Clare, Suffolk

Clare, Suffolk

Coordinates: 52°05′N 0°35′E / 52.08°N 0.58°E / 52.08; 0.58

Clare is located in Suffolk

 Clare shown within Suffolk
Population 1,975 (2001 Census)
OS grid reference TL770456
District St Edmundsbury
Shire county Suffolk
Region East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town SUDBURY
Postcode district CO10
Dialling code 01787
Police Suffolk
Fire Suffolk
Ambulance East of England
EU Parliament East of England
UK Parliament South Suffolk
List of places: UK • England • Suffolk

Clare is a small town on the north bank of the River Stour in Suffolk, England. It is 14 miles from Bury St Edmunds and 9 miles from Sudbury. It lies in the South and Heart of Suffolk. As a cloth town, it is one of Suffolk's 'threads'. Clare is the current holder of Suffolk Village of the Year and has won the Anglia in Bloom award for Best Large Village 2011 for its floral displays. It has a cultural exchange relationship with Chatillon-sur-Indre. Clare and its vicinity reveals evidence of man's long habitation throughout prehistory. The historical record demonstrates a community which changes and yet persists across centuries, from the Norman Conquest through religious strife, agricultural upheaval and industrial revolution to the present day.

The town hosts one of the very first free schools established by the current government, the Stour Valley Community School, opened in September 2011.

As part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Managing a Masterpiece scheme, in April and May 2011 Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) gave residents, school pupils and members of the public the chance to carry out their own small archaeological 'test pit' excavations throughout Clare to find out how the town developed over hundreds - even thousands - of years in the past. Early results indicate the presence of Saxon pottery across many sites - the first evidence of Clare's importance before the Normans.



This area of the country was formed during the Tertiary period, containing some of the youngest rock in the British Isles. Like the vast majority of Suffolk, the surface 'rock' is the very fertile boulder clay or clay loam, lying on top of layers of chalk. The landscape surrounding the Stour Valley is the result of the joint effects of past glaciation and the agricultural alteration of the land. Originally the area was under the sea; the shells of the sea creatures dropped to bed of the ocean and formed into chalk about 140 million years ago. Another mineral, silica, filled the sponges and other similar animals in the sea. As this was left behind it formed nodules of hard flint. A ridge of Cretaceous chalk left by the ancient sea juts into Suffolk from Cambridgeshire. This ridge is never more than 140 metres above sea level but it makes what is called High Suffolk. This chalk layer forms the so called solid rock layer. This chalk was originally quarried where it came to the surface, and was either burned to produce agricultural lime or was mixed with sand, quarried locally, for mortar used in building (hence the presence of cream bricks ('Suffolk whites') for houses in the area). Chalk in the water makes it 'hard' (classified as 'very hard; 511 mg/l as calcium carbonate[1]).

During the Ice Age, the sea level was some 200 metres lower than it is today. Melt water carried debris and flowed beneath the glacier under high pressure, to produce tunnel valleys, deeply incised water routes. At Clare it is as far as 110 metres below our present sea level. The valley was subsequently filled with boulder clay and gravel. The ice sheet, which produced the chalky boulder clay, rolled upon a bed of glacial sand and gravel, and formed the flattened character of the area today.[2]

The main river running through the country park is not the Stour. This is a mill stream called the 'new cut', established to operate a mill belonging to the priory, in use in the 14th century. It is joined at the eastern end of the country park by the Chilton stream. This itself is fed by the Hawedych, and by another stream coming down from Poslingford. The smaller Stour now runs south of the country park, meandering around the priory and meadows.



Neolithic flint arrowhead found in Bridewell Street, Clare

Paleolithic implements were discovered within the Priory grounds.[3] A Mesolithic quartzite pebble macehead was found in the same location.[4] A Neolithic stone axe was retrieved from the River Stour; a polished flint axe in a gravel pit to the east[5] and a flint head in a meadow just off the Ashen Road.[6] A Neolithic arrowhead was found in a garden on Bridewell Street. A Neolithic long mortuary enclosure and three Bronze Age barrows were located across the river towards Ashen.[7] Evidence of a barrow together with 200 worked flints were found near Chilton Street.[8] A Bronze Age socketed gouge was unearthed from plough soil on the Common.[9] An Iron Age pot was found embedded in the river bank, half a mile east of Clare. Together with an iron spearhead, they are held in The Ancient House. Iron Age coins have also been found,[10] one from the Belgic Trinovantes tribe. In 2009 during a recent rebuilding programme at Clare Primary School, postholes of a late Bronze/Early Iron Age structure were located, with an associated ring ditch.[11] This supports the view that Clare Camp (OS TL768458, at the north end of the town, just behind Bridewell Street) with its double ditches, one of the most impressive of its kind in Suffolk, is from that period; with an area of 2.9 hectares, it is second only to Burgh Castle. The north side is most complete, with an inner rampart 9 ft high and counterscarps 12 and 14 ft high.[12] In 1993 a field survey and magnometric scan revealed the possibility of entrances on the east and south sides.[13] Clare was on the outer borders of the Trinovantes territory, just south of the Iceni. The camp probably marks the first permanent settlement in the area.


A Roman boundary ditch and posthole has been found just off Nethergate Street;[14] a strap fitting,[15] coins,[16] sepulchral urns[17] and a bronze figurine of Mercury or a dancing boy[18] have been unearthed in various locations. There were substantial settlements to the west at Wixoe and to the east at Long Melford. The Via Devana from Chester to Colchester probably passed through Cavendish, on the north side of the Stour. There may have been a fort at Wixoe, possibly a staging post. This was a military road, but located along an ancient road running from Dunwich in East Anglia into the Midlands. Some Roman brick seems to have ended up in the Parish Church.

A Google map pinpointing all of the archaeological finds within 5km of the town may be found here. Of 50+ finds shown on the map, only two are Anglo-Saxon. The majority of finds are centred on Clare and along the Stour Valley.


The name first appears in the Domesday Book as 'Clara'. It possibly derives from the "clear" nature of the Chilton Stream as it flows through the town, but from a Latin word rather than a Celtic one as was previously thought.[19] Another clue to its origin is a nearby 'Rombrigge' or Roman bridge. In the Domesday Book, it is described as "'Always a market. Now 43 burgesses' - an astonishingly high number, because at the time very few Suffolk towns had any burgesses, let alone 43".[20] It lists 37 acres (150,000 m2) of meadow, woodland for 12 swine, a mill, 5 arpents of vineyard (an arpent was 4-6 acres) and 400 sheep. The manor included Stoke-by-Clare and the hamlet of Chilton Street, totalling 108 households. Improbably it has been suggested that the word claret is derived from Clare and its extensive vineyards. There is a Claret Hall towards Ashen, but that could simply mean 'Little Clare'.

The Lords of Clare

The Domesday Book records that the lands around Clare belonged to a Saxon thane, Aluric (or Aelfric), son of Wisgar (or Withgar) and that he gave them to St John, probably creating a collegiate church[21] in Clare, under Edward the Confessor. William the Conqueror re-granted the land to one of his closest supporters in the Conquest, the son of one of his cousins, Richard fitz Gilbert de Bienfaite, Count of Brionne along with 170 other manors, 95 of them in Suffolk. This huge estate became known as the Honour of Clare. Calling himself de Clare, Richard established his administrative centre in Clare; he also owned a large estate in Tonbridge, Kent where he built a motte and bailey castle of a very similar size to Clare. Clare Castle is first recorded in 1090.[22]

His son Gilbert gave the church in the castle to a Benedictine monastery in Bec, Normandy. Gilbert and his brother were present with Prince Henry when William II was shot dead with an arrow fired by Walter Tyrell, Gilbert's steward. Tradition is strong that the de Clares had staged an assassination; Henry I was crowned three days later.

In 1124 Gilbert's son Richard removed the Benedictines to a new foundation in Stoke-by-Clare, the origin of today's Stoke College.

In 1140 Richard's son Gilbert was given the title of Earl of Hertford by Stephen. He joined the revolt against the king but later returned to support him.

The Third Earl, Richard was one of 25 barons appointed as guardians to the Magna Carta. He married the heiress to the Earl of Gloucester, whose sister married King John.

The fourth Earl, Gilbert inherited the title and vast estates of the Earl of Gloucester. It was his son, Richard who brought the Augustinian Friars to Clare to found the mother house in England in 1248.

The wealthiest Clare was Gilbert ('the Red'), the 7th Earl of Gloucester. He sided with Simon de Monfort, attended the first English Parliament, but then fell out with de Monfort and fought alongside Prince Edward at the battle of Evesham when de Monfort was slain. He seized London and held it against Henry III. After Edward I's accession, he married Joan of Acre in 1290, the king's daughter. He surrendered his lands to the king and was given them back. He held land in 26 English counties and as well as estates in Wales: Caerphilly, Usk, Tintern.....the high point of the family as a major force in English history.

On his death in 1295, Joan remarried one of his household knights and began new works at Clare Priory. She was buried in the Chapel of St Vincent which she herself had founded in 1307. The funeral was one the major public events in Clare's history: a number of royalty and nobility attended, including her brother Edward II. “Fifty-two years after her burial the grave was opened and her body found to be incorrupt......of the many miracles 'wrought by God's grace through her, especially in the cure of toothache, back-ache and fever.'”[23]

Her son Gilbert was the last male de Clare. At the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, he was accused of cowardice and treason when he recommended holding the better ground rather than attacking Bruce's densely packed pike walls. Against his better judgement he led the charge and was killed.

The story does not quite end there. One of Gilbert's daughters, Elizabeth de Burgh eventually came into the property of Clare. Widowed three times by the age of 28, she could be described as a 'modern-day multimillionare'.[24] It is through the records of her estate that we know so much about the running of the castle. She is also known as Elizabeth de Clare.

William de Burgh was Elizabeth's son by her first husband, the Earl of Ulster. He was assassinated in Carrickfergus in 1333 by his Irish cousins. His infant daughter, Elizabeth was married to the third son of Edward III, at the age of four. Her husband Lionel thereby came into the Clare inheritance and became the Duke of Clarence as well as the Clarenceaux King of Arms. Chaucer the poet was at one time a page to him. After Elizabeth's death in 1363, he married the Count of Milan's daughter. There were wild rumours he was about to become King of Italy, but he died near Pavia a few months after his marriage. Following his last wish, his heart and bones were brought back to Clare for burial beside his first wife.

The estate passed into the hands of the Mortimers, the Earls of March. The castle began to fall into disrepair from this time. The last descendant was Edward V, one of the two Princes in the Tower. Henry VII took over Clare borough and manor. Henry VIII gave them to each of his wives in turn, Katherine of Aragon granting the common to the poor of Clare. Under Queen Mary, the lands of the Honour of Clare were transferred to the Duchy of Lancaster (which is why today Prince Charles will technically appoint the Vicar). The title of Duke of Clarence was last held by Albert Victor, the eldest son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and Alexandra, Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra), and the grandson of the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. From the time of his birth, he was second in the line of succession to the throne, but he did not become king because he died before his father and his grandmother, the Queen. He had agreed to be the patron of the Royal Clarence Lodge of the Freemasons in Clare but died in 1892 before he could attend the opening ceremony.

Life in the Medieval Castle

View over Clare from castle motte (Contributor: Richard Slessor)

At its height in Elizabeth de Burgh's time the castle offered substantial employment, perhaps 250 persons not counted amongst the townspeople. Elizabeth regularly went on annual visits to her properties, particularly Great Bardfield, Anglesey Abbey and Usk, taking with her a large entourage of wagons, horses, other animals and multiple officers and servants - one visit to Usk involved 130 horses, 28 carriages and 22 oxen. She might have sworn a vow of chastity in 1343 after the death of her third husband, but she did stint on her luxuries.

From her household records we can piece together the activities of the castle. Erbury was the manor's home farm providing the bulk of basic foodstuffs from the pastures and meadows plus fruit from the orchards of pear, apple and cherry. Within the castle grounds, there were fishponds, a horse driven mill, woodyard, a vineyard, kennels, a dovecote and a swannery (the birds were not kept for their aesthetic qualities!). There were forges, both for weaponry and farming implements. She had her own potters, carpenters, goldsmiths and embroidery studio. She hired copiers to create masterpieces on vellum. Above all there were the brewhouses and bakeries producing great quantities of ale and bread. On one day 290 loaves of bread, 100 gallons of ale and 488 herrings were supplied. In one year the accounts show wheat for 106,248 loaves and malt for 40,682 gallons of ale. On May 28, 1340, she entertained her cousin King Edward III - they dined on boar, veal, various poultry, five swans, six herons and three bittern.

The castle had one principal gateway, a substantial buildings in its own right, now gone - only the name Nethergate or Bottom Gate survives. There were several towers aside from the keep; we know their names: Auditor's, Constable', Oxenford and Maiden's, but not their locations. Beautiful gardens were laid out. There were flint paths, seats, a glass aviary, fountains, a deer enclosure and a lion house (keeping exotic animals was the fashion). After her death in 1360, the castle became increasingly unused. By the 1480s it had been largely abandoned. In the C17, it is described as 'nothing but lamentable ruins upon a most beautiful situation'.[25]

The Black Death

Early in 1349 the plague reached East Anglia. 'In the Manorial Court Rolls for March....there are very long lists of the death of tenants.'.[26] The rolls cease in September and do not resume until 1360. Yet the Court Rolls of the Borough do not show the same pattern: court leets continue as before, the number of brewers, bakers, butchers and others accused of sharp practices remains constant. The Wentford fair was held as normal. Elizabeth de Burgh's castle records have no mention of the plague nor show any fall in the day-to-day activities.[27] Everything suggests the town was little affected.


Local people organised themselves into guilds, not for mercantile or craft purposes, but as religious fraternities, dedicated to assisting the poor, praying for dead members, contributing to the church and priory. We know of five in Clare: St Augustine, St Peter, St Mary, Corpus Christi and St John the Baptist, the latter based on Chilton Street. Guilds began before the Normans; one of the oldest recorded was in Glemsford, the Fraternity of the Clerks, founded around 1020.[28] The name Corpus Christi dates from the 1340s when that feast day was introduced from the continent; it soon became the most popular holy day in the calendar – see the mystery plays of Norwich and Ely, and all across England. The eponymous college in Cambridge was founded by a guild, in response to the decimation of the Black Death. This event seems to have concentrated people's minds on their heavenly prospects. By prayer and acts of charity (carried out in the guild's name rather than personally), a guild member hoped to ensure a swifter passage for himself and his family through purgatory to heaven.

By the time of Henry VIII, most areas of England had as many as 50 public holidays (holy days) a year on which no one worked. The guild whose feast day it was would hold a solemn procession and celebrate mass in the church. They would then provide entertainment such as mummers or miracle plays and food for the poor of their community. The Guild of St John put out casks of ale: 'fyve hockepottes or drinkinges in v stretes or places, namelye, market strete one, nethergate strete kepte another, challice strete a third, higherowe a fourth, and Chilton strete alwayes kepte the fifte'.[29]

There was a guildhall in the town, opposite the church, probably shared by different guilds. Elsewhere, as in Lavenham, each guild had its own building, but Clare seems less well endowed. The C14 building still stands, now a doctor's surgery; fine old beams may be seen in the waiting room.

As elsewhere there are scanty records as all religious guilds were suppressed under an Act of Parliament in 1547 and their properties and assets seized. This Act also forbad the worship and representation of saints and masses for the dead. Public holidays (holy days) on which a guild would provide food for the poor and entertainment such as mummers or miracle plays all stopped at the same time, along with feast day markets. The annual market at Wentford, a noted regional event held on the Feast of Nativity of the Virgin Mary (September 8) disappeared. This suppression and its effect on the social and religious life is described as the Stripping of the Altars.

Wool Town

During the medieval period Clare became a prosperous town based on cloth making. The trade was already present by the C13, steadily expanding as demand grew. 3000 local fleeces were sold from Clare Manor alone in 1345. By the 1470s Suffolk produced more cloth than any other county. Broadcloth was the main product, somewhat coarser than Harris Tweed, prickly to the skin, odorous when wet. Flowing water was essential for the purpose of fulling – so production concentrated on locations along rivers such as Clare, Cavendish, Glemsford and Sudbury. Many houses in Clare had cellars through which culverts were led.

Merchants gathered in convoys for safety to convey the goods to Calais (then an English possession). Several locations in Suffolk were known as collection points – one of these is Callis Street in Clare, just north of the parish church, variously named Calais or Chalyce Street.[30]

Clothiers organised and financed the industry, putting out work across the town, supporting road maintenance, providing alms to the poor, embellishing the priory and church, building substantial houses for themselves.

At the same time as the major disruption to the social and religious life of the townspeople took place in the 1540s, the introduction of the spinning wheel and the importation of newer fabrics from the continent led to a fall in the manufacture of broadcloth. Clare recovered some of its industry in the late C16, by taking up what is called the 'New Draperies', lighter and cheaper cloths called 'bays and says'. 'A bay was lighter and finer than modern baize.... A say was a fine durable cloth, made entirely of wool with a texture resembling serge'.[31] By the C18 this industry was in decline, becoming concentrated in the larger towns, Ipswich and Colchester. At the close of the C16, Sir Robert Jermyn described Clare as '... a populous market town [which] requires an able, painful and discreet teacher ...' in a letter to Robert Cecil requesting the appointment of a 'Mr Colte' as the town's new pastor.[32]

Cries of Clare Market

From 1612 to 1711 we have records of what the town crier was paid to announce across the town. It was very irregular work, perhaps nineteen proclamations a year. He was paid for each announcement: 'And that people may not plead ignorance, Wee doe order and give ye Cryer four pence to give persons notice in all convenient places of ye said parish.'

Most involved stolen or stray animals, but some lost items are more amusing to us: 'September 7, 1694: a warming pan found on the road between Stoke and Clare. September 11, 1701: Thomas Sparrow apprentice to John Barnard of Sudbury, who did run away from his master. April 30, 1709: an iron door stolen out of Mr Henry Smith's brewhouse. February 2, 1710: Sarah Wordeley, the wife of old Mr Wordely of Glemsford, for wasting and making away her husband's estate.'[33]

Into the modern age

Clare railway station in 2008

From the relative boom of the C16, Clare suffered a gradual decline as a leading town in West Suffolk. For a while in the C17 Clare had status as a transport and distribution hub, lying on a major highway into London. Hostelries were set up and warehouses occupied a key role in the economy. Trade was diverted as the Stour became navigable as far as Sudbury in 1709. The handloom weaving industry was gone by the 1800s; the last weaver died in 1825, aged 83. Straw-plaiting for ladies' bonnets, a local cottage industry, disappeared as fashions changed.

After an agricultural boom in the Napoleonic wars, farmers were hit by falling prices; many labourers were laid off. Opposition to newer technology appeared in Clare: 'Jacob Halls, Samuel Gridley, Rhinaldo Bareham and Henry Atherton were convicted of burning a threshing machine at Clare, 13 months gaol to the former three and the latter 9 months.'[34]. Harvests were terrible in 1828 and 1829, followed by the Swing Riots. The Long Depression (1870-1895) brought further misery and distress; many families moved to towns to seek work or emigrated. The effects on Clare society may be viewed in the 2011 exhibition in the Ancient House Museum.

The coming of the railway had been greeted with enthusiasm, including performances by the town's brass band, but it was a false hope – farmers sent their produce elsewhere. The centuries old market faltered - today the weekly appearance of the fresh fish van is the sole vestige.

Historic Travel Writing

William Camden in his 'Britain, or, a Chorographicall Description of the most flourishing Kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland' (1610) wrote: 'On the South side wee saw the river Stour, which immediately from the verie spring head spreadeth a great Mere called Stourmmere, but soone after, drawing it selfe within the bankes, runneth first by Clare, a noble village which had a castle, but now decaied, and gave name to the right noble familie of the Clares'.[35]

Daniel Defoe in 'A tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain' (1724–27) said that Clare was "a poor town and dirty, the streets being unpaved. But yet the civil and spiritual courts are held at it and it has a good church; it shows still the ruins of a strong castle, and an old monastery. It has a manufacture of says…". He also describes great droves of turkeys being taken to Colchester from Clare, 300 to 1,000 birds at a time.[36]


The Ancient House, Clare, Suffolk (Contributor: Robert Edwards)

There are 131 listed buildings in Clare,[37] a number only exceeded by Bury St Edmunds and Lavenham within Suffolk. A online map[38] is available, with links to each building. Grade 1 are three religious buildings: the Priory, the Chapel to the Priory and the Parish Church of Ss Peter and Paul.[39] There are three domestic grade 1 houses: Cliftons and Nethergate House in Nethergate Street and the Ancient House in Church Street. The Ancient House with florid pargeting is now a museum. It is available as a holiday let through the Landmark Trust.[40] A rare 13th century flint-lined well has been found in the garden behind the No 1 Deli Cafe [41]. There are fine examples of timber-framed houses throughout the town, from the 14th to the 16th century, plus Georgian and Victorian houses. Most of the later houses are constructed in Flemish bond, but there is one example of a rat-trap bond in Station Road.[42] Some of the weavers' cottages had cellars through which water ran for fulling the cloth. The heart of the town is a conservation area, one of 35 recognised by St Edmundsbury Council.

Suffolk has no natural building stone. Buildings are mainly of timber, usually oak beams with wattle and daub infill, or brick. Brickyards abounded in Suffolk. Clare had its own brickyard in the 19c, run by the Jarvis family. Examples of brick from Gestingthorpe and Ballingdon can also be found, both Suffolk whites and reds. Flint is used as an infill or in walling. Where stone is found it was largely imported from Barnack, near Peterborough. This was transported along the Fenland waterways and brought into Suffolk, either overland from Cambridge or possibly by sail to Manningtree and then up the Stour[43].

The 13th century flint-stone castle keep sits upon a 70 ft high motte overlooking the town on the banks of the Stour. Parts of the inner and outer baileys still exist. The castle is part of the Clare Castle Country Park which has the distinction of containing the only (now decommissioned) railway station built within a castle in the UK. The station was built by the Great Eastern Railway on the Stour Valley Railway and closed in 1967. The park has 25 acres (100,000 m2) of landscaped parkland, interlaced with water in the old moats. The Stour Valley Path crosses the park.

Crossing the Stour en route to Ashen is a three span cast iron bridge, built when Clare was on a main highway between London and Bury St Edmunds. It was Sir William Cubitt's second design for a bridge. The date of completion 1813 can be seen above the central arch, making it Suffolk's oldest iron bridge[44]. The iron was almost certainly cast at Ransomes of Ipswich, a foundry mostly known for agricultural machinery for whom Cubitt worked. Later they supplied the new railways across East Anglia. In good condition, the bridge remains in use today.[45]


There are four churches in Clare today, ordered below by date of building.

  • The Clare Priory Chapel - Mother of Good Counsel. Just across the river is the first house of the Augustinian Friars in England, founded at the behest of Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester: Clare Priory, established in 1248. The friars were dependent on local people for their daily needs; they would have been familiar figures in the streets of Clare in their black habits as they ministered to the spiritual and welfare needs of their parishioners. The priory was suppressed in 1538. Many of the priory buildings, including the large church, fell into disrepair; just as happened to the derelict castle, the townspeople helped themselves to a source of materials. The property changed hands a number of times until it was re-acquired by the Augustians in 1953. The former infirmary had become a barn and was restored to create a chapel for worship. The site remains in use today as both a parish and a retreat centre. A Craft Fair is held in July, attracting 10,000 visitors over two days, proceeds going to charity.[46]
  • The Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (Church of England). This is the main church of the Stour Valley Group, which share a common ministry. The other churches are in the group are St Mary the Virgin in Cavendish, St Leonard in Poslingford, St John the Baptist in Stoke-by-Clare and St Leonard in Wixoe.
This parish church is one of the largest and most beautiful in East Anglia: "A large and handsome church...within a spacious churchyard."[47] Simon Jenkins includes it in his 'England's Thousand Best Churches'.[48] It is principally of the 14th and early 15th century, with 13th century work in the west tower, in the perpendicular style. The list of past priests goes back to 1307.[49] "The tower is unfortunately a little short for the church.....all the windows of the aisles and clerestory are slender and closely set, the effect has the same erectness as Long Melford and Lavenham. The remodelling of the interior made it very airy."[50] 'Seen from any angle it floats on the skyline like a great ship, with a small tower for a fo'c'stle and two turrets for masts.....The interior is ablaze with light.'[51]
the sun - stained glass in Clare Parish Church (Contributor: Evelyn Simak)
The church has an excellent ring of eight bells. The 7th bell is unusually inscribed 'Trintas Sancta Campanum Istam Conserva' (Holy Trinity conserve this bell) and was probably cast in the early C15.[52] The church possesses an 18th century bell-ringer’s “gotch” (beer jug), and a late C15 brass lectern in the form of an eagle with three dogs as feet rather than lions; this may have served as a collection-box, money posted at the beak exiting at the tail. There are two fine private pews, one with the emblems of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, the other an ostentatious Stuart gallery pew with scroll-sided poppyheads "so like those at Little Thurlow that they may have been carved by the same man".[53] In the chancel there are rare Jacobean carved choir stalls. The motto above the sundial over the south porch reads: 'Go about your business', not a mercantile admonition but a peremptory version of St Paul's advice: "For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies".[54] Around the doorway may be seen carved ten faces of the Green Man, a somewhat pagan image to be seen on a church, but widely used across Christian Europe.
The greatest disaster to befall the church was the visit of William Dowsing in 1643. The Puritan Parliament decreed the demolition of altars, removal of candlesticks, and defacement of pictures and images. 'Basher' Dowsing, a fanatical anti-Romanist, was appointed as 'Parliamentary Visitor for the East Anglian counties for demolishing the superstitious pictures and ornaments of churches'. 'Cromwell's iconoclast'[55] kept a journal of his visits. On 6 January 1644, he visited six churches, including Haverhill. As for Clare, he wrote: "We brake down 1000 pictures superstitious: I brake down 200; 3 of God the Father, and 3 of Christ, and of the Holy Lamb, and 3 of the Holy Ghost like a Dove with Wings; and the Twelve Apostles were carved in wood, on top of the Roof, which we gave order to take down; and 20 Cherubim to be taken down; and the Sun and the Moon in the East window, by the King's Arms to be taken down". Bullet holes in the roof suggest one inaccurate method; the rest being done with arrows, stones, poles and whitewash. The Sun and Moon still survive.[56]
  • The United Reformed Church. In 1645 a group of non-conforming dissenters appointed their own minister. As numbers grew, licences were issued for houses as places of worship. A third of the East Anglian established clergy left to become presbyterian or independent. In 1710 a large meeting place was built behind Nethergate Street, replacing a smaller presbyterian conventicle. In 1841 this was rebuilt as the plain but attractive church it is today. An ancient graveyard adjoins the church.
  • The Clare Baptist Church. In 1801 some independents broke away and formed a baptist group. In 1802 twelve of them went to Halstead to be baptised as adults: “A Mr Slater lent them a wagon to go in. It is said that on their return they met on the road, roughly treated and pelted, so that they had to take refuge in a house and let the wagon go back without them.[57] In 1805 they built the first Baptist Church on Cavendish Street. This was rebuilt in 1821 to accommodate a bigger congregation. In 1859 this was demolished and the building material taken to the High Street to help create a new church which stands today.

In the past, Quakers were strong in the area and had their own building by 1686, a cottage at the north foot of the castle motte. The then owner of the castle and priory, Captain Charles Barnardiston was a Quaker. He and his fellows were prosecuted for his beliefs and 'was debarred of the use of their meeting-house, and obliged to meet in the street during the cold winter, where they received much personal abuse'.[58] What is left of the burial ground is now part of 3 Cavendish Road. The nearest Meeting Houses are now Bardfield, Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury.

The oldest religious building in Clare still existing is the Norman chapel of St Mary Magdalene, dated c1190. Built as a wayside chapel just ½ mile north of Clare, close to a confluence of the Chilton stream at Wentford, it fell into disrepair by 1403 but was later granted to the Guild of St John the Baptist in Chilton. At the time of the dissolution of guilds and chantry chapels in 1547, the priest worked in Clare parish church and also in the grammar school. It was converted for domestic use. In the Civil War it was used as a powder magazine. Today it is called Chapel Cottage; remains of Norman windows, a bellcote, timber framing and an arched doorway are visible.[59]

Chipley Abbey, just to the west of Poslingford, is a Grade II listed farmhouse[60] incorporating part of the cloisters and moat of Chipley Priory, an Augustinian Canons foundation created before 1235.[61]

Public Houses

There are four public houses in the town, all of them occupying historic buildings.

  • The Swan in the High Street occupies the oldest premises: one owner died from the Black Death in 1349. The central chimney stack with four orthogonal shafts predates the main structure from around 1600. Above the main doorway is a carved solid block of oak - possibly the oldest inn sign in England. It seems to be the base of an oriel window taken from Clare Castle. The central figure is of a chained swan with a crown round the neck - the badge of Henry IV. Other symbols link it to Henry V, the Mortimers and de Burghs. A grape vine suggests a link with Clare's fame as a wine producing area.[62]
  • The Bell on Market Hill occupies a small alehouse site and was extensively altered to become the Green Dragon around 1580. In the 1780s it became a post house (providing changes of horses and gigs for hire) when the beautiful interior carved beams and ceilings were added. It was a wholesale trading house with brew house and bar. Early in the 19th century it specialised in chandlery - oil, ropes and candles were made on the premises. At the rear the cattle market was held till the mid 1850s. In the 1970s 18th century stables were converted to 23 hotel bedrooms.[63]
  • The Cock in Callis Street may date from the 15th century but the first reference as an inn is in 1636. In its time various parts of the current building were used as a barn, then as a schoolroom, later a family butcher's with its own slaughterhouse.[64]
  • The Globe, a few houses away from the Cock, dates from 1695, re-fronted in Suffolk white brick early in the 19th century - this was a common practice in those days, giving a building a new respectable front, while retaining the old timber frame behind. It probably opened as a pub in the 1880s.[65] It is currently up for sale and is not open.

Other public houses and hostelries existed in the past, all buildings still standing, except the last: the Old Red Lion 17c, the Old Bear and Crown Hotel 16c, the White Hart Inn 19c (later the Temperance Hotel!), the Half Moon 15c, the Clare Hotel 19c, the Castle 19c, the Boar and Griffin 16c, the Old Angel.

On the High Street, where numbers 10 A & B now stand, the Nethergate Brewery was created in 1986. In 2004, it moved across the river to Pentlow.


An online map (Suffolk Landscape Character Assessment - Suffolk County Council) is available to examine the characteristics of the landscape topology around Clare, which consists of valley meadowlands and undulating farmlands, both ancient and estate.

The majority of agriculture around Clare is arable. Crops grown include winter wheat, winter barley, sugar beet, oilseed rape and broad beans for fodder, with smaller areas of rye and oats. The sugar beet is taken to the British Sugar factory in Bury St Edmunds.

In the Tudor period, the area is described as: "Wood-pasture region, mainly pasture, meadow, engaged in rearing and dairying with some bee-keeping, horse-breeding and poultry. Crops mainly barley with some wheat, rye, oats, peas, vetches, hops and occasionally hemp."[66]

Because of the Stour there were mills in Clare, four reported in 1295. Malting Lane marks one, Mill Lane another. At least one mill was for fulling. The last corn mill, an 18c timber-framed structure together with a 19c brick boiler house and steamm engine, known as Waymans Mill, was destroyed by fire in the late 1970s[67]. Windmills also existed - there is a ruinous stack near Chilton Street.

The market that had run in Market Hill from before the Norman Conquest shrank after the arrival of the railway in 1865. Farmers preferred to take their produce to the bigger markets of Ipswich, Sudbury or Cambridge. The Corn Exchange of 1838 eventually closed and was later replaced by a town hall.

There have been dramatic changes to farming and the agricultural landscape, particularly in the last century. Just north of Stoke-by-Clare is an example. Hull's Farm of 750 acres (3,000,000 m2) was divided into 67 fields, bounded by hedges and elm trees, with 30 farm workers and many horses. Pressure on farmers to increase food production during and after World War II, resulted in removal of a wood of 40 acres (160,000 m2), grubbed up to control the rabbit population, leaving 6 acres (24,000 m2) of Lord's Wood. Hedgerows were cut down. Dutch elm disease then decimated the tree population, leaving a wide open landscape. Now the farm buildings have been replaced by a nature reserve and the land incorporated into Stonard's Farm, with 5 farm workers and four tractors. The crop trebled between 1955 and 1996.[68]

Machinery at the disused railway station

Local Author

'Pashler's Lane: A Clare Childhood'[69] is an illustrated autobiography of life in 1930's Clare by Elizabeth Holdgate, whose grandfather was a local character. The baker's shop she lived in is now the pet shop, on the corner of Pashler's Alley which links Market Hill with the High Street. Below the premises is a C14 century vaulted cellar with a central orthogonal pillar.[70]

Olympics and Transport

Clare is roughly 1 1/2 hours by car from Stratford, the London Olympics park, coming into London by the M11. An alternative route is to take the train from Sudbury via Marks Tey which stops at Stratford station - warning: while there are frequent buses (no 236) back and forth to Sudbury from Clare, they do not run after 6pm or on Sundays (Haverhill-Clare-Sudbury bus timetable). Many locals prefer to drive to Witham and pick up the direct line into London, thus avoiding changing trains at Marks Tey (National Express map and timetable).

Local issues

There are four issues troubling Clare residents today. The Parish Council's website has updated information on all of them.

  • Wind farm: BT announced plans last year to erect six wind turbines at Leys Farm Clare. A test mast of 60m has been erected to gather data over a three year period. Since then BT has stated it will be reducing the number to 3-4 and intend to seek planning permission this later this year. Clare Parish Council is keen to hear from BT, campaign groups, experts, and the local community to establish the facts about the proposals as well to find out local feeling. A local pressure group, STOC, have a website.
  • Country Park: Suffolk County Council is considering its future role in the running of Clare Castle Country Park as part of the larger review of the future of all council owned country parks and recreation sites The council is proposing that they will no longer be involved in the running of the site and would seek to transfer all assets involved to a local organisation in the near future; discussions continue. The park is 40 years old this year.
  • Library: Suffolk County Council is proposing to cut the cost of the library service by 30% over three years, mainly by handing over community libraries such as the one in Clare to alternative providers, whilst maintaining libraries in the major towns (eg Sudbury, Haverhill, Bury St Edmunds). A local petition is run against this proposal. Suffolk Council is now considering three pilot schemes by which libraries may be run in the future.
  • Youth Club: Suffolk County Council withdrew funding for a youth worker from April 2011 for the Youth Club which has been running successfully for many years and providing activities for some 50 youngsters.[71]

Town or village?

At the time of the Domesday Book, while several towns in Suffolk had markets, Clare was one of only six towns that had burgesses as well.[72] Its manor was among the largest in the county. The Lords of Clare established it as their administrative centre, the castle itself providing work for scores of people. It was known as a borough by 1262, but no charter survives and no parliamentary seat was established - unlike Sudbury. From the 11th century through to the 16th century there was plenty of employment and prosperity; the wool cloth trade flourished, first making broadcloth, later making bay and say cloth. It became a key staging post on a main highway to London, with warehouses and hostelries. Trade declined when the Stour became navigable as far as Sudbury in 1709. Weaving ceased and the town became a small agricultural centre, trade shrinking further when the railway arrived. The Parish Council was created in 1894. The population has remained consistently below 2000 across the ages. The number of houses has increased from 152 (including Wixoe and Chilton Street) in 1674 to 852 in 1991; living space standards increased dramatically in the last century. Unusually for a settlement of less than 2000, it has a full range of services: bank, butcher, baker, doctors, library, co-op, off-licence, ironmonger, cafes, 3 public houses - all serving food; one a hotel, restaurant, take-aways (Chinese, fish & chips), 4 antique shops - one a large emporium, pharmacy, hairdressers and barber, post office, news & stationery, clothes, 4 churches, wedding dresses, physiotherapy, health food, art gallery, architect, gift shops, optician, solicitor, computer repairs, florist, electrical, greengrocer, pet supplies, sandwich shop, estate agents, bed & breakfasts, bookshop, many trades......and the Nuttery, a community woodland, winner of the Best Conservation Project in the Anglia in Bloom competition 2011.

In modern terms, Clare is a large village, hence its award as Suffolk Village of the Year 2010, but the people still like to think of themselves as living in Suffolk's smallest town.


According to the Office for National Statistics, at the time of the United Kingdom Census 2001, Clare had a population of 1,975 with 873 households.[73]

Population change

Population growth in Clare from 1801 to 1891
Year 1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1881 1891
Population 1,033 1,170 1,487 1,619 1,700 1,769 1,704 1,657
Source: A Vision of Britain Through Time[74]
Population growth in Clare from 1901 to 2001
Year 1901 1911 1921 1931 1951 1961 2001
Population 1,582 1,483 1,340 1,252 1,320 1,328 1,975
Source: A Vision of Britain Through Time[74]

Location grid


Much of the material in this article, particularly of an architectural or historical nature, is taken from the following book: David Hatton, Clare, Suffolk, an account of historical features of the town, its Priory and its Parish Church, 2006 ISBN 0-9524242-3-1 It is also available online on the Clare Parish website. Quotations are separately referenced.

Another useful source is Gladys Thornton: A History of Clare, Suffolk, Heffer 1928. Her work principally covers the history of the town from the 14th to the 17th centuries and includes a master list of sources. There are edited selections from the book on the Clare Parish website. An invaluable book on the religious life of ordinary people, especially the guilds, up to 1540s is Eamonn Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, Yale 1992, ISBN 0-300-06076-9.

Citations from these books are separately referenced.

  1. ^ [1] Anglian Water - water quality
  2. ^ [2] Geology of Great Bradley
  3. ^ [3] National Monuments Record - PastScape: Monument No 379281
  4. ^ [4] National Monuments Record - PastScape: Monument No 868753
  5. ^ [5] National Monuments Record - PastScape: Monument No 379376
  6. ^ [6] National Monuments Record - PastScape: Monument No 379377
  7. ^ [7] National Monuments Record - Pastscape: Monument No 379384 - this is a scheduled monument
  8. ^ [8] National Monuments Record - PastScape: Monument No 379243
  9. ^ [9] National Monuments Record - PastScape: Monument No 379282
  10. ^ [10] The Portable Antiquities site: CCI-962835 and CCI-900854
  11. ^ Suffolk Institute of Archaeology & History, Vol XLII Part 2
  12. ^ Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk, 1974, Penquin 2nd ed. p169, ISBN 0-14-071020-5
  13. ^ Suffolk Institute of Archaeology & History, Vol XXXVIII, p312
  14. ^ [11] Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service Annual Report 2004-2005
  15. ^ [12] The Portable Anquities Site: ESS-OCF537
  16. ^ [13] National Monuments Record - PastScape: Monument No 379242 and [14] Monument No 379275
  17. ^ [15] National Monuments Record - PastScape Monument No 379261
  18. ^ [16] National Monuments Record - PastScape: Monument No 379269
  19. ^ Keith Briggs, 'Clare, Clere, and Clères', Journal of the English Place-Name Society, 41, 7-25 (2009)
  20. ^ Hatton op. cit. I p11
  21. ^ The Archaeological journal, Volume V p230
  22. ^ [17] National Monuments Record - PastScape: Monument No 379255
  23. ^ Hatton op. cit. I p25
  24. ^ Frances Underhill, For Her Good Estate, the Life of Elizabeth de Burgh, Macmillan 1999, ISBN 0333753259, p61
  25. ^ Hatton op. cit. I p21-23, 28
  26. ^ Thornton op. cit. p107
  27. ^ Underhill op. cit. p52
  28. ^ [18] Kenneth Glass, A Short History of Glemsford, 1962, Ch II, available on the Foxearth and District Local History Society website
  29. ^ Hatton op. cit. I p9
  30. ^ Hatton op. cit. II p35
  31. ^ Hatton op. cit. I p20
  32. ^ Sir Robert Jermyn to Sir Robert Cecil. From the Crutched Friars: 1598/9, Jan. 24. Cecil Papers CP 59/15.
  33. ^ the History Teachers' Miscellany, Vol IV, No12 1926 p184, quoted as an appendix in Thornton op. cit. p231-233
  34. ^ The Bury & Norwich Post, August 7th 1816
  35. ^ [19] A Vision of Britain - travel writing
  36. ^ [20] A Vision of Britain - travel writing
  37. ^ National Heritage Gateway - listed buildings online
  38. ^ [21] British Listed Buildings
  39. ^ [22] British Listed Buildings
  40. ^ The Landmark Trust
  41. ^ Sudbury Mercury, Sept 15 2011, p3
  42. ^ [23] St Edmundsbury Council, Clare Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan, 2008 p28
  43. ^ Ken Rickwood, Stour Odyssey: a journey by rowing boat along the Suffolk Stour from salt to source, Cleveland 2010 ISBN 9780955827143 p211-212
  44. ^ Ken Rickwood op. cit.
  45. ^ [24] Our Transport Heritage - Heritage Locations]
  46. ^ Clare Priory
  47. ^ D P Mortlock, The Guide to Suffolk Churches, Lutterworth Press 2009, ISBN 9780718830762 p114
  48. ^ Simon Jenkins, English's Thousand Best Churches, Penquin 2009, ISBN 9780141039305
  49. ^ Thornton op. cit. p139
  50. ^ Pevsner op. cit. p166-167
  51. ^ Simon Jenkins, op cit p743
  52. ^ Mortlock op. cit. p115
  53. ^ Mortlock op. cit. p 115
  54. ^ Bible, King James version, 2 Thessalonians 3.11
  55. ^ Simon Jenkins op. cit. p734
  56. ^ Hatton op. cit. IV p 86-88
  57. ^ Lionel Higgs, One Hundred Years of Witness, the story of Clare Baptist Church, pamphlet, Suffolk Record Office FK2 500/2/14
  58. ^ John Gough, A history of the people called Quakers: from their first rise to the present time, 1790, Volume 2, p551-552 (Google E-book)
  59. ^ Pevsner op. cit. p169
  60. ^ [25] British Listed Buildings
  61. ^ Pevsner op. cit. p396
  62. ^ Hatton op. cit. II p39
  63. ^ Hatton op. cit. II p43
  64. ^ Hatton op. cit. II p35
  65. ^ Hatton op. cit. II p35
  66. ^ Hatton op. cit. p7
  67. ^ Ken Rickwood op. cit. p206-7
  68. ^ [26] Countryside Walks in the Stour Valley: Stoke-by-Clare, leaflet, Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Project
  69. ^ Elizabeth Holdgate, Pashler's Lane, Hartley: Fell Beck Press 2002 ISBN 0954207203
  70. ^ Pevsner op. cit. p169
  71. ^ [27] Parish News, March 2011
  72. ^ Thornton op. cit. p15
  73. ^ "Suffolk County Council - 2001 Census Profiles". Retrieved 2011-03-01. 
  74. ^ a b "A Vision of Britain Through Time". University of Portsmouth & others. Retrieved 2011-03-01. 

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