Home > History > A history of Rougham

A History of Rougham

History is only as good as the sources used. So excuse any mistakes you recognise and please let us know of any variations.

People have been living in Rougham (Rohham means a rough enclosure or rough village) for over 2000 years. There are Iron Age pottery bits in Moyses Hall museum  (In Bury St Edmunds)  and  there is a  Roman Road — Elderstub Lane. In 1843 some agricultural workers found the Roman Tumuli (grave chambers) at Eastlow Hill (low means barrow in Saxon) and soon after an archaeological dig found three others.  There is  also have a Roman building, possibly a villa, near the fishing lake. Finding from these digs date them to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD i.e. just before the Romans went back to Rome.

FASCINATING FACT A our tenuous connection to Charles Darwin

By the early 11th Century Ruhham belonged to Earl Ufketel, Earl of East Anglia. Earl Ufketel was married to Wulfhild who was the daughter of Ethelred the Unready and sister to King Edmund Ironside. After a series of Viking raids including the destruction of Morwich (1004) and Thetford, Ulfketel mustered Saxon defenders to send the Vikings packing and gave Ruhham (along with Woolpit, Rickinghall, Hinderclay and Redgrave) to the new Abbey of St Edmund as a thanksgiving. Ufketel was killed at the battle of Ashington in 1016 when Cnut became King of England.

The new Abbey was built to house the remains of St Edmund and by 1086 the Doomsday Book listed the lands, men and animals of Rougham as belonging to the Abbey as about 700 acres of ploughed land, 7 acres of meadow, 3 horses, 22 cattle, 25 pigs, 55 sheep and 102 men — 15 of these men were Villans living in cottages, 11 were Bordars living in wooden huts and the rest were unimportant! 40 acres were allocated to the local church as alms worth £16 with an income of 20 pence.

For the next 200-300 years the Abbey grew immensely in wealth and power, but the local people including those in Rougham saw no improvements in their lifestyles. So in both 1327 and 1381 they all joined together to rebel against their masters. The locals lost their homes and livelihoods when the monks and townspeople extracted revenge on each other by destroying all the surrounding farms. (A FUTURE  ARTICLE  will discuss whether the destruction of the area around the Church was because of the riots or was the effect of the 'Black Death' or a combination of the both events.).

In 1539 the Abbey was dissolved and all the land in Rougham was given to the Drury family and the Jermyn family.


The Rougham lands were used for barley growing and sheep-rearing, with a small amount of coppicing for wood and pasturage for dairy cattle and of course most of the working people kept a pig. For the next 250 years life continued with little variance — wheat, turnips and clover were brought into the growing cycle as Suffolk wool was declared inferior to Lincolnshire wool for cloth.

The population of the village grew very slowly too. Between 1674 and 1801 the number of inhabited houses grew from 41 to 70, though the number of people rose from about 150 to 600 — perhaps they huddled together for warmth as England went through a mini-iceage with ice fairs on the river Thames in London!

The Enclosure Act of 1815 put 1054 acres under private ownership so the peasants could no longer use Common Land for their wool-gathering, pig keeping and crops. In 1834 the Poor Law Reform Act put up Workhouses throughout the land, but Rougham had its own philanthropists. Sir James Stiff built his Almshouses for Non-conformist widows.

FASCINATING FACT C Baptists v Anglicans


Other local landlords gave money for 4 maids to attend school; 6 cottagers to receive a loaf of bread weekly at the Church door; for £15 to divided equally between 10 worthy men each Hammastide etc. Some people were lucky! Another charity erected the school in 1875 and endowed it with £40 per annum — a considerable sum in those days.

Major landowning families were Drury, Bennett, Johnstone and more recently Agnew. Major buildings included Rougham Hall built in the 1820s and destroyed by a German bomb in the 1940. Major building works included the village of Blackthorpe, now commonly known and Mouse Lane, in the 1960s.

Our village has a lot of history — this has been a rough scratch over the surface. If you have any further historical facts that you think should be included please send these in.

Web-sites that are of interest and not covered — fully or otherwise — include:


www.rougham.org relating to Rougham Tower Association and Rougham Airfield

www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/rougham relating to St Marys C of E Church

http://www.brbaptistchurch.info/History relating to the Bradfield and Rougham Baptist Church


Researched and written by Janette Steel


FASCINATING FACT A  - Our tenuous connection to Charles Darwin.

In 1843 some agricultural workers were digging in a field at Eastlow hill when their spades went through the roof of an underground open space which turned out to be a Roman Burial Chamber.

The Reverend John Stevens Henslow was the rector at Hitcham as well as chair of Botany at Cambridge University. He was a man fascinated by all things natural, mineral or historical. He instigated an archaeological dig at the site and found four tumuli, one containing a lead coffin and the other three cremation urns. His initial description of these as 3rd/4th century AD graves is now considered a bit late — they were probably early 2nd century AD and probably linked to the Roman villa found nearby.

Reverend Henslow also encouraged a local phosphate industry in Suffolk when he discovered coprolites in various areas around Suffolk. Coprolites are fossilised poo!

But where, you ask, does Charles Darwin come into all this? He was a pupil of Reverend Henslow at Cambridge and closely monitored by him. Charles Darwin had begun studying medicine at Edinburgh University, but neglected his studies because Natural Sciences were of more interest to him. Eventually he persuaded his Father to let him change his area of study and he was sent to Cambridge to study and become an Anglican priest. Here he soon met Reverend Henslow as the two had so many interests in common. Reverend Henslow nurtured his pupil’s interest and Charles did well in his exams as a result.

In 1831 the HMS Beagle was preparing for a two year voyage to survey South America and Henslow was offered he position of naturalist on board. He was not interested in leaving England, his work and his family though he was very interested in what might be discovered. So he wrote to Charles Darwin and offered him the position. Darwin senior was horrified but was persuaded to let his son go by his brother-in-law Josiah Wedgwood (yes the Josiah Wedgewood the potter) and the voyage went on for five years.

For the duration of the voyage Charles Darwin collected and labelled specimens od flora and fauna in the way Henslow had shown him, and for the rest of his life he corresponded very regularly with his old mentor, teacher and friend.

Maybe Reverend Henslow had a letter while he was here in Rougham? Maybe even a visit? We did say the link was tenuous.



Did you know that in the Middle Ages you could buy a husband or wife for your child? The ultimate DBM (Daddy bought me) in this case MBM (Mummy bought me).

In 1519 Margaret Drury, widow of John Drury the heir to the Rougham estate who had died in 1498, bought the wardships of Edmund West of Cornard, Suffolk and Elizabeth Day. She bought these wardships so she could control the finances and education of these children in order to marry them off to her own children.

Her second son Francis married Edmund and her daughter Dorothy married Edmund and then Robert Downes of Melton in Norfolk.


FASCINATING FACT C Baptists v Anglicans

Did you know that Bradfield and Rougham Baptist Church and St Mary’s Church Rougham used to be enemies?

In 1834 Abi Last came home to Bradfield to look after her elderly parents. She had been working in Somerset as a domestic servant. Abi attended the newly built Baptist Church in Garland St, Bury St Edmunds, but this was a long journey for her and impossible for most of her fellow villagers who were incredibly poor. So she invited Reverend Cornelius Elven to preach in the village.

This ‘provocative act’ was to cause major repercussions.

Most of the villagers in Bradfield lived in cottages owned by the local landowner whose son, Reverend Robert Davers, was living in the Bradfield Rectory and who was also Rector of St Mary’s Church in Rougham. His family were opposed to the non-conformist movement so Abi found a villager whose cottage was big enough for a meeting. Reverend Davers’ wife watched who went in, wrote down their names and many of them were evicted from their homes. Open air meetings were held for a while, until a plot was found to build upon.

A school was added and the Sir James Stiff Almshouses for non-conformist widows were built in the 1870s.

But why should two local churches be enemies? 1834 was a very different world to 2012. The Poor Law Reform Act had just been passed by Parliament, which meant more Workhouses were being built and these were sponsored by wealthy landowners. Rural workers were encouraged to seek employment in urban areas. The Church of England was predominantly in the hands of the local landowners — they appointed the ministers and gave them their salaries, so they had a very great say in the forms of worship. The landowners were thus keeping themselves separate from the ‘wretched poor’ On the other hand the Baptist Church was organised and run by those same ‘wretched poor’. Thus a major conflict of interest!

They are friends now. 



Do you know who Sir James Stiff was and why he built his almshouses here?

200 years ago a Workhouse Master was a dreaded title especially in a rural area where work was often seasonal and housing dependant on employment. The workhouse was where you went when you had no other option for food and shelter. Robert Stiff was a Workhouse Master and also a local farmer so he was probably not a very popular man!!

Robert’s son was born in 1808 but did not follow his Father into farming or workhouse management, but worked as a plasterer’s assistant and at 18 went to London to be apprenticed to the Coade Stone factory (Coade Stone was a very durable artificial stone used in building and statuary). After four years he moved to Doulton and Watt’s Pottery as a mould maker and a further ten years later he set up his own business making water filters — Londoners were just beginning to ask for clean water — so this was very lucrative. The business grew with his sons and grandsons entering the business and in 1913 they sold out to Royal Doulton. James Stiff was noted as being retired in 1895 by the British Clayworker and he died in 1897 in Swanage.

James Stiff never forgot his home village and the poverty he saw. He was a keen non-conformist and active supporter of the Baptist Church, so gave generous gifts to the Baptist Chapel and 1876 built 6 almshouses, on land that the family owned, for non-conformist widows. As this is quite close to