In November 1949, Messrs. G. Grimwood and Sons’ began alterations to the premises in Friars Street, Sudbury, recently left by Mr. Archie Taylor. The building was being renovated in preparation for a new restaurant for W.J. Thorogood, Ltd. Fortunately, the carved staircase inside the building was still in place despite a rumour that during the War some Americans had offered to buy it from the owner for £600.

As the workman began to strip the plaster and woodwork from the front of the building, they discovered two small arched windows and two square windows. There were other finds inside the building including the discovery of a small piece of paper bearing the names of many well-known local residents who, in 1887, were pupils at a small private school known as ‘The Beehive’.

The paper was headed: ‘Position in Class – Christmas Term, 1887 and included E. Joy, R. Beamish, E. Grimwood, G. Cross , B. Joy, C. Beamish, F. Sillitoe, A. Butcher, E. Ramsey, C. Andrews, E. Sillitoe, M. Beamish and E. Gregory.

Rev. J. M. Ray of Sudbury

The school for girls was run by the Misses Ray, daughters of Sudbury coal merchant, Charles Ray, and granddaughters of the famous minister, John Mead Ray.

Other finds by the workmen in November 1949, as reported in ‘The Suffolk Free Press’, included an old coin, a bill announcing a lecture in the Town Hall by the Rev. E. Sidney, pen-nibs made by Hodson and Hollier, a Sudbury firm, Scripture texts, and two pennies.

(An interpretation of the 1949 finds at Buzzards Hall, Sudbury)

None of the finds, however, revealed any clues as to when part of the building was used by the Parsonson family as a basket making shop. The family lived at what was then known as Number 8, Friars Street, (Buzzards Hall today), Sudbury, for about 30 years between c.1850 and 1879.

The Ray family owned several plots of land in Friars Street which included property on the corner of Quay Lane and Friars Street as well as Buzzards Hall and Bentley House, (numbered 8 and 9, Friars Street until c.1938). Legal documents from August 1888 show that part of the property was a shop, fronting Friars Street, with a small garden. By then, the Parsonson family had moved to 19, Friars Street, (37, Friars Street today), but the new tenant, Josiah Williams, was paying an annual rent of £25. It is likely that Thomas Parsonson paid a similar amount when he established his first basket making shop at Buzzards Hall.

(Images from the Parsonson family archive)

Thomas and Mary’s nine children were probably all born at Buzzards Hall. Stories about the Parsonson’s life in Friars Street have been passed on from one generation to another but one tale in particular stands out as it offers a glimpse of just how hard it could be to live so close to disagreeable neighbours. The story goes that a neighbour on the Station Road side of the property needed to mend his roof but was taking his time over the repairs. He had to cross Parsonson tiles and guttering to access his own roof. Every night Thomas would climb up and undo the repairs that interfered with his own stretch of roof.

Two brief reports from ‘The Suffolk and Essex Free Press’ in the 1850’s provide some evidence to show that poor relations with the neighbours were far more than just a little tiff. The articles also back up the Parsonson anecdote that Thomas knew his own mind and would always stand up to anyone who tried to take advantage of him or his family.

Example of a passage

It began with a disagreement over a right of way.

Access to Wolby’s Yard, which was a narrow alleyway from Friars Street leading to the rear of Buzzards Hall, was shared between the Parsonsons and the Ruffells.

Whilst the Parsonsons had a shop fronting Friars Street, the Ruffells lived in a cottage at the rear of the building. The entry to the Ruffells cottage was by a passage from Friars Street; there would have been a side door along the passage allowing the Parsonson family access to their premises as well.

Unfortunately for Thomas Parsonson, his neighbour, William Giles Ruffell, had proved to be a violent man in the past and had spent a short period in Bury St. Edmunds Gaol in 1839, having been sentenced at the Suffolk Assizes for wounding a man in Plough Lane, Sudbury.

Just like Thomas, William was also a Freeman of Sudbury. He had been admitted as a Freeman on June 17th, 1818, by birth, two days before a parliamentary election in Sudbury. (Until the Reform Act of 1832 only Freemen were entitled to vote in Parliamentary elections – a privilege which could be of considerable value to the Sudbury Freemen.) By the time Thomas was admitted on May 2nd, 1856, the Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry of 1843 had resulted in the disfranchisement of the Borough in 1844. Both men, however, had sworn an oath of loyalty to the Town when they were admitted but this did not prevent what came to be known as ‘The Battle of the Entry’.

William G. Ruffell worked as an ostler in Sudbury. (His wife, Emma, was called as a witness at the Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry of 1843 and mentioned that William was a servant at an inn: “My husband was Boots at the ‘Rose and Crown’ at the Election.”) Emma was a cook at the ‘Swan Inn’ in the 1840’s but later worked as a laundress in Wolby’s Yard.

Images of the ‘Rose and Crown’ and the ‘Swan Inn’, on the Market Hill, Sudbury from the Sudbury Photo Archive.

William Giles Ruffell often annoyed and sometimes assaulted Thomas Parsonson. On Tuesday June 23rd, 1857, as Thomas was going up the passage from Friars Street, he was attacked by Ruffell. Thomas had had enough and paid five shillings for a summons at the Town Hall so that the case was heard before the Mayor, William Sparrow, and Thomas Meeking. The Magistrates fined Ruffell eleven shillings and expenses.

St. Peter’s, with a view of Sudbury Town Hall to the right of the Church. (Image from the Sudbury Photo Archive)

Relations between the Parsonsons and the Ruffells did not improve. Sundry grievances concerning the dirty state of Wolby’s Yard and the question as to who was responsible for cleaning the passageway continued to fester. Bad words were exchanged and Emma Ruffell accused Thomas Parsonson of threatening to cut down her washing line and dirty the linen. Since she made her living by washing, she was enraged: “I might as well live with old Satan at once as this ruffian.”

Harsh words indeed as Thomas Parsonson was a devout Christian and a strict father who insisted on a very high standard of behaviour from his children. He would never have allowed them to play and make a nuisance of themselves in the passageway. A ‘Punch’ cartoon from June,1859 provides an example of what could happen when children had very little play space in the mid-19th century.

Matters came to a head one Wednesday in late September 1859 when the Parsonson children were going through the passageway. Mrs Ruffell refused to let them pass and blocked the entry to the street with her daughter, one on each side of the path holding on to the wooden posts. The Parsonson children called for their father who attempted to force his way between the Ruffells and help his children through. In doing so he pushed against Mrs Ruffell who immediately hit little Emma Parsonson, (aged seven years old), on the back of her neck. She was knocked down into Friars Street where she fell and bruised her knee.

When Thomas summoned Mrs Ruffell before the Magistrates she denied, with great volubility of speech, striking Emma Parsonson. She said that Emma “hung on to her” and she had merely shoved her off when she fell down. She also accused Emma’s father of nipping and shoving her and her daughter about.

Thomas Meeking, (Magistrate), recommended Mrs Ruffell to get another cottage where she could live more peaceably with her neighbours. She was fined one shilling and ordered to pay costs of twelve shillings or, in default, one month in prison. The money was paid.

The two families were neighbours for another four years until the deaths of William and Emma Ruffell in 1863. Sudbury Cemetery Records show that William Bentley, Baptist Minister, officiated at both funerals. If William and Emma were Baptists at a time when the Parsonsons were Anglicans, there may have been differences of opinion over religious matters as well.

A few years later the local paper reported that another member of the Ruffell family had been involved in a vicious assault. A grandson of William Giles Ruffell threatened to kill his aunt who lived in Burkitts Lane. He threw a stone through her open window which struck her mouth,broke two of her front teeth and cut her lip. But that is another story.

Life in and around Buzzards Hall in Friars Street must have become more peaceful as the Parsonsons prospered and remained at that address until c1879.

We would like to thank Ann Eley for allowing us to borrow her family archive and for sharing her extensive recollections of Parsonson family history. We would also like to thank Geoff Chatters for his help with the Ray family history together with research on William Holman Bentley. Thank you also to David Burnett for his thoughts about Buzzards Hall.