Southwold Common today covers 130 acres (52.6 hectares). It is not and never has been designated as 'Common Land' - that is to say, land over which people are entitled to exercise specified 'rights of common', such as grazing, cutting bracken and so on. Its status today is that of a registered Charitable Trust.
In 1970 legal opinion was sought on where the town of Southwold currently stood in respect of the ownership of the Godell lands and, specifically, Southwold Common. The opinion was that the legal estate in the Common was held by what was then Southwold Corporation, as successors to the original Bailiffs, upon trust for the inhabitants. It was also ruled that the sentence in Godell's will
meant that the property could be disposed of free of restrictions.
Over the years some of the lands Godell bequeathed have indeed been sold - for example, land on Gun Hill and South Green was sold off for building in the 18th and 19th Centuries, specifically to encourage people to move into the town. The rest has been used in whatever way the 'Bayliffs' or their successors, Southwold Corporation and Council, judged to be in the best interests of the local people. It was largely rented out as pasture until the last war so the grass was always cropped short. When pasturing stopped, the grass was regularly cut for animal bedding until dog fouling became such a problem that this had to stop in the 1950s.
The move to give the Common charitable status was to protect it and preserve it for the recreational use of the inhabitants in anticipation that local government reorganisation might abolish the Town Council and cause the Common to become the responsibility of another authority which might sell it off. However, as it turned out, the Town Council remained and carried on as Trustees of the Common until 1995.
That year, the Charity Commission advised the Council that it must separate its function as a local authority more transparently from its role as a Charity. This is why today, although all Town Councillors remain as Trustees of the Southwold Common Trust, in line with Godell's wishes, they keep their affairs separate, hold separate meetings and appoint a chairman who is neither the Town Mayor nor the Chairman of the Policy and Finance Committee.
The Common is specifically registered as a 'recreational ground for the general benefit of inhabitants' . This means that you can walk, jog, play, kick a ball around, birdwatch or just sit and relax without any charge.
Oddly enough, though, organised sport doesn't count as a charitable activity so the Trustees have to charge the various sports clubs market rates for the use of the Common. While this may be fair enough for commercially-based clubs like Southwold Golf Club, it would make some of the smaller sports clubs non-viable. To overcome this, Southwold Town Council holds the lease and pays the market rent to the Trust so that the clubs don't have to.