Eye (St. Peter and St. Paul)

EYE (St. Peter and St. Paul), a borough, market-town, and parish, in the union, and locally in the hundred, of Hartismere, W. division of Suffolk, 20½ miles (N.) from Ipswich, and 89½ (N. E. by N.) from London; containing 2493 inhabitants. The name of this place, anciently Eay, is derived from its situation on a tract of land surrounded by water. Soon after the Conquest, Robert, son of William Malet, who had accompanied William I. to England, having obtained the honour of Eye (of which he was afterwards dispossessed for taking part with Robert, Duke of Normandy), erected a castle here, whereof there are still some slight remains on and about the Mill Hill; and also founded a Benedictine monastery, dedicated to St. Peter, at first a cell to Bernay Abbey, in Normandy, but made denizen by Richard II. In this monastery was preserved St. Felix's Book of the Gospels, written in large Lombardic characters, and called the Red Book, on which the people used to be sworn; it was removed hither from the abbey at Dunwich, when that place was destroyed by the sea. The revenue at the Dissolution was £184. 9. 7.: the remains of the buildings, which are to the east of the town, have been converted into stables.

The town is pleasantly situated in a valley, surrounded on all sides by streams of excellent water, and within a distance of about two miles from the high road between London and Norwich. There is a neat theatre; assemblies are occasionally held, and a library and newsroom are supported by subscription. The principal branch of manufacture is that of British lace, which, since the introduction of machinery, has been declining. The market is on Tuesday for corn, and there is a market for butter and vegetables on Saturday; a fair is held on Whit-Monday, for pigs and for toys. The earliest charter granted to the borough is that of King John; the last that of William III. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the government is now vested in a mayor, three aldermen, and twelve councillors; the mayor and late mayor are justices of the peace, and four others are appointed under a separate commission. The municipal boundaries of the borough are co-extensive with those of the parish. The elective franchise was conferred in the 13th of Elizabeth, from which time the borough, which comprised 4200 acres, regularly returned two members, till it was deprived of one by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45. The right of election was vested in the free burgesses generally, in number about 200; but by the above-named act, the non-resident electors, except within seven miles, were disfranchised, and the privilege was extended to the £10 householders of an enlarged district, comprehending 19,350 acres: the mayor is returning officer. The corporation hold a court of record every Saturday, under the charter of William III., for the recovery of debts to any amount; and petty-sessions are held weekly. The powers of the county-debt court of Eye, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Hartismere, and part of the districts of Depwade and Hoxne. The town-hall is a handsome building, in the centre of the town; the lower part was fitted up as a corn-exchange, in 1840, at the expense of Sir E. Kerrison, Bart.

The parish comprises by measurement 4340 acres, of which 114 are waste land or common; the surface is finely undulated, and the lower lands are watered by numerous streams. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £11. 14. 7.; patron and impropriator, Sir E. Kerrison: the great tithes have been commuted for £780, and the vicarial for £450; the glebe comprises 13 acres. The church is a spacious structure in the later English style, with a square embattled tower crowned by pinnacles; it was repaired and repewed in 1840, by subscription, towards which Sir E. Kerrison contributed £300. The nave is separated from the chancel by a richly-carved screen; in the chancel is a very ancient tomb in memory of Nicholas Cutler, much defaced, and in the north aisle a curious piece of sculpture representing the Good Samaritan. There are places of worship for Baptists and Wesleyans. The free grammar school was endowed by Francis Kent, who in 1566 bequeathed 280 acres of land, now producing £400 per annum, for the general benefit of the town. Edward Mallows, in the reign of James I., founded two exhibitions to Cambridge for sons of freemen born in the borough. An almshouse, founded in 1636 by Nicholas Bedingfield, is endowed for the support of four women. Here was an hospital for lepers, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, which continued till the Dissolution. A Roman cemetery was discovered in 1818.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.