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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A Country Amble between Leiston and Saxmundham

Broad footpath marked out across the fields to Saxmundham

A 5 mile walk across the Coastal Suffolk landscape

This walk searches out footpaths to connect the neighbouring towns of Leiston and Suffolk. Although there is no direct route, the paths chosen are little more than the busy road route to form a worthy afternoons ramble. With the churches of Leiston and Knodishall on the route, plus the mysterious Harris's Pit in the parish of Sternfield there is enough to interest the avid rambler. Sternfield also has the notoriety of being the village from which the last woman to be burnt at the stake in England came.

Leiston to Saxmundham Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
LeistonView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
SaxmundhamView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
5 miles
Walk difficulty
Easy
Terrain
Footpaths and country lanes
Obstacles
Some of the footpaths are across open fields and can be obstructed by crops or ploughing at certain times of the year

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2014-03-22
Walk Time
10:30 to 12:30
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Bright sunny day with bubbling clouds and rather cool

Walk Notes

An intriguing yet notable observation of the landscape between the Suffolk towns of Leiston and Saxmundham is the lack of any direct route connecting the communities. Only four miles apart from each other, the B1119 provides a road link but this is far from direct route; it is full of sharp bends and zig-zags across the open countryside. Viewing the road on a map it looks more like several roads cobbled together to provide the modern day route. Footpaths provide no more of a direct route than the roads. To the other cardinal points there are direct paths; Theberton in the north; Sizewell in the east; Knodishall and Aldeburgh in the south; but no paths or tracks to the west.

John Careys map of 1794 map offer some insight into this situation. From this historic document it can be seen that the westward road out of Leiston is to East Green and Kelsale which lie to the north of Saxmundham. The route still exists although not as a single road, with a turn off at Leiston crossing, then a right followed by a left on the Theberton-Kelsale road. Therefore we could offer a plausible conjecture that, in days gone by, Saxmundham had less importance to Leiston than in modern times and the modern road network has tailored itself in favour of Saxmundham.

This lack of direct footpaths has presented a drawback to walking between the two places on occasions such as a missed bus or late night return. The road is certainly not an advisable walking route, and this observation is written from experience. It is fairly busy thoroughfare with little protection for the humble pedestrian with many motorists hurtling along these glorified country lanes as if they were race tracks. Therefore it would be advantageous to find a route that connects the two communities and this walk does just that. Although far from direct, having to navigate out to Knodishall first, it is traffic free and only a little longer in distance than the road. It also passes some notable features including the churches of Leiston and Knodishall.

From Leiston the route navigates out to the cottages known as Highbury Cottages, from where a footpath leads across the fields to Knodishall. This appears to be a curious name for the cottages as there is nothing in the landscape that refers to such a moniker. There is a reference in a local history book titled From Flint Knappers to Atom Splitters (p131, DY&K May) which states that the cottages were built in the late 19th century by Robert Sawer, a Leiston grocer and draper. The name is simply derived from the London area that his wife hailed from.

Continuing into the hamlet of Knodishall, one first encounters a large pond on the left hand side of the road into the village after which there is a garden with an old covered railway wagon sitting in it. Little is known about the pond. Maybe it was formed from an old marl pit. Maybe it is just a natural hollow in the landscape. On this occasion it was covered in a mass of green algae presenting a somewhat forlorn image amongst the large houses and landscaped gardens.

Beyond Knodishall church, the route cuts across fields and follows the lanes to Moor Farm. During this walk a crop of cereal had obliterated the path across the final field to the renovated farm buildings that make up the farm with its neat lawn and extensive pond. The area to the south was once part of Friston Moor. There is little evidence left of the moor with the land now taken over for agricultural use after being enclosed during the late 19th century.

The hedgerow, which the path briefly follows along a track leading away from Moor Farm, marks the boundary between the parishes of Knodishall and Sternfield. The village of Sternfield sits to the south although it cannot be seen due to the contours of the land. It is nonetheless worth noting that the village has the rather dubious accolade of being the residence of the last woman to be burnt at the stake in England. Margery Beddingfield was convicted, along with her lover, of murdering her husband for which she paid the ultimate price. Full details of this piece of local history can be found in the features for this walk.

Also in Sternfield parish is Harris's Pit and Belt. There is little in the way of the history of this large wooded pit that sits adjacent to a belt of trees and a pond. One would guess that Harris was probably a landowner at one time and the pit was nothing more than the scar from marl digging although its topology is not so much a pit as a waterless moat around a central island. Both the pit and belt appear on OS maps from the late 19th century so they are certainly not modern artefacts. Despite a search for information nothing has been turned up. Even the name appears to be forgotten by locals. Folk use the roads these days; the old tracks and landscape features have been lost to memory. One would have thought this camouflaged hollow would have been the lure to local kids searching out a secret den or hideout but no such evidence is found here.

Before the path passes into Saxmundham, on the right as the track heads to Wood Farm, used to be an area of ancient woodland known as Great Wood. Sadly this is gone having been cleared in the early 1920s (ref:archaeological desk based assessment ) although it was still depicted on OS maps of the 1950's. Once again, such landscape features have also faded from local memory although, from an aerial view, one can still pick out the location of the wood from the a darkened soil colour.

Refreshments

There are no stop off points for refreshments along the way although Saxmundham does have cafes, supermarkets and local shops. Unfortunately pubs have not fared well during recent years and Saxmundham has lost all its hostelries. However, as on this occasion, and the reason for the walk, the Hog and Ale Experience have organised several beer festivals in the town over recent years. This is such a welcome event, not only for Saxmundham itself but the surrounding area. This part of East Suffolk is dominated by Greene King and Adnams houses, with few pubs offering ales from other brewers. Although Adnams have some outstanding ales, the ale connoisseur is left frustrated by the fact that Suffolk has over 25 breweries of which they only get to taste examples from two. The Hog and Ale Experience fill this gap in the market. There are other beer festivals held in the region, but many repeat a familiar list of national ales, whereas the Hog and Ale Experience provide a veritable collection of Suffolk microbreweries including Old Chimneys, Cliff Quay, Hellhound, Mill Green and Shorts Farm to name but a few. Long may they continue their beer festivals and hopefully spark some interest by local pubs to offer guest ales from local brewers. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for more beer festivals.

Saxmundham church
Saxmundham church

Directions

The most direct way to walk between Leiston and Saxmundham avoiding the main road

Depart Leiston town centre along cross Street. Where it junctions with Haylings Road proceed directly across into Victory Road and continue alongside the park. The footpath continues once the road ends and leads around to Leiston church. Pass through the church yard and down to Waterloo Avenue. Turn left and follow the road out of Leiston, passing over to the right hand side beyond the cemetery where a path follows the road on the opposite side of the hedgerow. At the far end of Highbury Cottages, cross over the road and take the footpath across the field. After it passes through a field boundary turn right and follow the boundary and across into the following field where the path navigates diagonally across to emerge onto Church Lane. Turn left and follow the lane into Knodishall village.

Continue through the village and over the River Hundred. Take the footpath on the right which follows the field boundary around to School Lane. turn right and follow the lane to the T-junction. Turn right until there is a concreted track to Little Moor Farm on the left which has public access. Follow the track and pass to the right of the buildings turning to the right to emerge on the left hand side of the hedgerow. Continue along the hedgerow until it meets a waymarker pointing across the field. Take this to moor Farm, passing to the right of the pond and out onto the track. Continue along the track which bears around to the right when it meets a hedgerow. Look for a gap in the hedge where a footpath leads across the fields and up to Harris's Pit. Keep going in a straight following the well marked path which heads towards Wood Farm. Before it gets to the farm buildings, there is a footpath across the field on the right to cut the corner onto the track out onto the road. Turn left and follow the road into Saxmundham.

Leiston church towerKnodishall church
On the left Leiston church tower; On the right Knodishall church

Features

Leiston churchView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The Domesday book of 1086 recorded three churches in the parish of Leiston. It is thought these were the chapel at Aldringham; the former St Nicholas church at Sizewell, which has long since gone, probably due to coastal erosion; and a church on the site of the present site of the church of St Margaret of Antioch, standing to the west of the present day town centre. It is interesting to note that there are two shields decorating each of the hymn number boards in the church. The common shield is a key and sword, which is said to represent St Peter and St Paul, the other two bear the initials SM and SN which is thought to relate to St Nicolas church at Sizewell and St Margarets at Leiston.

The church, dedicated to St. Margaret, was appropriated by the Leiston Abbey from its first foundation in 1180, together with the chapel of St. Nicholas at Sizewell which adds support to its existence prior to this date. Alfred Suckling describes the church in his book from 1844 entitled 'The history and antiquities of suffolk' as:

The fabric of this church comprises a nave and chancel of the same width, with a square tower at the west end, containing five bells. It is a very long and rather gloomy edifice, covered with thatch, and displays less of elegance and cost than might have been expected, considering its revenues were so long absorbed by the neighbouring abbey. For the monks, with all their rapacity and faults, were not niggard of their treasures, when required in the erection of places of divine worship. How many of their conventional churches rivalled, if they did not surpass, the glories of our noblest cathedrals ! The presence of a few lancet windows in the church at Leiston seems to show that it was erected about half a century after its appropriation by the abbey, and possibly on the site of one of the three Saxon churches mentioned in Domesday. There is a window in the south wall of the chancel of rather more elegant pattern than the rest, which appears to have been put in at the cost of a private individual and his wife; for in the year 1824, on the writer's first visit to this church, a legend on the wall might be then deciphered, which seemed to commemorate such a benefaction.

This description pre-dates the rebuilding of the church in 1853 which saw the original structure, apart from the tower, pulled down to be replaced by the current building which is of cruciform plan with north and south transepts and porches, a chancel and a nave. The work was undertaken by local builders William Kemp and William Hardy.

The church dedication to St Margaret of Antioch, although not unique, is also an interesting one. Margaret was the daughter to the pagan priest Aedesius of Antioch during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian (284 to 305). She adopted Christianity and consecrated her virginity to God. For this, her infuriated father disowned her and she was adopted by her nurse who took her to live as a shepherd in the country. The Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East, Olybrius, then asked for her hand in marriage but she refused on account of her Christianity, and for this she was tortured which included being swallowed by Satan who appeared in the shape of a dragon. Legend then states that she escaped when the dragons belly burst open upon which she killed the dragon with a cross-tipped spear. This certainly wasn't the dragons day. First he gets chronic indigestion, suffers a burst stomach and then is put to death by a spear he had inadvertently eaten with his dinner!

Folklore and Black Shuck

The legendary ghostly hound that haunts East Anglia is commonly known as Old Shuck or Black Shuck. A lesser known name of this demonic beast is that of a Galleytrot. This name certainly seems to have died out around Leiston although it is the name used in an article which appeared in the 1961 edition of Country Life Magazine, which states:

The late Lady Walsingham often told me that she and Lady Rendlesham waited up in Leiston churchyard one night to see the 'Galley-trot'. They saw it. A huge black dog with glowing eyes suddenly loped up the road, noiselessly, leapt the churchyard wall and vanished among the gravestones.

In another account published in the 1954 book Ghosts and Witches, James Wentworth has recorded:

One night at Leiston in Suffolk, on the coast, where the Dog is known as 'The Galleytrot', she and the then Lady Rendlesham sat up in the churchyard to watch. At twelve precisely a slinking, sable shadow slipped among the gravestones like a wraith, leaped the low churchyard wall and slid down the dark lane towards the sand hills like an evil whisper.

There is no reference in either of these accounts as to whom Lady Rendlesham was, although, given the dates of these accounts it could well have been the wife of the John Lord Rendlesham, who died in 1856, and who had two daughters, one being Lady Walsingham. The tale certainly isn't common knowledge among the local populous these days and there is no knowledge of other accounts of Galley-trots or Shucks in Leiston churchyard.

During 2014 the Dig Venture Archaeology team did unearth a skeleton belonging to a huge dog which the media speculated was that of Black Shuck although this was pure sensationalism on the part of media looking for a story. An good read for those interested in the history and sighting of Black Shuck should read an informative article at the Hidden East Anglia website which not only analyses the sightings over the ages but also puts to bed some of the common myths and misconceptions surrounding the legend.

References

Sternfield MurderView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Sternfield is arguably most renowned for having the last woman to be burnt at the stake in England. The woman concerned was Margery Beddingfield, a farmers wife who was accused of conspiring to murder her husband in 1763. The full story of the crime starts back in 1759 when a young Sternfield farmer named John Beddingfield married 17 year old Margery, the daughter of Blaxhall farmer John Rowe. They started off a happy married life and soon had two children growing up in their Sternfield farmhouse. Also living at the farmhouse were their servants, Elizabeth Riches, a nurse-maid and two boys William Masterson and John Nun, aged 14 and 10 respectively, who were both cow hands.

John Beddingfield was 24 years old when this tragedy unfolded. He had taken on two more servants around Michaelmas of 1761, soon after the birth of their second child. Richard Ringe was to assist him on the farm, and Elizabeth Cleobold, was to be a nurse-maid. After six months of service it became obvious to the rest of the servants that something was going on between Mrs Beddingfield and Richard Ringe. They occasionally caught them sneaking a kiss and there was the time one of them caught Mrs Beddingfield laying in Ringe's lap. This intimacy was not even discrete for Mrs Beddingfield would often ask the servants to deliver notes to Ringe despite them living under the same roof. Each of them, however, kept dutifully quiet about these misdemeanour's for they did not want to get on the bad side of Mrs Beddingfield who had a wicked temper and would no doubt make their lives a misery if they uttered anything untoward.

The affair grew and Mrs Beddingfield began to persist in suggestions of evil schemes to do away with her husband in order for her and Ringe to be together. At first he took little notice of her fantasies, but, with time, the ideas solidified in his mind and the plot to do away with his master, her husband, was hatched.

The initial plan was to use poison. Ringe had managed to purchase some arsenic from the Aldeburgh Apothecary and just needed the chance to employ it. At first he attempted to enlist one of the servant girls, Elizabeth Riches to assist him in his evil scheme. If only she could slip a dose into their masters breakfast drink of rum and milk, then the deed would be done. He would for ever be indebted to her. She blankly refused. Ringe continued with his persuasion but she would not bend to his proposals saying '...if it was bidden in this world, it would not be bidden in the world to come'.

Then came an unexpected chance when one day Mr Beddingfield was feeling very much under the weather, being physically sick. As his habit dictated upon such occasions, he would sip hot water to ward the sickness off. However the cup of water that had been made for him was too hot and he summoned Ringe to go and get some water from the farm pond to cool it down. This was way before the times of modern plumbing and pools and wells were the main source of water. This was the chance that Ringe could not miss. He took some water from the pond and mixed in the arsenic and took it back to his master. Mr Beddingfield took one look at it and seeing the sediment, refused to drink it. He obviously thought it was just sediment from the pond as there was no suspicion as to any underhand motive.

With this failure Mrs Beddingfield and Ringe concluded that they should change their plans. Poisoning was not working. Strangulation would be better. Mr Beddingfield often slept alone and Mrs Beddingfield could always arrange such an occasion. Ringe could then perform the dastardly deed in the depths of the night when all were asleep. Once again the opportunity came by chance. On the 27th July, Ringe had spent the day harvesting the wheat and then had sold a cow to a Mr Scarlet, a local butcher. To conclude the deal Scarlet had returned with Ringe and Mrr Beddingfield to the farmhouse and they had spent the evening drinking punch. Mrs Beddingfield left them about ten o'Clock to retire to bed. The couples bedroom, known as the parlour chamber, was entered by way of a second bedroom known as the kitchen chamber. On this occasion she had decided to sleep in the kitchen chamber, and being determined that her husband should not lie with her, she had ordered her nursemaid, Elizabeth Cleobold, to bed down with her.

Soon afterwards Ringe also retired to bed and it was then that he saw the chance to commit the deadly deed. With his master still drinking, he would be 'fuddled' by the time he came to bed and would therefore present less resistance. Ringe crept into his own chamber, which he shared with the two servant boys, and removing his coat, waistcoat, and shoes, pulled himself into bed, still wearing his breeches and stockings. He lay in bed listening until he heard his master going up the stairs, with Elizabeth Riches lighting his way with a candle. He heard Mr Beddingfield plead with his wife to come to bed with him but she refused. He heard Riches then walk away to her room at the back of the house taking the candle with her. Then all went silent. Ringe lay waiting. Half an hour. The house was in absolute silence. An hour and it was obvious that all in the house were sound asleep.

Now was his chance. Without any light he crept across to the kitchen chamber where Mrs Beddingfield lay asleep, then on into the parlour chamber where his master lay. He stood there for a full fifteen minutes just watching his masters peaceful slumber before he could pluck the courage, overcoming his doubt about what he was about to do. He then threw himself upon the sleeping body, clutching hold of his masters throat. Mr Beddingfield struggled and they both fell off the bed, pulling down the curtain and bending its rod in the fall. For a moment Ringe lost his grip but then managed to recover and gripped hold of the throat with even more determination. Forcefully choking the life force out of John Beddingfield. Holding on till the body beneath him relented in the struggle and went limp. The deed had been done.He had fulfilled his mistresses wishes. She would be at ease and free to devote herself to him.

Ringe crept back into the kitchen chamber to proclaim his endeavours to his lover. What he had not bargained for and had not seen in the darkness was the nursemaid, Elizabeth Cleobold, laying with his mistress and who was now awake, being alerted by the commotion from the next room. She had heard everything and it was blatantly obvious that he was the culprit and despite the darkness she knew it was Ringe from his voice. He proclaimed that he was forced to do it and she had better hold her tongue.

From here on, what seemed like a carefully planned exercise sprang into action. Ringe returned to his chamber and climbed back into bed. Mrs Beddingfield and Elizabeth Cleobold went to the back of the house where the other nurse maid, Elizabeth Riches, was sleeping. Pretending to be frightened, Mrs Beddingfield pleaded to Miss Riches to go and fetch Ringe as 'something is the matter with your master'. Miss Riches, who had already been awakened by a noise which she had thought was like children crying, immediately hurried to Ringe's chamber, calling for him to go and investigate. Ringe pretended to surprised by her calls, and angry for her awaking him. Eventually he got up, struck a light with a tinder box and proceeded to his masters chamber. Minutes later he returned and walked on to the back room to declare to all the news that their master was dead, having succumbed due to a fall from his bed. At this pronouncement, Elizabeth Riches cried out and rushed to her masters chamber with Ringe following. There she found Mr Beddingfield, face downward on the floor, his neck black and swollen and two buttons torn from his shirt collar. The bed curtain was torn down and the curtain rod bent. She couldn't help but have a suspicion after all, it was Ringe who had asked her to assist in poisoning their master. She turned to him and sneered 'If I had said to you what you have said to me, I should be afraid of ever going into this room alone, for I should think my master would appear to me'

The maids and their mistress stayed in Riches chamber until morning. Riches returned to his chamber to wake the boys to give them the news that their master had fallen out of bed and killed himself. Together, they went and placed the body on the bed then Ringe went to fetch Mr Beddingfields mother and sister who lived nearby.

The following day the coroner came to conduct the inquest. It was very superficial and somewhat negligent. The servants were examined under oath, in particular the two nursemaids, Cleobold and Riches. Although Miss Cleobold testified to the groans she had heard she said nothing of her encounter with Ringe for fear that speaking out would result in consequences from her mistress as she still had a considerable time to serve in the household. Similarly Riches stayed silent of her encounter with the request to administer poison.

A surgeon called Sparham was also cross examined but he had only had a hasty view of the body due to the coroners urgency to return home. With only a fleeting inspection he had determined that the blackness of the face and throat was caused by the deceased's own fingers. As a consequence the verdict of the inquest was accidental death, and with that, the body was buried.

The perpetrators had gotten away with their evil deed and could now freely pursue their illicit relationship. However after two or three weeks, with the excitement was gone, and Mrs Beddingfield slowly tired of Ringe, and that disenchantment soon became hatred.

In the meantime Cleobold, although she had not testified all that she knew, was determined to not let it remain secret. With only 10 days left in her employ at the Beddingfields and with the Saxmundham Assizes about to take place, she firstly disclosed her secrets to her mother and her fellow servant Elizabeth Riches. It wasn't long before Mrs Beddingfield heard of this loose talk and confronted the two servants. They admitted to the fact and declared that they would testify at the assizes. With this Mrs Beddingfield turned to Ringe and said 'Now, Richard, you are done for, you will certainly be hanged'

Ringe attempted to have the girls change their testimony to one he had written out. They refused. On the same day, a Thursday, Mrs Beddingfield absconded but by the Saturday she had been caught and together with Ringe the two were taken into custody.

The subsequent trial was held on 21st March 1763 where they were both capitally convicted upon proper evidence being given. Ringe was sentenced to be hanged until dead, then his body to be dissected and atomized. Mrs Beddingfield was to burnt until dead. They both had pleaded their innocence throughout the trial but afterwards, Ringe eventually admitted his guilt and on hearing this so did Mrs Beddingfield.

The gallows at Ipswich, prior to 1786, were located on the right hand side of the turnpike road at Rushmere, east of the town. It was on these gallows that Richard Ringe was hanged on Friday April 8th of that year. The fate of Margery Beddingfield, was somewhat less than she had been sentenced to. It was common practice at the time, that the Sheriff would have pity and strangle the victim first by pulling away a stool on which they stood before the faggots around the stake were set alight.

The full transcript of the trial and the confession are available in a book entitled The Genuine Trial of Margery Beddingfield and Richard Ringe along with a written account available in The Annual Register of World Events: A Review of the Year, Volume 6.

References
Harris's Pit
Harris's Pit

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

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: ... 2017-02-05

2015-03-26 : Added information about Highbury Cottages

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