An Illustrated Social History

Chelsworth  Yesterday and Today

IIn the early part of the 18th century, two main elements characterise the people who live in the village - class and continuity. Each persons place in the community is established by rank and family rather than by merit or ability; and this has been so over many generations. The fact that this condition is accepted without serious challenge is testimony to the sense of order, and even of destiny, which lies within a society where religious practice and social deference are habitual and deeply entrenched.

At the top of the social scale - in the absence of a resident Lord of the Manor - stand the Hewett and Andrews families, living face to face at the west end of the village.

Ralph Hewett, who lived in the mansion on the South side of the Street opposite Cakebreads Lane up to the time of his death in 1721 at the age of 77, was a bachelor and so became the last of his line in Chelsworth, which is traced back a hundred years in the village. The family owned the parkland across the River Brett, as well as much of the land up towards the Nightingale Charity lands and Wild Irish Wood, and also property in Hadleigh, Melford, Lindsey, Kersey and Monks Eleigh. Land ownership is, of course, the key to status and wealth in the country in these days.

Ralph Hewett left his Chelsworth estate to the son of his cousin John Clark of Monks Eleigh, who also used to farm land in Chelsworth. (One day we will see John Clark’s finely-carved tombstone standing in Chelsworth churchyard, the earliest still surviving there. Ralph’s servant John Root will have the second oldest).

Ralph was the brother-in-law of the distinguished rector Robert Andrews, who lived in Howletts mansion across the road and who died back in 1689 aged 69. I am not sure how the Chelsworth Andrews are related to the famous Sudbury family, though I guess that, being a clergyman and the son of a clergyman, he was descended from a younger son, in accord with the tradition whereby an eldest son inherits land and property, and younger sons take up professions in the army, the law and the church. (In times past, there was also a junior branch of the Layham Springs here in Chelsworth; but they died out without male heirs).

1.     The People of the Village

Robert’s schoolmaster brother James also lived in the village (but unlike Robert, who married a woman much his junior, Elizabeth Hewett, James took an older woman as his wife, Susan the well-to-do widow of Hugh Green). After his death at the age of 82 in 1710, James’s house called Princhetts passed on in due course to another generous rector, Samuel Maynard, who has now left it to the parish. His wife Susan died in 1708 at the age of 94.

Behind these examples of the minor gentry, in social rank, stand the yeomen, farming families represented by the Greens, Mynnes, Prices and Munfords - the last-named being chiefly a Monks Eleigh clan, but the others established in Chelsworth for several generations. Earlier, members of the Abbott family also played their part in the history of the village, before one went ‘adventuring’ with Cromwell in Ireland and acquired a substantial estate fro the dispossessed Catholic population. (This branch of the family eventually went out to Australia).