This article was written for the East Anglian Magazine c.1950, and was entitled "Village Without a Future". The following piece has the same content as the original, albeit presented in a somewhat different format.

Buried in the leafy West Suffolk countryside, four miles east of Lavenham., stands the village of Kettlebaston. A village of a mere 90 inhabitants, it derives its strange sounding name from the Old Norse "Ketelbern's Tun." Of all the 534 villages in the broad-acred county of Suffolk, it must surely be one of the most backward and derelict.

Market towns such as Thaxted or villages such as Kersey are often cited as evocative of "mediaeval atmosphere." Yet, as one glances at the carved beams and quaint pargetting of the old half-timbered houses, one is struck by the unnatural silence. Our nearest contact with the mediaeval men who created the atmosphere, and belong in the houses, comes when we gaze over the wall into God's Acre and see the long grass sown with their tombstones.

Yet, at Kettlebaston, one cannot help entertaining the illusion that the inhabitants of the old cottages, the majority of which are "condamned" as well as thatched, belong to some such bygone age. Speaking with them. it is not hard to imagine that one islistening to the last surviving men and women who think and speak as man thought and spoke in those legendary mediaeval days.

It might be questioned whether a village inn has a civilising influence. Yet it must certainly be admitted that it has a socialising one, for if Kettlebaston had possessed such a thing it would diverge less from the arch-type of the Suffolk village. As it is however, no traveller, full of city conceit, has the chance either to instruct the yokels in his opinions, or to explode their dearly-cherished illusions. In place of the inn the street is the villagers' forum, and the church their centre.

The village midwife, "Ria" Manning, who lost a few babies and never once a mother.

The village sign, erected at the coronation, resembles that of an inn. It commemorates the fact that in 1445 Henry V1. granted the manor of Kettlebaston to William de la Pole, Marquis of Suffolk, to hold in return for the service of carrying a golden sceptre at the coronation of all future Kings of England. and an ivory sceptre at the coronation of Margaret of Anjou, and all future Queens.

Our sign is the sign of the sceptre and dove,
A token of purity, mercy and love.
Should you chance to be thirsty, There's nothing to pay
And our "Public House" stands over the way.

So runs the rhyme which proclaims that pump water is free, and that refreshment spiritual may be sought at the church opposite. However, the ignorant "foreigner," mistaking the sign for that of an inn, and recking nothing of William de la pole, frequently applies to Church Farm, which stands just behind the sign. The tenants of the farm have learnt to support these enquiries very well, but become peevish when wayfarers walk in, seat themselves in their dining-room, bang on the table and call loudly for beer.

But although away from the world the social revolution wrought during this century has made itself felt. Today it would be unthinkable, even at Kettlebaston, to have a girl cow-herding throughout a long summer's afternoon in return for a helping of rice pudding in the rectory kitchen at dusk. Yet such, in the "old days," was considered a fair return for her work.

In the "old days," too, to be socially acceptable you had to be born Kettlebaston person, and marry another. Otherwise you would bring a foreigner into the village - and they were found to be never satisfactory.

With no convenient cinema, only the ubiquitous radio provides Kettlebaston with entertainment. For the most part folk are thrown on their own resources. Consequently. much of their amusement lies in telling the old tales.

Since Suffolkers are not heavily endowed with imagination, these are mostly concerned with personalities of bygone days, tales of "my father's day," or that still more far-off epoch "my grandfather's time." Beyond that, history is the domain of the rector, and is confined to dates and Latin names. The rest is silence.

The legendary personalities of these stories were invariably born and bred in the dearly-loved village, the best in England. Like the listeners, they too were born with the secret of love for each hedge and well-known wall, each inch of the village street. They too were "Kettlebaston."

Such a one was Maria Manning - midwife from 1865 to 1880. Known to the village as "Ria," she never lost a mother, and few babies. She started housekeeping with a silver spoon, found in a muck-heap by her husband, George. Together they raised a family of seven children.
The eldest girl, aged ll, ran away from her first "place," arriving home at five on a winter's evening. Mother pulled a small twig from a faggot, and drove her back a matter of five miles. Father remonstrated: "Why, Ria, let the girl have some tea," but mother was adamant. "I warrant she 'oont try that game on agin," said she, returning home.

People were more neighbourly in Ria's day. If anyone was known to be dying the whole village would assemble at the house to show their sympathy. Two kept watch by the sick-bed so that the moment of passing should be known, while downstairs the remainder made numerous brews of tea, and told tales of the deaths that they had witnessed.

"We was just having a cup of tea," related one old wife, "when Liza come to the top of the stairs and called out: "Come on together - there's a change." We blundered upstairs, and was just in time to see her go. She went off like a bird."

Mary Howe, suspected of witchcraft and who died about 1887. Nothing was ever proved against her.

An official of the Royal Society of Psychical research commented that there are few ghosts in Suffolk. "Most of our work occurs in the Celtic fringe," he remarked. Yet, although the county as a whole has a reputation for hard-headedness, Suffolk has always been a "wonderful" place for witches - and so, too has Kettlebaston. By all accounts quite a colony of "witches" throve there in the nineteenth century, and some of their exploits are still recounted with awe by the older folk.

It would seem most likely that these old ladies encouraged the discreditable tales which circulated concerning them. Trading on their age and bad temper, they gained a prestige and consideration to which they could never otherwise have pretended. Nevertheless, the impression that they left behind them was deep, and contemporary villagers believed implicitly in their powers.

One of the most notorious of these characters was called Mumpshy Brett.
"I remember Mumpshy Brett well," said one village ancient. "She loused my grandmother - covered her from head to foot with lice. Another time Mumpshy's husband wanted to go into Bildeston, but she forbade him to go. Still he got out the pony and trap, so she transfixed them in front of the house. They were there all day - the pony and cart, and him in it - and they couldn't move a hand or foot. That's as true as I'm standing here. People were afraid of witches in those days. But now it's different."

A devout churchman, Harry Pitt, seen here after paying a visit to a lone widow to whom he administered spiritual consolation and sometimes a 'sip of gin' from his own small bottle.

With the drift from the land. there are few strong young arms left to trim the hedges, dig the gardens, or clean out the ponds. The old - world cottages, too, are slowly tumbling into decay. Were it not for the church, the village would seem doomed to extinction. The older generation, with bright memories of their own young days, cannot understand what is happening to their world.


Father Butler was less than impressed with this article and swiftly responded through the press:


"What nonsense Mr Irvine writes when he suggests that a village can have no future. As towns depend for their existence upon their industries so do even the smallest villages depend upon their one industry, viz., agriculture.

It is by no means the case that the land in the parish of Kettlebaston is becoming derelict. It has never been more productive than it is now and it shows no signs of going out of cultivation. As long as the land is being worked there must be men to work upon it and those men will naturally live in the parish. These premises being granted, then Kettlebaston must have a future.

Mr Irvine gives the impression that the majority of the inhabitants are of about the same age as 'the poor man at his gate' shown in one of the illustrations, and that there are no young men left in Kettlebaston. This is palpably untrue.

Mr Irvine should have made quite clear of his facts before writing this article."

Rev H. C. Butler, Rector of Kettlebaston.


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