An Illustrated Social History

Chelsworth  Yesterday and Today

In the early 18th Century, life in the countryside is greatly constrained by the terrible condition of the roads and tracks, due both to the inadequacy of the drainage arrangements and to the failure of the parishes (who are individually responsible for the upkeep of the road and bridges within their boundaries) to maintain the surface of the highways.

The parish Waywardens, in fact, largely confine their efforts to finding work for the more able-bodied paupers in the charge of the local overseers, and furnishing a use for the flints picked from the farmers’ fields. Actually providing a decent means of getting from one village to another, or from town to town, seems to be beyond their remit.

As a result of this neglect, road travel, whether by coach or cart, horse or Shanks’ pony, is always an ordeal ensuring that it is not undertaken lightly. The ever-present possibility of robbery on the road serves further to discourage the casual traveller.

River transport is of course another option for the conveyance of goods and produce, given that the depth of many waterways is just sufficient to take at least shallow-draughted boat - to the extent, that is, that the operators of mills, sluices and locks permit, which sometimes is not a great deal.

It is perhaps surprising, given these conditions that travel to London, and further afield, is achieved to the extent that it is, among the wealthier sections of the community. No doubt the attractions of the city, and the absence of fashionable counter-attractions in the depths of the country, play a large part in this endeavour.

For the younger element, indeed, the Grand Tour around the historic capitals arid cultural centres of Europe is a regular part of growing up and acquiring a smattering both of learning and of worldly experience.

Today, the car is a central feature of life both in towns and cities, and in the country, these days. The condition of the roads and the regulation of traffic are therefore of great importance to us all. Unfortunately, they both leave a lot to be desired. As for public transport, we have in the last few years had the limited benefit of some heavily subsidised bus services which run into Hadleigh, Sudbury and Stowmarket. They are little used, however, and we fear that we may lose them before long.

5,     Travel & Transport

The pattern of roads in the village has changed little over the years, though in one respect, namely the river bridges, there have been significant changes to make them less likely to cause (or suffer) damage as traffic passes across. The highway remains much as it has been for decades and now affords neither safety nor convenience to any class of road user. It is just surprising that there have been few mishaps, and no serious injuries resulting.

Within the built-up area of the village, the speed of road traffic is a serious problem. Despite the long-established 30 mph restriction, many cars come through at 40-50 mph, especially down the hill entering the village from the Bildeston end. Quite a few motorists also regard the main stretch of the Street as a handy place for overtaking law-abiding drivers, often presenting a frightening hazard to those walking on our narrow and poorly-kept pavement.

As well as the paved roads, we have of course a useful network of unmade lanes and footpaths, where traffic consists of walkers and the odd farm tractor. Despite some difficulties with encroaching crops and selfish farmers trying to divert historical cross-field paths from their age long courses, it is generally a pleasure to walk these old tracks and to enjoy the open country around and above the village.