...St Lawrence
...St Andrew
...St Margaret
...St John
...Stone Street

Introduction to the Ilketshalls

Four parishes to the east of South Elmham bear the name Ilketshall. These communities, named after the dedications of their churches, St Andrew, St John, St Lawrence and St Margaret, together with three adjacent parishes bounding the Waveney, namely the village of Mettingham (All Saints) and two communities of Bungay town (All Saints and St Mary), have been known since at least the 18th century as 'The Seven Parishes'. Together with the 'Nine Parishes' to the west based on South Elmham, this district is known to local people as 'The Saints'. It comprises the western section of Wangford Hundred. Like the South Elmhams, the Ilketshalls are a unified topographical unit sharing the same flat glacial landscape broken by amost impercepible dips and troughs of melt water 'brooks' and 'becks' . It is impossible to descern where one village ends and another begins and easy to get lost in a maze of angular roads, lanes and footpaths.

The name Iketshall is said to relate to the Anglo-Saxon Ulfcytel (died 1016) an Anglo-Saxon nobleman. He was apparently an important warlord of East Anglia from 1004 to his death at the battle of Assandun. Scandinavian sources refer to him as Ulfkell Snillinge, the byname meaning bold. Ulfcytel also appears as a character in Saint Olaf's saga in the Scandinavian Heimskringla, and here East Anglia is called "Ulfcytel's land.

It appears that the Seven Parishes estate had developed as a distinct property in Saxon times because Bungay, Mettingham and Ilketshall were grouped together in the Domesday folios under the ownership of Earl Hugh (Earl of Chester). From this point of view the estate predates the formation of Wangford Hundred into which it was incorporated together with the South Elmham bishopric estate to the east. The ancient interdependence of the seven parishes through a common origin is reinforced by the practices of sharing common lands (intercommoning) which persisted into the 19th century. According to the local historian, Norman Scarfe, the whole of the 'Seven Parishes' was also known as the 'Duke of Norfolk's Liberty', because it descended to the dukedom from the Bigod family. Roger Bigod was a henchman of William The Conqueror who was rewarded with lands in nine of Suffolk's Hundreds, and in particular with a small parcel of land in Ilketshall. The Bigod family became firmly established in their castle at Bungay during the following century. Their Bungay property descended with the ancient rights of the Bigods to the Howard Dukes of Norfolk of Arundel, and in 1987 the castle was presented to the town by the Duke of Norfolk with an endowment towards its preservation.

According to the historian Alfred Suckling (1846), after the Conquest :- "The King and Earl Hugh took possession of the greater part of Ilketshall, but their estates were soon afterwards divided into smaller parcels, upon which various families fixed their residence. The principal of these was one family which assumed its surname from the township. Sir Gilbert de Ilketshall was lord of Hedenham and Kelling, in Norfolk, and of Ilketshall, in Suffolk, as early as the reign of William Rufus". Also, in the second year of his reign, Edward III. granted to John Bardolf, and Elizabeth his wife, the manors of Ilketshall St Lawrence and the lands of Bungay that belonged to the manor of the Holy Trinity. There is no evidence that the Duke of Norfolk ever posessed any of the manors of the Seven Parishes.

The supposed ownership of Ilketshall manors by the Duke of Norfolk surfaced in 1988 when the villagers of Ilketshall St Andrew questioned it at a meeting with Mathew Roth, Commons Commissioner, with respect to the question of who owned the common land in Ilketshall St Andrew and St John. The Duke's agent was unable to substantiate any legal claim of ownership of the land, the only documented link with the dukedom being an entry in White's 1855 directory that several greens in Ilketshall St Andrew were in the 'Duke of Norfolk's Liberty'. This statement was probably Scarfe's source for the existence of the 'Duke of Norfolk's Liberty'.

Some kind of ancient link between the Ilketshall commons and the Duke of Norfolk's ancestors was certainly substantiated by the Duke conveying to the Village Hall Trustees 'such rights as he might possess' with respect to the Great Common, the site of the Village Hall, in 1978/9. Also it was stated at the 1988 meeting that the Duke's agents had dealt with encroachments to the commons since at least 1945. A 'liberty' could be a manor, or group of manors, but it could also be any area lying outside the jurisdiction of the sheriff, with a separate Commissioner of Peace. It was probably in the latter sense that the the Bigod family of Bungay, ancestors of the Dukes of Norfolk, had become the arbiter of the rights of the commoners in the Seven Parishes. If so, this takes makes the commons of Ilketshall an ancient English symbol of the rights to land of the 'common man'.

Sign put up at Beck's Green by the Ilketshall villagers to celebrate their ownership of common lands