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Beccles (St. Michael)

BECCLES (St. Michael), an incorporated market-town and a parish, in the union and hundred of Wangford, E. division of Suffolk, 44 miles (E. N. E.) from Bury St. Edmund's, and 109 (N. E. by N.) from London; containing 4086 inhabitants. This town, which suffered greatly from fire in 1586, and again in 1662, is pleasantly situated on the navigable river Waveney, by which it is bounded on the north and west. It consists of several spacious streets, diverging from the market-place, well paved, and lighted with gas; the houses in general are well built, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. The cornexchange and assembly-rooms form two handsome ornamental buildings. The environs, which abound with pleasing scenery, afford agreeable walks; and races are held annually on a fine course near the town, on which are two commodious stands. The trade is principally in corn, malt, and coal, and is considerable: the market is on Saturday, and fairs are held on Whit-Monday for cattle, and Oct. 2nd for horses and pedlery; there are also statute-fairs.

Adjoining the town is a tract of fen land, originally about 1400 acres in extent, which was granted by Henry VIII. in 1540 (after the dissolution of the abbey of Bury St. Edmund's, to which the manor belonged,) to William Rede and his heirs, in trust, for the benefit of himself and other inhabitants of the town; there are now remaining about 940 acres, and upwards of 200 more are held for charitable purposes. In 1543 the inhabitants were incorporated by letters-patent of Henry VIII., but, in consequence of protracted disputes between them and the family of Rede, concerning the grant of the fen lands, the charter was surrendered to Queen Elizabeth, and a new one granted in 1584, which was confirmed in 1588, and by James I. in 1605. The government is now vested in four aldermen, and twelve councillors, from whom a mayor is chosen; the borough is co-extensive with the parish. A court of quartersessions is held for the county; petty-sessions are held for the district every Saturday, and manor courts occasionally. The county debt-court of Beccles, established in 1847, has jurisdiction over part of the two registration-districts of Wangford, and Loddon and Clavering.

The parish contains 1893a. 2r. 14p., of which 950 acres are common; the soil on the high grounds is wet and clayey, and in the lower parts sandy. The living is a rectory, consolidated with the vicarage of St. Mary Ingate; the rectory valued in the king's books at £21. 12. 3½., and the vicarage at £7. 6. 8.: the tithes have been commuted for £350. The church is a spacious and elegant structure, in the later style of English architecture, and consists of a nave, chancel, and aisles; the porch is of beautiful design and elaborate execution, and the interior is appropriately ornamented. A collection of books, formerly kept in a room over the porch, has been removed to the subscription library established in 1836. A chapel for reading the burial service, and a burial-ground, were consecrated in 1823; and a cemetery, with a chapel for all denominations, was established in 1840. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Methodists. A grammar school was endowed under the will, dated in 1714, of the Rev. Dr. Fauconberge, a native of the town, with an estate of 132 acres in the parish of Corton, producing about £183 per annum. Dr. Routh, the learned president of Magdalene College, Oxford, received the rudiments of his education here. The free school in Ballygate-street was founded and endowed in 1631, by Sir John Leman, Knt., alderman of London, who devised several parcels of land for its support, containing altogether 112 acres, and yielding a rent of £196. An ancient hospital for lepers, of uncertain foundation, with a chapel dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, was granted in 1676, to the corporation of Beccles, for the benefit of the poor. Here were also several guilds; and an ancient church, dedicated to St. Peter, distinct from the present church.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.