CODDENHAM

This village is some six or seven miles north of Ipswich. It lies to the east of the A140 main road to Norwich. It is in fact a much older settlement than Ipswich itself; Ipswich was an Anglo-Saxon foundation, but in Roman time Coddenham was one of the largest towns in the southern Iceni lands, now known as Suffolk. It was called Combretorium and it lay on the Roman Road between Colchester and Caistor, slightly to the west of the current village.

At the end of the eighteenth century the village belonged to the Bacon family as it had for two centuries before. This was a junior branch of the premier baronets of  England, the Bacons of Raveningham Hall in Norfolk. They all could trace their ancestry back to Queen Elizabeth I’s Keeper of the Great Seal, Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510 – 1579). By 1770 in Coddenham-cum-Crowfield John Bacon owned much of the surrounding countryside. The Vicar of the parish was Nicholas Bacon, the younger brother of the squire.

In May 1775 Parson Woodforde travelled south from his Norfolk home into Suffolk. He stayed a few days with friends near Needham Market. It was when he was staying there that he was driven in his friend’s chariot to visit members of the local gentry. While in Coddenham they called on John Bacon at his newly completed mansion at Shrublands, to drink tea with him. There was a certain amount of mental instability in the Suffolk branch of the Bacon family. Parson Woodforde put it more bluntly in his diary; their great misfortune was, he wrote, that “the family of the Bacons have always been mad”. It appears that the Revd Nicholas Bacon suffered from what we would today describe as bi-polarism. He was in high spirits at times and very low at others. No doubt John Bacon also suffered from the condition.

None of the Bacon siblings had any children although some of them married. The vicar took Anna Marie Browne as his wife in 1780. She was the eldest surviving daughter of Mr John Browne of Ipswich. Anna’s father died in 1789, and the Rev Nicholas Bacon (whose wife had died in 1785) took his sister-in-law, Charlotte Browne, under his wing. This had implications for the future prosperity of John Longe. The Rev Nicholas was a younger son of the family, and so his personal wealth was relatively modest, but when his elder brother John Bacon died in 1788 he became the owner of the Shrublands estate. Although he sold most of the property, he retained nearly a quarter of the land in the parish of Coddenham. Charlotte had expectations of being the heiress to a small fortune when Nicholas died in 1796. She had by then already joined her lot with that of John Longe.

The Reverend John Longe

The Reverend John Longe

In 1790 Charlotte had married the new curate of the parish. The Revd John Longe was born in Spixworth in Norfolk, the eldest son of the Rector, the nephew of the owner of Spixworth Park. He began his education at Bungay Grammar School before moving to Norwich School.  After taking his degree at Cambridge he had been made deacon at Norwich cathedral and he began his ecclesiastical career as his father’s curate in Spixworth. His salary was under a pound a week (£30 a year) – quite a difference from the wealth he was to enjoy as the Vicar of Coddenham. After being ordained priest in Norwich in 1789 he moved to Suffolk to be curate of Coddenham. It was through his acquaintance with Mr Reeve, the headmaster of the Grammar School in Bungay, that he was introduced to the curacy at the Suffolk village Coddenham, and to the Vicar Nicholas Bacon. I am reluctant to draw any conclusions about the reasons for John Longe’s proposal of marriage to a woman with expectations of inheriting great wealth, but the possibility of sharing in that wealth cannot have been lost on the impoverished curate.

When Nicholas Bacon died John Longe had already been advanced to the position of  Vicar of Crowfield. The late Nicholas’s legacy was complicated by the claims of his married sister, Lady Mary Johnston. She thought she should have inherited the assets of the late vicar. The will was disputed and on several occasions John Longe had to travel up to London to attend hearings at Westminster Hall. Proceedings were dragged out for a year, but eventually probate was granted in Longe’s favour. His wife Charlotte inherited the Bacon wealth in 1797. The advowson (i.e. the right to nominate the holder of a clerical appointment to the bishop) for the parish was less contentious and the Revd John Longe moved into the splendid Vicarage in Coddenham some months earlier. The Georgian property had been built in 1770.

These were years of war against Napoleon and the threat of invasion, and although militias were being recruited across the land, the even tenor of life in rural Suffolk went on much as usual. The Curate spent some of his days pruning apple trees and others planting out annuals.  By the time he became Vicar of Coddenham he had farm labourers and a gardener to carry out these mundane tasks, but he still enjoyed supervising the planting of a shrubbery on the terrace at the vicarage. Within a few  years of his arrival in Suffolk, before inheriting the major prize at Coddenham, he became the Vicar of the village of Henley, a mile or so away.

He lived an active life of involvement in the local community, but not in a particularly spiritual sense. There was always the village book club to supervise, friends to have over for dinner or to go shooting with. He made frequent visits to Ipswich and went rather less often to Norwich. Sometimes he went by mail-coach and on other occasions he took his own coach, getting fresh horses at the Scole Inn. There he could hire a post-chaise and post-boy for the journey to Spixworth.

With his new-found wealth he ran an establishment of ten domestic servants. His farm provided employment for four more workers. John Longe lived near enough to be in frequent contact with the local ports. He regularly received seafood  from the coast – fresh fish such as soles from Aldeburgh and oysters from Colchester. He bought casks of kippers from Yarmouth – these he called kiplings, presumably smaller fish. Coal was brought from Orford. When his son made a tour of Scotland he returned by sea to Harwich. His youngest son was curate in Woodbridge.

In 1812 two close relatives passed away. His wife Charlotte died suddenly on the 21st of May, following an asthma attack. His cousin, the Lord of the Manor of Spixworth, died in the same summer. His name was Francis Longe, and he had no children. The title of Lord of the Manor of Spixwort would pass to John Longe’s family. However his widow Catherine (neé Jackson) lived on at the Hall until her own death 16 years later. She was left with little to live on and endured an impoverished existence. Despite being lent £5000 by the elder John Longe she found herself severely embarrassed by a shortage of funds. She dismissed servants, tried to sell a farm and began to fell oaks on the estate. She borrowed further sums from a number of people including her own father. (He had been an important figure in the Admiralty and a friend of Captain James Cook.) John Longe junior took legal proceedings to get her to stop dissipating his inheritance, encouraged by his father. After her death he found the estate was still encumbered with debt, which he inherited along with the property.

The new squire of Spixworth was John Long (b. 1799), the Vicar of Coddenham’s eldest surviving son. He had lived all his life at Coddenham until he was 29. At first it seemed that he would not inherit Spixworth Park, because although the squire was likely to die without issue, John Longe had an elder brother. When his brother Francis died in 1819, while still an undergraduate at Cambridge, he became the heir apparent. Shortly after inheriting Spixworth Park in 1828 he married Caroline Warneford of Warneford Place in Wiltshire. Her family came to visit her in Spixworth and also called on her father-in-law at Coddenham. Her father seemed to be a very agreeable companion, according to the Vicar. He was  a former army officer.

There is what is, at first glance, a charming story concerning the grandmother of Caroline Warneford. Caroline’s maternal grandfather, William Flower, was the son of a member of the Irish peerage, Viscount Ashbrook. As an undergraduate at Oxford he met and fell in love with young Betty Ridge, the daughter of the weir keeper on the river Thames at nearby Northmoor. Despite the enormous difference in their social status, he was determined to marry her. Although she was obviously a diamond, she was a rough one, and need honing to move among born aristocrats as an equal. She would need to learn to read and write of course, and her flat midland vowels would need rounding off.  But there were any number of things from the use of the cutlery at the dinner table to the way to greet guests that would have been a closed book to the waterman’s daughter. After a period of intensive education they wed in 1766; she was nineteen and he was twenty one. Plain Betty Ridge became Lady Elizabeth Ashbrook. It is just as well that William Flower had already inherited the title of Viscount, and there was no paternal disapproval to overcome. You can see why I say that on further consideration the tale of what happened to a simple riverside lass becomes quite alarming, at least for the lady in question; I hope that her new life made her happy.

With his elder brother John moving into his estate in Norfolk it was the next brother, Robert, who became the Vicar of Coddenham when his father died in 1834.  He had inherited the advowson of the parish, so the living was in his gift. As he was already a clergyman he was able to give it to himself. His elder brother John died childless in 1872, when Robert inherited the Spixworth estate. Already an old man, he had no desire to take up his responsibilities as squire of the Norfolk village and remained at Coddenham as Vicar until his death in 1890 at the age of 89.

The Revd Robert Longe was a competent amateur artist and regularly exhibited with the Ipswich Art Club. His choice of subject matter reveals how widely travelled he was; in 1815 his family had gone to Yorkshire and in 1870 he was in Wales. Click here to view examples of his work. Several members of the Longe family were talented artists, and prints of works by a grandson, the professional artist William Verner Longe, may be purchased online in 2015.

Robert Longe’s daughter had married a clergyman in Suffolk, but while he was still quite a young man he had to give up his ministry in Lowestoft through illness. He was suffering mental problems, and when he was taken into a home in Norwich she took her children to live with her father at the vicarage in Coddenham. The Revd Robert Longe had been living on a relatively modest scale compared to his father, who had employed ten servants; Robert had been managing with four. To look after his young grandchildren however he needed extra help, and the number of servants increased to six. When her father died his daughter had to move out of vicarage and went live at a commodious residence near Christchurch Park in Ipswich. By then her children had grown up and just two unmarried daughters were living with her.

Victorian letter box at Spixworth

VR letter box at Spixworth

Great changes had come about in England during Robert’s lifetime. When he took up his duties as Vicar of Coddenham the quickest way to get to Norwich was by mail-coach, which would take half a day. Within a dozen years the railway station at Needham Market had opened, less than four miles away, and Norwich was only about an hour distant by train. The same century had seen the transformation of the postal service from an expensive luxury to the Penny Post that the newly literate populace could afford to use. Red letter boxes and Post Offices began to appear in England, including at Coddenham. The telegraph made communication instant, although for a long time only important life events like births, marriages and deaths warranted the use of telegrams. Medicine advanced by leaps and bounds during the century; in the early years the local physician Dr Clubbe would call on the sick (those who could afford to send for him), but in truth there was little he could do for them. Bleeding was the favoured treatment. Perhaps the first great advance in the provision of drugs was the use of laudanum, an opiate which would at least dull the pain. Although the tincture of opium was known in the 18th century, it only became generally available in Queen Victoria’s  reign.

Those who wish to know more of John Longe’s time in Coddenham should read The Diary of John Longe, Ed. Michael Stone (Woodbridge, 2008).

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

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