On this last outing, we traversed the heart of Chelsworth and walked past most of the old cottages and houses that grace the village. As we made our way along the street, we wondered about the early origins of the settlement, way back before the century that we have been studying. This is a topic we will be considering in the last part of the book
We also reflected on the various activities that bring our community together - the Harvest Horkey in the autumn, the Punch Morning before Christmas, and the twice-yearly assemblies of the Parish Meeting which involves every registered elector and takes the place of the usual but less-democratic (we think) Parish Council. The PCC, too, has its role, on behalf of the Established Church, but with fewer than twenty members it does not represent us all.
But the greatest unifying force is the annual Open Gardens Day, now in 2007 marking its fortieth year, and probably rooted in the achievement some while earlier, in the first - and for us, last - year of the Best Kept Village award, under the leadership of Tom Evans, head gardener at the Hall. We will be celebrating this milestone in a variety of ways, not least with an exhibition in the church of our historic past and a welcome for David Tassel?, the new Lord of the Manor of Chelswort
We began the walk at the Western end of the parish, where the road from Monks Eleigh crosses the low bridge over the Wagger. (If we had come along that road, or even over the welcome new footpath that, by kind agreement of Strutt and Parker who farm there, borders the field above the road, we might have asked with some exasperation why the road had to be made so winding and so hazardous for traffic of all kinds - but that is something to leave for the later discussion).
The bridge brought back a couple of cheerful stories of accidents that turned out well. First, the tale of the Wattisham airman’s car that bounced over the old humpback bridge, ricocheted off the great elm tree (lost sadly in the 1987 hurricane) and smashed into the further ground floor of Weavers, causing a permanent lean in the upper storey. It catapulted out of bed a young woman sleeping there, we are told by her one-time suitor, but caused no hurt to her or to the to men in the car, who were tipped into the back seat by the collision and sank, it’s said, into a happy sleep.
Then, few years ago, a car travelling in the other direction missed the bend to the bridge and went straight down a sharp bank into the
little stream, where it sat on all four wheels facing upstream. The driver turned to his elderly passenger - both were unhurt - and simply said ‘How on earth am I going to back out of here?’ We have photos in evidence, fortunately.
Crossing the bridge now - not of course the bridge that would have carried us in past times, but a new, flatter substitute fitted to today’s vehicles - we would have come past two fine houses once occupied by the brothers-in-law Ralph Hewett and rector Robert Andrews.
Howletts on the left was the former rector‘s house, later bequeathed by him to his sister’s husband Samuel Mynnes and in due course forfeited by him to another cleric, John Fisk of Thorpe Morieux. The following description of the house from those days is rather ordinary but earlier texts noted that it had ‘one leaden cistern’ which was evidently a rare facility. I wonder where that cistern is today.
All that capital messuage or tenement lying in Chelsworth triangular called by the name of Howletts with the backhouse and barns and stables yards gardens and orchards once in the occupation of Isaac Abbott and Thomas Hamond and later in the occupation of the said Robert Andrews at the time of his death which premises abut on the King’s and Queen’s Highway leading from Monks Eleigh Bridge to Chelsworth on the South and on the common river there running from Kettlebaston to the Chelsworth Mill to the West and on another way leading to that river to the North and East.
That house is now sadly lost, having apparently been demolished after passing into the hands of Robert Pocklington.
Immediately to our right were the house and grounds belonging to the Hewett family, and after the passing of bachelor Ralph in 1720, to his cousins from Monks Eleigh, John Clark and daughters Mary and Elizabeth. The house itself may well have been freehold, and we have no detailed account of it, save for the probate inventory taken in 1664 for Elizabeth Hewett, Ralph‘s mother.