Poor’s Fuel Allotment, Redgrave Fen

By Jean Sheehan

At the time of the Redgrave Enclosure Award in 1818 eighty acres of ‘waste’ land known as Redgrave Fen was awarded to the poor of Redgrave for fuel. Peat was cut from the fen to be burnt and the poor were allocated allotments. This land was a wide strip south of the river Waveney extending east from the road now known as the B1113 which runs through Redgrave towards Lopham. Redgrave Fen stretches along the River Waveney for 320 rods (one mile) according to measurements taken by Samuel Sutton in 1880. The land was given over to trustees who were the Lord of the Manor of Redgrave and Botesdale, (Admiral George Wilson), the Rector (Revd. Marmaduke Wilkinson), churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the Parish of Redgrave. They were obliged to ditch and fence the boundary next to the public road, and forever maintain the fence and scour the ditches. They also had to maintain a drain across the area called Ling Bench to the river. The church and Overseers of the Poor were responsible for the poor in 1818 and they continued to administer the trust until 1895 when Parish Councils were formed.

Rev. Thomas Holt Wilson became Rector in 1881 after the death of his father, the previous Rector Rev. Thomas Daniel Holt Wilson. Thomas was concerned how this land was to be administered when the Parish Councils were due to be formed in 1895. He issued a pamphlet in November 1894 to explain about the Enclosure Award as far as public areas were concerned. The Lord of the Manor and the Rector were to remain as trustees but three people were to be elected from the parish council to replace the churchwardens and overseers. He explained that the Charity Commissioners had held an enquiry in 1883 and issued a report in 1885 giving their recommendations for the way in which the land was managed, and the recipients of the charity should be the ‘deserving and necessitous poor persons resident in the parish’ leaving the trustees to decide whom these were. In 1883 it was found that 14 tradesmen and journeyman tradesmen also had allotments, but the trustees had reduced these down to 9 by 1894. One area was reserved for widows only. At a meeting held on July 4th 1883 it was decided ‘That anyone occupying a house of the rateable value of £8 or upwards, had no legal claim of benefit from the Fen.” The commissioners in 1885 suggested that the whole of the fen should be taken over by the trustees and let out and the rents used to pay compensation of two to five shilling annually to the allotment holders and the remainder used to buy coals for the poor, but this suggestion was not taken up and individual allotments were still used by the poor. Very little peat was cut by 1881 and hardly any was cut by 1894. The growing, cutting and selling of sedge was more profitable, sedge is used for ridging thatched roofs. Before the sedge was grown stock had been grazed on the fen and the income from the pasturing was paid out in bread. The income of the Fen by 1894 was less than £5 a year, made up of £4 for shooting rights and occasional sale of peat or sand which usually amounted to between twelve shillings and one pound per year, and most of this was taken out in expenses. The Rector paid off the debt of £4.11.3 ½ on January 1st 1887 as it was Jubilee year. The Rector personally employed men who were out of work to cut sedge for those without grounds and for widows, but in November 1887 someone had stolen the sedge so the work had to stop and the Rector offered a reward for information to ‘apprehend’ the thief.

The river needed cleaning regularly. In 1884 it was agreed to clear out the river from Lopham Ford, (the area between the source of the Little Ouse and the Waveney on the border of Suffolk and Norfolk) to Diss Bridge, and the trustees share of this seemed to be £15.15.3d., and in 1893 they paid £8 to clear the river. When the river needed cleaning in 1898, the parish council decided it was not worth cleaning their half of the river if ‘Lopham people’ did not clean their side simultaneously. A carpenter’s bill in 1882 amounted to £5.5s.6d and another in 1889 was thirty shillings, presumably these were for gates and fences.

If an allotment became vacant application could be made to Mr. Berridge after 1895 and tenders for cutting the sedge on the widows’ ground also had to be made. It was agreed if any profit remained after cleaning the river it should be distributed in coal to agricultural labourers and widows who had a claim on the fen.

The shooting rights were advertised in the Diss Express in 1897 but the highest offer was £2, only half the amount received in 1894, this may have been due to the Hares and Rabbits Bill which may have affected the amount of shooting they could let.

The Fen was leased long term to the Suffolk Wild Life Trust in the first half of the 1960s and the income was combined several years ago with a couple of other small charities into a Charity for the Needy.
Information taken from the pamphlet produced by the Rev. Thomas Holt Wilson and the Hartismere Magazines 1894 – 1898 (acknowledgements to Graham Clayton for loan of book of magazine articles). © Jean Sheehan, Redgrave Parish Magazine, February 2013.

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