The 2022 PWMN ‘Big Skies’ Rally
The Network’s twelfth annual rally will be centred upon the Pakenham Watermill and the Wyken Vineyard, adjacent to the village of Ixworth in mid-Suffolk. Both of the rally’s main tours will depart and return to the watermill while the vineyard café will host our rally dinner. The county’s post medieval history has its focus in the woollen trade and the Saturday tour will take rallyists through an area where businesses boomed, and fortunes were made long before the industrial revolution.
Wool & wealth – 15th century Suffolk
During the 15th century Suffolk was incredibly wealthy because of the woollen cloth it produced. Places such as Lavenham were so rich it paid more tax than big cities like York and Lincoln. In fact, at its height, it was the 14th wealthiest settlement in the country. And it was a similar yarn of success in towns like Long Melford, Sudbury, Bury St Edmunds and Clare.
The wool trade started as a cottage industry – with lots of people spinning, weaving and dying. Making cloth was a hard job with long laborious hours. The women and children usually spun the yarn while the men worked the looms. As the industry grew cloth merchants and clothiers started to take control of the process and it began to grow very quickly.
Between 1450 and 1530 the trade became stronger and richer. Suffolk lords used their influence to acquire freedom of tolls for local cloth merchants, allowing them to move freely around the country and increase their wealth. Nearly every house in the wool towns and villages was either trading or making woollen cloth.
By the fifteenth century, not only was England producing enough cloth for its own use, these materials were also being sold abroad. Working in their tiny cottages the weavers and their families transformed the raw wool into fine cloth, which would eventually end up for sale at the markets of Bristol, Gloucester, Norwich and all over Europe and Russia.
And as the towns grew in wealth, so they grew in size. The merchants built fine houses, grand guildhalls, and enormous churches – giving us the magnificent architecture we see in these ex-wool towns today.
But this success was short lived. By the mid-16th century, the Suffolk cloth industry was almost completely depleted. Henry VIII’s wars on the continent had interrupted trade.
There was also the arrival of the Dutch clothiers who brought fresh, lighter fabrics, which proved more popular than traditional heavier woollens. The crash was dramatic and permanent. Suffolk’s wool towns went from some of the country’s wealthiest settlements, to some of the poorest.
The decline continued throughout the 17th century, at which point only about 20% of Suffolk people were employed in textiles, compared with 90% at its peak. Finally, the industrial revolution created the new loom factories up north and marked the end for the Suffolk industry. But the wool trade has left a lasting legacy. There are many local surnames linked with the industry. So, if you know a Mr Weaver, Mrs Dyer or Miss Fuller, the chances are their ancestors were in the business. Expressions like ‘on tenter hooks’, ‘pulling the wool over someone’s eyes’ or ‘dyed in the wool’ also come from the county’s clothier past.
But the most beautiful legacy is the towns and villages across Suffolk. It took centuries for these settlements to recover from the industry’s crash. For years, no one could afford to rebuild or modernise the buildings, thus preserving the towns in their medieval state.Every pretty house and medieval detail admired today is a testament to the rich tapestry of Suffolk’s wool trade.
Suffolk’s burgeoning viticulture is exemplified in the Wyken Vineyard just to the south of the village of Stanton. One of the longest-established vineyards in the East of England, Wyken is an ancient estate once occupied by the Romans and recorded in Domesday and set in quintessential Suffolk countryside with winding country lanes, hedgerows, fields and woodlands. The 1200-acre farm includes a 7-acre vineyard producing award-winning wines, a flock of Shetland sheep, Llamas, the Leaping Hare restaurant, country store, formal gardens by the Elizabethan manor house and a regular farmers’ market.
While the rally’s Saturday tour will focus on the wool trade and the wealth it brought to the county, the shorter Sunday tour will head off towards Newmarket and that town’s traditional associations. While the town centre will be bypassed its environs, through which the tour will pass, illustrate perfectly why Newmarket is the home of ‘The sport of Kings’.
In the driest part of the United Kingdom, water is a valued and crucial commodity, particularly for an area known as the nations breadbasket. As agriculture established itself, mills powered by the elements wind and water, were constructed across East Anglia. In the north of the region they assisted in the drainage and irrigation of the low lying topography, while further south in the land of the south folk (Suffolk) they provided the motive power to mill the cereal seeds into flour for the nations bread. Part of the fens were naturally drained by the rivers that either rose or passed through the region with names that indicated their slow moving nature, such as the Great and Little Ouse. In the land of the north folk (Norfolk) the Waveney , Wensum, Bure and Yare provided that service, while in Suffolk it was the Lark, Deben and Stour. The history of our gathering point, Pakenham Water Mill (which is fed by the Black Bourn) can be found here – its story starting almost a millenium ago.
The rally’s Saturday tour passes through large tracks of open arable farmland interspersed with copses and broad leaved woodlands before encountering chalk downlands. It’s here that lunch is taken before setting off once again into the heartland of the once prosperous woollen villages of Lavenham and Long Melford. Their former prosperity is reflected in the dwellings and other buildings the wealthy woollen barons left behind. There will be plenty of time available to stop and take in the beauty of these structures before setting off once more on the return journey to Pakenham where more picturesque villages with names associated with the past will be encountered. One such village has a French connection (Thorpe Morieux) while another has an undisputable link to the woollen trade (Woolpit) while a third appeare to have a strong association with the 80’s TV drama ‘Lovejoy’ (Felsham)? Forty miles after leaving our lunch stop the entrance to the watermill car par at Pakenham will come into view.
The Sunday tour will direct rallyists towards the town of Newmarket, taking in the famous Elveden estate on the outward leg. Further details of this tour, along with venues for our pub meets, coffee stops and Saturday lunch stop will be published here in due course.
The soon to be updated and re-modelled Moonshine Café will provide an undercover, semi al fresco eating area for our Saturday rally dinner (with a poor weather alternative standing by) while a wine-tasting session will be laid-on for rallyists from 6-30PM onwards. The vineyards country store will remain open all evening should diners wish to purchase the estate’s wine, honey or other local produce and gifts. Our two-course dinner (mains, sweet and unlimited tea & coffee) will commence at 7-30PM and will take the form of a hot buffet (including vegetarian option) with some choices available from the café’s wood fired ovens. A segregated reserved parking area for both our moderns and vintage cars will be available. (Full Rally dinner menus will be available in March/April 2022)
Booking an entry and accomodation
Below are a red and blue ‘button’, beneath which are the rally booking form and some accomodation suggestions. The dozen B&Bs listed are but a few of those available in the vicinity. As in previous years there is an upper limit on rally entries, so please book early to ensure your place.