Long Melford is a large village of delightful aspect in Suffolk, on the border with Essex, which is marked by the River Stour. It is one of Suffolk's "wool towns", its grand church and two manor houses, Melford Hall and Kentwell Hall, showing the wealth which once flowed into Long Melford from the fleeces sold here. It was also once a market town.
The name 'Melford' is from 'Mill-ford', the ford here crossing the Chad Brook, a tributary of the River Stour. It is 'Long' Melford from village's layout: it was originally concentrated along a 3-mile stretch of a single road.
Prehistoric finds discovered in 2011 have shown that early settlement of what is now known as Long Melford dates back to the Mesolithic period, up to 8300 BC. In addition, Iron Age finds were made in the same year, and again were found within the largely central area of the current village.
In June 2013, some archaeological evidence of Bronze Age settlement in the northern area of the village, along with Anglo-Saxon artefacts of a later age, were discovered by Carenza Lewis and her team from Cambridge University, during a student dig.
The Romans built two roads through Melford, the main one running from Chelmsford to Pakenham. Roman remains were discovered in a gravel pit in 1828, a site now occupied by the village's football club. Roman finds in recent years included complete skeletons, a stone coffin, part of the original Roman Road, complete Samian pottery and a Spartan Sword unearthed in a villager's garden.
The Manor of Melford was given to the Abbey of St.Edmundsbury by Earl Aflric c. 1050. The village is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, which lists the manor of Long Melford. The neighbouring Manor of Kentwell is also recorded. During the Middle Ages the village grew and gained a weekly market and an annual fair in 1235.
Long Melford survived the Black Death in 1348-9, and was a brief stop-off for the revolting peasants in the peasants' revolt of 1381.
By the early 1400s, the manor of Kentwell belonged to the Clopton family. John Clopton was arrested in 1461 and charged with treason. Clopton was spared execution and he was released and returned to Kentwell. There he organised and largely helped to pay for the rebuilding of the parish church, a notable example of a wool church. During this time the wealth of the parish was increasing, with most of the inhabitants being free men.
Guilds were founded, and weaving cloth became a key part of the village's economy. In the official inspector's returns for the year 1446, there were as many as 30 named weavers in Long Melford, who between them produced 264 finished cloths.
Following the dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII granted the manor to Sir William Cordell.
In 1604, an epidemic of the plague arrived in Melford and 119 people died between the months of May and September. During the Civil War, a Puritan mob of over one thousand arrived in Melford pursuing Elizabeth Savage, Countess Rivers, a stubbornly Roman Catholic lady and Royalist, from her property in St Osyth to her Suffolk estate at Melford Hall. The hall was sacked and plundered and the Countess fled to Bury St Edmunds, then to London where eventually she was imprisoned for debt and died a pauper.
By the end of the 17th century, cloth production had once again become important in the area as many new entrepreneurs started to produce a range of materials known as 'Bays and Says', similar to baize and serge. These were lighter, cheaper types of cloth than the traditional woollen broadcloths that had been made in the 15th and 16th centuries but, once again, many of the cloth merchants became extremely wealthy and for some years prosperity returned to Melford.
Soon after the beginning of the 19th century, a range of new industries such as horsehair weaving, an iron foundry, a flax works and coconut matting started in Melford. By 1851, there were three horsehair manufacturers in Melford employing over 200 men, women and children. Prince Bertie, who later became King Edward VII, together with Princess Alexandra visited the village in November 1865, and large archways were constructed at key points in their honour to welcome them in, with the crowds.
During the 1880s, a series of wage cuts in the matting industry caused widespread anger and eventually resulted in strike action. Feelings ran high, culminating in a riot breaking out on polling day in December 1885, during which considerable damage was caused throughout the village. Troops were summoned from Bury St Edmunds to restore order; they arrived by train and marched from Melford station to read the Riot Act from the steps of the Police Station
During Second World War, Long Melford was a location for American and Allied service personnel, who flew B24 Liberators and B-17 Flying Fortresses from two large bomber stations, RAF Lavenham and RAF Sudbury, located nearby. Troops from, amongst others, the Berkshire Regiment and thr Black Watch were billeted and garrisoned within the village. Injured airmen, troops from the D-Day landings and prisoners of war were treated at the large nearby 136th Station Hospital, located between Long Melford and Acton. Band leader Glenn Miller and his orchestra briefly visited Long Melford and played to injured airmen, invited locals and hospital staff at the 136th hospital in 1944.
German prisoners of war were interned at a camp near the 136th Station Hospital, and Italian prisoners were located at a camp at the nearby village of Borley. United States Army Air Force personnel from bases at Lakenheath, Mildenhall, and Wethersfield airbases often lived within Long Melford. By the end of the war, two B24 Liberators, one B17 Flying Fortress and one RAF de Havilland Mosquito had crashed in the parish with over twenty persons killed or injured. Numerous pillboxes and temporary gun emplacements were constructed in the village during the war, and in 2012 a previously unknown underground bunker room was located. According to the Remembrance Plaque at Holy Trinity Church, ninety-six serving villagers were killed in the First World War, and eleven during the Second World War.
About the village
The great size and fine architecture of Holy Trinity Church make it unusual for a village parish church. The church dates from the reign of Edward the Confessor; it was then substantially rebuilt between 1467 and 1497 by John Clopton of Kentwell Hall. It is one of the richest "wool churches" in East Anglia and is renowned for its flushwork, Clopton chantry chapel and the Lady Chapel at the east end with some surviving mediæval stained-glass. Edmund Blunden, the First World War poet, is buried in the churchyard. Next to the church is the Hospital of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, an almshouse founded by William Cordell in 1573.
Another unusual feature of Long Melford is its large elongated village green, dominated until the 1980s by a group of great elms that included one of the largest in Britain. The elms were painted in 1940 by the watercolourist S R Badmin in his 'Long Melford Green on a Frosty Morning', now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The village contains two stately homes: Kentwell Hall and Melford Hall. Both were visited by Queen Elizabeth I, and all built from the proceeds of the wool trade in the Middle Ages. Kentwell Hall and Holy Trinity Church were financed by the Clopton family, in particular by John Clopton. Both Kentwell Hall and Melford Hall are open to the general public, with Melford Hall being a National Trust property. The village's history is recorded in the Long Melford Heritage Centre, and contains finds uncovered in the July 2011 Long Melford Dig. There are also displays of old photographs, and ancient finds from the village, including a good collection of locally found Roman artifacts.
Sport and leisure
- Football: Long Melford FC
Long Melford Country Park and Picnic Site is sited next to the River Stour in the adjoining hamlet of Rodbridge Corner. Long Melford has a large water meadow on the approach to Liston and a network of footpaths, including the Melford Walk which follows the route of the disused railway line before joining the Valley Walk path to Sudbury and the Suffolk Cycle Route which passes through the village.
The Long Melford Country Park at the southern end of the village was formed by gravel excavations during the Second World war, for nearby air fields, leaving some large attractive lakes, with wildlife habitats, and walking areas for visitors.
The Long Melford Street Fair, Classic Steam Rally, and the Big Night Out Guy Fawkes Night fireworks event at Melford Hall, are held annually.
In literature and popular culture
Long Melford was visited by Daniel Defoe, who mentioned the village in his book A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain. Defoe wrote, "Near adjoining to it [Sudbury] is a village call'd Long-Melfort, and a very long one it is, from which I suppose it had that addition to its name; it is full of very good houses, and, as they told me, is richer, and has more wealthy masters of the manufacture in it, than in Sudbury itself."
Melford village, and many of those surrounding it, was used as the setting for the BBC television series Lovejoy.
The village has appeared on film, including:
- Witch Finder General (1968)
- The Wind in the Willows (1996)
- The Chronicles of Narnia (2005 film) used a digitally altered frontage of Kentwell Hall
- Tulip Fever (2014) at Kentwell Hall
The Long Melford Dig was filmed and documented in Michael Wood's 2012 BBC series The Great British Story.
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about Long Melford)
- David Hatton, Clare, Suffolk, an account of historical features of the town, its Priory and its Parish Church, 2006 ISBN 0-9524242-3-1; p. 20
- "Holy Trinity". The Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. http://www.stedmundsbury.anglican.org/longmelford/. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
- Edwards, Alun. "The Edmund Blunden Collection - Biography". First World War Poetry Digital Archive. University of Oxford. http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/blunden. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
- Charles Henry Cooper; Thompson Cooper (1858). Athenae Cantabrigienses. 1: 1500-1585. Cambridge: Deighton Bell. p. 433. http://books.google.com/?id=8koJAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA433&dq=long+melford+hospital+cordell#v=onepage&q=long%20melford%20hospital%20cordell&f=false.
- Photographs of Long Melford elms in Oliver Rackham, A History of the Countryside (London, 1986) and in Francis Frith Collection, images.francisfrith.com  
- Victoria and Albert Museum, collections.vam.ac.uk, 'Long Melford Green on a frosty morning' 
- Britain Express
- "BBC2's Great British Story comes to Melford Hall". The National Trust. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/home/view-page/item850029/261684/. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
- Daniel Defoe's Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, 1726