The Mildenhall Treasure is a major collection of Roman silver tableware that was discovered in the mid 20th century. These 4th century artefacts are displayed at the British Museum where they form an important part of the Roman Gallery. The motifs on the plates are mostly pagan, but there are a few hints of the new faith, Christianity, in some of the items.
This part of Suffolk is now well known as the home to two major American airbases. Together RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall make up the largest USAF centre in the UK and probably in Europe. Lakenheath has been in American use since the Second World War, and with the coming of the Cold War in the early 1950s the base at the nearby town of Mildenhall was also transferred to the USAF from the RAF (although the airbase is still called RAF Mildenhall). It has been used for air refuelling for many years, and hosts over 15,000 personnel. It has recently been announced that Mildenhall airbase will close in about 2020.
Lakenheath Warren had been used as an airfield in the First World War, but it was abandoned when hostilities ended. It reopened during the Second World War. Mildenhall had been opened as a RAF bomber station in 1934 and in October of that year it was the starting place for the MacRobertson Air Race to Melborne, Australia. My interest in these two places, Mildenhall and Lakenheath, extends much further back in time than the Cold War or even to First World War; it goes back to the 17th century. George Peachey was born in 1662 in Mildenhall, and his direct descendant Emily Peachey (my grandmother) was born in Lakenheath in 1887. The written records dry up before the mid 1600s, but I have no doubt that the family goes back many generations before that in the Lakenheath area. We know less about what the early Peacheys did for a living, but those of the nineteenth century were mostly warreners. As rabbits were the principal crop of Lakenheath, stretching back into the middle ages, I have little doubt that that occupation goes back into the mists of time also.
My great grandfather Phipp Peachey was a warrener, but by this time the world had opened up; in the 1840s Lakenheath got its railway station which still provides a service (albeit a limited one), and then the Peachey men were no longer restricted to girls from west Suffolk as wives. As a young man Phipp Peachey had tried his hand as a labourer in London. He soon returned to East Anglia, but not before he had met a girl from Buckinghamshire who was in service, and they were married at Wandsworth All Saints in 1883. The Great Western Railway had already opened up the genetic possibilities of English marriage; as a navvie her father from a long line of Buckingshire Joneses has married a girl from Cornwall.
The newly married Peacheys went back to Lakenheath after a few years although their first child Thirza was born in London in 1885. Phipp Peachey returned to a job as warrener, but found a position on the Colman estate in Trowse near Norwich. Trowse station was on the same railway line as Lakenheath. The Peacheys were housed in a semi-detached cottage down White Horse lane, just into Arminghall. It is very near the Bronze Age Woodhenge, although that was not discovered until after Phipp Peachey’s death in 1929. After centuries spent catching rabbits in the heathlands around West Suffolk something remarkable happened to the family in the 20th century. Of Phipp Peachey’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren there have been a Lord Major, an architect, the deputy head of a public school and a university professor. Others have been health professionals and teachers. At least seven of his descendants have gone to Oxford or Cambridge Universities. In one or two generations the family had moved from the poorest of the working class to the upper ranks of the middle class. How much of this reflects the greater opportunities of the 20th century? There has always been movement both up and down the social scale. Much has been done to open society up to those willing to take advantage of the possibilities, since Phipp Peachey was born in 1861. But people must still take the chances that are offered them, and his descendants have certainly done that. I like to think the opening up of the country that was an effect of the railway age has done much to refresh the genetic mix of the country.