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4. The 19th Century

The 19th century saw Gislingham reach new peaks of progress. An exceptionally handsome windmill was raised in August 1821, grinding corn and making flour for over a century and bequeathing its name to Mill Street. In the 1840s the railway came through the parish when a halt was provided just North of Thornham arch exclusively for the convenience of shooting parties visiting Thornham Hall. In 1860 the Methodist Chapel was built on Mill Street. White’s Suffolk Directory for 1844 gives the population of Gislingham as 669 souls. The stocks still stood at the junction of the Mellis and Thornham roads, an object lesson for churchgoers in the penalties of wickedness, but Gislingham seemed to be moving steadily forward.

It is something of a shock, therefore, to look in White’s Directory for 1892 and to find that in fifty years the population had declined to 494. There may be some comfort in noting that despite this setback, Gislingham had acquired its first woman hairdresser. Nevertheless, by 1921 the population had fallen to 420, and by 1960 it was 300. I asked John Prike, born in Gislingham in 1882 and now our oldest native-born resident, and Sam Fiske who runs Mr. Prike a close second, if they could explain the decline. Both attributed it primarily to poverty, to the shrinkage of families, and latterly to changes in farming methods. Nineteenth-century wages were extremely small with a maximum of ten shillings a week for a farm worker and as little as two and six for a beginner. Families were very large; there were several families in Gislingham with eleven or twelve children in each and as there was little or no work for the young people and their rents could not support them. One Gislingham mother of a large family is said to have toasted stale crusts of bread until they were black, whereupon she would put them into a tea pot, pour hot water over them and serve the resulting coloured concoction as ‘tea’. The boys of the family used to squabble over who was to get the water-soaked crusts of bread.
Gislingham had a brick works, near Thornham arch. When it closed down, eleven men lost their jobs. The Thornham Hall estate began to need fewer people. Finally, the farms began to mechanize, and the exodus from villages was under way in earnest, girls frequently went into domestic service and the boys into factories. Stowmarket had foundries, a silk mill, a gun-cotton works and other industries. Ipswich, too, was rapidly becoming industrialised.
The Nineteenth Century must not be left behind without mention of a happier development, the Gislingham Band. It began more than a century ago as the Foresters’ Band, and its annual parade to the Church on Whit Sunday brought all the village out. After the First World War it became in turn, the Gislingham Brass Band, the Gislingham Legion Band, and finally the Gislingham Silver Band. There can be few village bands in all England with a comparable record of making music.(from the 1970 text by Ronald J. Elliott)

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