The Suffolk Stour was the ancient division between East Anglia and Essex and Nayland and Wiston are two of the many settlements on its northern bank. The river was an important communication link with other towns and villages and contributed to Nayland’s development and prosperity although Wiston has always retained its agricultural and rural character.
The origins of Nayland and Wiston are shrouded in mystery but archaeological finds prove there was habitation in the area in the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age and probably earlier. Roman remains have been found at both Nayland and Wiston. The Anglo Saxon name for Nayland was ‘Eiland’ meaning “at the island” and Court Knoll, a field of about five acres completely surrounded by a deep ditch, is believed to be the original site of the village.
In the 11th century, according to the Domesday Survey, the Manor of Nayland included the neighbouring Essex villages of Great and Little Horkesley and records show that there was a Norman manor house and chapel on Court Knoll. In the 18th century the remains of the chapel could still be seen. An excavation in the 1920s uncovered the foundations of a building made of Roman tiles and flint and in 2016 another major excavation on the same site took place which uncovered more of the building; many more finds came to light, including some Anglo Saxon human remains.
Nayland was one of a few places in Suffolk to be granted the privilege of holding a weekly market in the 13th century which functioned until the end of the 18th century. The Hundred of Babergh was the weaving centre of Suffolk from the 14th century and the many beautiful houses and churches in its towns and villages are a legacy of that period. Nayland shared in this prosperity, being third in importance after Lavenham and Boxford and by the 16th century it was the 42nd wealthiest town in the country with two thirds of its population being employed in the cloth trade. Nayland currently has over 100 listed buildings some of which date from the 14th century, including St James’ Church, which was a chapel-of-ease to Stoke-by-Nayland until the 18th century.
By the 17th century the woollen cloth industry was declining and other agriculture related industries were becoming important. Tanning , corn milling, brewing and soapmaking expanded in the 18th century, helped by the river being made navigable by Act of Parliament in 1705. By the 19th century about a third of the population were still employed in agriculture but other industries using steam power and mechanisation provided employment.
Until the middle of the 20th century Nayland could be said to have been entirely self-sufficient . It was in the forefront of public services, having had its own fire service continuously since the 18th century until the present day, gas in the 19th century (but not now) and private electricity generated at the old corn mill from the 1920s until being taken over by the local authority fifteen years later. It also had the oldest independent bus company in the country until 1991.
1914 Remembered by Mary George
The Cuddons of Nayland - An Ancient Suffolk Family by Sally Arnold