TitleHobstevens, Layer Breton - Centenary Chronicles 40
AbstractHobstevens, Layer Breton

Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History

Centenary Chronicles - No. 40.

Published in Parish News - December 2005

There are many examples of what are sometimes called "English chocolate box" cottages in this country which have stood on the same spot for centuries but few have any recorded history. In this issue we deal with a local exception to the rule. The particular cottage we have in mind bears a name which can be traced back to the early sixteenth century at least. The links between property, tenants and rents together with the use to which the latter was put may be examined. All this takes us back to the days before local taxation as we know it today. Maintenance of roads and bridges was very much a matter for local communities.

This is not a straightforward tale but we can start in 1523 when John Abell, senior, a clothier, willed that a tenement he owned, along with the land attached to it, be held in trust and that the income from it should be used to maintain a bridge at Nayland. That is a simple summary of the root of the story. Abell was a wealthy cloth merchant and was able to make several provisions in his will which would benefit the residents of the town in which he had some prominence. The trust has, over the years, been the subject of much legal work. The duties of the trustees was also onerous in chasing rents and following up repair work to the bridge and the tenement itself.

The bridge to be maintained was noted in the will as Plod Bridge. Later it was known as Nayland Bridge, Pool Bridge and Anchor Bridge. It seems clear, however, that there was only one bridge and that crosses the River Stour in Nayland, next to the Anchor. As the river is the boundary between Essex and Suffolk it was of interest to the authorities in both counties.

The boundaries of the estate, from which the rents were due, were no doubt set out in the earliest papers and a deed of 1714 refers to a version of 1671. It would be impossible to recognise the tenement from the 1671 description - "William Morris and Thomas Wright seized of 1 messuage with 2 gardens 3 crofts of land and 1 piece of meadow - 16 acres between a certain lane called Peepers Lane on the east part of the ground then late of Henry Lord Marney called Lemore, on the west part 1 head thereof abutting upon the land called Bushes towards the north and the other head abutting upon the land called Shorters Land towards the south side." All perfectly clear?

Down the years things must have run fairly smoothly as a new bridge was built in 1771. The Suffolk Quarter Sessions, in 1777, noted that the land was leased to Jno Quilter for a term of 10 years and an annual rent of £10. Rent collection was no easy matter but we know that, on at least one occasion 2s (10p) was paid out "when the tenant came to Nayland to pay his rent." There is also a record that John Lindsey received 2s 6d (12.5p) "for going to Layer Brittam (sic) to view the Bridge house to see in what condition it was as to repairs".

Eventually proceedings were regularised to some extent and a magistrate from each county was appointed to act as Trustees. In 1840 the Essex Quarter Sessions ordered the Trustees to treat for a new lease to be granted to the then present tenant, the lease having expired on or about Michaelmas 1834. Six years without a lease but no note as to what happened to the rent! This laxity may have arisen from the fact that in 1832 Charles Round of Birch Park, the Essex magistrate involved, wrote to the Court to inform them that "in consequence of the death of Sir William Rowley, the Acting Trustee for Suffolk, I have declined to give orders for the remaining repairs to be completed before I resign of the charges of it - I was unwilling to give the orders on my single responsibility". A statement attached shows that in 1832 rent of £27 had been received and £40 paid for repairs to a stable and over £7 for oak plus Land Tax of £2. 2s. Not much left for the bridge!

The Land Tax records list the property as "County Bridge" and from the earliest record, in 1828, it was in the occupation of the Quilter family until at least 1903/4 when the occupant is shown as Herbert Norfolk. In 1818 the rent was said to be £7 per annum and this rose to £14 by 1852 and £22 in 1864. A fall in the rent to £13 in 1894 may well reflect the farming depression of the late nineteenth century.

The census returns can also be revealing and in 1861 we find George Quilter farming 16 acres with assistance of 2 boys. George, born in Layer Breton, was 44 years old and lived with his wife, 4 young children and his mother. Ten years later the property is recorded as Nayland Bridge House (as per the earliest Ordnance Survey maps) still with 16 acres of land but George was by then employing 1 labourer, his mother had died, but his wife and their 8 children were crammed into what must have been a small house. In 1891 George's widow, Mary, is shown as the farmer had living with her two sons. We know that the house had more than 5 rooms, but, clearly was not large. In 1901 Mary, by then 70, was there with her two sons John and Thomas shown as "farmers".

Nayland Bridge House bears the same unusual name today as that recorded in John Abell's will - Hobstevens and is to be found in Lower Road, Layer Breton. The original bridge has long gone and records show there to have been at least three on the site since 1523. To make identity certain the keystone of one of the early bridges has been retained and can be seen today. It bears a crest of a bell within an A - a pun on the benefactor's name.

During the twentieth century Hobstevens has also undergone many changes and a newspaper article, in 1968, describes how the then occupier, Douglas Eley, had "found a very sorry looking cottage with only one storey, and grass growing knee-high through that". Substantial renovation was put in hand at once so that the retired Mr Eley had a base from which he could expand his hobby of restoring pony drawn traps. Further changes have been made by subsequent owners and nowadays the cottage is very photogenic especially when the wisteria is in bloom.

The connection with Nayland Bridge ceased in the 1920s when the Charity Commissioners allowed the trust to be wound up as the income did not exceed £50 per year - which could not, even then, have gone far towards maintaining the bridge. The income was split between the two county councils until the property was sold for about £300 in 1925.


Acknowledgement: Our thanks to Mrs Millgate, Mrs Roberts and Mr G Munson for help on this occasion.

PublishedDecember 2005
SourceMersea Museum / Breton Heath