16th CENTURY ENCLOSURE AND DISPUTE
Wentworth was an 'enclosure lord' - presumably the medieval village did not disappear because of the Black Death, but through general decay and population removals. In medieval times, it would appear that the main cluster of houses was round the church, with the Manor House on the present site of Manor Farm. We are grateful to Mr. Sam Long who until he died in 1975 was for nearly 40 years tenant of Manor Farm, for bringing to our notice the unearthing of tiles on the east and south sides of the church by the plough. In the early years of Wentworth's management, this clustered site was cleared probably because the tenements were in a state of terminal decay, and Wentworth wished to farm further south from the Manor. At the turn of the 17th century tenements were built along the western side of the track from the Manor Farm to the church, on the hill, and there may have been single tenements lower down in the same field along Market Lane.
Beech Farm was also central to this area - already of considerable importance with some 60 acres of more and with farm buildings also on the other side of the lane leading to the church, on the spot now occupied by stout beeches. This lane leading to the church had its origin in the junction with Blocka Hall Road at a point almost opposite the present entrance to the Scout Camp Site. From that junction, it led across the field (the right of way is still marked) across Market Lane to a junction at right angles with the road from the Manor Farm to the Church, and thence leading into Snake Lane and on to Lound. With modern surfacing the traffic is confined to Market Lane, Blocka Hall Road and Border Lane.
From earliest times, Ashby held but few people. In 1327 AD there were only 10 families, wealthy enough to be taxed, and among these were Robert Inglose, lord of the Manor, who paid his dues to the Prior of St. Olaves in fish from Firtton Fen (or Decoy as it came to be known). The Manor house of Robert was probably on the site of the present Ashby Hall Farm (Manor Farm) perhaps in origin it was the site of Aski's settlement (unless it be by the church); there would have been a good view of all points of the compass. The present farm-house, in its southern section, would probably date from the years after John Wentworth bought the manor from Henry Jernegan in 1587 AD - the Wentworths bought Somerleyton in 1604 and were there till 1672 AD and were great builders, notably of the fine Jacobean Hall at Somerleyton which preceded the present Somerleyton Hall (1845).
The records show that in the years after 1587, John Wentworth demolished all the tenements clustered round the church in the (old) village of Ashby, and he enclosed some 40 acres, over which there was a court action later. He ploughed them, sowed and reaped, and bought out those with independent rights. In 1596, Wentworth was still buying lands at Ashby from Thomas Moore. In 1590, Wentworth had leased to Thomazen Cowper for 10 years, the Fish-house, 2 ponds and a whorde called the Old Whorde, all on the south shore, and the waters of the Decoy.
In 1634 AD, when Charles I was levying the tax of Ship-money without the consent of Parliament, there were only 8 houses in Ashby liable for tax and by 1674 AD the date of the Hearth Tax, there were only four houses liable for the tax. In 1619 Sir John Wentworth, son of the original John, held a Warrener's Lodge, a Warren of conies (rabbits) and one whorde or hold of fish.
It would appear then, that the lost village of Ashby suffered the fate of so many villages in East Anglia - during the great Enclosure at the end of Elizabeth I's reign c. 1600. There was great poverty, and if the village had not suffered already from the Black Death or similar plagues of the 14th century, or from fire, or both, the arrival of the Wentworths sealed its dilapidated doom with the removal of the tenants and workers from the old decayed houses round the church to new tenements nearer the Manor Farm, in a much more accessible position.
In 1664 Thomas Garneys, the grand-nephew of the original John Wentworth, became Lord of the Manor, as Sir John had died in 1651 without issue, his wife Anna dying in 1672. In 1672 Sir Thomas Allin, the bold sea-captain, boat owner, terror of the Dutch, and admiral of Charles II, bought the Manor from Garneys. Allin, originally a Lowestoft man, willed it to his descendants, and through the female line to the Anguish family, thence by inheritance to Lord Osborne, who sold it to Samuel Morton Peto in 1844. In 1863 AD it was again sold (with the Somerleyton Estate) to Sir Francis Crossley, the great grand-father of the present Lord Somerleyton, Lord of the Manor and Patron of Ashby Church.
Although the lands of Ashby changed ownership in 1844 the actual lordship of the Manor did not - for in 1875 Richard Henry Reeves was described as Lord of the Manor of Ashby, and in 1909 it was in the hands of his trustees, and remained so till 1935. No Court Rolls are known to be extant for Ashby, but they may be attached to the extensive Somerleyton Court Rolls extant for the later Wentworth period and now in the Ipswich Record Office.
In 1640 there arose a controversy in the Exchequer Courts over the type of local court empowered to hear offences on the commons. William Heveningham claimed that offences and wrongs committed on the commons and wastes of the parishes of Somerleyton, Ashby, Blundeston, Flixton, Corton, Newton, and Belton, had always been subject to the courts of the Half-Hundred, i.e. the Leet-courts served by juries. Ashby Common had lately been enclosed by the Wentworths, though formerly of the commons of the Half-Hundred of Lithingland. Witnesses gave their depositions at the Falcon at Beccles on the 24th March 1640 before Henry North, Richard Catelyn, and Thomas Brooke, Gents, and again on the 31st August 1641 before Sir Philip Parker, Richard Catelyn and Thomas Brooke. John Hagon (Hacon?) claimed that offences on Ashby commons were punishable at Gorleston Court. John Mapleston deposed that such offences were heard in the Leet Courts, of which there were four held in Shrove Week (i.e. the first week in Lent), the Sheriff's Court held twice a year at Lowestoft for the Half-Hundred, the Chiefer's Court held once a year, and another yearly Court, the Court of Ancient Demesne. He also pointed out that in a previous legal action, R. Jetter won against John Wentworth proving that Flixton Commons, next to Blundeston, were subject to the Hundred Courts.
Thomas Lambe deposed that Wentworth had enclosed the Ashby Common some 38 years before, i.e. c. 1603 AD, claiming that the commons, wastes, and soil of the various manors belonged to the lords of those manors, who had felled trees and cut sweepage, granting to tenants the rights of commonage. Bartholomew Speer thought that Wentworth had enclosed Ashby Commons some 40 years before, i.e. c. 1601 AD, some 40 acres on Ashby Warren, which he ploughed, sowed, and reaped 'and ever since quietly enjoyed', and that both the Wentworths, like John Jernegan before them, as lords of the manor, had fished and fowled in Ashby Water, i.e. Fritton Decoy. Others deposed that Wentworth had a warrener's lodge, a Fish-house, both of which Wentworth had recently built a warren of conies, and a whord or hold for fish, and that offences committed on the commons had been punished in the manor court. Edward Hacon deposed that the Wentworths, as the Jernegans before them, had always been thought to be the owners of the Ashby Commons, the warren, wastes, waters and whords and had the rights of fishing and fowling which went with the purchase of the Manor in 1587 AD; that the Lords of the Half-Hundred and the four Leet-Courts never fished or fowled on Ashby Water.
Court rolls of Somerleyton were evidenced as far back as Edward I, as well as more recent presentments of offences in the manor courts confirming Wentworth's right of commons, the warren, fishing and fowling, and the waters and whorde. Further evidence came from old rental documents for the manor of Ashby which detailed the rents paid for the Fish-house and the warren in the time of Elizabeth I, and also stated that the Great Ashby Water was anciently the lord's turbary, in which several tenants had rights besides common rights - that "by continually digging, there became great and deep pits, which in process of time were filled with water; that those tenants who had turbary there before, continued to have piscary (fishing rights) when it decayed into water. "That the Wentworths having purchased all the tenements, also were owners of the water, not of the soil only, also the warren, not being parts of the commons". In Somerleyton, there was a similar dispute over the fishing rights at Wicker Well.
SURVEYS OF THE MANOR OF ASHBY 1615 AD and 1652 AD
An interesting survey of the Manor of Somerleyton was begun in 1615 and based on Robert London's map of the previous year. By the time of the death of John Wentworth in 1651 it was found to be "almost wholly ruinated", was expanded and corrected with many alternations (of tenants) in 1652 by John Martin and again in 1663 by Thomas Martin. The Survey and Map (1652) was divided into 18 precincts, and the parish of Ashby is contained in Precincts 9 (part), and 10-13.
From the Rectory corner, Somerleyton, starting along Market Lane towards Ashby, on the right beyond the gardener's cottage, were the Ashby Closes, Ashby Long Close, Thirty Acre Piece, and almost opposite the White Lodge, Neaves Pightle, Grove Pightle, and then Beech Farm, occupied by John Davey, and also known as Tenement Moore - this had stables, barns, yards, garden and orchard. Beyond Beech Farm was arable to the corner. Behind this, looking towards Ashby Church, were the Lower Church Close, and the Upper Church Close, and to the right of these as you look towards the Church were Horse Close and Kilne Meadow. On the left from the Rectory Corner, Somerleyton, was Boyton'' Pightle on the first bend in the road, and occupied by Roger Girling. Opposite on the right, between Neaves Pightle and Beech Farm, were five tenements, the remains of which have been unearthed by the plough. Tiles and smoked bricks, unearthed, indicated that these were from the houses there. One of them was probably called "Dukmungers" with yard, orchard and hempland.
To the west of Boyton's Pightle were the Ashby Sheepwalks.
Along the track from Somerleyton Hall to Ashby Church there were first Powl's Close, then Thirlings Close, Foxburrow Close and Ashby Church set in Ashby Wood, with the Green and pits on the East. Behind these 'front-line' closes were Wicker Field (called later Rush Pits which only formed part of the Wicker Field), the Molehill Closes, and beyond that, Lound Close, Heath Pightle, and Gunton's Grove Pightle, extending further east to the Lound Road (Green Lane).
Looking up Snake Lane, towards Lound, there were on the left Home Close, with Elming Grove, Molehill Pightles with the Ashyard, Woodclose, and further along Snake Lane, still on the left, Hither Stony Land, Further Stony Land and behind them Great Peckers and Little Peckers - Peckers Lane was the road branching from Border Lane towards Browston.
Manor Hall Farm then called Hill Tenement "very well built and in very good repair" had a backhouse, malting house, barns, stables, yards, orchards, garden and hempland, all occupied by Nicholas Pope. This was probably the site mentioned at the turn of the 13th century as occupied by Geoffrey de Hil.
It would appear that the Rectory of Ashby had "one pightle called Well Pightle, sometime the site of the parsonage of Ashby" and this site is marked on the 1652 map as in the corner of Little Pecker, so the site of the parsonage was on the right of Border Lane, on the last sharp bend about 1/2 mile along the road from Manor Hall Farm. The site was 1 acre 2 roods and 16 perches, and the present position is marked by a site about that size occupied by an old wartime hut, and a loading bay surrounded by scrub. There were at least two other houses along Border Lane. The Glebe, of 10 acres 1 rood and 10 perches, was on the left of the road leading to Browston, i.e. along Peckers Lane.
The 13th Precinct covers the part between Manor Hall Farm and Fritton Decoy - the large Warren and Sheepwalks with the Heath and Home Wood, and a large Bruery. Beyond Ashby Dell as it is now called, were Lordyke and Dewsmere. Between Lordyke and the "old crooked dyke" within the Warren stood the warrener's lodge, also called Dyke Lodge. At the eastern end of the Decoy, Manwade Bridge crossed the 'run' of water (a stream) linking the Decoy with the Lound Dam, and south of this bridge was Toms Wood, which was full of trees and part of the breuery. Priest Heath or Parsons Heath was also within the Breuery, on the south shore of the Decoy.
Principal tenants and holders were John Davey, Nicholas Pope, John Lambe, William Stafford, Widow Brice, John Ellis, with Lady Wentworth as the principal land owner.
The Fishouse, with whordes and fishponds, was in the Warren at the Western end of the new Dyke, which was parallel to Fritton Decoy, with "small meare hamme" on the East. The whole area occupied 88 acres. The Fishouse was not far from the Warrener's Lodge or Dyke Lodge, to the N.W. of it, and is marked on the 1652 map as standing on the shore of the Decoy at the junction of the New Dyke with the Decoy and almost opposite Fritton Hall on the opposite bank. Two or three houses were on the South shore at the Eastern end of the Decoy - in one of these, Miss Prettyman's grandfather was born.
THE FRITTON DECOY OR LAKE
For about 400 years Fritton Lake had decoys which were special areas for the catching of wild ducks, enticed from the central area of water into decoy pipes. These were covered curved channels, with a wide opening at the mouth, and becoming narrower inland The whole decoy area was covered with a net stretched over hoops. The secret of capture lay in enticement of the ducks so far up the netting so that their retreat could be cut off. 'Frightening tactics' could always be employed by a man appearing at the open end, which would force the reluctant birds further into the decoy. The two methods of decoying or luring the ducks were called 'dogging' and 'feeding' or a mixture of both. At the east end of the Lake, there were still 8 such decoys in 1886 and between 1,000 and 2,000 would be considered a good season's catch in this part. At the west end of the Lake there were also decoys and up to 600 ducks have been caught there in one day.
In "dogging", a decoy dog, highly trained and obedient, is used to lead the ducks into the narrowing net in a kind of chase by the ducks. In feeding, tame ducks are used - this is a tricky business as it requires the decoy man to have expertise in knowing just how much grain to give the tame ducks to make the wild ones follow. If the tame ducks are too hungry they will rush up the pipe and leave the wild ones behind who will fail to follow; if they are not hungry they will not go up at all. If the wild ducks get too much grain, they will not follow the tame birds but cluster round the food and stay. So the decoy man walks away from the birds along the side of the net to the tail of the pipe - from behind the screens he throws grain over the top of each screen in succession, not too much and not too little. The final position is reached when the ducks have been decoyed to the point of no-return when their retreat can be made impossible.