A 7 mile walk following the western parish boundary of Leiston in Suffolk, as described in a document from the middle-ages
This walk attempts to follow the instructions of a perambulation around the western side of the Leiston Parish boundary that was undertaken in the year AD1620. Leiston's history is renowned for its Abbey and the Garret's works, but this walk also discovers the site of a possible ancient pre-Christian shrine or temple, the location of the Leiston gallows and the procession route taken by those attending this gruesome public spectacle.
Leiston to Harrow Lane Walk - Essential Information
- Start point
- LeistonView in OS Map | View in Google Map
- End Point
- Harrow LaneView in OS Map | View in Google Map
- Total Walk distance
- 7 miles
- Walk difficulty
- Footpaths, country lanes and some roads
- There is a short section of the walk along the Leiston/Saxmundham road. Although only a 'B' road, this can be fairly busy and caution should be taken.
- Date of Walk
- Walk Time
- 10:30 to 12:00
- Griffmonster, Kat
- Weather Conditions
- Bright and cold
After researching the location of Friday Market Heath and Leiston Gibbet from the details of the 1620 Leiston boundary survey which was reproduced in Rev Suckling's 1848 publication 'Histories and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk', it only seemed logical to continue the quest of identifying the old boundary to Leiston. This was originally going to be a simple investigation with a walk to follow the rest of the basic route as closely as possible. This quest soon turned out to be more of a voyage of discovery and hence this walk is specifically around the western side of the boundary. What fired this intrigue and discovery was a publication on the website of The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History; a seven page paper by Robert Steerwood entitled 'Lost Features of an Ancient Landscape' in which, under a section titled 'A Harrow at Van's Meadow', he had taken the same Leiston 1620 Survey and proposed the area of this part of the survey revealed the location of an ancient shrine and heathen worship.
Prior to reading this paper, the country lanes west of Leiston were nothing more than routes connecting the many small communities of the area, including Harrow Lane which was considered was to be so named as it led to Harrow farm. Not so. Harrow Lane is an ancient track and the word Harrow is derived from the old English 'hearg' meaning a place of heathen worship, possibly a temple or a shrine. So, here, right on Leiston's doorstep, stood some ancient history, and no-one locally appeared to know anything about it.
The area of this Harrow is better known for the WWII Leiston airfield that was constructed here in 1939. The airfield closed in 1955 but there is still plenty of evidence of its former use with runways and distinctive old WWII buildings standing redundant on the landscape. This artefact of history in itself is worth an investigation and study on its own merit. But this will have to wait for another walk. Another day and another time. This specific walk is all about ancient history!
In some respects Mr Steerwoods investigations had completed the research that I wanted to undertake. My initial thoughts were that his findings were incorrectly placed, as the perambulation instructions taken literally appear to place the Harrow at the top of Harrow Lane. Fortunately for me Mr Steerwood got in touch and was able to provide more insight to his conclusions which have now satisfied my curiosity and I am happy to agree with his findings which are discussed in the feature to this walk.
A simple walk using existing footpaths, lanes and tracks all of which are well defined.
Leave Leiston town centre cross roads south via Haylings Road. Turn right at Victory Road, following the park on the right. The end of the road leads to a footpath through to the church. Walk through the church grounds and out onto Waterloo Avenue. turn left and follow the road out of town. There is a path behind the hedgerow beyond the cemetery and this leads through to Highbury Cottages. Ignore the first footpath on the left beyond the cottages but take the second path. At the road this leads out on, continue straight ahead, leading onto another footapth as the road bends to the left. This emerges onto the main Saxmundham Road. Turn right and walk the road up to the footpath on the right. There are footpath signs but a number of these have been torn down and lie on the ground. Head for the small copse of trees in the centre of the field and follow the eastern side of the copse. At the end, continue onwards, bearing around to the left heading towards the cottages on the far side of the field. This footpath emerges at the ruins of Buxlow Church which sit in the garden to one of the cottage.
Follow the track between the houses down onto the lane. Turn right and follow the lane. This will pass through a double bend then across the railway and meet with Clayhill Road. Continue onwards. The junction with a road on the right is the old Leiston to Kelsale Road. This originally carried straight ahead to the left of the cottage opposite, but the present road has been realigned and another junction further up on the left is the continuation of the old road.
Keep to the road, ignoring both the right and then left turns as mentioned. The road will dip down to pass over a stream and the rise again to meet a cross roads. To the right is the ancient track known as Harrow Lane. Take this back towards Leiston. This area was once covered with Buxlow Forest. Further along one will see old WWII buildings, one completely masked in vegetation, and the old runway. Towards the end of the lane, on the left is a memorial to the airfield and behind this the Cakes and Ales Camping and caravan site. At the junction go straight ahead keeping Buckles Wood to the right and follow the road as it curves around to the south east. The location of the Harrow is thought to have been on the right with the area known as Higbones to the left. The procession Rayles is thought to have been somewhere behind the present day nurseries. Keep to the road. Go past Geater Nurseries and a footpath just beyond will enable access to the fields beyond. Emerge onto the field and on the left, at the far field boudnary is where the gallows are thought to have been located. Return back down the footpath and continue on the road until it meets Abbey Road. turn right and follow the road back into the town.
Leiston Harrow, the Procession Rayles and Leiston GallowsView in OS Map | View in Google Map
In 1620, at the first court held for the manor of Leiston by the Marquis of Bucks, a survey was taken of the manor by thirty six of the jury. The route of the survey was recorded in the court-rolls of the manor which are reproduced in Rev Alfred Sucklings 1848 publication entitled 'The History and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk, Volume II'. Part of an investigation into the route of this so called perambulation was covered in an article on this website entitled In Search of Leiston Gibbet and, as a continuation of this research, this article attempts to determine to location of the mentioned landmarks of The Harrow at Van's Meadow, The Higbones, Hornes Grove, The Procession Rayles and Hangmans Close which are all mentioned during the course around the western side of Leiston, but whose names have long since disappeared from both maps and local knowledge.
To assist in the location of these landmarks, frequent on-line references are made to OS map of England (1888-1913) which depicts the Leiston boundary which appears to accord with the described route of 1620; the 1803 OS Unions Map and John Carey's map of 1794.
It is also worth noting that a similar investigation was previously conducted by Robert Steerwood in a 2008 publication for the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History entitled Lost Features of an Ancient Landscape. In this paper he discusses the proposition of The Harrow being an ancient site where heathen worship was carried out and which is identified by the name Harrow which is derived from the old English word hearge. This work is referred to throughout this article and I would advise the reader to peruse this in conjunction with this feature.
Unfortunately the boundary, in the modern day context, crosses the landscape without any definable public right of way or access and therefore a modern day perambulation needs to approximate the route using present day lanes, tracks and footpaths. It is considered that during the 17th century much of the land had yet to be enclosed and was therefore accessible as common land. It is also noticeable that members of the jury who conducted the perambulation were also named as the landowners along which the boundary crossed.
This specific section of the boundary perambulation is taken directly from Rev Sucklings book The History and Antiquities of The County of Suffolk on pages 428 through to 430. The extract for this article concerns the instructions of the route beyond St Andrews Cross, which is thought to have been located at Cold Fair Green (formerly St Andrews Green) and was probably at the point where the modern day Aldringham Road meets the old Leiston to Snape road. Coldfair Green used to be a part of the Leiston parish up until the 1980s, and therefore the 19th century OS map depicts the boundary as such, with Knodishall parish on the northern side and Coldfair Green on the southern side of the boundary. The full extract that this article is concerned with, detailing the route west of present day Leiston, and returning back to the present day road into Leiston from the north, reads as follows:
...and from that cross turning up northward between the copyhold lands called Owen's and Feriby's, and so along cross land and Stable Croft, being the copyhold land of Smith's, including the same, and so along Owen's Grove, excluding the same untill you come to the north corner of Stable Croft, and then throwe Owen's Grove, leaving part thereof on the north and part on the south, untill you come unto the south corner of Devonshire Wood, and so following the same wood, including the same, unto the demean land called Gilbert's pictles, and from that point of Gilbert's pictles turning north after the Temmar, untill you come unto a cornered close called Stonie lands, lying in Knoddishall, excluding the same, and from thence along the way syding Buckhouse pittes, untill you come unto a gate at Long Meadow end, being a meadow of the demean, and from thence turning south-westerly after the east side of the same meadow, untill you come unto the south end thereof, including the same long meadow, and from thence along Cluny Wood, including the same wood, and from thence between the bounds of Knoddishall and the West House, including all the lands of the said West House, unto a way leading from Kelsall to Laiston, being called the More Lane end, and so going along a strype of Mr. Jenney's, including the same, unto Glover's house, and from thence along the green lane leading towards Teberton, being between Kellsall and Laiston, unto Moore Lane end, unto a close of George Chetlebees, and at the end of that close turne up the lane south-east, and so along that lane between Higbones and ground of the demean called the Harrow at Van's Meadow, excluding the said Van's Meadow towards the north, and from thence to east end of Horne's Grove, and from that point going south-east westward Mr. Ginnees ground unto the procession rayles, and from those rayles going northward towards Hangman's Close, along the shanks, unto a cornered close of Robt. Sharpes...
Firstly, we encounter several issues that hinder our progress in following these instructions. Landmarks such as Owen's Grove, Stable Croft, Devonshire Wood and Gilbert's pictles no longer exist and are not depicted even on the oldest of maps of the area. Copyhold tenants are those holding land of a manor by copy of the court-roll and as such they were entitled to fell any timber on their land for construction purposes or for sale to other tenants. There is no clear definition for the word 'pictle'. It could be a corruption of the word 'pightle' which has an alternative form of picle and a meaning of 'A small piece of enclosed land, often by a hedge'. This does make sense in this context. The word Temmar, however, is unknown. The fact that it is capitalised would indicate that it is a name.
On the positive side, the name of Gilbert is recorded in the domesday book (Open domesday website, PASE website, Blything website) where it states that 'In the same vill Gilbert holds 27 acres under Robert Malet which Eadric held as a manor' and Gilberts pictles may be a reference to this land that was once under his holdings. The description of the 'pictles' being 'demean land' implies that, at the time of the survey, it was held by the church.
The late 19th century boundary leaves Coldfair Green and crosses the fields through to a point just north of Knodishall church where it turns northwards. Therefore we could speculate that this is the point of Gilberts pictles with the Temmar being located just before the boundary heads north (TM 42803 62195). This would mean that Owens Grove and Devonshire Wood would be somewhere on the land between Leiston and Knodishall Church. There are small sections of wood on this land, however a lot of these copses are just trees that have grown up around old marl pits. Even so, we could hazard a guess that the long thin wood at map ref TM 43476 61946 could fit the description of Owens Grove if, in the past, it had extended further south. This would mean the boundary passed to the east of the grove and then cut diagonally through the wood. This would place Devonshire Wood to the north on what is now farmland (TM 43204 62161) with Gilberts pictles to the south and extending to Knodishall church (TM 42598 61952).
The survey passage continues
...turning north after the Temmar, untill you come unto a cornered close called Stonie lands, lying in Knoddishall, excluding the same, and from thence along the way syding Buckhouse pittes, untill you come unto a gate at Long Meadow end.... So, from Gilberts pictles we now head north, parallel to the lane to Knodishall church to a point where it meets a present day field boundary. There is a footpath alongside the field (TM 42833 62772) and the boundary turns west and follows this, crossing the Knodishall lane and across to the Saxmundham Road. On the 19th century OS map, there is a 'stone' marked where the route crosses the Knodishall Lane (TM 42680 62788) which could be a possible location for the 'cornered close called 'Stonie Lands'. The reference to Buckhouse Pittes may be the deep sandpit to the north of the boundary at this point, which is shown on OS maps as far back as 1803. The sandpit still exists today (TM 42663 63078) and is found by the side of the Leiston to Saxmundham road where it meets the railway crossing. If this is the same pit, then the name of Buckhouse has clearly fallen out of use. It appears nameless on all maps and even locals don't appear to have a name for it, although I have been told by one resident that he knew it, as a young lad in the 1960's, as Peanose Pit (correct spelling unknown). The fact that it is in close proximity to Buckles Wood (TM 43160 63478) to the north east may suggest that the names of Buckhouse and Buckles may share a common origin but this is purely speculation and conjecture without any evidence to back it up. We also speculate later in the perambulation that Buckles Wood may have once been part of Hornes Grove.
The next part of the survey is once again unclear when comparing it against the present day landscape. It is undoubtedly the land to the west of the present day Saxmundham road. The extract continues
... untill you come unto a gate at Long Meadow end, being a meadow of the demean, and from thence turning south-westerly after the east side of the same meadow, untill you come unto the south end thereof, including the same long meadow, and from thence along Cluny Wood, including the same wood, and from thence between the bounds of Knoddishall and the West House, including all the lands of the said West House, unto a way leading from Kelsall to Laiston...
Once again, little remains of any woodland in this area to establish any specific location with the only discernable woodland being Osier Covert (TM 41820 62915) which is probably only trees that have grown around a marl pit. However there is one vital landmark that determines that we are in the correct location, that of West House (TM 41719 63406). This building is marked on all OS maps back to 1803 and still exists today. According to English Heritage, this is described as a 17th century farmhouse with 18th and 19th century alterations. With this being the case we could speculate that the tiny piece of woodland to the east of this (TM 42003 63243) is what remains of Cluny Wood and Long Meadow must be the area to the east of the wood.
The 19th century boundary does indeed follow the route between the West House and the north west limits of Knodishall parish. The public footpath across this land comes out at the ruins of Buxlow Church (TM 41403 63101). Buxlow church was probably still a going concern in 1620 as the parish was not consolidated into Knodishall until 1722. Maybe we could speculate that the demean lands of Long Meadow was part of the church lands belonging to Buxlow even though they were on the Leiston side of the boundary.
The route now crosses the land until it meets the Leiston Kelsale road. At this point it is worth examining John Carey's map of 1794. One thing that is notable about the present day landscape of the Leiston area is the main route westwards is the Leiston and Saxmundham road, a B road full of twists and turns that is far from a direct route between the two towns. There is neither a direct route using footpaths from Leiston to Saxmundham, the walker needs to head south to Knodishall and then find footpaths across the land from there. John Careys map may offer an explanation to this as this clearly displays that the main route west out of Leiston is to Kelsale rather than Saxmundham, passing through the hamlet of East Green, and meeting with the road to Theberton. Present day, these are no more than country lanes with passing places for traffic but this puts a new light of how we interpret this section of the boundary survey with Kelsale obviously a much more significant settlement during the 17th century.
The survey continues with
unto a way leading from Kelsall to Laiston, being called the More Lane end, and so going along a strype of Mr. Jenney's, including the same, unto Glover's house, and from thence along the green lane leading towards Teberton, being between Kellsall and Laiston, unto Moore Lane end, unto a close of George Chetlebees, and at the end of that close turne up the lane south-east, and so along that lane between Higbones and ground of the demean called the Harrow at Van's Meadow, excluding the said Van's Meadow towards the north, and from thence to east end of Horne's Grove.
It seems obvious that the boundary at this point is much the same as depicted on the 19th century os map where it crosses the Kelsale to Leiston road (TM 40671 64460), follows a strip of land, and emerges onto the Theberton road opposite what is now the driveway to Orchard Farm (TM 40796 64720) which is a 16th century farmhouse ( see British listed buildings). Maybe we could speculate that this was Glovers house. The route continues along the green lane towards Theberton, which is the present day Theberton road, to Moore lane end. It is interesting to note that in The Chronicles of Theberton, a 1910 publication by Henry Doughty, there is a reference to the old Hall Road previously being known as Moor Lane. If this is the road that passes the hall then it is also the green lane that runs through to join the Leiston Kelsale road. We could speculate that this may have once been moorland.
The route now instructs a turn to the south east at George Chettlebees close. This would be close to the present day Peakhill Cottages (TM 41559 64921). The British Listed Building website states that they 'probably date from the 17th century' which would put them into the right timeframe to be Geroge Chetlebees and just beyond them is the turn to the south east along Harrow Lane.
We must now move onto the next reference which concerns the Harrow at Vans Meadow. There are numerous on-line references to the name of Harrow used in the context of a place-name as being derived from the old English word hearg. The website In-depth Germanic language studies describes the word Harrow, derived from hearg, with a meaning of 'hill sanctuary, sacred grove, temple'. Archaeologist David Wilson goes further and states that a hearg would be 'a special type of religious site, one that occupied a prominent position on high land and was a communal place of worship for a specific group of people...'.
Initially, on reading the next instruction 'and at the end of that close turne up the lane south-east, and so along that lane between Higbones and ground of the demean called the Harrow at Van's Meadow', it appears to infer that the Harrow at Van's Meadow is on the north side of this ancient track-way (TM 42013 64828) and Higbones was to the south (TM 41856 64618). However, as Robert Steerwood's has pointed out in recent discussions, this may be an over simplification. We must bear in mind that during the time of the survey the ground to the north was covered by Buxlow Forest and this woodland may well have also extended to the south. This would mean that the long straight route of Harrow Lane through the forest would have been somewhat featureless apart from the forest itself and the 1.25 mile length is glossed over with the 'between Higbones and ground of the demean called the Harrow at Van's Meadow' being the first features of note to occur after emerging from the forest. There is a similar case in the perambulations between Minsmere Haven and Sizewell Beacon where there are no landmarks given over twice the distance. This would place the Harrow on the ground to the east end of Harrow Lane and the route would then follow the present day Buckleswood Road before crossing the fields which puts Higbones somewhere to the Leiston side of this boundary. This location would have been bounded by the forested area to the west and would have been a prominent location overlooking the Sizewell River valley to the east. Mr Steerwood has backed this location of the Harrow up with several notable observations. Firstly this area may have been part of an area of common ground known as Tylers Green. The enclosure of the last remaining segment of this land is mentioned in Doughtys 'The Chronicles of Theberton'. This common land was also likely to have been 'of the demean', falling under the ownership of the nearby Leiston Abbey which also ties in with the instructions description. Additional evidence to back up this claim is the fact that there is archaeological evidence of Bronze Age barrows that would have been visible from this location plus crop-mark evidence along with finds of Roman pottery in this general area. Also, to strengthen this claim, is the fact that the Gallows would have been in the same general area and it was common practice to site places of execution at areas of former pagan worship in order to de-sanctify the area.
If this is indeed the location of the Harrow, then it would place Hornes Grove in the same general area of the land to the north east of Buckleswood Road. The parish boundary crosses this land without following any modern day field boundaries so we may speculate that Hornes Grove was an area that the route followed around. The name Horn has associations with Freyja, the Norse goddess and it is also connected with demonic associations, Old Hornie being a name for the devil (The God of the Witches, M Murray p29 ). It is known that Christian adoption of former pagan sites were often given names with demonic associations. This name has been long forgotten in local knowledge although I have come across an interesting snippet of information supplied to me by a local resident. Growing up in the 1960s, as a child he would often play around the Buckleswood area and he remembers that his grandfather always gave him a stern warning never to stray beyond the wood towards Knodishall with the specific caution for any who thought of venturing further, 'Beware, the horns'. Although no enlargement was ever made on what the horns were, it was enough to prevent a young lad from attempting to find out. Nonetheless, this may tie in with the old name of Hornes Grove and its old pagan use from which the folklore may have later derived.
And so, we come to the final part of this extract which states
...and from that point going south-east westward Mr. Ginnees ground unto the procession rayles, and from those rayles going northward towards Hangman's Close, along the shanks, unto a cornered close of Robt. Sharpes....
The 19th century boundary does indeed take a turn towards the north at a point behind the present day Geater nurseries (TM 43837 63169). This must be the location of the procession rayles with Hangmans Close at the top where the route turns back to the south east and down to the present day Leiston to Theberton road. We can only speculate that the gallows were located at hangmans close (TM 43907 63354) with the procession rayles being the procession route taken for a hanging. The actual location of where the gallows would have stood is difficult to see in the modern landscape. The field boundaries behind Geaters nurseries have all been taken up and the area is just one vast field. However, if one takes the footpath on the eastern side of the nurseries and proceed to where a boundary on the right leads down towards the Theberton road, then view a straight line that would continue westwards from the boundary, running parallel to the rear of the nurseries, the gallows would have been about three quarters along this length.
There appears to be no local folklore attesting to the gallows or any of its the hangings. In fact, there is no local knowledge that Leiston even had gallows although this must have been the case as it was recorded during the reign of Edward I (1239-1307) when the Abbot of Leiston Abbey claimed '...the right of wreck, market, gallows...' Suckling p433.
Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information
Summary of Document Changes
Last Updated: ... 2016-01-16