An Illustrated Social History

The Landscape History of Chelsworth

An Explanatory Preface.


Lord of the Manor of Chelsworth 1737-1767

In the early years of the Eighteenth Century, the Court Book of the Manor of Chelsworth recorded a series of momentous events in the history of the village. This period, generally unremarkable in the history of the nation (though later we will remember why 1707, the first year in our account, had some wider resonance for the inhabitants of this island) marked the ending of an era in Chelsworth, as old families fell into decline and even disgrace, and newcomers arrived to change the face of the community. In one sense, the landscape of Chelsworth was transformed. This account tells that story, and sets it in the context of the world of today, three hundred years later.

In physical terms, however, not much was seen to change - though change was certainly on the way science and technology were on the move, particularly in agriculture, but the dissemination of improved methods was very slow, and there is little evidence that they had percolated into general practice locally. Enclosure had been implemented centuries earlier, as the old records show, so the chief single step towards greater efficiency had been taken long since. Despite the social and economic upheavals, therefore, developments in the cultivation of crops and in the rearing of livestock were not in themselves significant factors in the changes in rural life that we see from the history of our village. So what was behind the transformation?

These years saw the coming of a time of peace and stability in England. It was an age that is not commonly thought to be of great interest: “Queen Anne’s dead” used to be a byword for news that is no news, though it unkindly understates that sovereign’s contribution to our national story. The age did indeed contain few events of the greatest historical significance, in comparison with the age that preceded it, most especially in the sphere of religion, and with the one that followed, with its violent revolutions and turbulent industrial changes.

The national mood was in fact one of self-indulgence, following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the religious ferment of most of that past century. With the threats of civil war and foreign invasion lifted - because of the poor showing of the Jacobites supported by France, and England’s military successes at Blenheim and in other battles - those elements of society which enjoyed power and wealth were more free than for many generations to engage in gentlemanly pursuits - gambling and speculation, social preening, patronage and corruption - and in London, politicking, especially in print.

The argument that emerges from this contrast suggests that it is in precisely these conditions, when external threats and motivations are at their lowest ebb, that our more selfish and unprincipled tendencies come to the surface, so that financial speculation, petty politicking and social posturing become the common currency of anyone wanting to be influential and popular. Gambling and fashion dominate the agenda, and social climbing is the common aspiration. This book seeks to explore the interaction of these two environments, the great and the small, setting the local village scene in the context of wider happenings and suggesting how our local people might have been affected when hearing of the grand people and projects at work in London and in Europe - not just kings, politicians, generals and financiers, but also writers, composers, travellers and philosophers. And possibly this will also illustrate some of the groundswell influences that came to influence subsequent popular movements.

This account of those times takes the form of a series of walks around the parish, looking on the landscape and the people of those days, and discussing the wider context in which lived their lives.

Geoffrey Pocklington’s History of Chelsworth provides the common backdrop for examination of life at that time. I am particularly happy to acknowledge the debt that this lovely village owes him for his well-researched and moving account of the origin development of our community.

Before closing, however, I would like to indulge my own curiosity about the very beginning the village, and in particular the ways in which our local landscape influenced its making. At the end of this