The History of Nayland & Wiston

Nayland and Wiston lie on the northern bank of the river Stour which divides Essex and Suffolk. Originally they were two different parishes with different histories. The name Nayland means an island, and the village developed on the higher ground amidst the lower river flood plane. It provided a good place for both a safe crossing of the river and an early manorial centre, probably a wooden castle. These advantages brought a market by 1227 and by the late middle ages it was a successful small town. The owners of the manor moved away and the little town was ruled by its cloth merchants, many of whom were very well off by the standards of the day. They were surpassed in wealth only by the merchants of Lavenham and Long Melford. They built fine Tudor houses and a fine church and the prosperity continued into the beginning of the seventeenth century. From then on the cloth trade began to move away, and although other trades like leather and soap manufacture developed, Nayland came to rely mainly on being a centre of commerce for the surrounding countryside. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the village drifted gently on, a relative backwater. The navigation on the river opened up but it did not bring a large increase in trade and the Navigation Company struggled to survive. The good result of this period of partial stagnation was that relative poverty prevented the beautiful old houses being knocked down to provide smart new homes and thus Nayland still possesses its Tudor and Stuart streets.

Nayland did have a small agricultural area but most of it lay out in the middle of the parish of Wiston and is nowadays considered to be part of Wiston. Although the official name for Wiston is Wissington, early documents suggest that Wiston is the original name, and it is certainly the one the local people always use. It had been a part of the manor of Nayland in 1066 but by 1087 had been given to a separate Norman family who lived over the river in Essex at Little Horkesley. From then on the history of the two places diverged. Wiston was administered from over the river and its links were with Little Horkesley rather than Nayland. The Lords of the Manor built the little Norman church, which still survives as a separate parish church, and they ran their estates in Wiston in conjunction with their land in Essex. The early wills and the taxation lists which still exist show only farmers in Wiston, and it remained purely an agricultural parish until the end of the nineteenth century. The manor was sold to more distant owners and the old manorial tenements became copyholds and then freehold farms.

In 1883 the new West Suffolk county council decided that the two strangely divided civil parishes should be joined together as Nayland with Wissington, a process which Wiston resented but could not prevent. The needs of the two parts of parish, part semi urban, part agricultural, still make a slightly uneasy union.

But Wiston had not disappeared. In 1896 Dr Jane Walker bought two farms (both technically in Nayland) and founded the East Anglian Sanatorium. This opened in 1901 for private patients and soon a lower block for free patients was added. A children’s block was also built. The Sanatorium continued to treat TB until that disease was conquered in the 1950s, when it closed. The lower block was sold away for housing and the upper block became a hospital for the mentally handicapped. While they functioned the Sanatorium and the hospital were the centre of Wiston as they provided most of the local employment. In 1991 the hospital itself closed under ‘Care in the Community’. The original ‘arts and crafts’ Sanatorium ,designed by Smith and Brewer, became a listed building and was converted into eight houses, while the rest was knocked down and replaced by another eight houses. Wiston still has seven working farms, six being old Wiston farms and one an old Nayland holding, while the other small farms and smallholdings have been absorbed into the bigger ones, leaving it is still predominately agricultural. The mechanisation of farming has, hpwever, cut the need for workers dramatically, so that most of the residents of Wiston now work either at home or elsewhere.