Stockton. Historical Notes

(April 2020)

Looking though old papers, I came across this account of the smallest parish in the Waveney Group which, in times past, was evidently a place of some importance. I have adapted and in part rewritten my mother’s words for publication here. (An abridged version of the first part was published in the March issue of Tidings).

Kings, Lords and Ladies

Archbishop and King

The little village of Stockton was once the centre of an important lordship. In Anglo-Saxon times, it was part of the manor of Earsham, belonging to the Archbishop of Canterbury. An itinerary of the year 1000 AD runs from Earsham Abbey via Stockton to Dunburgh, where the ferry crossed to Beccles, most of our marshland being still under water at this date.

When the Saxon Archbishop Stigand quarrelled with William the Conqueror, the new King of England, his lands, including Stockton, were confiscated by the Crown. In the Domesday Survey of about 1086 the soke or district under the jurisdiction of Stockton, is described as “ten leagues in length and one league in breadth”, an area about four miles east to west from Windle Hill [north of Gillingham village] to Ellingham, and two miles north to south from Kirby Cane to the River Waveney. For those times, it paid the very heavy tax, or “geld”, of 5 shillings and fourpence to the King.

The Bigods in possession, 1140-1407

In 1140 King Stephen granted Stockton, including the manors of Ellingham, Geldeston, Gillingham, Kirby Cane, Winston and Wyndale (Windle), with the right to hold court and set up a gallows, to Hugh Bigod, the newly created Earl of Norfolk.

In 1178, Hugh’s son Ralph, the next owner, obtained exclusive fishing rights on the Waveney from Stockton to Shipmeadow, and the right to cut reeds, like those used to thatch the church, and to cut rushes for strewing the floors.

Local lords were powerful men and, at times, became rivals to the king himself:

“Were I in my castle of Bungay, on the River Waveney,
I would not give a toss for the King of Cockeney”

runs an old rhyme that my mother often quoted with relish. (I checked online, and it is not preserved, as I first thought, in Bishop Percy’s Reliques of Ancient British Poetry, 1765.)

The manor stayed in the Bigod family till their last heiress Elizabeth brought it to her husband William Garneys, in the early 1400s. Later it was sold to the Earls of Suffolk, and, before reverting to the Crown, it belonged for a while to Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife.

Parish records

The Stockton church registers go back to 1561, though some early pages are missing. The “Stockton Town Book”, a manuscript volume containing churchwardens’ accounts for the years 1625-1712, has also been preserved. Together they contain many fascinating entries about the church and the village.

The list of rectors begins in 1315, but for the hundred years previous to 1300 the church was served by the canons of Langley Abbey. Among the marriages recorded in the registers is that of the first rector after the Reformation:

“Thomas Benyard, clerk, Parson of Stockton and Gillingham All Saints,
was married to Anne Smyth the 20th day of April, 1571.”

Stockton and the Civil War (1642-1649)

The Civil War entries in the “Town Book” are particularly interesting.

Thomas Bande was paid 10 shillings in 1640 “for being content to be a soldier for the Town”; John Bird, parish clerk, received 15 shillings when “impressed” for the same purpose in 1643, and his wife was supported by the parish until he returned “maimed from Naseby fight” [14 June 1645].

The Rector at this period, William Stannard, went to fight for the Crown against the Scots. Perhaps he did so against the wishes of the parish, because in 1641 the Town refused to pay 30 shillings for the musket he lost in “the northern expedition”. In 1645 they relented and gave him £1, and he stayed on to look after his flock as “parish registrar” under the Commonwealth until his death in 1655.

The income of the church is greatly helped by charities left by: John Pinchbeke, Rector, died 1530; William Wright, died 1513; and Mrs Lydia Carlos (nee Bond), died 1869, who owned the lordship of the manor, and was baptised, married and buried at Stockton.

The Stockton Stone

A glacial boulder, known as the Stockton Stone, stands on a layby beside the main Norwich road. It has been suggested that it marked the line, or the junction of certain boundaries or rights-of-way.

An entry in the “Town Book” for 1632 reads “for the stulpes [i.e. stoops, posts or markers] at Stockton Stone, 7 shillings”, which suggests that the stone was perhaps protected by a chain and post fence; traces of iron can still be seen on it.

Elisabeth CROWFOOT (1914-2005)

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