Halesworth is a small market town and electoral ward, in the northeastern corner of Suffolk, England. The population was measured at 4,726 in the 2011 Census. It is located 15 miles (24 km) south west of Lowestoft, and stands on a small tributary of the River Blyth, 9 miles (14 km) upstream from Southwold. The town is served by Halesworth railway station on the Ipswich–Lowestoft East Suffolk Line. Halesworth is twinned with both Bouchain in France and Eitorf in Germany.
A Roman settlement, Halesworth has a medieval church; St Mary's with Victorian additions and a variety of houses, from early timber-framed buildings to the remnants of Victorian prosperity. Former almshouses used to house the Halesworth & District Museum (open from May to September) but this has now been moved to Halesworth railway station. The Town Trail walk provides opportunity to discover the history of Halesworth.
Halesworth is primarily centred on a pedestrianised shopping street known as the Thoroughfare. Each year the Thoroughfare hosts a popular food, drink and craft fair, termed the "Thoroughfair", to raise money for good causes.
Halesworth is the home to the New Cut Arts Centre, which hosts the acclaimed annual Halesworth Arts Festival.
Halesworth has the largest Millennium Green in the UK with around 44 acres (18 ha) of grazing marsh providing a haven for wildlife close to the town centre. The rivers in this area are home to herons, kingfishers and otters.
Nearby villages include Cratfield, Wissett, Chediston, Walpole, Blyford, Linstead Parva, Wenhaston, Thorington, Spexhall and Bramfield. The village of Holton is 1-mile (1.6 km) away with a large open space for walking called Holton Pits.
Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker the famous botanist and traveller was born in Halesworth in 1817. Hooker House, now a dental surgery, is named after him. His widow declined the proposal of a burial of his body in Westminster Abbey alongside Charles Darwin.
In 1862 the only murder was recorded. Ebenezer Tye (died 25 November 1862, aged 24) was a policeman who was trying to stop a burglary in Chediston Street. However he was beaten to death and is now buried in Halesworth Cemetery. The murderer, John Ducker, was caught and was the last person to be publicly hanged in Suffolk.
In 1862 the Rifle Hall was presented to the town by the family of a late captain of the rifle corps, Andrew Johnston. It is so called because it was used as a drill hall by the rifle corps. The hall was originally built in 1792 as a theatre and was used from 1812–44 by the theatre manager David Fisher. He owned an itinerant theatre group which travelled a circuit of theatres in East Anglia (including the Fisher Theatre in Bungay which has now been fully restored). It would take the company two years to complete the circuit travelling with their costumes, props and sets and publicising their plays as they went. They were highly successful with strong links with the London stage and the acting circle.
Chediston Street was originally the site of many pubs and small breweries. The ghost of Squire Baker is reputed to haunt this street. He is renowned for throwing the vicar down the stairs and breaking his legs. There is also a heavy-footed ghost that walks into a house and clumps noisily through to the other side.
Quay Street takes its name from the original town quay. In the middle of the 18th century the river was made navigable from Halesworth to Southwold. A new brick lock was made at Halesworth and new cuts were dug. The first keel arrived from Southwold in 1761, laden with coal, shortening the journey of the cargo considerably. Part of the old navigation can be seen in the Town Park.
The Town Park was created by Donald Newby (Chairman of Halesworth UDC 1970–71) with the help of Lady Rugby who donated some of the land.
1822–31 – the Reverend Richard Whateley was Rector of Halesworth, living in the Rectory, Rectory Lane. He was a renowned and outspoken academic vociferously opposed to slavery. He left Halesworth to become Archbishop of Dublin. One of his descendants is the actor Kevin Whately.
Halesworth Town Council was also formed in 1974. The 12 Town Councillors are elected every four years. The chairman and vice-chair are elected by fellow councillors and usually serve for two years in office.
Excavations outside the White Hart pub in 1991 discovered part of a causeway – probably dating from the late Saxon period. A piece of oak pile from these excavations is in the Halesworth & District Museum.
There are fine examples of 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th century buildings in the Thoroughfare.
Number 8 is a former ironmonger's. This shop belonged to the grandfather of Sir David Frost and the name of William Frost can still be seen underneath the archway next to the shop. The Thoroughfare is home to many specialist shops and cafes as well as playing host to events throughout the year.
Number 6, thought to be 14th century and sometimes referred to as Dame Margery's, is believed to have been the home of Margaret de Argentein. The beam over the main doorway would have included the Argentein coat of arms
A block of four shops next to this was originally built in 1474 as the Guildhall. This was the home of the Guild of St John the Baptist and Guild of St Love and St Anthony. The original line of the building can be seen.
20th century renovations discovered a mummified cat in the foundations. It was replaced when the work was completed. A similar mummified cat can be found at the Halesworth Museum. This cat came from one of the maltings in the town. The mummified cats were placed to ward off rats and mice from the grain, or bring good luck
A short distance to the east of the actual town lies the Second World War airfield of Halesworth. The airfield began in 1943. Initially the 56th Fighter Group of the United States 8th Army Air Force were stationed there. Later in 1944 it became the base of the 489th Bomb Group flying B24 Liberators. They played a full part in the buildup to and during D-Day on 6 June 1944. From July they switched to strategic offensive bombing until November, when they ceased operations to return to America.
Between January and June in 1945 the 5th Emergency Rescue Squadron operated from the base flying war weary P47s and B17s. Their mission was to carry dinghies and smoke markers to aid downed crews found at sea.
The airfield closed for flying in February 1946. Today the airfield is owned by Bernard Matthews and while it is still closed for flying except by the turkeys, there is an interesting and well laid out museum staffed by locals who help to keep the memories of those it hosted, alive.
Halesworth railway station is connected to Ipswich and Lowestoft. It is the best unstaffed railway station for 2004 and 2005. Services are available to Lowestoft and Ipswich and are run by Abellio Greater Anglia.
1854 – the railway arrives in Halesworth.
1859 – the railway station moves to its present position as the line is extended to Lowestoft.
1888 – the moveable platform is installed (renewed in 1922 and restored in 1999) This ingenious device is one of only a handful in the UK. As trains became longer they needed longer platforms. This device allowed the platforms to be extended across the adjacent level crossing. The moveable platform sections could be swung to one side to open the road for traffic.
1958 – Norwich Road railway bridge opens providing an alternative to the level crossing by the railway station with its moveable platform gates.
From 24 September 1879 until 11 April 1929 there was a line from Halesworth to Southwold. There were plans by the Southwold Railway Society to revive the railway, partly on the original track and partly on new formation, but these have now been abandoned in favour of a railway park, to be situated at Southwold.
There has probably been a church on the site of St Mary's, since Saxon times. Halesworth is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 recording Ulf the priest to be in charge of the parish.
The present church is essentially early 15th century with outer aisles built and restoration taking place in the late 19th century. At the time of the restoration, some evidence was uncovered of a round-tower church on the site. The carved Danestones in the church are now believed to be early Norman in date. They were found in the church during the 19th century and could be part of a cross shaft. They depict hands clutching foliage or tails. Their original location is unknown, but undoubtedly pre-date anything now visible in the present church.
St Mary's is part of the Blyth Valley Team Ministry of eleven parishes.
Tall railings once surrounded the churchyard. This provided protection from sheep and cattle being driven through on market day. This was known as Monkey Walk.
There are historical records of some 30 pubs in Halesworth.
Presently there are 4 public houses, the White Hart, the Angel, the White Swan & the Triple Plea.
Halesworth includes a 27-hole golf club.
Halesworth Town F.C. and Wenhaston United F.C. are the local football clubs.
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