Gildhalls

Gildhalls

Note: The spelling of Gildhall and Guildhall are used interchangeably.

Out of craft and merchant guilds, civic guilds and social or religious gilds those in Suffolk for which evidence remains are mostly religious gilds, sometimes known as parish or country gilds. Many of these had simple objectives such as burning a light for the Saint to whom they were dedicated but others held meetings and feasts. We might assume that the meeting place of the simpler ones was in the Church or the house of a member whilst others with grander objectives resulted in special buildings. It is the latter that are well known: Lavenham, Hadleigh, Laxfield, Fressingfield are examples with authoritative historical research in support. But there are many others where the evidence is less well formed and even where mentioned in the historic buildings listings remain doubtful or contested. Equally the difference between a Gildhall or a Church House or similar is not easily defined and is the subject of ongoing debate. I shall try to present references and pros and cons in these pages but the reader must make up their own minds.

As an example of one set of views, the following is an extract of an article in the Eavesdropper - the newsletter of the Suffolk Historic Buildings Group. It was written by the late Patrick Taylor who gave it to me with a view to it being published. The copyright rested with him but the editor of the Eavesdropper is aware that this extract is here and has kindly agreed to its use. It serves as a useful introduction to some (but not all) of the opinions about, and perceived characteristics of, Suffolk Guildhalls.

From Eavesdropper No 17, Autumn 2000: Angels, Saints, Dragons and Ale. By Patrick Taylor.

"The recent SHBG day-school on Gilds and Guildhalls at Bury St. Edmunds sent me away to delve deeper into this fascinating subject. As a result some of the buildings with which I was familiar in Mid and South Suffolk became visible in a new light.

During the day-school a number of features of known surviving Guildhalls were described, which, although not exclusive to this building type (and not all present on all such buildings) do provide a useful diagnostic list:

1. Proximity of Guildhall to parish Church, often to be found adjoining or overlooking the graveyard; e.g. East Bergholt, Eye, Fressingfield; Hadleigh, Hitcham, Laxfield, Palgrave, Stoke by Nayland, Stradbroke, Westhorpe, Worlingworth etc. It seems that the majority of the known Guildhalls in Suffolk are near the Church, or maybe this is the only place in which they have been sought?

2. Since Guildhalls also served as an early type of parish room or church hall, some survive to this day with the name of 'Church' House, 'Church' Cottage etc, e.g. East Bergholt (Church Gate House).

3. Guildhalls are usually of a slightly larger scale than domestic buildings, and incorporate finer detail and ornament (which fact is often reflected in their listing grade being II* or I, rather than just II):

a) They often have elaborate roof structures designed to be seen from an open hall at first floor; e.g. East Bergholt, Gislingham, Hadleigh, Lavenham, Palgrave, Worlingworth.

b) They often incorporate herringbone patterned brick nogging between exposed studs; e.g. Debenham, East Bergholt, Fressingfield, Laxfield.

c) They are often long wall jettied at first floor level, and many are jettied on two or more sides incorporating a dragon post and dragon (diagonal) beam; e.g. East Bergholt, Eye, Laxfield, Stoke by Nayland.

d) There is often elaborate carving to bressumers and other structural members, especially dragon posts, sometimes featuring saints or angels (perhaps reflecting the Gild's dedication, which is not usually that of the parish Church; e.g. East Bergholt, Eye, Fressingfield, Lavenham, Palgrave.

4. Most Guildhalls were built prior to the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. The buildings have sometimes survived as, or associated with, public houses, thus carrying on the tradition of celebration and feasting within a parish; e.g. Debenham, Fressingfield."

The article then went on to propose some possible Guildhalls and a few of these will be dealt with in some of the pages on the rest of this site.

Patrick also had an undocumented theory that thoroughfares called the Causeway often led between a church and a potential gildhall.

It is also worth remembering that old houses are often much altered and restored so that one with an outward appearance that is (say) Georgian may be built around an earlier mediaeval core.

Find out where Suffolk gildhalls are located on the Locations page.

Find out where gildhalls were documented in the past but have disappeared or remain to be discovered