Brief History of Cavendish

Early History

In 1843, a child’s burial urn was found in Cavendish, dating early habitation in the area to the Late Bronze Age (pre 750 BC). It was presented in 1851, by the then Rector of Cavendish, to the old Sudbury Museum who built a special frame to preserve the relic. However, by 1870 the museum was described as 'much neglected' and the urn was mislaid.

Another find in 1952 links Cavendish with the Late Iron Age. A small 4¼” high (10.8cm) pottery vessel was found in the river by a roach fisherman outside Cavendish Hall. The pot was dated to the time of dynastic wars between the Celtic tribes (circa 50 BC to AD 40). The expansion of the Catuvellauni from the west was at the expense of our local tribe, the Trinovantes.

The Roman invasion under Claudius Caesar (AD 43) restored control to the local Trinovantes in return for tributes, but as the Romans strengthened their hold on Britain, disquiet soon led to a full scale rebellion. The Trinovantes joined with their northerly neighbour, Queen Boudica of the Iceni, and marched against the Roman army. After several major victories for the Celts, the uprising was ended by the disastrous battle at Watling Street – although greatly outnumbered, the day was won by superior Roman strategy.

The network of military roads that allowed armies and trade to move around the country was augmented by a series of lesser roads that met the needs of the Roman colonists. One such road runs through Cavendish. This starts at Melford’s West Gate, occasionally runs along the line of the A1092 and passes the George. The road then crosses the Green and heads across the fields going north of Clare towards Wixoe (there is no clear trace on this stretch). From there you could easily get to Cambridge or even the northern fort of Chester.

Anglo Saxon Impact

Meadow Grass

A Modern Day Eddish

By the 5th century, barbarian tribes were attacking many parts of the Empire and the Roman legions in Britain were needed elsewhere. The people of Britain were told that the soldiers had to leave and they must fight the Anglo-Saxon invaders on their own.

Despite Romano-British resistance, the Angles and Saxons prevailed and settled in this area. There were relatively few invaders; their power was centred on a warrior elite. Despite coming from diverse origins and cultures, they eventually developed a common identity as Anglo-Saxons. Native British chieftains could join this elite by adopting Anglo-Saxon culture and language.

Within a few decades, “Anglo-Saxon” farmers had to cope with the collapse of Roman Britain, and the devastation from the volcanic eruptions of 536 and 550 that blocked out sunlight and caused crop failures and famines worldwide. Farming methods adapted to the climate and population changes by converting large areas of land from arable to pasture.

Flood plains were exploited for their fertility since they could grow two crops of grass each year. The Anglo-Saxon name for this type of meadow is an edisc or eddish. Typically the first crop would be harvested for hay, while the second grass (the after mowings or aftermath) would be used for grazing.

One notable land owner named Cafa was renowned for his eddishes. The local area with its small community began to be referred to as the Cafan edisc, which became Cavendish.

The Peasants Revolt 1381

Late 14th-century depiction of William Walworth striking Wat Tyler

The Death of Wat Tyler. Late 14th-century depiction of London’s mayor, William Walworth, protecting the King. John Cavendish (Junior) delivered the fatal wound.

The fourteenth century was a tumultuous time with strong anti-establishment feelings that, with the encouragement of a radical cleric, exploded into widespread riots, an attempt on the King’s life and a revenge beheading.

In the decades following the Black Death in 1348, there was a severe manpower shortage that meant labourers could charge more for their work. Parliament responded by enacting a series of laws to curtail this wage inflation. Initially they attempted to fix wages at pre-plague levels. Later acts gave local lords the right to prevent serfs from leaving their manors. There was even an attempt to prevent the lower classes from consuming expensive goods formerly only affordable by the elite. The penalties for transgression included branding and imprisonment, with the power for enforcement in the hands of the Justices of the Peace, i.e. the local gentry.

Disputed claims by King Edward III over the succession of the French throne led to the Hundred Years War between England and France, which lasted from 1337 to 1453. The huge cost for maintaining an army on the continent required new ways of raising money. The first poll tax was levied at a flat rate of four pence on every person over the age of 14 (less married couple’s allowance); although unpopular this was generally paid. (For comparison, the wage for an unskilled labourer in Essex in 1380 was around three pence a day.) The second poll tax had a sliding scale with the upper classes liable for more; widespread evasion proved to be a problem. The third poll tax was levied at a flat rate of twelve pence on each person over 15; in the south-east many sought to avoid this by refusing to register. In 1381, teams of investigators were sent out in an attempt to find those not paying.

The flash point came in Brentwood, when the Justice of the Peace summoned representatives from the neighbouring villages to explain their non-payment and to make good the shortfall. The villagers had come prepared, so when their representatives started being arrested, violence broke out and several people were killed. The Peasants Revolt may have begun in Essex but it quickly spread to Kent, Suffolk and Norfolk. Kentish rebels, inspired by the radical cleric John Ball, were in the vanguard of coordinated marches on London, gathering support and beheading as they went. King Richard II and his party met at Smithfield to negotiate with Wat Tyler and his contingent of rebels. An argument escalated into violence when Tyler made some motion towards the King. The Lord Mayor wounded Tyler in the throat and John Cavendish (junior) struck the fatal blow.

Sir John Cavendish had become Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in 1372. His duties included enforcing the labour laws and prosecuting poll tax demands; he was not a friend of the peasants. When the rebels in Suffolk heard the news from London and the role played by his son, they pursued Sir John to St. Mary’s Church in Cavendish. Here he pleaded sanctuary by grasping the handle of the church door, but to no avail. He was taken to the market place at Bury St. Edmunds and beheaded by the mob. In the aftermath of the troubles, the King granted pardons to most rebels – the men of Bury St. Edmunds were excluded.