The Suffolk market town of Framlingham is justifiably well-known today for its castle, one of the premier historic sites of East Anglia. We can assume that there was a settlement on the site from Anglo-Saxon times through the recording of those living there in 1066, at the time of the Norman conquest. Evidence from earlier times is not easily to hand; it is often the case that the site of a Norman castles was the site of an earlier defensive work but evidence of this in not clear in the case of Framlingham. The current Mere beside the castle is regarded as being established in its present form by the builders of the castle, but as a development of an already existing lake and such a lake would have attracted settlement through the fish that it provided for food.
William divided the manors of England amongst his knights after the conquest; Roger Bigod, son of Robert le Bigod, was given a substantial 117 manors in Suffolk and 187 in Norfolk. The Framlingham entry in the Domesday book refers to Roger Bigod as sheriff of Suffolk and landowner. The Bigod family would exercise great influence over East Anglia and amongst other fortifications to establish his rule Roger constructed a wooden castle at Framlingham, later rebuilding in stone.
His second son Hugh inherited the regional estates on the death of his elder brother William in 1120; during the time of the civil war between Stephen and Matilda and through into the reign of Henry II, Hugh switched allegiances on various occasions and sought to extend his authority over the whole of East Anglia. East Suffolk and Framlingham were a power base for him, and the royal sheriffs were unable to exercise the king's power there. Hugh lost Framlingham castle to the king and was then given it back again, strengthening the walls, but in 1173 the king finally exercised his rule and his royal engineer demolished Framlingham castle.
Hugh's son Roger eventually came back into favour with Richard I, who made him Earl of Norfolk and allowed him to rebuild Framlingham castle, essentially the building that survives. It is an interesting structure having no keep but a long curtain wall with a series of towers. Roger was not a supporter of King John, who besieged and took the castle.Later the Mowbray family would hold the castle as Duke of Norfolk, and then the Howard family.
Edward IV gave Framlingham to his sister Mary Tudor and she was in residence there when thousands of supporters arrived at the castle to proclaim her queen, and she travelled to London to take up the crown without any opposition.>
Eventually Pembroke College, Cambridge, would become the owner of the castle. It served for a while as a prison and then poorhouse until it became a national monument in the early 20th century. All the time that the castle was operating as a centre of regional power, the town was growing in its shadow. Any such building attracted a population which served the castle, trade operated under its influence and protection and the town grew around what is now known as 'Market Hill'. The fine church of St Michael contains elements from the 12th century but is principally a building of the perpendicular style from between 1350 and 1555. The tomb of Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk, is in the church.
The granting of a charter to hold a market was always a key event for a medieval town; establishing it as the local centre for trade and the award of Framlingham's in or about 1285 ensured that on two or three days of the week the surrounding villages and farms would bring their goods to trade. We can imagine the market as a bustling place, with perhaps some of the current shops able to trace the origins of their sites back to market stalls. Likewise hostelries developed around the market to provide for the visitors to the market. Certainly there are shops and hotels which display evidence of at least a Tudor ancestry. Thus Framlingham, as with that whole grid of market towns found every across East Anglia prospered as a regional centre within a day's walk or ride to trade and then return home.
The town would have shared in the prosperity of the textile industry and the development of agriculture through the 18th and 19th centuries. In due course the main road system would bypass Framlingham and it was not on a turnpike road. The East Suffolk Railway did however arrive in 1859, and a passenger service operated until 1952; the freight yards continued in use until 1965. The substantial area covered by those yards, together with the buildings constructed to make use of the opportunities offered by the railway, can still be seen. The supply of barley to distant maltings had become a significant business in the town and relied on the railway.
Thomas Mills is one of the prominent past citizens of the town. He came to Framlingham to take up an apprenticeship as a wheelwright; he was left the business and also married the widow of a wealthy local landowner. He was a member of the Baptist community; on his death he endowed one of the almshouses and a foundation for the education of children in Framlingham. The Thomas Mills High School continues to benefit from that foundation. The founding of Framlingham College in 1864, as the Prince Albert Memorial College, would have its own beneficial effect on the town. It brought trade for local companies and the families of students visit the town to make use of its facilities.
Click for books from Poppyland Publishing with Framlingham links:
'The Commercial Life of a Suffolk Town' by John Bridges looks at Framlingham around 1900.
'The Castles of Suffolk' by Peter Tryon has a detailed section on Framlingham castle.
Framlingham from the air. The old town and the church are to the left of the picture, growing up at the entrance to the gateway to the castle.
The town sign incorporates the castle and church, the extant Victorian pillar box and the town pump. Across the bottom of the sign is the Mere.
Many East Anglian churches feature medieval flushwork, a technique which involved setting the local flint into patterns in imported stone; each pattern is a religious symbol.
The guttering of the church commences with the declaration, "Behold the tabernacle of God..." and features angelic figures above the water outlets.
One of the sets of town almshouse. These were founded and endowed by Sir Robert Hitcham and were built in 1654.