Framlingham-An Historic Town

over nine centuries old

Framlingham Castle

over eight centuries old

the first curtain-walled castle in East Anglia

Framlingham St Michael's Church

Over six centuries old

The finest tomb sculptures in Europe

The Framlingham and District Local History & Preservation Society welcome enquiries from interested parties.

Framlingham has been here for a long time, ever since Anglo Saxon times. Often described as the finest market town in East Suffolk, it has all the ingredients of a market town: a central square in the form of Market Hill, the fine 14th to 16th century church of St. Michael's and one of the most important castles in England. The town's geography gives it an historic and attractive look. However, Framlingham is first and foremost about people. The town's folk are justly proud of Framlingham, which is a flourishing community in harmony with itself, the product of at least 1,000 years of development and history.


Framlingham's history can for a certainty be first traced to an entry in the Doomsday Book (1086). Framlingham then consisted of several manors. William the Conqueror (1066-1087) presented Roger Bigod with 117 of the 629 manors in Suffolk of which Framlingham was one. In 1074, Roger became Earl of Norfolk, and in 1100, Roger Bigod built the first castle on the site of the present one. The Bigods and after them the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk and the Howard Dukes of Norfolk made Framlingham the centre of their vast estates. In 1285 or so, a market was granted by the last Bigod (died 1306) to the citizens of Framlingham, to be held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Framlingham since that date took off, and the historic core of the town reached its presents dimensions by 1500.


The town's position is such that it is far enough from the other main centres to maintain its identity intact. It is a local centre for at least 15 villages, with a total catchment area population of about 7,500 people. It's population has varied over the years. At the time of the first National Census in 1801, Framlingham numbered about 1,800 people. Today the population is about 2,700 having been only 1,900 in 1951. Modern developments in the town have introduced new small estates including The Mowbrays, Castle Brooks, Danforth Drive and The Haynings. For all that, the historic core of the town maintained its character. Of the town's population 48% are gainfully employed, 22% of those are in education; the town boasts a public school, Framlingham College, Thomas Mills High School and Sir Robert Hitcham's Primary School. Framlingham also has a large population of retired folk.


Framlingham is dominated by its Conservation Area; the historic core of the town is recognised as such by the Civic Amenities Act (1967), and protected by law from unwelcome development. The conservation area of the town consists of the Castle, which is an A1 listed building, Market Hill, the Church of St. Michael's and the surrounding streets.


Framlingham was between 1100 and 1550 the residence of notable people, who were at the centre of government in this country. It all started with Roger Bigod in about 1070. The present Castle was built by the last Roger Bigod between 1190 and 1210. The castle is built of five kinds of stone including Caen rock from Normandy. It is a curtain-walled structure and was one of the first of its design to be built in Western Europe. It has seen warlike activities on only one occasion, in King John's reign in 1216.


The Castle architecture may seem all very interesting, but what is more engaging are the various people who were associated with it. Between 1100 and 1550, the Castle was lived in by the Bigods (1100-1306), Thomas Plantagenet and his descendants (1312-1375), the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk (1375-1481) and the Howard Dukes of Norfolk (1481 until 1526). All these notable people were the recipients of high honours from the monarch of the day. Nearly all were Earl Marshalls of England and Stewards of the Royal Household. Some, like the 3rd Duke of Norfolk (1472-1554), were much more; he was Lord Treasurer, Earl Marshal, Vice-Roy of Ireland, Lord High Admiral, Ambassador in Paris and the richest lay-man in England. After living at Framlingham until1535, he built a country house at Kenninghall near Diss which rivalled Hampton Court.


During the time that Framlingham was the key residence of these notable people; all roads led to Framlingham. It became the economic centre of vast estates, which in the case of the 3rd. Duke of Norfolk, involved estates in Norfolk, Suffolk, Sussex,Wales and London. In the late 14th century £2,000 of goods were being managed each year by the Framlingham warehouses; a vast sum in those days. The goods included all the farming products of the day, such exotics as lampreys from Wales and pottery from Staverton and Hollesley in Suffolk. The Castle in its day was one of the centres of pomp and circumstance in East Anglia. It perhaps reached its zenith with the funeral of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk in 1524. And then there was also Mary Tudor who, whilst resident in the Castle in July 1553, was formally accepted here as prospective Queen of England. The story, however, eventually came to an end, because in 1635 the Howards sold the Castle and manor of Framlingham to Sir Robert Hitcham, a senior Lawyer, for £14,000.Sir Robert made his will and died in 1636 and left the Castle,etc. to his old college Pembroke College, Cambridge. The college are still the Lords of the Manor and owners of the Castle.


The Castle does not overwhelm the town. The church of St. Michael's and the rest of the Conservation Area make their mark. The centre of the town of Framlingham is continuously evolving and yet its character has been maintained throughout recent centuries. The oldest building in Framlingham other than St. Michael's and the Castle is No 8 Church Street, which has timbers dating from about 1475. There are some buildings which are obviously of Tudor origin. No 16 Market Hill, the Old Queen's Head public house, dates from circa 1500. Other buildings stand out. The Crown Hotel looks Tudor; its interior is certainly so, though its frontage is of 18th century date. The Guildhall was built in the late 16th century on the site of the house of the Guild of St. Mary, which was dissolved by Henry V111 in 1538. The historic core of the town shows many periods of architectural design, including Tudor, Stuart, Regency and Victorian periods.


A tour further afield will bring you to the Hitcham's Almshouses (built 1654), the Ancient House in Albert Place (built circa 1680) and the Mills Almshouses (built 1706-09). The rest of the Conservation Area, Church Street, Double Street and Castle Street all show buildings of interest. Double Street in the last century was the main shopping precinct in Framlingham. At the end of that street, you will find a Victorian pillar box made in 1856-57 by Andrew Hendy of Derby. It is very rare. Wherever you turn in Framlingham there is something of interest.


Framlingham really reached its zenith as the centre for the local area in the Victorian period. Before the railway reached Framlingham in 1859, the town was relatively self- sufficient and contained. The town in Queen Victoria's reign even boasted a theatre, and a tradition of Framlingham surgeons. One of them, Sir Henry Thompson (1820-1904), rose to become Surgeon to Queen Victoria. Sir Henry was also founder of the Cremation Society in London 1874.The clock on St. Michael's church tower was placed by Sir Henry in memory of his parents. Framlingham in Victorian times was even more bustling than it is today; it was a centre for people's lives at a time when most did not travel far on an ordinary basis.


The coming of the railways changed things. Ipswich and even London, became accessible. The railway connection to Framlingham closed in 1952. Today Framlingham might appear to have become a dormitory town for Ipswich, Woodbridge and the surrounding countryside. However, there is enough employment in the town to guarantee its future status as a market town serving a distinct region.


Framlingham is a flourishing town which depends in part on its tourist connection. A visitor will quickly appreciate the interest the Castle generates. The rest of Framlingham is as interesting and plays an important part in the history of the town, which does not solely live in the past. It is a dynamic place which is continually evolving.It is not for nothing that the residents of Framlingham and other interested bodies guard this heritage with zealousness and good sense.


This paper was originally delivered to Framlingham LHPS in October 1995. An abridged version appeared in "The Official Guide to Framlingham (1997)."



Link to Framlingham Community History Site

Lots of interesting photographs etc in the Framlingham Archive