An Agricultural County in an Industrial Age

An Agricultural County in an Industrial Age, 1800-1900

 

A growing population and rising unemployment were the basic cause of many problems in the 19th century. Suffolk’s population increased by over 50 per cent in the first half of the century, passing 335,000 in 1851 and 380,000 by 1901. This increase was despite the large numbers of people leaving the county to settle in other parts of Britain or abroad.

The pauperisation of Suffolk

From 1793 to 1815, with one short break, England was at war with France. This long conflict disrupted the supply of goods from overseas and doubled the price of food. Farmers, therefore, had an excellent opportunity, particularly if they were able to grow corn. Arthur Young commented that ‘immense quantities’ of pasture were ploughed up in Suffolk, and that some dairy herds were reduced to a tenth of their former size. In the words of one land agent, ‘they grew wheat upon land where, in 1792, they never thought of it.’

But already by 1814, the year in which peace celebrations were held prema­turely in several parts of Suffolk, corn prices were falling, profits were shrinking and men were being laid off. By 1816-7, the situation was desperate: farmers who had bought land now found that it was not worth as much as they had borrowed, while those who leased land could not pay their rents. The inability of farmers to settle their accounts in turn ruined tradesmen, and farmworkers found it im­possible to manage on wages reduced by a third. The combination of reduced demand and increasing population produced, for the first time, a surplus of agricultural labour. A third of Suffolk’s working population was unemployed. Contemporary reports speak of gentlemen, formerly ‘of comfortable incomes’, unable to pay their bills; of farmers, accustomed to dining at inns, walking home to dinner; and the state of the poor as ‘lamentable indeed’.

Some indication of the severity of the crisis can be seen by the amounts of money spent on relieving the poor, Suffolk’s annual figures always being among the highest in England. The total expenditure of nearly £300,000 in 1817-18 represented over £1 per head of population whereas in Lancashire, by contrast, relief represented only a quarter of that amount. Expenditure continued on a high level, rarely dropping below 75p per head, until the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed in 1834. By that time, half the population of Suffolk was considered to be receiving some form of relief.

The poverty of agricultural workers and their families, by far the largest proportion of the county’s population, was to some extent caused by the industrialisation of the north of England. For nearly 200 years the women and children of Suffolk labourers had contributed to family income by combing wool and spinning yarn for the Norwich worsted industry, but by the early years of the 19th century the production of yarn was mechanised, and the only work available to most families was on the land. Even a large family with earning children could only just make ends meet, and many had to rely on poor relief. The Crick family of Lavenham are quoted in 1843 as a typical case: their weekly outgoings of 13s. 9d. (rent is. 2d., food us. 1 1/2d., firing and household necessities is. 5 1/2d.) exactly matched the earnings brought in by five workers, including an eight-year-old. And this did not allow for meat, clothing or boots.

The attempt to reduce the costs of relief by incorporating certain Hundreds had failed (allegedly through mismanagement and leniency). Under the Amend­ment Act of 1834 Suffolk was divided into 18 Poor Law Unions, each having a large central workhouse especially built or adapted for the purpose. These houses, designed to deter rather than attract inmates, gave Spartan accom­modation and minimal food, and split families up in separate male, female and juvenile quarters. The new system succeeded in its main aim of reducing the cost of relief—in Suffolk’s case by over 40 per cent— but as a result achieved an unenviable reputation. Hatred of the ‘spike’, as the union workhouses came to be known, continued into modern times, especially in rural areas.

Discontent and violence

Widespread poverty and misery inevitably led to an increase in social unrest. Frequent riots in the second half of the 18th century had been caused by food shortages and, to a lesser extent, by political agitation. They affected towns such as Ipswich, Woodbridge and Sudbury, and also spread into the countryside. In 1815 when the war ended, the smashing of farm machinery at Gosbeck began a new wave of rioting and arson. In various parts of Suffolk, labourers saw threshing machines and mole-ploughs as reducing their chances of employ­ment, particularly during the winter months. Inevitably, too, they were exasper­ated by the high price of food. The most serious outbreak occurred at Brandon in May 1816, when 1,500 armed men destroyed a butcher’s shop and demanded ‘bread or blood’. During the next three decades, violence flared up at regular intervals. In the early 1830s, Suffolk experienced the Swing Riots which took their name from an imaginary captain who wrote threatening letters and organ­ised attacks on barns, machinery and workhouses. Despite the imprisonment, transportation and execution of offenders, frequent cases of criminal damage reached a peak when the night skies of Suffolk were lit up by scores of burning ricks and barns. This came after the disappointing failure of Chartism in the years 1838-43. Though Chartist ideas never became deeply rooted in Suffolk, there was enough enthusiasm for 2,000 people to attend a meeting at Debenham and for Friston to be called ‘the Suffolk Metropolis of Chartism’.

Housing a growing population.

One of the factors adversely affecting the poor was the law of settlement and removal. ‘Close’ parishes in the control of one or two landowners, restricted the number of labourers taking up residence in order to prevent them ‘gaining settlement’ and becoming chargeable on the rates. By contrast, ‘open’ parishes in which there were many landowners, could not control the influx of labouring families. Indeed, whereas the single landowner could ensure that his cottages were of a reasonable standard, open villages and towns were rapidly developed by speculators and jerry builders. In a report of 1850 the ‘well built, airy and commodious’ cottages on the Bunbury estate at Great Barton were contrasted with ‘miserable hovels’ in nearby Bury St Edmunds. Many examples of good estate cottages still exist in Suffolk such as those built by the Benyons on the Culford estate and the model houses built by the Tollemaches at Hehningham. The latter were described by Augustus Jessopp as ‘the Paradise of the agricul­tural labourer’.

On the other hand the owners of close parishes could, and did, operate at the expense of their neighbours. By limiting accommodation in their own villages, they forced some of their workers to live in open parishes and walk to work. In about 1850, 97 labourers in the open parish of Great Whelnetham had to walk three or four miles to their work at Rushbrooke, a close parish with few cottages. In this way, places like Huntingfield near Halesworth and Nowton near Bury were able, in the period 1801-51, to hold their population increase down to 10 per cent, whereas the majority of Suffolk parishes experienced a growth of between 40 and 70 per cent.

Generally, Suffolk had a bad reputation for its cottages—’poor and mean’, reported Arthur Young. The pressure on housing from the natural growth of population was aggravated by other factors. For example, some owners of ‘close’ parishes actually demolished cottages to prevent their occupation by ‘chargeable’ labourers, and no longer did young farmworkers ‘live in’ with their employers, a fact which surely contributed to the earlier age of marriage. Although figures in the decennial censuses seem to show the numbers of houses keeping pace with the growth of population, this must have been largely through the subdivision of existing houses—a practice which is recorded in Suffolk since at least the early 17th century. New houses were being built, but at a rate slower than the rise of population; indeed, most of the new building took place in the period 1840-60 when the population of most villages had begun to fall. Further­more, the quality of many new houses and ‘rows’ was poor. They were run up cheaply and at great speed by ‘cottage jobbers’, who then let them for maxi­mum rent. Towards the end of the century, Suffolk was said to have ‘some of the best cottages in England [no doubt in estate villages] and some of the very worst’.

Town and countryside

In towns, inevitably, conditions were becoming desperately over-crowded. The report of 1850 spoke of ‘extreme misery’ in Bury St Edmunds, an ‘unwhole­some and crowded state’ in Stowmarket and ‘parishes crowded with small houses’ in Ipswich. Everywhere the situation was aggravated by workers in nearby close parishes having to find accommodation in the nearest town. Even so, most Suffolk towns experienced a population growth in the first half of the 19th century which was only slightly greater than that of rural parishes. The exceptions were Ipswich, already the largest and most industrialised town in the county, Lowestoft which was fast developing as a fishing port and popular resort, and Brandon, Haverhill and Leiston which attracted immigrants by their various successful industries.

For the only time in English history, the 1851 census showed equal num­bers of people living in towns and villages. Thereafter, towns continued to grow at the expense of the countryside. In the second half of the 19th century, almost all Suffolk villages shrank in population whereas Ipswich, Haverhill, Leiston, Newmarket and Stowmarket went on growing, and Lowestoft and the new resort of Felixstowe rocketed to 10 times what they had been when the century began. Villages which did expand were chiefly on the outskirts of growing towns, the outstanding example being Kirkley (later absorbed into Lowestoft) which ended the century with a population 36 times bigger than in 1801!

The drift from the countryside had probably begun in the late 18th century, but had been masked by the natural increase of population. The census of 1851 revealed that well over 50,000 people born in Suffolk were already living elsewhere in England and Wales, more than half of them in London. Similarly, nearly half of the inhabitants of Ipswich who were aged 20 or over in 1851 had been born elsewhere in Suffolk.

Countrymen were attracted to towns and industrial districts by the hope of more consistent employment, better pay and a generally more rewarding life. They were actively encouraged to leave by parish officials who hoped to reduce the numbers of paupers ‘on the parish’. After the Amendment Act of 1834, the new unions pursued the same policy. Between 1835 and 1837, nearly 2,500 men, women and children were moved from Suffolk villages to ‘manufacturing districts’, chiefly in Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire. The great exodus continued throughout the century. By 1891, over 23,000 Suffolk-born people were living in the northern counties and over 50,000 were living in London.

The developing colonies, especially Canada and Australia, provided new hope and opportunity. Even befOre 1834, a constant stream of emigrants left from London and other east-coast ports. In 1832, 793 people left for Canada from Yarmouth alone. After the 1834 act, unions operating through an official agent organised frequent sailings. In May 1836, over 100 men, women and children were brought from north Suffolk by cart and wagon, and embarked for Canada at Wherstead, watched by the guardians of Hoxne Union. Later, in the 1840s and ’50s, many left for Australia under government-assisted schemes. For some, the new life brought quick success. In 1852, a labourer from Thelnetham sent home a packet of gold dust to prove his new-found good fortune.

Agricultural Suffolk

The depressed state into which agriculture fell after the Napoleonic Wars con­tinued into the 1850s. Only exceptional farmers could be successful, and then only with the right type of farm and with sufficient capital. J.G. Cooper, who farmed at Blythburgb, was able to boost the low return from his corn crops in 1836 with the income of his flock of 920 sheep.

During the 19th century, the enclosure of Suffolk, which had begun in the Middle Ages, was completed by parliamentary acts. Between 1770 and 1880, just over one hundred enclosure acts were passed for Suffolk, and most of them before 1840. More than half the acts related to commons, greens and heaths only, mainly in those central districts where most of the farmland had been enclosed generations before. Those acts which did involve open-fields almost wholly concerned parishes on lighter soils, either down the east coast or in the north-west (illus. 137). The only instances of substantial amounts of open-field surviving after 1850 were at Barrow (enclosed in 1853), Withersfield (1854) and Haverhill (1857). Enclosure was certainly not welcomed by all, as we are reminded by Nathaniel Bloomfield’s moving poem Elegy On the Enclosure of Honington Green (illus. 124), but there can be little doubt that it contributed to agricultural efficiency.

One experiment to improve the agricultural labourer’s lot, without recourse to migration, was the Assington co-operative. In 1839, the local squire, John Gurdon, allowed 20 hand-picked labourers jointly to rent 100 acres, and pro­vided them with capital and stock. In just over 10 years, all the capital had been repaid and the participants had substantially improved their standard of living. The scheme was extended in 1852 and survived into the 20th century.

Allotments, too, were a boon to hard-pressed labouring families. Begun in the 1820s, they were ably championed, often against the resistance of farmers, by such influential figures as John Henslow, Professor of Botany at Cambridge and rector of Hitcham. By the 1880s, Suffolk had over 15,000 allotments of under one acre, and another 700 of over an acre.

The prospects for farming improved in the 1850s. This was the classic period of so-called ‘high-farming’, which was to last for a little over 20 years when profits rose in response to demand, and new investment was sunk into buildings, machinery, drainage and other improvements. The dairy farm built about 1870 by the Duke of Hamilton at Easton near Framlingham, now open to the public, is one good example. Not that everyone approved of the pros­perity that the period brought: Hindes Groome, who was brought up at Monk Soham, blamed high farming for making ‘one huge field’ out of five or six earlier fields and for ‘swallowing up most of the smaller holdings’— com­plaints which have a familiar ring today.

The period of high farming finally collapsed with the disastrous harvest of 1879 described locally as ‘a summer of cloud and continuous rain’. Corn prices were already falling, as cheap American grain began to flood the English market and undermine the home producer—precisely what farmers had dreaded when the protective Corn Laws were repealed in 1846. So began the ‘great depres­sion’ which lasted well into the 20th century and hit corn-producing areas like Suffolk particularly badly. Bankruptcies multiplied, the value of land plum­meted, tenants became difficult to find, buildings and farms were neglected. The farmworkers, with reduced wages, could only take comfort from the fact that prices had also dropped.

One group able to take advantage of this crisis was of immigrant Scots. Wilson Fox claimed to know of 20 Scots farmers, chiefly from Ayrshire, farm­ing in Suffolk by 1894. They had been attracted by greatly reduced rents (as were their compatriots again in the 1920s) and were recognised as extremely hard working, if ignorant of Suffolk ways. They, and others who weathered the storm, tended to concentrate on the production of milk, beef and pork.

Just before the great depression started, an event occurred which showed the strains within the agricultural community. In 1872, the farm labourers of Exning near Newmarket demanded a wage increase, and were backed by Joseph Arch’s newly formed National Agricultural Labourers Union. The employers, having banded into a Defence Association, resisted successive demands and, in the spring of 1874, locked out all the union members. This lock-out spread throughout the eastern counties, but union funds ran out after a few months and the strikers had to capitulate before harvest. The greatly weakened union was finally dis­solved in 1896, and no successor appeared until George Edwards founded his Eastern Counties Union in 1906.

Despite recurrent depressions in agriculture, the 19th century witnessed the mechanisation of farming more than any previous period. Suffolk was well to the fore in this respect. By 1844 the county had about 20 foundries and three names were already outstanding as producers of first-class agricultural machinery. Garretts of Leiston which had developed from an 18th-century smithy at Woodbridge, became best known for their steam engines and threshing tackle.

Smythes of Peasenhall and Sweffling (and later Ipswich) concentrated on producing drills for seeds, and for seeds and manure combined. Ransomes (best known as Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies) produced a full range of agricultural equipment at their Orwell Works in Ipswich (illus. 126). They developed the first successful steam traction engine in 1842, and collaborated with Fowlers of Leeds to produce the steam ploughing engine in 1856. In 1868 a separate company, Ransomes and Rapier, was formed to handle the production of railway equipment.

Despite the inventiveness of these and other firms, their products were adopted only gradually on the land. Dibbles were still used frequently, well after 1850, to make holes into which seeds were ‘dropped’, very often by children kept away from school. By the 1830s, the sickle had fallen out of general use, only to be replaced on many farms by the scythe, which itself survived well into the 20th century. Yet mechanical reapers were available from the 1850s, incorporating sheaf tiers from the 1880s. Threshing machines, band driven at first, were not adopted so early in East Anglia as in the north, but by 1840 horse-driven versions were common, and by the end of the century the steam-driven threshing drum was widely used (illus. 127). Yet the flail, the countryman’s ‘stick and a half’, continued in occasional use, especially for threshing beans, into the 20th century.

Industrial Suffolk

While agriculture remained by far the most important part of Suffolk’s economy, many crafts and industries were practised in 19th-century towns and villages. Between 1851 and 1901, about 2,000 men were still employed as blacksmiths and another 1,000 as wheelwrights; in the 1880s maps of the Ordnance Survey showed over 400 windmills still dotted around the countryside. But all these occupations were increasingly vulnerable to outside economic pressures, and sooner or later they decayed as industry became more mechanised, large-scale and centralised in towns. In 1844, 110 places in Suffolk had maltings, so distinctive with their kiln-roofs, yet by the end of the century the number had dwindled to sixty-five. Even more marked, out of about 200 breweries at the beginning of the 19th century, only 40 remained at the end. Today the number is reduced to single figures.

Some completely new industries appeared in the 19th century, often connected with agriculture. The manufacture of artificial fertilisers developed after 1843 when Professor Henslow recognised the potential of coprolites dug in the south-east of the county. The resulting industry, led by such firms as Packard, Prentice and Fisons, soon turned to raw materials imported from abroad. A successful gun-cotton factory was set up in 1866 at Stowmarket and, despite a disastrous explosion in 1871, went on to contribute to the war-effort in 1914¬18, while the xylonite factory built at Brantham in 1887 was the first purpose-built plastics factory in the country. Brandon had its own unique industry, the making of gun-flints, which began during the Napoleonic Wars and lingered until well after the Second World War. Beccles and Bungay, by contrast, both developed printing works of national importance.

The coast continued to support its own specialist industries. Ipswich had two shipyards which flourished during the first half of the century but declined after the introduction of iron hulls and steam. In the mid-19th century, however, boat builders still worked at Aldeburgh, Beccles, Lowestoft, Orford and Woodbridge while Southwold continued to refine salt and Woodbridge still had 35 coasting vessels.

It was the fishing boom which most affected the east coast, especially Lowestoft (illus. 131). After the Napoleonic Wars, as Dutch fishing in the North Sea declined, English boats significantly increased their catches. Later, the arrival of railways made it easier to get fresh fish to consumers and encouraged the landing of ever larger quantities of herring and mackerel. The number of local drifters rose from 80 in 1841 to nearly 400 by 1900. They were augmented from the 1890s by an annual invasion of Scots fishermen and fishergirls. Trawling for fish on the sea bottom also developed after 1860. The number of trawlers at Lowestoft grew from eight in 1863 to nearly 300 in the 1880s.

The combing of wool and spinning of yarn, the last major relics of the traditional cloth industry, had almost disappeared during the Napoleonic Wars, and so had the hempen linen weaving in the north and east of the county. To take advantage of the resultant unemployment and local expertise, attempts were made by entrepreneurs to provide new kinds of industry—with varying degrees of success. In the first half of the 19th century, straw-plaiting gave considerable employment for women and children in south-west Suffolk: Lavenham had 300 plaiters in 1851. In the same period, silk mills were built in places as far apart as Haverhill and Bungay, but only really succeeded at Sudbury and Glemsford. (The latter parish made strenuous efforts, in the 1820s, to encourage manufacturers to come and provide employment.) The weaving of horsehair and coconut fibre, introduced in the period 1830-60, became a major industry in the Babergb district and survived until the 1930s. Drabbet, a mixture of linen and cotton from which smocks were made, became the speciality of the Gurteen works at Haverhill, still in existence, and at Syleham on the Waveney.

Communications

Although the industry and commerce of Suffolk had benefited from the improved roads and navigations of the 18th century, the coming of the railways in the 1840s and ’50s had an even greater effect. Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds were linked to London in 1846, Lowestoft to Norwich in 1847 and to Ipswich in 1859, and Sudbury to London in 1849. As a result these towns all grew and attracted new industry, especially Ipswich where the new wet dock, also built in the 1840s, allowed modem ships right up to the town. The extension of the railway to seaside resorts—Aldeburgh in 1860, Felixstowe in 1877 and Southwold, by the famous narrow-gauge line, in 1879—brought them appreciably more visitors and trade. On the other hand, railways were a major factor in encouraging people to leave Suffolk: at Orford in 1861, a decrease of population was attributed to ‘families in the fishing trade moving with the opening of the railway’. Significantly, the only decade in which the total population of the county actually declined was 1851-61, as the network of major lines was completed.

 

 

 

Turnpikes and navigations, 1844
Turnpikes and navigations, 1844

Suffolk towns and railways: the approximate population of each town is given for 1901. The dates on the map refer to the opening of each line.
Suffolk towns and railways: the approximate population of each town is given for 1901. The dates on the map refer to the opening of each line.

Religion

One census, that of 1851, attempted to assess the religious state of the country. From it, John Glyde calculated that Suffolk had 895 places of worship: 519 Anglican, 90 Independent, 91 Baptist, 163 Methodist and 31 others. Attending these on the afternoon of Sunday, 30 March 1851 were nearly 133,000 people, 40 per cent of the total population. About 63 per cent of the attenders were Anglican, and the vast majority of the remainder were nonconformist. Of the 163 Methodist congregations in 1851, 84 were Wesleyan and 72 Primitive.

The growth of nonconformity can be crudely measured by the numbers of certificates issued for dissenting places of worship. They show the greatest increase to have been between 1790 and 1840. Although many of these places, well over 1,400 in 50 years, would have been of short dura­tion, in private houses and barns, they do testify to a great upsurge of non­conformity over the whole county. By the end of the century, Suffolk con­tained over 360 nonconformist meet­ing places including 162 Methodist, 81 Baptist and 76 Congregational. At the other religious pole, the number of Roman Catholic churches had doubled since 1851 to just over a dozen.

The established Church of England, while it still attracted more worship­pers than all the other denominations put together, had inherited many prob­lems and abuses from the past. A report of 1835 showed that the ancient county of Suffolk contained 516 parishes served by 364 incumbents, of whom 152, or nearly half, were pluralists holding more than one living. In 104 parishes the incumbent had no official house to live in, while a further 90 parsonages were unfit for residence. Of the 449 livings, which included united benefices, 80 were poorly paid curacies and four were donatives depending on the generosity of the patron. The situation had been even worse before 1835, but gradually successive bishops, aided by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners formed in 1836, introduced reforms and the clergy were provided with a higher standard of accommodation.

The greatest influences on the 19th-century Anglican church were the Tractarian or Oxford Movement, which traced its origin to a conference at Hadleigh in 1833, and the less well-known Cambridge Movement. Their search for correct ‘order’ in worship led to a revived emphasis on choir and altar, and is largely responsible for the general appearance of our church interiors in the 20th century. A large proportion of Suffolk churches underwent a Victorian restoration, varying from modest refurbishing to an almost complete rebuilding as in St Mary le Tower, Ipswich. Only a handful, like the gems at Badley and Brent Eleigh, survived virtually unscathed. The Evangelical movement, too, left its mark, for example in the texts of Bishop Ryle’s former churches at Helmingham and Stradbroke.

Education

Until the establishment of Board Schools after 1870, education was entirely in the hands of voluntary bodies. Prior to the 18th century, the teaching of the basic skills of reading and ‘computation’ had been left largely to chance, as individual masters and mistresses set up schools, usually in their own houses, wherever there seemed a demand. Only a few places, such as Rougham and Halesworth, had more permanent elementary schools backed by charitable be­quests. In the early 18th century, charity schools blossomed under the aegis of the SPCK, and nearly 40 such institutions were set up in Suffolk. Unhappily, few of them survived into the 19th century. With the creation of the British and Foreign School Society in 1808 (which was nonconformist) and the National Society in 1811 (Anglican), many more schools were provided for working-class children. By 1833, 187 places in Suffolk had schools for poor children, attended by over 8,000 pupils—approximately 22 per cent of the child popu­lation. After the introduction of government grants in 1833, the number of schools increased steadily, so that by 1870 over 400 schools were open in 374 different places, with accommodation for about 37,500 children, or 60 per cent of the children in Suffolk. After the passing of the Forster Act of 1870, a further 130 voluntary schools were built or rebuilt, together with 80 Board Schools. This raised the total accommodation to nearly 71,000 places, and provided a firm basis for the new century when the Local Education Authorities came into being. The success of this increase can be gauged by estimates of basic literacy. In 1845 just over 50 per cent of Suffolk’s population were literate; by 1900 the figure had risen to about 97 per cent.

Parliamentary representation

Before the Reform Act of 1832, Suffolk with its 16 MPs had a ratio of one MP to every 18,500 inhabitants, which was a stronger representation than any of its neighbours—though by no means the best in the country. However, the constitu­encies were very unequal: the two county members stood for over 250,000 inhabitants, while the 14 borough members represented only 40,000. Further­more, only a fraction of the people who were theoretically represented had votes.

The 1832 act disfranchised the boroughs of Orford, Dunwich and Aldeburgh which had only 135 votes between them. It also divided the county into two electoral divisions, east and west, each having two members. Between them, these two new divisions had an electorate which by 1844 had risen to about 11,500 voters. The boroughs of Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury con­tinued to send two members each, while Eye was geographically extended to include 10 adjacent villages, but only allowed one MP. In 1832, the total number of Suffolk members was reduced from 16 to 117 and then a few years later to nine. By an act of 1844, Sudbury was disfranchised because of gross electoral corruption.

The second Reform Act of 1867, while it mainly benefited the inhabitants of towns, increased the number of Suffolk’s voters from four-and-a-half per cent of the total population to seven-and-a-half per cent. A third act of 1884, by giving the franchise to most working men in rural areas, nearly doubled the nation’s electorate to five millions. It also re-arranged the electoral pattern of Suffolk into five divisions based on the towns of Lowestoft, Eye, Stowmarket, Woodbridge and Sudbury. Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds retained their status as parliamentary boroughs, though the latter was reduced to a single member.

Parliamentary Enclosure, 1720-1860: only the west and extreme north-east of Suffolk had large areas of unenclosed land in the form of open fields, commons and marshes.a Over most of the county, enclosure had taken place much earlier and left relatively small areas, mainly commons and road verges, to be 'improved' by parliamentary acts.
Parliamentary Enclosure, 1720-1860: only the west and extreme north-east of Suffolk had large areas of unenclosed land in the form of open fields, commons and marshes. Over most of the county, enclosure had taken place much earlier and left relatively small areas, mainly commons and road verges, to be ‘improved’ by parliamentary acts.

Although their outcome was usually predictable, and they were often uncontested, elections in the 19th century could be very lively and colourful. An early example was that of 1820 in Ipswich, an extremely close-fought and corrupt contest. Freemen from all over England were paid to come and vote, regardless of expense. Many whose votes had been bought were ‘cooped’ in country inns, until the time came for them to be transported into Ipswich and to vote under surveillance. After petition and counter-petition, the two Whig candidates were declared the winners—even though one of the Tories had already been triumphantly ‘chaired’.

Another exciting election came in 1885, when many of the agricultural workers of Suffolk voted for the first time. The men of Glemsford, a Liberal stronghold where the mat-makers had been on strike earlier that year, were required to vote three miles away at Long Melford. Encouraged by speeches from Joseph Arch, they organised a march to the poll with flags, banners, the regalia of friendly societies and a band. In Melford, however, the carnival atmosphere gave way to frustrating delays, arguments and stone-throwing. By the end of the day, groups of men, well lubricated with beer, were roaming the streets, smashing hundreds of windows and wrecking public houses. Eventually, in order to clear the streets, the magistrates had to call in troops and read the Riot Act.