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"SOUTHWOLD, a parish, seaport, market town, and municipal borough locally in the hundred of Blything, county Suffolk, but having separate jurisdiction, 4 miles N.E. of Dunwich, 12 S.W. of Lowestoft, and 30 N.E. of Ipswich. It is situated on an eminence, nearly surrounded by the river Blythe, at its influx into the German Ocean, and is bounded on the N. by Buss Creek. It was called by the Saxons Sudwald, i.e., Southwood, from an ancient forest now cleared, and was given by Bishop Alfric to the Abbey of Bury St. Edmund's, to which it paid 25,000 herrings. At the time of the Domesday Survey it was above a mile from the sea, which has here so encroached upon the land that it is now close to the shore. Henry VII. granted it a charter of incorporation. In 1659 a fire consumed nearly the whole town, with the townhall, gaol, granaries, and court-baron rolls, in consequence of which the whole body of copyholders under the corporation became freeholders. Two naval engagements took place in the bay opposite the town, commonly called Sole Bay, between the Dutch and English; the first battle in 1665, when the Dutch were entirely defeated, and the second in 1672, when the Dutch fleet under De Ruyter drew off under cover of night; the English being too shattered to follow them. In October, 1745, William Duke of Cumberland landed here on his page from the Continent and presented the town with six pieces of ordinance, which occupy the battery on the cliffs.

About the middle of the last century the harbour was improved by the construction of two piers, and the clearing out of the haven, which had been choked up with sand. A breakwater has also been constructed beneath Gun-hill Cliff to prevent the encroachment of the sea, which had become serious. It is a coastguard station, and pilot-boats and life-boats are kept here. There is a considerable maritime trade, chiefly coastwise, and the fisheries are prolific, principally in herrings, cod, soles, and sprats, which are sent to the London market. Salt works have long been established, and there are an iron foundry, brewery, and ropewalks. The town, which is clean and well kept, is triangular, and contains many good houses and several villas surrounded by grounds and gardens facing the sea, and in front is a promenade along the cliff. There are lodging-houses, and accommodation for visitors during the season for sea-bathing. The streets are well paved, lighted with gas, and the houses supplied with excellent spring water. It contains a guildhall, rebuilt in 1819, a sailors reading room, a gaol, commercial bank, two batteries (one now unfit for service), and abridge. The population in 1851 was 2,102, exclusive of 200 fishermen then away on distant voyages, and in 1861 2,032, showing a slight decrease. Under the new Act the town is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen, 12 common councilmen, treasurer, and town clerk, with the style of "bailiffs, aldermen, and burgesses of the borough of Southwold." The corporation revenue is about £1,000, chiefly derived from the manorial rents. The living is a perpetual curacy in the diocese of Norwich, value £90. The church, dedicated to St. Edmund, is a Gothic structure built in the middle of the 15th century, 143½ feet by 56, with a steeple 100 feet high, containing eight bells. It is constructed of freestone, intermixed with flint of various colours, and has a good porch with a niche in it. In the interior are carved seats, painted screen and ceiling, and a monument to Gardner, the town historian. The church is now being restored. The register commences in 1602. The parochial charities produce about £50 per annum. There are places of worship for the Independents and Wesleyans, also National and infant schools. Fossil remains of the mammoth and elephant are met with. This part of the coast is also remarkable for the early arrival and late departure of the swallow. Market day is on Thursday. An annual fair is held on Trinity Monday and the two following days."

Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)


Church History

Descriptions and photographs of churches in the parish may be found in Simon Knott's Suffolk Churches.

Description and Travel

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  • A description of Southwold transcribed from Stephen Whatley's "Gazetteer of England" (1750) by Mel Lockie © 2011.
" SOUTHWOLD, (Suffolk) 90 cm. 105 mm. from London, has a harbour on the S. side of Easton which in the Dutch war was the rendezvous of our fleets. It is a pleasant populous T. strong by situation, and defended also by some guns on the cliff. It is almost surrounded on the W. by the r. Blythe, over which it has a draw-bridge, and by the sea on the S. especially at high tide. It is a corporation-town, governed by 2 bailiffs, etc. It drives a great trade in salt, old beer, herrings, sprats, etc. the last of which are cured here, in the same manner as the herrings at Yarmouth. Its bay, called Solebay, noted for the engagements of the English and Dutch fleets in 1665 and 1672, has very good anchorage, and is sheltered from the N. winds by that promontory, called Easton-Ness; for which reasons there is a great resort of mariners to it; which will probably be much greater, when its haven, that was long choaked up with sand, comes to be effectually cleansed and opened, pursuant to an act of parliament, 1746-7. Here is a Market on Thursday, and Fairs on Monday after Trinity-Sunday and Aug. 24. This T. in particular, as well as all the coast from Harwich to Winterton-Ness, is noted for the first arrival of the swallows to this island; and for their departure, when they leave ours for other climates, not for warmth, but for finding their common prey, viz. the insects, with which the air swarms in our summer evenings, till the cold weather comes in and kills them. "

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Historical Geography

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