To trace the history of agricultural improvement and agricultural depression in Suffolk would be a task only suited for an expert with ample space for unfolding his subject. We will note, firstly, the conversion of many hundred acres of heath-land into arable in the south-east of the county by the application of crag by way of manure. Kirby, treating of the parish of Levington, tells us that though this method had been long known in the west, it was accidentally discovered there by Edmund Edwards, about 1718. Later on, when corn fetched a price, much old pasture was broken up, and to such an extent that the practice had to be generally checked in leases. Things are sadly changed now, and were it not for the delay in forming grass-lands, the reverse process would be taking place all over the country. Hop-growing, though Bullein, in his “Bulwarke of Defence”, speaks of it as at Bruisyard in particular, and says that in many places they brew with hops growing on their own grounds, has declined nearly to vanishing-point. A Kentish traveller passing by Stowmarket may for a few minutes fancy himself in his own county; but with the exception of about ten acres at Rushmere, near Ipswich, which had a reputation for fine hops in the early part of this century, it would be hard to find another instance. Flax was cultivated on a broad slip of soil, about twenty-five miles by ten, from Eye to Beccles. The exhausting character of the crop has no doubt operated as a cause for its disuse, but there is something more potent in the reign of King Cotton.
Arthur Young, of Bradfield Combust, though as a farmer practically unsuccessful, was able by his writings to bring agriculture under the notice of the more refined classes, and thus deserves a few grateful words. His father was a Prebendary of Canterbury, and Rector of Bradfield Combust. Of all his works, the “Farmer’s Tour through the East of England” (1771) of course concerns us most. But it occupies four volumes, and must be read to be appreciated. About ten years after its appearance, which ominously coincided with his own failure in an Essex farm, he is found farming in Bradfield, and in 1787 he made the first of those French tours by which he is best known. One scene, in which he talked with a poor woman, not twenty-eight, but looking sixty, as he walked uphill, bridle in hand, who told him that she had heard somewhere, in some manner, something is to be done for the poor, is quoted in Carlyle’s “French Revolution”, in the chapter so appropriately entitled “The General Overturn”. Shortly after his French tours a Board of Agriculture was established, and Mr. Young was its first secretary. He became blind in 1811, died in London in 1820, and lies in Bradfield Church.
In later political history the most prominent Suffolk figures are Charles, Marquis Cornwallis, and Augustus Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton. The former family was settled at Brome very early in the fifteenth century, when the male issue of Robert Buckton, lord of that manor, failed, and the heiress married the son of Thomas Cornwaleys, a London merchant. Our previous chapters have given glimpses of this household at Brome. In addition may be named Sir Frederick, first Baronet of the name in 1627, and created Baron Cornwallis of Eye in 1661, who rescued Lord Wilmot at Cropredy Bridge; and his son Charles, who, though a Tory, adhered to the Revolution and became Lord-Lieutenant of the county. Then came the first Earl, and then the second Earl and first Marquis, of whom we speak. He was born in London, was returned for the family borough of Eye while a young man, but seems to have been opposed to the extreme views entertained by many of his party with regard to the American question. Yet he accepted a command against the colonists, defeated Gates at Camden in 1780, and successfully resisted Greene at Guilford in 1781. His surrender at York Town, Virginia, in the following October, resulted in no censure to him, though it was the overthrow of the Imperial cause in the War of Independence. After five years’ comparative retirement he became Governor-General of India, in which office he continued seven years; and his administration was marked by the crushing of Tippoo Saib’s power, and constant efforts for the amelioration of the lot of the vast population intrusted to British care. After an interval he was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and in 1798 suppressed the French-Irish rebellion at Ballinamuck. He showed more ability in the subsequent settlement of Ireland than in the diplomacy which resulted in the peace of Amiens. Shortly after resuming the Governor-Generalship of India he died in Ghazipur, in 1805.
The Duke of Grafton does not pose in the letters of Junius as an eminently estimable character, but those invectives require a deduction. He was in office under Governments acting on different principles, and for some time during the illness of the Earl of Chatham was practically Prime Minister. In 1783 he retired from the cares of office, and died at Euston in 1811. The soft tints and gentle undulations of the Stour Valley have found transmission to canvas by the genius of Gainsborough, born at Sudbury in 1727, and Constable; for though the former is best known as a portrait-painter, and Mr. Ruskin calls his landscapes “rather motives of feeling and colour than earnest studies”, yet in this very respect they are in themselves important, and may be regarded as the forerunners of the landscapes of Constable.
The latter was only a boy, twelve years of age, when Gainsborough, who was attending the trial of Warren Hastings at Westminster Hall, in the spring of 1788, caught a severe chill from an open window, which ended in his death in the August of that year. Constable, whose father was a miller and yeoman at East Bergbolt, attributes his love of art to his native scenery. “I associate my careless boyhood with all that lies on the banks of the Stour: those scenes made me a painter, and I am grateful”. Proud of his district, he remarked on its beauty to a fellow-traveller as they were crossing the valley in the old coaching-days. “Yes, sir”, replied the stranger, “this is Constable’s country”. In order that the conversation should not produce embarrassing results, Constable disclosed his personality. “The Valley Farm”,”The Cornfield”, and “The Hay Wain” in the National Gallery may be considered as inferior to none in artistic power, and to us possessed of the highest local interest. He died in full work over Arundel Mill and Castle in 1837.
George Crabbe, who was a native of Aldeburgh, began his schooling at Bungay and finished it at Stowmarket, was apprenticed in surgeries at Wickham Brook and Woodbridge, held his first curacy in his native town, and for thirteen years lived sometimes at Parham, sometimes at Rendham, and sometimes at Great Glemham.
No wonder that his poems are Suffolk-tinted in landscape and character-drawing. Of the former,
Where the blue bugloss paints the sterile soil
of the latter,
Though my clerk agreed,
If fate should call him, Ashford might succeed,
will never lose their place in the discerning mind.
Capel Lofft, of Troston Hall, is called by Byron, in the “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers”, “the Maecenas of Shoemakers, and Preface-writer-General to distressed Versemen”, etc. He greatly befriended the two Bloomfields, Robert and Nathaniel, of whom the former wrote the “Farmer’s Boy”, and many similar pieces, and the latter the “ode, elegy, or whateverhe or anyone else chooses to call it, on the enclosure of 11 ‘Honington Green’ “.
Among other literary names connected with Suffolk are those of Giles Fletcher, Rector of Alderton-unappreciated there in the days of James I., but valued in the Victorian era; the placid Bernard Barton, who ended his forty years’ residence at Woodbridge in 1849; his son-in-law, Edward Fitzgerald of Boulge, essayist and translator, the friend of Tennyson, Thackeray, and Carlyle; and Jean Ingelow, some of whose young life was spent at Ipswich.
Of naval celebrities our best-known names are those of the circumnavigator, Thomas Cavendish, of Trimley St Martin, whose freebooting expeditions terminated in his death in the Atlantic before he was forty; the popular Admiral Vernon, who took Porto Bello with six ships only, and spent his latter days at Orwell Park, where he died in 1757; Sir Edward Hughes, who served in the East Indies under much discouragement; and Sir Philip Bowes Vere Broke, a native of Nacton, whose portrait adorns Ipswich Town-hall. His courage in the action of the Shannon and the Chesapeake, off Boston, June 1, 1813, is the subject of a spirited song, a great favourite at school suppers.
I reserve a short space for the two regiments of foot which have borne the name of the county-the – Twelfth or East Suffolk, and the Sixty-third or West Suffolk. The former took its rise at the Restoration, after the reconstruction of the disbanded army of the Commonwealth. One company was embodied for a guard to Windsor Castle, under the command of Henry Howard, Duke of Norfolk. When the Duke of Monmouth raised his rebellion in 1685, this company was joined with several others newly formed, and the whole constituted into a regiment called the Twelfth. The date of the Duke of Norfolk’s commission as Colonel is June 20, 1685. The scene on Hounslow Heath in 1688, when the King addressed the regiment on the subject of his Declaration of Indulgence, and asked those who were not of his mind to lay down their arms, with the disappointing sequel that nearly the whole of them did so, is well known to all students of the Revolution period. In the Irish wars under William III., the Twelfth bore its full share: just balked of storming Carrickfergus by the surrender of the garrison, with Wolseley at the action between Belturbet and Cavan, in the main body at the battle of the Boyne, occupied in harassing service against the Rapparees, and dislodging the troops of James II. from Athlone and Aghrim. After the capitulation of Limerick the regiment served in Belgium. At Dettingen in 1743 and Fontenoy in 1745 it distinguished itself, and was recalled to England in the autumn. When the Highlanders attempted to hold Carlisle, it formed part of the investing force, but, being withdrawn from the North, it did not participate in the defeat of Falkirk or in the victory of Culloden.
The next active service was in the Seven Years’ War. The regiment landed in Germany in 1758, and in the following year, on August 1, earned the glory of sharing with five other English infantry regiments the great traditions of Minden. A rough piece of fighting that day in a rose-garden is still commemorated by decorating the colours and adorning the helmets with garlands of roses on the anniversary of the battle. Twenty years later the gallant Twelfth won yet another notable honour. They were present throughout the siege of Gibraltar, participating with much distinction in the sortie of November 26, 1781, when the besieging works of the Spaniards were almost completely destroyed. For their arduous services the regiment received the thanks of the Sovereign and of Parliament, and the honour of wearing “Gibraltar” on the colours with the “castle and key”, and the motto “Montis insignia Calpe”. During the siege the regiments of infantry received the titles of different counties. For some reason the Twelfth was in 1783 designated the East Suffolk Regiment, and arrangements were made to facilitate the recruiting of the battalion from that part of our county. Regiments, like individuals, derive reputation from honourable failure as from victory, and many an East Suffolk lad perished in the privations in the Dutch campaigns of 1794 and 1795 under the Duke of York. At the close of the century the Twelfth was experiencing active service in Southern India. The regiment formed a part of the force assembled under Lieutenant-General Harris for the subjugation of Tippoo Saib. Hard fighting against the Mysorean cavalry took place at Malleville; and a sharp affair called “Shaw’s Post”, with the final assault on Seringapatam, will ever testify to the valour of the “Old Dozen”, who led the attack on the fortress. The regiment did not return to Europe until 1817, and during its twenty-two years’ service in the East further participated in the arduous campaigns against the Raja of Travancore and in the capture of the islands of Bourbon and Mauritius in :1810. For its later services the colours bear the honours of “South Africa”, “New Zealand”, and “Afghanistan, 1878-80”. In the latter campaigns, owing to its being chiefly employed on the lines of communication, it saw a good deal of desultory fighting and underwent great hardships on convoy duty, losing a large number of men killed, wounded, and from cholera. Since 1881 the 12th Foot has become The Suffolk Regiment, of which the county is justly proud.
The Sixty-third was constituted from the second battalion of General Wolfe’s 8th Foot in 1758, and received its designation as the West Suffolk Regiment in 1783. The records of the regiment had to be abandoned in the disastrous evacuation of Holland in 1795, but from the Annual Register and other sources we can still read of its achievements in the double capture of Martinique and Guadaloupe in 1759, and in 1809-10; under Lord Cornwallis in the American War of Independence, in the Crimea, and in Afghanistan, 1880.
During the campaigns in the Southern States a portion of the 63rd Regiment was mounted, and acted as cavalry under the command of Colonel Tarleton, and the records show that the 63rd Foot, whether mounted or as infantry, were in the thickest of the battles.
Eutaw Springs, an action fought by Colonel Stewart against General Greene, was an example of obstinate hard fighting; and earlier, in the year 1781, the West Suffolk Regiment was present at the attack by Lord Rawdon on Hobkirk’s Hill. After nineteen years’ service in the Australian colonies and in India, the Sixty-third returned to England in 1847. When the Crimean War broke out, the Sixty-third were stationed in Dublin. The regiment was twice called upon for volunteers for other regiments ordered to the East, and so hearty was the response that the battalion lost many of its best soldiers. However, when the invasion of the Crimea actually took place, the 63rd Foot were present, having embarked in the previous July for Turkey. The regiment received the three usual honours, “Alma”, “Inkerman”, “Sevastopol”, for its services during the campaigns. As a matter of fact, it was not present at the Alma, as it formed part of the force left at Kamishlu under Colonel Torrens to clear the beach, and it only arrived at the scene of battle on the evening of September 20, after a forced march. But six weeks later it had its full share of hard fighting. Twice at critical moments at Inkerman did the Sixty-third, aligned with a wing of the 21st Fusiliers, execute gallant charges on the Russian infantry. On the second occasion no less than nine officers were stricken down, either dead or wounded; among the number was Colonel Swyny, in command. It was a hard lot for our poor fellows in the awful winter of forty years ago, of which we have just had a gentle reminder, to suffer more from the roguery of English contractors than from the enemy. In the History of the regiment, by Major James Slack, the ladies of West Suffolk, as well as those of Ireland and the Vale of Grasmere, are mentioned as having endeavoured to supplement the want caused by this iniquity. Their presents were received by the men with hearts too full for utterance. This is indeed a link between the Sixtythird and that part of our county from which it took its name. In 1881, through changes by no means welcome either to officers or men, the Sixty-third lost its number and its county designation, and is now the 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment”.
The improved navigation in the north of the county by the opening up of direct communication between Lowestoft and Norwich originated with an alderman of that city, Crisp Brown, in the earlier years of this century. A cut to the south of Breydon was first proposed, but the opposition of the Yarmouth Corporation to this or any other alteration in waterways only led to the adoption of a cut of two miles and a half from Reedham to the Waveney, the widening and deepening of Oulton Dyke, and the carrying of the canal to Lowestoft by Oulton Broad and Lake Lathing. After much opposition, this scheme was carried out, the Act of Parliament coming into operation July 3, 1827, two months after which date the first spadeful of earth was raised by Alderman Brown.
Railway communication has, of course, much lessened the importance of this enterprise, but railway history still belongs to the memory of the living, and the space devoted to earlier times has proved too much to allow of a sketch of the Great Eastern lines, which as yet have not covered all East Anglia with their network.