A short history of Hitcham
A few Bronze Age artifacts have been picked up in the fields of Hitcham
(an arrow head and an axe head) but the earliest archaeological sites
that have been dutifully recorded are both Roman, at which coins, fragments
of pottery, tiles and small ornaments have been found. These have been
dated from the first to the fourth centuries. The settlement pattern,
however, has evolved from the early Anglo-Saxon period as has the name
HITCHAM; first recorded in AD992 and in the Domesday Book of 1086 as
The parish church dates from the 14th century but the Domesday record
describes an earlier church. In 1984, a site in a field behind The White
Horse was excavated, revealing an ancient burial ground with a number
of well preserved skeletons and the foundations of what might have been
a church. Fragments of pottery found suggested a date of 10th or 11th
By the end of the 13th century, farms and homesteads were in much the
same positions as they are now, the prominent ones being Hitcham Hall,
Wetherden Hall and Loose Hall. Thus the settlement pattern of Hitcham
became one of scattered hamlets as it is mostly today Bird Street,
Cross Green, Cooks Green, the Water Run and so on small clusters
of houses around or near a farm.
During the medieval period, up until 1559, the Lords of the Manor of
Hitcham were successive Bishops of Ely who extracted feudal dues from
all who lived in the parish, whatever their status.
The late Tudor and early Stuart periods seem to have been times of
relative prosperity (for some anyway) in Hitcham, as many of the farmhouses
were virtually rebuilt during that time. Ennals is a fine example of
an L shaped Tudor house and Chapel Farmhouse and Brick House
Farm have excellent examples of Tudor brickwork.
The long years from the end of the 17th to the early 19th century seem
to have been marked by a slow descent into impoverishment. Few improvements
were made to houses, virtually no new and lasting building took place
and nothing was done to the church. Indeed, in the 1840s Hitcham was
described as being one of the most poverty stricken parishes in pauperised
Suffolk. This could have been largely due to the system of land ownership
prevailing in Hitcham. Farms in the west of the parish were part of
the estate of the Wenyeve family at Brettenham Park, noted for having
no money, and most of the rest of Hitchams farms were owned by
absentee landlords who collected rents without carrying out improvements.
When the Rev Professor John Henslow arrived at Hitcham in 1837 the
parish was in dire straits with about half the labouring population
receiving meagre benefits from the village Feoffment Charity. Henslow
introduced a number of social measures in the village to improve conditions,
but it was the general agricultural prosperity of the 1850s which had
the most marked effect, allowing the better landlords to carry out improvements
to their properties and the farmers to increase wages.
However, another farming slump began in the 1870s, and in Hitcham several
farm workers joined a newly formed labourers union in a bid to
force farmers to increase wages. This led to the Farm Lock-out
of 1874 and a number of disturbances in the village. Victory went to
the farmers and several Hitcham families were obliged to leave the village.
Farming economics continued in an up and down fashion until the first
world war when many Hitcham men joined the army. It is believed that
42 young men from Hitcham were killed in action.
In the 1890s a scandal arose in Hitcham over water. A number of children
died from infectious diseases and water was deemed to be a cause. The
only supply of domestic water in the village was from ponds which in
summer often became fouled. As a result of an enquiry carried out by
the newly formed West Suffolk County Council, a water tower was constructed
at Cross Green and the village was supplied with a number of pumps and
stand-pipes from which clean water could be drawn.
Electricity arrived in Hitcham in the interwar period and Cosford Rural
District Council built two sets of council houses (at the top of Browns
Hill and in Brettenham Road) to accommodate families from the village
living in cramped conditions.
During the second world war 93 men and women from Hitcham served in
the armed forces, and eight men lost their lives. Able-bodied men required
to stay behind to work on the land enlisted in the Hitcham Platoon of
the Home Guard. A number of Hitcham girls fell in love with and married
US servicemen stationed nearby.
After the war a further batch of council houses was built on the Causeway
Estate. When a mains sewerage system arrived during the 1960s, houseowners
took the opportunity to improve their homes, and country properties
became attractive to people who wished to move from the towns. This
led to some startling increases in house values and one Hitcham cottage,
offered for sale in the 1950s to anyone who would take it off the owners
hands for £100, would, in the year 2000, probably sell for about
This article was first published in the fully illustrated Hitcham Millennium
Book, still available from Hitcham
Post Office price £10.00 incl p & p.
For more information about Hitcham history, refer to our history
database or the Hitcham
stories sent in by our members.