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Southwold, Suffolk

Historical Description

Southwold, a municipal borough, seaport, watering-place, and parish in Suffolk, on the coast between a creek on the N and W, and the mouth of the river Blythe on the S, 9 miles E by S of Halesworth, 12 SSW from Lowestoft, and 110 from London. Southwold was known to the Saxons as Sudwald, signifying " south wood;" belonged at Domesday to Bury abbey, and paid it then 25,000 herrings; passed to the Earls of Gloucester, and had a castle of theirs; was nearly all destroyed by fire in 1659, and witnessed great sea-fights between the English and the Dutch in its near vicinity in 1665 and 1672. It is connected by a narrow-gauge line with the G.E.R. main line at Halesworth, and has a post, money order, and telegraph office (R.S.O.) It was first incorporated by Henry VII., and is now governed by a corporation consisting of a mayor, 4 aldermen, 12 common councilmen, town clerk, and borough treasurer. The borough has a commission of the peace, and the corporation act as the urban district council. The town stands on an eminence, and is in the form of a triangle, is well paved, has a good supply of water, and a thorough system of drainage. It is much frequented during the summer by holiday makers, and from its pleasant surroundings and marine views is a favourite spot for artists. The industries include an iron foundry, a brewery, salting and pickle works, and a rope-walk. Fishing is carried on to a considerable extent, large quantities of herrings, sprats, smelts, and shrimps being caught, and there is a coastguard station. Pilot boats sail from the port. There are two lifeboats, and a lighthouse on the north cliff, which was erected in 1890, and has a light of 800 candle-power occulting twice every twenty seconds. The Centre Cliff Hotel is a fine building standing in its own grounds, which extend to the sea. To the south of the town there is a fine common, which is used for golf, cricket, and lawn tennis. A fair is held on Trinity Monday and the two following days. On the Gun Hill is a battery of six guns, taken by the Pretender at Preston from Sir John Cope, recaptured at Culloden, and given to Southwold by the Duke of Cumberland, who was compelled by stress of weather to land here on his return from Scotland. The chief architectural ornament of the town is its church, a very handsome Perpendicular building dedicated to St Edmund. It consists of chancel, nave, aisles, a graceful south porch, and a western tower of stone and flint over 100 feet high. It abounds in fine sculpture, carved woodwork, and painted glass. At the top of the stairs leading on to the rood screen is a " Jack in Armour" or a "Jack Smite-the clock"-a curious carved and painted structure, representing a man in armour, who strikes a bell at the commencement of service. There was a church here from 1250 till 1450, when the present church was commenced, being finished about 1500. It is notable as having one of the most beautiful roofs in England, with hammer beams carved in full-length figures of angels and cherubim, as well as for a very beautiful decorated screen of 15th century work. Acreage of parish, 612; population, 2311. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Norwich; gross value, £194 with residence, in the gift of the Simeon Trustees. There are also Congregational and Wesleyan chapels, a mission hall, and a place of worship used by the Plymouth Brethren.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountySuffolk 
Ecclesiastical parishSouthwold St. Edmund 
Poor Law unionBlything 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Civil Registration

For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Southwold from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Suffolk is available to browse.


Online maps of Southwold are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Suffolk papers online:

Postal districtIP18
Post TownSouthwold