Southwold in 1842
Southwold is in the hundred of Blything, on the coast, 36 miles north-east of Ipswich by Woodbridge and Saxmundham. It was in the middle ages a place of some importance, and the townsmen were engaged in frequent disputes with those of Dunwich, occasioned probably by the commercial rivalry of the two places. In the reign of Henry VII, Southwold was incorporated by act of parliament, and the corporate rights of the townsmen were confirmed by subsequent charters of Henry VII and his successors. In 1659 the town was nearly consumed by a fire, which destroyed the town-hall, the market-house, the prison ; besides granaries, shops, warehouses, above two hundred and thirty houses ; besides fishhouses, malthouses, brewhouses, and other outbuildings ; and a great quantity of corn, merchandise, fishing-nets, and other tackle. The damage was estimated at more than £40,000, and above three hundred families were ruined. It is probable that the town has never reached the prosperity which it enjoyed before this calamity.
The area of the borough and parish (which are coincident) is 680 acres : the population in 1831, was 1,875, scarcely any part agricultural. The town is on a hill, forming a cliff toward the sea, and sinking on the other side into the marshes through which the river Blyth, and an arm of it called ‘the Buss Creek,' flow. By these waters the hill on which the town stands is almost insulated. The only entrance to the town is on the north-west side, by a bridge over the Boss Creek ; and the main street is on the road from this bridge to the face of the cliff : it has flagged foot-paths, and is lined near the sea with respectable houses ; but in other parts the houses are of inferior character. The top and sides of the hill round the town are unenclosed land, chiefly or wholly common ; and there are two wind-mills and a lime-kiln.
The church is near the entrance of the town, on the north-west side, and is a large and handsome building of perpendicular architecture, mostly of flint and stone : it is 143½ feet long, and above 56 feet wide. The western tower is about 100 feet high ; and there are two low hexagonal towers at each angle of the eastern end of the chancel. There is a highly ornamented porch, of somewhat later date than the church. The interior of the church has been richly ornamented, but has been much defaced : the painted ceiling of the chancel still remains, and the magistrates' pews are adorned with gilding and painting. There are meeting-houses for Baptists, Methodists, and Independents. The town-hall is a modern building, and there is a small gaol.
The principal branch of industry is the fishery, which, in 1831, employed one hundred men : there are some salt-works. Red herrings, red sprats, salt, corn, and malt are exported ; and coal is imported. The town is frequented in the bathing season by visitors from the adjacent counties. The quay is on the Blyth, above half a mile south-west of the town.
The Municipal Reform Act assigns to the borough four aldermen and twelve councillors : it is not to have a commission of the peace except on petition and grant. The corporation revenue, derived chiefly from common, marsh, and other lands, is about £800 or £900 a year. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the rural deanery of Dunwich, the archdeaconry of Suffolk, and the diocese of Norwich, of the clear yearly value of £60, with a glebe-house. There were in the parish, in 1833, nine day-schools of all sorts, with from 193 to 213 children, namely, 83 boys, 80 girls, and from 40 to 50 children of sex not stated ; and three Sunday-schools, with 316 children, namely, 177 boys and 139 girls. One of the day-schools had an evening class of 10 adults.