chapter  6
24 Pages

Conflict: Hadleigh, 1530–60

There are but few signs that the sleepy town of Hadleigh in Suffolk, nestled in a valley north of the River Stour, was once the twenty-fourth wealthiest town in England.1 Few now journey to Hadleigh. The old railway line was taken up years ago and the modern highway disdains to dally as it cuts a swath north of the town and hurries on to Ipswich. Matters were not always so. In 1530, Hadleigh was an unincorporate market town of middling rank whose prosperous economy was dominated by the cloth trade. A triad of structures located in the heart of the town still stand as testaments to its past importance. The parish church of St Mary with its lead spire that soars to a height of 135 feet, built and embellished by the profits of her native clothiers, dominates this square. Slightly west of the church is the Deanery tower, a surviving gatehouse of an archdeacon's palace and a former seat of ecclesiastical authority in Hadleigh. Completing the triad is the fifteenth-century guildhall lying just south of the church, the physical symbol of the cloth trade that determined Hadleigh's economic health for generations. The square itself is the churchyard with its tombstones, a fitting stage for an examination of the townsmen of four centuries past, who worshipped in the parish church, decided issues of civic and economic importance in the guildhall and who were conscious of their privileges as a peculiar of the Archbishop of Canterbury.2