Suffolk’s best walks: The commons of Wortham and Burgate
PUBLISHED: 16:47 21 November 2019 | UPDATED: 18:27 21 November 2019
Lindsay Want finds all sorts of memorials around the great commons of Wortham and Burgate in the Waveney Valley
Signposts to the past are all around us in Suffolk, if only we'd allow ourselves time to read them.
Take Long Green at Wortham. With its pretty, purposeful Post Office-cum-tearoom, it cries out as a stop to stretch the legs when we're nipping along the A143 between Bury St Edmunds and the A140.
It's a truly delightful find amidst the autumn arable fields of the Waveney floodplain and so refreshingly green and pleasant it has been designated a 'Visibly Important Open Space' (VIOS).
In this neck of the Suffolk woods Long Green is not alone. Neighbouring villages, Wortham and Burgate, boast 200 acres of registered common land between them.
Footpaths, once trodden by labourers scraping a living and scouring the land for fuel, link the heathery swathes of Wortham Ling, which edge the Waveney and the Angles Way Path in the north, with the Great and Little Greens of Burgate, tucked away below the Iris beds of the plant nurseries in the south.
How did these precious areas, now so treasured for their flora and fauna, somehow get spared when the Government's 1812 Enclosures Act drove the plough across so many of the county's commons and curtailed so many of our village greens?
Maps reveal that Long Green has changed little since 1753. Its survival is a tribute to the local folk who depended on common land for their livelihood, and to their fighting spirit.
Park up by St Mary's Wortham and wonder at its rather over-sized and defensive-looking, Norman flint tower, reputedly the biggest round tower of any church in England, at nearly 9 metres in diameter and 19 metres high.
It's rotund, robust and independent - perhaps once a watchtower over the River Waveney?
No doubt in the 1930s, it saw the bailiffs and Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts coming when it found itself sandwiched between anti-church tithe protestors, rallying by the rectory, and Rowland Rash's nearby Manor Farm, where livestock was to be seized in the name of 'Queen Anne's Bounty'.
In the 1920s' Great Depression, that a farmer should lose a tenth of his income to the Church of England thanks to some obscure, archaic law, was a step too far.
In Wortham things got nasty, with 100 police officers drafted in from Ipswich to quash politically motivated agitators and ensure that Mr Rash's £702 tithe-tax bill (134 pigs and 15 bullocks) could be claimed 'peacefully'. Today, just a steal from Magpie Green, an understated roadside monument records the loss and resentment.
As footpaths off Church Road lead alongside land now reserved for crops alone, it's hard to imagine the old mixed farms with livestock in the fields. At Long Green, occasional farm animals may still roam the common, but it's a far cry from the days when lambs grazed alongside horses, donkeys, ducks and geese.
The days when Sam Flatman reared his fowl for 'higglers' (market-traders) and John Pretty did his rounds, collecting dry sheep droppings to keep his home fires burning.
'Faith, Hope, Charity' declares the Victorian façade left clinging to today's modern school buildings on the southern edge of Long Green, proof that one of Wortham's rectors, at least, clergyman and Margaret Catchpole author Richard Cobbold (1825-77), believed in the welfare of his parishioners.
Heading south towards Burgate, the subtle introductions to colourful local characters keep coming, like John Waller, of Hill Farm, who bumped off Burgate's rector in 1513, and was apparently hanged here. The reason for the dispute? Tithe payments, of course!
At the door to St Mary's Burgate, two modern-day churchwarden stalwarts - Harry Baker and Billy Garrod - were immortalised in stone during 1990s renovations, but neither look too amused by the medieval headgear they're apparently modelling.
Inside, there's a chance to get more closely acquainted with early 15th century costumes courtesy of Lord of the Manor, William de Burgate and his wife, Alianora. Laid to rest in an impressive tomb right in front of the altar in 1409/1412, their memorial brasses are among the most exquisite and best preserved in East Anglia.
Along the lane, there's the briefest glimpse of the pink, jettied frontage of Hall Farm but its moats and even earlier hall earthworks are out of sight amid the ancient coppice stumps of Burgate Wood.
Around the corner, Burgate's Great Green is wide, timeless, absolutely unexpected and quite magical.
Beyond the village pump, a bench is the perfect spot to rest the legs and let the mind continue to wander. It remembers Charlie Flatman who has 'gone fishing' presumably after a lifetime of enjoying Burgate's 37 ponds.
Back on Long Green the vast tract of common seems more open than ever now. Richard's school, Charlie's ponds, birds and butterflies, oaks and orchids, horses, heather and hedgerows.
If there's one thing to take away from a walk around Wortham and Burgate, it's that memorials don't always have to be set in stone.
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Time to remember
Inside St Mary's Burgate, alongside the impressive memorial brasses of the Lord and Lady of the Manor, it's more humble brass offerings which steal the show.
A second look confirms the towering candlesticks to be First World War shell cases and reveals Rector Benjamin Appleyard's army chaplain's helmet propped up nonchalantly alongside.
With shell-case furnishings fashioned by wounded soldiers in Godwaersvelde Hospital in Ypres, a sky-blue backdrop and wooden surround crafted by local artisans, Appleyard's altar of remembrance is simple, close to home and deeply touching.
1) Start at St Mary's Church Wortham (IP22 1SL). At junction (church behind you) turn right towards Magpie Green along road for approx. 0.35 miles/0.5 kms.
2) The 'Tithe War' memorial is on the right. Retrace steps to junction. Turn right onto Church Road (signed Mellis).
3) After gentle S-bend, take footpath (right). Path curves left (hedge right). Straight ahead at crossroad of paths. After small bridge, continue on path (hedge now left) to larger bridge and junction of paths.
4) Turn left to reach Long Green.
5) Turn left, following edge of common. Go past White House Farm. Turn right, then left around sports field to Church Road.
6) Cross Church Road. Keep ahead down track, then go right along path in front of houses (left) to Wortham Post Office/ tearoom and main road A143.
7) Turn left. Follow pavement to end of houses and bridleway (Bean's Lane) signed on right.
8) Cross road to follow Bean's Lane which starts as a track. As track bears left, keep straight ahead into a green lane. This becomes a field-edge path( hedge right). Following signpost, go right along field-edge path to T-junction. Turn right onto farm track. Keep right (hedge left) to reach Owl's Barn / Hill Farm and the road.
9) Pass in front of Hill Farm. Cross road to take Sycamore Road opposite. Views of Burgate Church (left). Left at junction.
10) Through gate (right) to Burgate Church. Exit churchyard through gate opposite porch. Turn right along road.
11) At entrance to Hall Farm, take footpath (right by farm sign, over footbridge). Path goes diagonally left across field to corner, then through gap, to bear left alongside Burgate Wood.
12) At corner of wood, continue straight ahead on field margin path (hedge left). Nearing the houses, path bears left, then right to Great Green.
13) Turn right to follow path anti-clockwise around Great Green, passing The Burrow, Green Farm (right) and the old pump (left). This takes you left onto grass track, past Charlie's bench and a white Chapel House. Turn right to reach the Old Primitive Methodist Chapel.
14) Follow footpath right, going diagonally across a small meadow, then left at the hedge gap, past Howard Nurseries Ltd reservoir (right). The field-margin path (hedge and nurseries left) leads to path junction.
15) Turn left. Field margin path scoops left, then straight ahead to hedge gap to pub car park (The Manor) and road.
16) Turn right, passing school (right), village sign (left). At Church Road (signed Wortham Church) (17) Cross back over to Long Green and retrace steps to Wortham St Mary's.
The beginning/end of the walk from St Mary's Wortham (and detour to the Tithe War memorial) are linear and optional. For a shorter walk, the circular section (7-17) can be enjoyed from Long Green.
Distance: 8 miles/13 kms. Circular section only 3.5 miles/5.5 kms
Time: 4 hours/1.5 hours
Start: St Mary's Church Wortham (IP22 1SL)/Wortham Post Office (IP22 IPP).
Access: Field-edge, green lanes, pavements, gates, footbridges.
Map: OS Explorer 230