The Old English name Chilton means “child’s town”, that is the place of a younger prince or knight. It might be a small place now, but our history goes back at least 2,500 years and, though mainly agricultural we have had some illustrious moments. In Iron Age times there was an important settlement on the land now zoned for industry between Waldingfield road and the church. When archaeologists excavated in 1997 they uncovered the evidence, including the ruts made by carts going in and out of the central enclosure.
At the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, the tenant-in-chief was Robert Malet, one of William the Conqueror’s favourite henchmen. His father had been given the task of burying King Harold’s body after the Battle of Hastings.
Chilton has for centuries been a parish without a core. It is what historians term a DMV – a Deserted Medieval Village, centred around the church. No one is quite sure why the original village disappeared. It may have suffered from the Great Plague or perhaps when the deer park of Chilton Hall was enclosed the houses were simply moved out of the way. A more likely explanation is general agricultural depression and the drift away to the growing towns. But right up until the 1960’s a remaining cottage stood by the church.
We do know for certain that in the 16th Century the Hall, within its deer park and moat, was one of the most important houses in the county. In the early 17th Century the Lord of the Manor, Sir Robert Crane, was MP for Sudbury and High Sheriff of Suffolk. One of his daughters was the grandmother of our first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole. Robert Cranes’s memorial , flanked by effigies of his two wives, is in Chilton Church.
The Grade 1 Listed St Mary’s Church in Chilton along with its Churchyard (which is maintained by Chilton Parish Council) still offer a perfect place to visit with access from Church Field Road between the business units. Parking along Church Field Road is allowed.
Another Sutton Hoo!
Local historian David Burnett made an unexpected discovery while researching a new book. He uncovered evidence that suggests an Anglo Saxon noble was buried on what is now an industrial site at Chilton.
He tells the story in Chilton – the first three thousand years which Sudbury Museum trust is publishing on Saturday(19th) with a book signing launch at Sudbury Library. The evidence is a large ceremonial bronze bowl in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford recorded as having been found close to Chilton Hall in 1861.
Known as a Coptic bowl, it came from an Anglo-Saxon grave excavated by Victorian amateur archaeologist Sir John Evans near Chilton Hall but the exact location is unknown. The large, shallow bowl is similar to one found in the famous 7th century ship burial at Sutton Hoo but in much better condition. These Coptic bowls from the eastern Mediterranean are thought to have been used in a ceremony such as the washing of hands. ‘It is a high status object and raises the intriguing possibility that someone important was buried in Chilton.’ said David who is secretary of the Sudbury Museum Trust and author of other books including a history of Brundon. ‘The very name of the village comes from its Old English place name of Ciltona which is found in a number of counties and usually translated as ‘the farm or estate of the young noble man. Perhaps another Sutton Hoo is awaiting discovery.’ Interestingly Suffolk County Council excavations in 1996/7 revealed traces of a Saxon building between the new Sudbury Health Centre and St Mary’s Church.
The profusely illustrated book opens with the village’s Iron Age people and ends with summer wedding this year, covering along the way the Domesday survey, speculation over the lost village, and the vain fight to prevent Sudbury annexing part of the parish in 1986. At the present time it faces the biggest change in its history – the Chilton Woods development of 1,250 homes. Two constants have been the presence of St Mary’s Church and Chilton Hall as the heart of the village though both have undergone many changes. The book includes research by three generations of the Herbert/English family who lived at the Hall for much of the 20th century.
The lives of ordinary people over the centuries are mingles with the dramas of kidnap, poisoning, an exorcism and the wife of a parish council chairman gathering up the severed head of a young pilot in her apron. That was before the impact of WWII when the quiet village had to cope with the invasion of the 486th American Army Bomb Group. There’s culture too in the lives and work of artist Paul Earee and poet Norman Bentley whose bitter poem No Glorious Dead was used as the title for earlier Sudbury Museum Trust book.
The new book sells at £8.95 and will be available from Saturday at Kestrel bookshop in Friars Street, the Tourist Office in Sudbury Library, Landers bookshop in Long Melford and Great Waldingfield Post Office. David will be signing copies at Southend Library on the 19th from 10am-1pm.