgrace and Freckenham (Fracheham, then Frekenham, in the transfer charter - ­spelling was an inexact art in those days!) was transferred to Archbishop Lanfranc who held it until either 1071 or 1087 when, for the third time, it was given to the Bishop of Rochester, then by name Gundulph. The first recorded parish priest at Freckenham was in Lanfranc's time; the priest was Father Thurston.

A stormy century passes before Gilbert, Bishop of Rochester, rebuilt the "miserable hovels and houses level with the ground at Frecenham", including the Church where it stands today; it dates from 1195 to 1198, with many later additions, though it is likely that a church has stood on the present spot since say AD 200.

Anyone who has struggled so far with this facile account will by now have gathered two things. Villages, or manors, were bartered, bought or sold in the same way as we now dispose of or acquire second hand cars. Secondly, the general influence was religion and Christianity in particular. The influence of The Church was paramount, filling the gap now taken in our lives by television, football, racing of all types, bridge or whatever you may have as a pastime. In the absence of any school, religion also had to slake man's thirst for knowledge. Consequently the Church was very much central to life in the village, in Freckenham and elsewhere.

The distance between Rochester and Freckenham made the village vulnerable to expropriation of its revenues, and this formed too great a temptation to the luckless King John, seven years before Magna Carta in 1215. However Freckenham reverted once more to Rochester a year later, when John's sun set. There was rivalry with the neighbouring and powerful Abbot of the Monastery at Bury St. Edmunds; compromises were reached between Rochester and Bury over such things as local marketing rights: and, somewhat morbid (though doubtless necessary?) a gallows shared with Herringswell.

There is an interesting reference in 1281 to the “Chappelle of the Blessed Mary", which may have stood in either North Street or Mortimer's Lane. The village was then of such a size as to need a second place of worship and a second priest; by 1347 a vicar and a rector existed, for there is a record of a dispute between them. In 1292, William de Mortimer, a Crusader, is recorded as the seller of 124 acres to the then Bishop of Rochester. Hence, almost certainly, the present Mortimer's Lane and Morty's Pightell.

The parish was probably affected by the Black Death between 1347 and 1349; three vicars, three rectors and finally a chaplain were inducted in those three years to the two churches. This is too great a rate of strike for natural causes, one would have thought. After the Black Death, there followed just over 100 years of troubled times for the whole nation, culmin ­ating in the Wars of the Roses. Life was probably as difficult as during the Viking forays.

The Tudor Dynasty, starting with Henry VII, brought wealth to the whole nation, and particularly to East Anglia. A middle class of land owning yeoman farmers filled the vast gap between rich nobles, chastened by the Wars of the Roses, and the poor who, by our present standards, were incredibly poor. Only the Reformation, with its dissolution of the Monasteries and hounding of those who remained loyal to the Pope, cast its blight on the period. Whether this hounding should be seen as shameful or justified is a question that historians have argued over with equal passion for both points of view. The Bishop of Rochester at the time sold his residual property - surviving since King Alfred’s reign - in Freckenham in 1536 to Sir Ralph Warren. Sir Ralph was related later by marriage in the family to the Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, and was the great grandfather of Oliver Cromwell.

The name Warren/Waryn/le Warrener had been linked with Freckenham for 240 year’s before this purchase from the Bishop; Sir Ralph Warren, as a one-time Lord Mayor of London, must have been a man of substance and wealth. At about this time the Pilgrim Chapel of the Blessed Mary was deconsecrated, and the principal church, surprisingly, is occasionally referred to as St. Peter's instead of St. Andrew's at this period.

With the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, we pass into recent history, as defined when viewing Freckenham's time scale. There remained the draining of the Fens, completed about 1700. This must have had a very big effect on Freckenham, which over the space of a generation or so, changed from being a sort of sea side village to one 34 miles (as the crow flies) from the nearest sea. No longer did people have access to the fish and eels that had been their principal wealth. A large expanse of extreme fertile soil suddenly became available to the North of the Village, and it is a pity that there is no record of the social and economic effects of this transformation of the land ­scape to the Breckland villages such as Freckenham.

Some notes on the principal points of interest in Freckenham are set out below:-

The Church of St. Andrew The first church was probably of wood and nothing now survives. The Chancel of the present stone church can be dated about 1196 and is of the 'Early English' architectural style. The Nave and North Aisle are c.1325 and of the 'Decorative' period. The Tower is c.1475 'Perpendicular' in style, but most of it collapsed in 1882; happily it was rebuilt as before in 1884. The church was restored in 1866 and the thatch was replaced by tiles. The stone may have come bysea (in all probability to the doorstep) from Rochester. The double piscina on the south side and carved bench ends are specially notable, as is the charming alabaster plaque to St. Eloi, the Blacksmith's saint which was discovered in 1777 and set in the north wall beside the door. The five church bells are recent, 1623(2) to 1809. The carpet was placed in the chancel and nave in 1975.

The Beacon Mound Across the Church Lane from the Manor House, being part of the defensive earthworks, though added on very much later to them. The mound has been uncertainly dated about 1325; it was perhaps last used to pass a warning of the Armada's approach.

Rectory and Vicarage Probably originally the Vicarage, then the Rectory. First recorded in 1699 when it was repaired, and then enlarged in 1760 and again in the nineteenth century. One wing was taken down in 1960.

The Hall Probably occupies the site of the Old Manor House, which the Bishop of Rochester retained, and the scene of many important activities affecting the village. Its ownership can be traced back through 1400 years.

The Moat North up Mortimer’s Lane. Conjecturally, the site of the village ‘Mot’ a sort of periodic village meeting. The Moat was possibly to exclude women and children from the earnest deliberations of the men!

The Pound Situated at the corner of the Mildenhall road, its function was a temporary enclosure for stock that had strayed, very necessary before the small strips of land in open fields had been consolidated into hedged holdings by a private bill enclosing the village in 1825. Cattle were in the charge of the Pindar, a village appointment of some importance.


To conclude this brief account, William White's gazetteer of “Suffolk" gives us an interesting snapshot in time of Freckenham and other Suffolk villages. The book records 371 inhabitants in1881 with 2,520 acres. Nathaniel Barnardiston was then Lord of the Manor, though previously the Clarkes held this position. The cost of changing the Church roof from thatch to tile was £2,000. The church tithes were commuted in 1815. Since 1760 the church has been in the patronage of Peterhouse, Cambridge - the oldest of the college’s.

A National School, built in 1840 for £120(!), housed about 50 children. Interestingly, neighbouring Worlington had rather fewer inhabitants but 20 more school children. The school at Freckenham was funded by a voluntary rate, school pence, and a government grant.

Prominent Freckenham families in the 1880's included:- The Revd. W S Parish, who had succeeded the Revd. G B Paley who held the incumbency 1835-80. W V Paley at The Dell (he built Freckenham House in 1901), James Copsey draper and postmaster, E Cornell farmer and pork butcher, C Dorling butcher, J Edwards blacksmith, J Fuller greengrocer, R Hood beerhouse, three Rumbelows — two farmers and the third the village school mistress, Mary Bunn landlady of the Golden Boar, J Hunt carpenter and other farmers W Dodd, J Pearmain, C Rust, G Wiseman and W Westley. Mrs C Tolworthy was another shopkeeper.

The book also mentions Katherine Shore's bequest from 1710 of a cottage and some 9 acres let for £24 p.a., this sum going to buy stuff gowns for the poor women of the parish.

Freckenham achieved distinction during the Great War by the large proportion of volunteers to serve under arms. The compulsion of a draft did not prove necessary in a village named, so it may be surmised, 'The home of the bold ones'.

After that war, a group of settlers alongside the turnpike hostelry of Red Lodge founded what has become a 'new town' on what were the old Warren lands of the Parish.

A Manorial, or possibly Monastic, seal found in the 40 acre Glebe field in the parish. The inscription comes from Psalm 132, “MOMENTO DOMINE DAVID” (Lord remember David). The seal is dated to the  12th or 13th    century.


R.M.C. June 1976