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MARKET TOWNS OF SUFFOLK (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Beccles in 1835

BECCLES, a market-town of the county of Suffolk, in the hundred of Wangford. It has a separate jurisdiction and is considered the third town in the county. Beccles is situated on the river Waveney, which is navigable from Yarmouth : it is 32 miles north-north-east from Ipswich, and 98 miles north-east from London.

The manor of Beccles, with an adjoining common of about 1,400 acres, formed part of the possessions of Bury Abbey. On the dissolution of monasteries, the manor, with the common, was granted to William Rede, with a stipulation that the common was to be held for the use of the inhabitants. The poor are still allowed to pasture their cattle on it on very easy terms. The management of the common is vested in a corporation, called the Corporation of Beccles Fen. The town sustained great injury in 1586 from a fire, which destroyed eighty houses, damaged the church, and occasioned loss of property to the amount of £20,000, as estimated at the time.

Beccles has a corporation consisting of a portreeve and thirty-six burgesses, distinguished as the ‘twelves’ and the ‘twenty-fours’, the office of portreeve being held in rotation by the twelves. In consequence of its water communication with Yarmouth, the town carries on with the vicinity a considerable trade in coals, groceries, &c. The market day is Saturday ; and the fairs are on Whit-Monday, June 29th, and October 2nd : the last for horses and pedlary. The population amounted in 1831 to 3,862 persons, of whom 2,068 were females.

Beccles is a well-built town consisting of several streets which terminate in a spacious area, where the market is held. The parish church, dedicated to St. Michael, appears to have been founded in the year 1369. The porch is of later date, and the steeple still later. The first legacy bequeathed for the erection of the steeple is dated 1515, from which time till 1547 there were many legacies towards ‘building Becclys stepul’. The church stands on an eminence overlooking the level of meadows through which the Waveney flows. The west end of the church approaches so close to the edge of the cliff, that no room was left for the safe foundation of the steeple : which is, therefore, placed at a small distance from the south-east angle of the chancel. It is a fine tower of freestone ; but it appears never to have been completed, the height not being proportionate to the size, and a parapet at the top being wanting, which seems to indicate that it was the intention of the architect to raise it higher than at present. The church itself is a fine Gothic structure. It consists of a nave, two aisles, and a chancel. The porch is a very beautiful specimen of the florid Gothic, differing in its style both from the church and the steeple. The living is a rectory, valued in the king’s book at £21, 12 shillings and 3½ pence. Beccles formerly consisted of two parishes, St. Mary Endgate and St. Michael ; but they were consolidated in 1419 ; and St. Mary’s church was afterwards demolished by order of Queen Elizabeth. The dissenters have two chapels in the town.

Beccles has a handsome town-hall, in which the quarter-sessions are held ; there is also a well-managed gaol, a theatre, and an assembly-room. A free-school was founded here in the reign of James I, by Sir Henry Leman, alderman of London, who endowed it with 100 acres of land for the maintenance of a master and usher to instruct 48 poor boys in writing and arithmetic. There is also a good grammar-school founded in the year 1713 by Dr. Falconberg, who resided several years in the parish, and at his death bequeathed for this purpose an estate at Corton, in the same county, of the yearly rent of £40. This school has ten exhibitions at Emanuel College, Cambridge.