A brief history of Felsham
There has been a settlement in Felsham since Saxon times and perhaps even earlier. The origin of the name “Felsham” is not clear but probably means the “home of Faele”: faele, in Saxon, meaning the good, pleasant or faithful. The late Saxon settlement in Felsham was largely under the control of the Abbey of St Edmundsbury, a situation which continued after the Norman Invasion of 1066.
In 1086, it was recorded that Felsham had a relatively large population of 39 households with enough oxen to cultivate up to a thousand acres of ploughland. Like most Suffolk villages, Felsham was to remain a farming community right up to relatively recent times.
The building of Felsham’s present church began in the early 1300s, and though comparatively small, possesses an imposing and well-proportioned tower which is said to be one of the highest in Suffolk. A Porch, with intricate flint flush-work and detailed carvings around the arch, was added to the north door of the church in the 1470s. Well-off villagers left money in their wills towards its construction and embellishment.
Around the same time money was being raised for the construction and upkeep of a “church house” which functioned initially as a guildhall and then as an almshouse. This building near the church was rebuilt in 1629 when it was described as the “poor house” and again in 1829 when it was referred to as the “town house”. This building now contains the village Post Office.
Throughout the medieval period Felsham possessed both a weekly Friday Market and an annual Fair held during mid-August. This Fair was well-known for dealing with the sale of lambs during the Tudor period but by the mid-nineteenth century it was described as a mere “pleasure fair”. As the market and fair withered away local shops began to appear. There has been at least one shop in Felsham since the early 1700s.
There was a school in Felsham from the early 1800s, though it was not until 1854 that a small, purpose-built National School was constructed just beyond the southern edge of the churchyard. In 1899 this building was demolished and a new larger School built on land between the Rectory and the Church. This was in use until 1945 when the school was closed and the children transferred to Rattlesden School. The building is now the Village Hall.
Felsham features many remarkable timber-framed farmhouses, mostly built during the 16th and 17th centuries, and often surrounded by moats dating back to medieval times. Good examples are Capel farm, Stone farm and Moore’s farm. Five of the Felsham farmhouses have nearby barns with “listed” status.
The list of notable Felsham people includes:
- Baldwin Cocksedge, gentleman, who left a Will, dated 1469, in which he describes in some detail the contents of his moated farmhouse and garden.
- The Risby family, wealthy clothiers, who provided Felsham with a succession of Lords of the Manor from 1640 to about 1740. Their coat of arms can be seen on the flagstones in the chancel of Felsham church.
- Rev Thomas Anderson, who was Rector of Felsham and local magistrate from 1822 to 1872, and who spent much of his wealth improving The Rectory near Lower Green and in building Felsham House on the Bury Road for his unmarried daughter.
- Sir John Tilley who inherited Felsham House from the Anderson family and who lived there from 1931 until his death in 1952. He had a long and distinguished diplomatic career and was Ambassador to Japan in the late 1920s.