Who were Southwold’s first permanent inhabitants?
Southwold has no natural resources other than fish, no rich religious houses and a thin, sandy soil that makes agriculture tough going. With richer pickings down the coast, Southwold took some time to become established.
The first written records referring to the area are in the Domesday Book, which indicates that in Anglo Saxon times there were some small, permanent settlements at Easton Bavents, Reydon and Southwold. Southwold, despite its fishing resources, appears poorer than the others.
These settlements were given to various knights and bishops as a reward for supporting William in the Conquest of 1066. The Domesday Book records the following detail.
1. Southwold was held by the Abbey of St Edmund to provide income for the monks. Every year local people had to pay 25,000 herrings to the Abbey at Bury St Edmunds. The area amounted to about 50 hectares and this appears to have supported only thirteen men and their families. There was one plough, one horse, four oxen, three pigs and thirty sheep. Strangely there is no mention of fishermen, only a fish weir (a wicker trap for catching fish).
2. Reydon had been given to Ralph Baignard and he had sublet it to Toret. The area then amounted to some 250 hectares and this appears to have supported 53 men plus their families. There was woodland for keeping pigs. There were fifteen ploughs, one horse, five oxen, thirty pigs, one hundred and ten sheep and fifteen goats. Reydon had two churches while Southwold had none.
3. Easton Bavents had been given to Gilbert the Crossbowman. The area then amounted to some 100 hectares and this appears to have supported 6 men plus their families. There was some woodland and meadow. There were three ploughs, one horse, three oxen, ten pigs and eighty sheep. There had been salt pans but these had disappeared.