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Nayland with Wissington Conservation Society

The rich legacy of timber-framed buildings in central southern Suffolk stems from the area’s great wealth as a centre of woollen cloth production in the late Middle Ages and its relative poverty thereafter.

Nayland contains over 100 listed buildings, many of them timber framed and dating back as far as the mid 13th century.   The golden age of building in the village was in the 14th to the late 16th centuries.   In a 1522 tax survey Nayland was ranked 42nd in the list of richest towns in the country.   Only Lavenham, ranked 13th on the same basis, possessed more wealthy cloth merchants.  Nayland was 3rd in the Babergh Hundred Muster of 1552 behind Lavenham and Boxford.

With the decline in the cloth industry during the late 16th and 17th centuries, other activities such as white and brown soap making, tanning, milling, malting and brewing became more important.   From this time and well into the 18th and 19th centuries, some of the timber-framed buildings were given fashionable brick or plaster facades.   This may have helped to preserve what is considered a nationally important collection of both high status merchants’ houses and lower status artisans’ dwellings.

The economic activity of the village continued with the river being made navigable from Sudbury to Manningtree as a result of the passing of the Stour Navigation Act of 1705.  Coal and other goods were carried upstream by barge, and chalk and bricks from pits near Sudbury were brought downstream in return for onward transit to London.  Along the river the barges also picked up flour from the water mills, including Nayland mill which was an important source of employment for the village.


View from St James tower
View of High Street from St James Church

By contrast Wiston has always been a rural community and although it is now joined to Nayland in a single civil parish, it had a separate history until 1883.

Wissington or Wiston stretches over a wide area of country with scattered groups of dwellings joined by narrow roads.  Its only unity came from the Norman church, standing at the far south of the parish.   It is a much older parish than Nayland because it is certain that the parish of Wiston was in existence when records of parishes began.  Until comparatively recent times its Rector’s stipend was more than double that of the Nayland parson who had to deal with a population almost 4 times as great.

It must have formed part of the large Manor of Nayland at Domesday, which stretched across the Stour but, like both the Horkesleys, it is not named in the survey.


Pound House Wiston 2008
Pound House, Wiston

Some of the Principal buildings in Nayland and Wiston

St. James’ Church, Nayland
The present church dates mainly from around 1400-1450 but incorporates some earlier features.   It was a Chapel of Ease to Stoke by Nayland until the 18th century and in 1869 the Nayland incumbent changed from Perpetual Curate to Vicar in the Clergy List.   The exceptionally fine arcades and clerestoreys are attributed to the master mason John Wastell (who was responsible for King’s College, Cambridge).  The tower is 14th century with a modern spire.  Panels c.1500 from the former Rood Screen are now hanging on the south wall.  The south-west porch was built c.1525 and restored in 1884.  The turbulent years following the Reformation resulted in the removal of  stained glass windows, the Rood Screen and all religious symbols in the church.   Hence the fact that the stained glass windows date from the mid 19th century onwards.   The Bicentenary of John Constable’s  1810 altarpiece, Christ Blessing the Bread and Wine was celebrated in 2010.


St James Church

Alston Court
This is one of the finest and most important medieval town houses in Britain.   It takes the form of a typical cross-wing house with a central open hall flanked by parlour and service wings.   The door to the medieval cross-passage is still in use and now is graced by a fine late-17th century hood.   The hall and parlour wing to the left date from the early 15th century, although the exceptional oriel window with animals carved on its sill is a mid 16th century addition.


photo c.1930

Alston Court c.1930

The Old Guildhall, High Street
Evidence indicates it was built around 1530 (notwithstanding the current plaque showing an earlier date) to accommodate the gild of St. Mary.  The vast majority of gilds in medieval England were religious rather than commercial in character.   This example is unusually late in date, as gilds were forcibly abolished as part of the Reformation in 1547.   The ground floor is arranged like a normal domestic house and could have originally been leased to a priest or anyone prepared to pay rent.  The first floor is an individual meeting hall, 43 feet long and 20 feet wide beneath a fine butt-purlin roof.   Members of the gild would have met here to elect their officers and enjoy feasts on selected days of the year. 

photo 1960s

Old Guildhall 1960s

The Queen’s Head Inn, High street
Used for centuries as a coaching inn, the Queen’s Head was built during the late 14th or early 15th century as an open hall house.   The later carriageway enlarges the medieval cross passage and preserves two rare ogee-arched service doors.

A fine mid 16th century rear parlour survives intact and includes a long clerestory window against the later mill stream.   In the courtyard behind the rear parlour lies a 15th century jettied structure which contains two first floor rooms originally accessible only by doors in the front wall above the jetty, which may represent an unusually early lodging range.

photo before 1922

Queens Head

The Mill
The Nayland Corn Mill was one of the largest of the many Mills along the River Stour in the 18th and 19th centuries, which brought employment and prosperity to the area. Sadly this is no longer one of the the principal buildings of the village, but is included for its historic significance.

The Mill was first referred to a a Corn Mill in records dated 1674.  It was rebuilt in the early 18th century, and then 're-edified' to a five storey structure in 1823 with a gantry over the road to the mill lade.   Barges came here to load and unload after the Stour was made navigable in 1705.   The top three storeys and the gantry were dismantled in 1922.   Later it became the Nayland Electric Light and Power Station, which closed in 1938.   After several commercial uses it is now Josephine Interiors with flats on the first and second floors.

The Mill
photo c.1900

Longwood House, Stoke Road
The 1610 date which appears on the plasterwork is relatively modern but is accurate nonetheless.  The late 17th century hall has an early 17th century parlour cross-wing to the right, which once served a much lower hall on the site of the existing house.

Martha (Patty) Smith, one of John Constable’s aunts lived here.


Longwood House

Birch Street
This is one of the most important medieval streets in Britain.   Every building of the northern side of the road is approximately 25 feet or 1 ½ perches long, demonstrating that the street pattern is the result of an early phase of town planning.

No. 14, built in the mid 16th century, is a fully floored and jettied timber-framed house with its hall to the left and parlour to the right.

Nos. 6-12

These two houses were probably built as a pair of semi detached renters in Wealden form.  The exposed timbers of these two early 15th century houses are a useful chronology of changing fashions in timber-framing.   The relatively widely spaced studs of the original ends are typical of the late 14th or early 15th  century, while the closer studding of the right-hand inserted jetty contains evidence for a projecting oriel window supported on brackets and a clerestory typical of the late 16th century.   The thin timbers of the left-hand inserted jetty date from the 18th or 19th century and were not intended to be exposed.


Birch Street
Line drawing by Iris Sebba

St. Mary’s Church, Wiston
This is a small Norman church of great beauty and simplicity by the river Stour, with a fine Norman south doorway, a beautiful Norman chancel arch and 13th century wall paintings of simple design. The Victorian vicar made a major restoration which gave it a Norman apse and put back Norman windows, but there is no doubt that the original Norman builders of the church would still recognise it and the main church is as the Godebolds, holders of the manor of Wiston in Domesday, would have seen it. 


photo 1930s

St Mary's Church

Wiston Hall
In 1786 Matthew Beachcroft, Lord of the Manor and owner of the Hall, gave them both to his son, Samuel, as a marriage settlement.   In 1791 Samuel, then Governor of the Bank of England, asked John Soane, who was then rebuilding the bank, to build him a “hunting box” at Wiston and this is the front part of the present Hall.  

The details of the new building can be found in Soane’s account books in the Soane Museum in London. (Soane Museum Archive Bill Book 4;  Journals 1 & 2; Day Books 1791 & 1792)


Wiston Hall

Wiston Mill
The Mill was part of the Manor of Wiston throughout the Middle Ages and is first mentioned in the Rolls of 1352.  There is evidence of milling (and at one time fulling) almost continuously until 1920.  The timber framed Mill still stands along with some of the workings.   Along with the house and barns they form a unique and important group of buildings in this quiet unspoilt section of the River Stour.


Woston Mill

Jane Walker Park
In 1901, Dr. Jane Walker, one of the first women in this country to qualify as a Doctor of Medicine, opened the East Anglian Sanatorium.   It was designed as a fully self-supporting institution with its own farm, gardens and greenhouses, laundry, electricity plant, and sewage system.   The site was specially chosen as being beneficial for the new open air system for treatment of tuberculosis pioneered by Dr. Walker.

When the hospital finally closed in 1991 the main building was sympathetically converted into 8 homes and the classic art deco features were retained.

photo c.1920

East Anglian Sanatorium c.1920

Aspects of Parish History

A selection of articles written by the Village Recorder. Star & Garter Public House
The Star & Garter was a public house until 1984
The High Street Trough (pdf 111Kb)
A Nayland Pub Crawl (pdf 555Kb)
Nayland's Mills (pdf 122Kb)