We are unfortunate in Lakenheath that many features that would nowadays be considered part of our historical heritage have, in contrast to many villages in Suffolk, over the years been lost. Some were swept away in the name of progress, some went because they were no longer economically viable and some disappeared through neglect or lack of interest. I have noted below some that have come to mind. Can you add to the list?
Lakenheath New Lode is in fact the oldest being originally cut before the C17 when it was called Cross Water.The Old Lode was cut in the early C17 but the Cross Water was recut shortly after and was then called the New Lode. They joined to become just the Lode to reach the village. Having outlived their usefulness both as drainage channels and a transport system their death knell finally came with the construction of the Cut-Off Channel and the building of a sluice near Botany Bay. Parts were filled by bulldozing one bank and part with clay from the underground tunnel dug from the Little Ouse to the Stour. Most of the remainder is silting up and drying out. Only a short stretch by Botany Bay remains to show us what we have lost. What a beautiful waterside walk it would have been along a willow edged lode! The loss of the lode has also meant the loss of the old wooden 'cock-up' bridges - raised so that barges could pass beneath - High Bridge and Dumpling Bridge - and the two quaysides - one on a branch which ran near the 'Half Moon' and one due west of the church and High Street.
The Village Greens
Lakenheath once had two 'greens' - South Green near Broom Road and Mutford Green. Only a vestige of the latter remains. They were lost with the Enclosures of 1817 and also in the case of Mutford Green with the construction of the Cut-Off Channel.
The Manor Houses
Again we once had two - both eventually belonging to the Prior of Ely, (the Lord of the Manor - who did not live in them however.) The 'Grange', (the Prior's original house,) stood where No.63 High Street, (formerly Cook's Dairy,) now stands. The other stood on what is now Presland Court. The Grange had gone by 1649; the other probably before that.
The Tithe Barn
This was also the manor barn and stood next to the Grange - which it outlasted. It was 170 ft. long by 36 ft. wide and thatched. It would be a splendid addition to the Street if it still stood.
The Medieval Cross
Maid's Cross gave its name to the 100 ft. high hill east of the village. Probably built by a pious farmer on one of the strips of the open field it would have been visible from afar. It did not, as sometimes thought, mark the Pilgrim's, (Shaker's,) Way which runs across the Warren over two miles to the east. The cross itself disappeared long ago but within living memory part of the stone base was still to be seen. Does anyone know what happened to it?
Crosswater staunch across the Little Ouse River at Botany Bay fell into disuse early this century as the 'navigation' was abandoned. Some of the stonework remains - probably more than anywhere else in the country. So many pound locks have been reconstructed it would be nice if just one flash lock could be reconstructed for future generations - but there is little hope of that!
The Steam Pumping Engine
The steam beam engine was dismantled, along with its scoop wheel, its house and its engineer's house in 1941 when a new oil engine was installed in a new house and a new bungalow was built for the engineer.
There must once have been a number of these. I know of three: one (Turf Fen Mill) stood in Mill Marsh, one (Crosswater Mill) by the Old Lode at Botany Bay and one (Great Fen Mill) by the new Lode at Botany Bay. Great Fen Mill was the last to go - c.1949. Slight remains of the base remain. What a splendid group the old windpump, the steam engine and the old oil engine would have made if they had all been preserved. Industrial archaeologists would have come from afar to view them! The Wilton Bridge: The first bridge, (of timber,) was built when the Lakenheath Hockwold Turnpike was opened in 1827. The second bridge, (of iron,) was built in 1899 and the third and present one, (of concrete,) in 1981.
Before Wilton Bridge was built the only way across the Little Ouse river to Hockwold was via the foot ferry which crossed to the 'Ferry Boat' public house. It still stands - now a private cottage upriver of the bridge. After the demise of the footbridge across Crosswater Staunch the 'Green Dragon' operated a pedestrian chain ferry, (whereby one pulled oneself across,) until it closed.
The Railway Station
What a sad sight our railway station, opened in 1845, is now. Earlier this century it was a hive of activity with carts and waggons queing to get into the goods yard whilst the carters slaked their thirst at the Swan Hotel. The Goods Yard closed in 1966 and the Station became an unmanned Halt the following year. A few original buildings remain - notably the Signal Box.
A tramway, (light railway,) ran on an embankment from Shrubhill Farm in Feltwell Fens to join the main line just west of the Old Lode at Botany Bay. It crossed the river on a viaduct, (probably of timber,) and a swing bridge. It was probably built about the same time as the main line and was derelict by 1890. I do not know its function or when it ceased to operate. It was probably constructed to convey bricks from the brickyards there - possibly for construction works on the mainline railway. Another tramway ran north from the Claypit across the road and along the fen bank to carry clay for repair of the banks. The tipping trucks were successively man pushed, pulled by a donkey and finally pulled by a small diesel engine.
The Lakenheath/Hockwold Turnpike opened in 1827. Associated with turnpikes were tollgates, toll houses and milestones. The gate went of course when tolls ceased to be collected. The toll house was a small, square, two storey cottage on the embankment to the river at Wilton Bridge - between the river and the house now called 'West View'. It had a door to the road level on its first floor. It was still standing in the late 1970s and may have been demolished when the new bridge was built. So far I have been unable to spot any milestone.
The Weighing Machine
A large iron weighbridge was set at the edge of the roadway between the 'Bull' and the church until the 1950s. (It was probably constructed in the mid C19.) It was used for weighing empty and loaded carts. It was operated by the landlord of the 'Bull' who charged 6d. to weigh a cartload of coal or produce.
The School Bell
Our school was built at a time when few people could afford to own a pocket watch. In common with most schools and many workplaces it had a bell housed in a turret so that scholars could be summoned to school on time. The turret was I believe removed in the 1930s. What happened to the bell?
Dating from a time when many people were illiterate many shops once sported signs. I remember in the 1960s Reg the barber had a traditional red and white striped barber's pole outside his shop. It was later stolen. The chemist's, (then part of what is now Lakenheath Hotel,) had the traditional flasks of coloured liquids in his window. Can anyone remember other similar signs?
Within living memory there were a number of specialised workplaces in the village - all of which have now gone. E.g. Ezra Rolph's (where Ray Puttock's betting shop is now,) and Messrs. Coe's (later Hunter's) bakeries, at least three blacksmith's forges, (opposite the church, on the corner by Bridge Lane and in Back Street - the last to go - in the 1960s.) There was a sawpit opposite what is now Lakenheath Hotel and a builder's yard, (Divers), where Presland Court now stands. At Bala House, (now Brewery House,) adjoining Anchor Lane was a brewery supplying beer to 'The Tap', (which later became the 'Brewer's Tap'.) There were undoubtedly others.
Two stood in the chalkpit known as the 'Nest' and now the Lakenheath Football Club ground. They were in operation at least until the 1880s. Their remains were finally demolished when the pit was levelled for the football field.
This artificial pond, 3 acres in area, was constructed early in the C18 by Sir Simeon Steward in what is now Decoy Fen near the Little Ouse river. it was one of the most profitable in England and cartloads of wildfowl were sent to market every week. It became uneconomic after the coming of the railway and was abandoned some time after this and between 1900 and 1925 was cleared, filled in and cultivated.
The Old Vicarage
This stood on the site now occupied by Nos.64 and 66 High Street. It was burnt down about 270 years ago. The recent vicarage, (now the 'Village Home',) was built on a new site over a century later.
The Old Methodist Chapel
John Wesley's first visit to Lakenheath was on 24th.November 1757. John Evans had built a small chapel in Lakenheath, (probably the first Methodist chapel in Suffolk,) in August of that year. It stood behind Vine's butcher's shop. It was said to be decayed by 1967. A Methodist chapel, (of timber and corrugated iron,) stood in Decoy Fen by the New Lode at Botany Bay by 1890. Although it has gone from that site it is still in existence - having been moved next to Flack's Farm during WW.II. The present Methodist chapel was built in 1835.
The Police House
Lakenheath had a village constable from c.1891 until the 1980s. The Police House stood in Back Street, (No.19). This was disposed of and became a private dwelling. Later, in the 1970s, a new Police House and office was built a short distance along Undley Road. This is now also a private dwelling!
One of Lakenheath's pounds was at the western end of Plough Lane, (which was formerly Pound Lane,) the eastern end of which terminated at the village pond, (and the 'Plough' P.H.) in the 'Street' (High St.) The other was at the NW corner of Anchor Lane - at a spot called Pondyard.
The village stocks are said to have stood near the village pond. Does anyone remember them?
Wells and Pumps
The O.S. map of 1882 marks the site of about 30 wells and 40 pumps in the village. There were probably more than that as they were sometimes sited inside buildings. They obviously went out of use when a mains water supply was brought to the village but do any still exist? Wells with winding gear or pumps should be photographed before they disappear.
Bowling Green & Quoits Deck
These were next to the Baptist Chapel in Mill Road. I do not know how long they existed or when they were built over. Were there any other old recreational facilities in the village - tennis courts, croquet lawns, etc.? Camping Close, (where the Village Hall now stands,) was where camping, (a violent form of hockey,) was played in the Middle Ages.
The Village Pond
This was where the small area of grass by the War Memorial is now. It was filled in after W.W.II and the beautiful stand of mature trees which stood beside it were felled. The small trees now planted at this spot will never provide the same shade!
The Public Houses
No doubt Lakenheath had too many public houses for all to survive but it is a great pity our two waterside 'inns' had to go - the 'Green Dragon' on the Little Ouse near Botany Bay after W.W.II and 'Highbridge House' beerhouse on the Lode where is was crossed by Highbridge Gravel Drove. Both have been demolished. Others to have gone this century include the 'Anchor' (now a private house - Anchor House,) the 'Star' (also a private house - No.102A High St., - where the support for the sign can still be seen), the 'Chequers' (demolished - it was on the site of 'Lakenheath Flooring' - formerly 'Lakenheath Hardware' and then 'Freya Antiques'), the 'Fox' (in Back St. - No.15 - now a private house,) the 'Swan Hotel' (by the railway station, [and formerly in Brandon parish], and now a private dwelling,) and in 1995 the 'Bull', (now a private dwelling.) The 'Highbridge House' beerhouse had a tollboard giving the tolls for goods passing on the Lode, not the road. (What became of it? It was said to have been 'rescued'.) The 'Waggon & Horses' became 'Chrissy's Restaraunt between the wars.
By 1649 Lakenheath Warren had three stone Warren Lodges, (no doubt similar to the one remaining at Thetford.) No trace remains of these but it is likely that later lodges were built on the same sites. The present 'Lodge', (east of the A1065 road,) is the converted stable block of a lodge repaired in 1872 and later burnt down. Another, called the 'Grotto' by 1875, stood in the centre of the area of Warren east of the Shaker's Road. It has long gone. A third stood near to the present Airfield Control Tower and this was occupied until early this century.
Lakenheath had three, possibly four, windmills by the end of last century. One stood at the junction of Mill and Wings Roads - opposite the school, one, (or two,) just south of the western end of Broom Road and one at the Claypits. The first went some time after 1877. (It is probable that earlier mills had stood on this site for centuries.) The last to go was the one at Claypits - demolished after W.W.II - the stump of the tower remains.
Gates & Railings
The iron gates at the Gate House and North Lodge entrances to 'The Retreat' went for the war effort in W.W.II. Many other items of 'street furniture' - lamp-posts, boot scrapers, bollards, etc. have no doubt disappeared without trace. Those few that remain should be recorded. Would this not be a useful task for pupils?
Letterboxes & Telephone Kiosks
Unlike some villages which still have Victorian letterboxes we appear to have none earlier than George V's reign (outside the P.O.). We still have two red K6 type telephone kiosks, (first introduced in 1936,) one near the library, the other at Mutford Green. Others have been changed for KX series types, (introduced in 1985.) Our original post office still stands - being the private house on the left of the present post office.
These need recording. Perhaps a job for the sharp eyes of pupils! There are boot scrapers at Ray Puttock's betting shop and at Chalk Farm and the Methodist Chapel, (reminding us of the days when the 'Street' was unsurfaced,) a cast iron lantern bracket on the 'Bell' and some nice 'cannon' type bollards cast with a crown at the 'Plough'. A lot seems to have gone.
Not really to be classed with man-made artifacts but very important to villagers in the past. Two mentioned in medieval times - Blackwell and Crosswell - seem to have disappeared without trace as do two a short distance along the track from Palmer's carrot depot to Pashford Poors Fen. The spring at the Fen which fed what was called locally the 'Blue Pool' still runs but not as strongly as it did even in W.W.II. There was another spring at 'Spring Hall' in Smeeth Drove. I do not know how this fares. Spring have been lost either through the lowering of the water table or due to agricultural drainage or water extraction - just as many of the small rivers in the county often nearly dry up - or they have gone into agricultural drains.
Lakenheath once had a ford - at Needless Bridge on Highbridge Gravel Drove. I do not know how deep it was. The drain concerned was culverted when the drove was surfaced no doubt. Perhaps someone can throw light on this?
Lakenheath had a cinema between the wars. It was a wooden hut which stood on the west side of the High Street and was called the 'Electric Cinema'. I have been unable to establish when it was demolished.
The oil engine and centrifugal pump which replaced the steam engine and scoop wheel at Botany Bay remained in its corrugated iron Boulton and Paul shed until 1996 when they were removed. Only the foundations remain.
To this list could be added the many cottages in the Yards, farmhouses, barns, stables, granaries and other farm buildings, beautiful old clunch walls and so on which have passed away almost without our noticing. Some are recorded in the two excellent booklets published by the Lakenheath Village Home - 'Memories' and 'More Memories'. Fortunately quite a number of buildings constructed of traditional materials, (clunch blocks, flints, red pantiles,) have survived although many walls have been cement rendered. Once many of these would have been thatched with reed and sedge from the fens. Now we have to go to neighbouring Eriswell to see a few thatched dwellings. Every year sees a few more of these old buildings disappear and many of those that remain, being redundant, are in a poor state. They should at least be recorded on film before they are lost. Now that part of Lakenheath is a 'Conservation Area' perhaps the rate of loss will slow. In my opinion the designation has come too late to save the appearance of 'The Street.'
R.A.Silverlock. July 1995. (Rev. May 2000)
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