An Illustrated Social History

Walk 9.


WALK NINE takes us up from the junction of The Street with Parsonage Lane, and beside the fine house largely built by a former rector, Rev. John Gee Smyth early in the 19th century, to Bildeston Church. The path goes through huge fields, as many are today, but also recaptures old field names which recall landowners here some 700 years ago - among them Sawyers, Skipps Croft and Barkers (aka Sandpit Field). The path then connects with that described in our very first outing on Walk 1.

On this walk, we went up from the most photographed part of Chelsworth - the “Old Forge” and its neighbours - towards the site of old Bildeston, where its Hall stood before the centre of gravity of that settlement moved down to its present location. These were lands once owned by the noble be Vere family, the Earls of Essex, though that history is outside our compass today.

Bildeston moved in response to the development of the market on the road from Stowmarket and Hitcham towards Hadleigh, and the Church was left in isolation from the path of progress.

Down here, on the site of the Victory Hall, there once stood the maltings, alongside the old smithy . Like the riverside mills, these were key operations in former days when brewing, milling and metalworking were all locally based.

This a good time, then, to reflect on the technologies that first of all brought, then took away, the textile industry and much else in these parts. We have already seen how agriculture began to move on in these years, but so so slowly. It was not that different in other fields of local industry.

The vital resource was power, which has arguably been at the root of most technological progress over these centuries - first from wind and water and wood, then from coal, and on from there to oil, electricity and other modern sources. For Suffolk’s water mills, the threat came first from the West Country, then from Yorkshire, where the rivers flowed wider and more strongly.

Now, with the ‘information revolution’ and knowledge-based industries, raw power and the possession of sources of energy are possibly of less significance than for ages past (so long as we are not deprived of the fuel for our cars and aircraft, of course, as sometimes seems possible).

Scientific knowledge and understanding have moved on at an accelerating rate since the time of Newt n, and these topics - Science and Technology, and their impact on society - are the subject of our reflection today.

Prologue - Science and Technology in the early Eighteenth Century

This was a time of only limited progress in the technology of industry and communications, as it was in agriculture and many other respects. Inventors and technically-minded scientists saw the need for greater mechanisation but lacked the grounding, the tools and the ingenuity to resolve the problems which they tried to address.

These are some of the advances made in this period: