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Dunwich Parish

British Isles Genealogy | County of Suffolk

Duneuuic, Denwyk or Donewyc

This "Sea-girt City," once an episcopal see, Royal residence, and town corporate, is now, by the violent and frequent incursions of the ocean, reduced to a few mean dwellings: its ancient state, and grandeur, has however been well described in the pages of its faithful historian, Mr. Thomas Gardner; from whose work we select the following particulars.

Its ancient splendour, as related by some, must be considered traditionary, and therefore doubtful; it, however, certainly was honored with the royal palace of some of the East Anglian Kings, and dignified with the first episcopal see of that kingdom.

In Edward the Confessor's time, Edric de Laxfield held Dunwich, for one manor; and when the Conqueror's survey was taken, Robert Malet, a Norman Baron, held the same: but about the commencement of the reign of King Henry II., it became Royal demesne.

This town was firmly attached to the interest of King John; who, for their loyalty, in the first year of his reign, granted them a charter of liberty, making Dunwich a free borough, with divers other Royal favors; and, in the 10th he confirmed all former charters, adding a gild of merchants, with as ample privileges as enjoyed by any town in the kingdom, and honored the Corporation with a Mayor; which commenced in 1216, the last year of his reign, and continued 130 years. In the 14th of King Henry III., that Monarch, for faithful services of the men of Dunwich, con-firmed all his father's grants, with many additional privileges.

At this period the town appears to have attained to the height of its prosperity; but in the following reign, a considerable decline was beginning to take place; yet it still continued to maintain eleven ships of war, sixteen fair ships, twenty barks, or vessels trading to the North seas, Iceland, &c., and twenty-four small boats for the home fishery.

But the greatest injury this town sustained, was the removal of its harbor, when another part was opened within the limits of Bliburgh, not far from Walberswick Quay, and two miles nearer Southwold, in the time of King Edward II.; who, to compensate the town for this loss, sent his mandate to John Howard, Sheriff of the county, to make proclamation for all goods, merchandise, and fish, imported at the new port, to be put to sale nowhere but at the ancient market places in Dunwich, on forfeiture of goods and merchandise so vended.

In the 20th of King Edward III., the government of this borough by a Mayor was dispensed with, and two bailiff's only were elected from that period, as chief magistrates; and in the 31st of the same reign, the King was graciously pleased to reduce the fee-farm rents to 14 10s. 9d.; which in the time of King Henry II., and Richard I., was 120 13s. 4d., but had gradually been reduced from that period to the 4th of George I., when it was only 5; when processes were served upon several persons in the borough, for arrears of rent due to the Crown for their fee farm.

At the same time, ten burgesses were imprisoned in Beccles gaol, for non-payment; but upon trial, in consideration of their poverty, from the loss of lands by the encroachments of the sea. disuse of their port, and deprivation of all tolls, customs, and dues, formerly paid by Bliburgh, Walberswick, and Southwold, it was adjudged in their favor; the town acquitted, and Sir George Downing, Bart., obtained a grant of the fee farm for 99 years, at 5 per annum.

Dunwich became a Bishop's See by means of Sigebert, King of the East Angles; and Felix, a Burgundian, was consecrated Bishop thereof by Honorius, Archbishop of Canterbury, about the year 636. He died in 647, and was buried here; but his body was afterwards removed to Soham, in Cambridgeshire, and interred in the Monastery there, which was, not long after, demolished by the Danes. His bones were discovered, in Canute's reign, by Abbot Ethelstan, and removed by him, to his Abbey at Ramsey.

After him, three others succeeded, who presided over the whole kingdom of the East Angles; when the see became divided, and a Bishop for the Norfolk division resided at Elmham, and the Bishop of Dunwich presided over the Suffolk division only; until the death of Weremund, in 870, the fourteenth Bishop in succession from Felix, when it again became united with Elmham, by Wibred, his successor, who resided there.

In the time of Edward the Confessor, here was but one church, dedicated to St. Felix, by whom it is supposed to have been erected; but in the reign of the Conqueror, two more had been added; and afterwards this town contained six, if not eight, parish churches, and three chapels; also a church belonging to the Knights Templars, endowed with a considerable estate here, and the adjoining hamlets.

All Saints is the only church of which any thing remains; and in 1754, divine service was performed there once a fortnight, from Lady-day to Michaelmas, and monthly during the rest of the year: the minister's stipend not exceeding 12 a year, exclusive of a small provisional allowance for refreshment, in consideration of his journey thither. The ruins of this only, now remain. But it appears the patronage of the only church now in Dunwich, and which is a perpetual curacy, is vested in Frederick Barne, Esq., in which divine service is performed every Sunday. This probably is the re-mains of the building mentioned by Mr. Gardner, as standing on the north side of the church yard of St. James's Hospital, then in ruins; but supposed to have been formerly used as a chapel for the lepers of that hospital, and now used as the parish church.

The religious concerned here were, the Franciscan and Domini-can, or Grey Friars minors, and Black Friars, or Friars Preachers. The former was founded by Richard Fitz-John, and Alice his wife, and its revenues were afterwards augmented by King Henry III.; but Gardner thinks the Corporation of the Borough were rather the founders, for they gave the Friars a place on which to build their Convent, in 1289, which contained seven acres. A portion of this Friary is converted into farm buildings, consisting of a bam and other offices: two of the gates remain nearly entire; views of which have been repeatedly engraved.

The Monastery of the Friars Preachers, was founded by Sir Roger de Holishe, Knt.; who was buried in the conventual church. They were both granted to John Eyre, in 1544. The Dominicans came into England in 1221; and had a convent here soon after: Gardner says, it was surrounded by a stone wall, but that the whole has long been swallowed up by the sea.

Besides these religious edifices, Dunwich contained two hospitals. St. James's Hospital is mentioned as early as the reign of King Richard I.; it is described in an old manuscript as "a great one, and a fair large one after the old fashion, and divers tenements, houses, and lands, to the same belonging, to the use of the poor sick and impotant people there. "The revenues, which were formerly very considerable, by mismanagement, fell into decay; and the large income it originally possessed was, in the year 1754, reduced to 21 19s. 8d. per annum.

The other hospital, Donus Dei (or Maison Dieu), was also well endowed with tenements, houses, lands, and rents, but like the former, fell considerably into decay from various causes; so that, in 1754, Gardner states they amounted to no more than 11 17s. It is in the patronage of the Crown, and the first mention thereof occurs as early as the reign of King Henry III. According to Leland, here was also, at a very early period, a cell of monks, subordinate to Eye Monastery.

This town has sent two Members to Parliament, ever since the Commons of England first acquired the right of representation, in the 1st of King Edward I., until 1832; when the borough became disfranchised by Act of Parliament. A list of which, continued from that by Kirby, is annexed.

Roman remains have frequently been discovered here: a pot, or urn, of about a quart measure, was taken out of the cliff at Dunwich, about five feet below the surface of the earth, in 1786; pieces of many others, of a similar, and different make, were found at the same time, filled with ashes, bones, &c.; and in 1787, a pot of whitish stone was dug up by some laborers near Dunwich. They are both engraved in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1788, p. 792. A curious and very ancient seal, found there in 1790, is also engraved in the same periodical for that year, at p. 1177; also an ancient brass key, found in the vicinity, is engraved in the same work for 1806, p. 217: a key of a similar make, but much larger, may be seen in Gardner's "Dunwich," plate iv. p. 96.

The town ARMS are a Ship under sail; in chief, a crescent and star; in base, three fishes, naiant.

CHARITIES. St. James's Hospital. The Maison Dieu. These hospitals have now, for a long time, been consolidated as a charity, under the government of a master, for the support or relief of aged widows and poor persons of this town; and particularly such as are affected by insanity, or loss of speech, or labor under any peculiar disorder or affliction. The lands constituting the property of the consolidated charity, consisted for the most part of detached pieces, which, taken separately, were of trifling value; but the present master, who has held the office for thirty years, has availed himself of the opportunity of exchanging several portions; and by means thereof, has brought the property into a more compact state, and very greatly increased the income of the charity. The total rental of lands and tenements in Dunwich, amounts to .66 9s. per annum; in Haveningham, to 17; and in Ellough, to 10: total rent and annual value, 93 9s. These hospitals are of great antiquity, but no documents concerning their origin or endowment are known to exist. In 1566, John Page (otherwise Baxter), by will, gave power to his executor to sell his estate at Carlton, to the intent that the yearly sum of 3 should be paid to the town of Dunwich, for the poor thereof; and the sum of 40s. to the town of Laxfield, for a like purpose. For a long period the property has been in the possession, and under the joint management, of the officers of these two parishes: it consists of a farm house, with outbuildings, and 43A. 2n. 37p. of land, in Carlton Colville, and is let at 75 a year, subject to some deductions on account of land tax, and other out-goings. Laxfield receives four-ninths, and Dunwich five-ninths of the annual proceeds; which is carried to the general account of the chamberlains of the Corporation, as part of the private revenues of that body; without any payment of 3 a year to the poor.

King s Reign A.D. Members for Dunwich
George III 1768 Miles Barne. Gerard William Vanneck
  1774  Miles Barne. Sir G. William Vanneck, Bart. Barne Barne
  1780 The same
  1784 The same
  1790 Miles Barne. Sir G. W. Vanneck, Bart
  1796 Snowdon Barne. Sir Joshua Vanneck, Bart
  1801  Imp. Parl. S. Barne. Josh. Lord Huntingfield.
  1802 The same
  1806 The same
  1807 The same
  1812 Lord Huntingfield. Michael Barne
  1818 Michael Barne. Wm. Adam Mackinnon
George IV 1820 Michael Barne. George Henry Cherry
  1826 Michael Barne. Andrew Arcedeckne
William IV 1830 Frederick Barne. Andrew Arcedeckne
  1831 Frederick Barne. Earl of Brecknock

County of Suffolk

Topographical and Genealogical, The County of Suffolk, 1844, Augustine Page

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