Redgrave Park in the Middle Ages

(from 1211 to 1539)

       

       

Although the origins of Redgrave Park are lost in the mists of history, we know from the Domesday Book (1086) that the Manor of Redgrave was originally given to the Abbots of Bury St Edmunds by Ulfketel, Earl of East Anglia. (Ulfketel was leader of local resistance against the invading Danish armies in 1004 and 1010.)

There may have been a deer park here at this time, and if so the right to take deer would have been granted by the King. A hunting ground enclosed by a fence or bank and ditch was called a park. Parks became fashionable in the 13th century, and were a rich man's privilege. There was certainly a deer park here by 1211, when the wealthy and powerful Abbot Samson of Bury St Edmunds built a hunting lodge of stone and timber here. Deer were kept for sport as well as food. This was part of a programme of works in Abbey lands.

He repaired the manor-houses and domestic buildings that were so old and derelict that birds of prey and crows flew out of them. He built new chapels and added domestic apartments in many manors where previously there had been no buildings other than barns. He created several parks which he stocked with game, and he retained huntsman with hounds. If any important guest was being entertained, the abbot would sit with his monks in a woodland clearing to watch the hounds giving chase, but I never saw him eat the meat of hunted animals.
Jocelin of Brakelond: 'Chronicle of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds' (Oxford University Press, 1989).

There was a complex of buildings and yards on the site, including a kitchen, poultry house, bakehouse, dairy, dovehouse, palfrey stable, orchard, goosehouse, chapel, guest house and stable, as well as the lodge or Hall itself. We know this information from a compotus roll 63374 in the British Library, recently translated by the Redgrave History Group. The following is an extract:

In the stipend of John Gange carpenter with his 3 men for 22 days for the doors and shutters of the hall, the lord's chamber, the clerk's and arms bearer's chamber and the dairy house, from repairing and restoring carpentry for the arrival of the lord and for one new poultry house for carpentry and for making it with timber felled and shaped for the same sited near the workshop 15s 11 d per day together 8 d.
Extract from compotus roll British Library # 63374. Translation Redgrave History Group 2004.

A querky oak The oldest oak trees in the Park may date back to the Middle Ages. Ancient trees are valuable wildlife habitat, particularly for rare dead wood invertebrates.
   
Parks in the Middle Ages contained areas of woodland and coppice as well as open ground studded with old pollarded trees. They were 'wood-pasture' which produced wood and timber, and provided grazing for animals.

Ancient deer park

       

The nave, Redgrave Church,
showing C14th pillars and C15th clerestory

Redgrave Church was built in the early 14th century. Research by local historian Clive Paine suggests that its grandeur indicates close links with the wealthy Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, who owned the Manor.
Monastic dignitaries would have passed through the Park on their way from Bury St Edmunds to the church. Research by the Redgrave History Group indicates the route of a road running in a straight line from the Bury road at Botesdale diagonally across the Park to the Church, via the site of the Abbots' hunting lodge. It also served to link the Chapel of Ease at Botesdale with its mother church, by the straightest route.
       
We know that Abbot Samson's hunting lodge, or Hall as it had become known, at the end of the Middle Ages had a red tile roof. By the early 16th century it had become dilapidated, and was described as "sore decayed".
In 1539 King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and Redgrave Manor including the Park were confiscated as parcell of the posessyons of the late monastery of seynt Edmondes burye. It passed into the hands of the King, and a valuation was carried out.
The valuation document gives a glimpse of what the Park was like about 1540:
Within Whiche mannor there is A park wt dere in the same and a Ruynus mansyon place nowe for lack of Repaeracions sore decayed. The herbage of the parke there is not valued bycause the same parke moste be valued as though the dere Were disparked in case the kinges maiestie will sell the said mannor.

In the parke be 30 acres thyn sett with pollyng okes and hardebeme growing by parcelles.

In the seyd woodes and parke about the scytuacons of the seyd mannor and dyvers tenementes there and in other the hamlettes aforseyd and in the landes perteyning to the same be growing 1,000 okes of 60, 80 and 100 yeres growth parte tymber and parte usually cropped and shred wherof 400 reservd for tymber to repayre the houses standing uppon the Scyte of the seyd mannor and tenements aforseyd and for stakes for hedgeboote to repayre and meynteyn the hedges and fences about the seyd landes And 400 valuyd at 12d the tree and 300 residue at 6d the tree which ys the holle.
Glossary
pollyng = pollarded / okes = oak Quercus robur / hardebeme = hornbeam Carpinus betulus / shred = side branches trimmed / hedgeboote = a tenant's right to cut wood for repairing hedges or fences
   
FURTHER READING
  • Oliver Rackham 'Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape'; Dent, London (1976)
  • Oliver Rackham 'The History of the Countryside'; Dent, London (1986)
  • Keith Alexander 'The Invertebrates of Britain's Wood Pastures'; British Wildlife, vol.11, no. 2 (1999)
  • Valuation document of 1540, Suffolk Record Office ref. P551/1066.
  • Jocelin of Brakelond 'Chronicle of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds'; Oxford University Press (1989)
 

 
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