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Sun-Pebbles, Stakes and Skulls: Woodbridge’s Super-Henge

In the world of British archaeology, there has been a major find near Woodbridge in Suffolk of a large Neolithic henge/ritual complex. Now where I live, henges and causewayed camps  are a dime a dozen; you can hardly stick a spade in the ground without hitting prehistoric finds…however, this latest one in Suffolk is a little different to any discovered thus far and may be regarded of international importance. Due to the preservative nature of the local soil, organics have survived (extremely rare for this period), including a trackway into the monument and a series of wooden stakes that are so complete and undamaged, you can still see the cutmarks of the axes that hewed them.

Another amazing find has been the skull of an aurochs, a huge prehistoric cow the size of a bison. Very surly and mean-tempered, these beasts were particularly hunted in the preceding Mesolithic period; one of them could feed an entire tribe. The skull at Woodbridge henge is unique in that it has been modified,  with a hole bored into the base; it may have been either carried in procession on a pole or worn as some kind of a headdress (although such a headdress would have been immensely heavy.) Even more fascinating is that the radio carbon dates place its age at 2000 years before the Neolithic monument was built–therefore, the aurochs had indeed lived and died in the earlier Mesolithic period. Was this an ancient trophy, an ancestral, tribal totem borne in procession time out of mind? It is  interesting to compare  this deposit to the cremated human remains at Stonehenge, many of which were  people who had died several hundred years prior to their actual interment, perhaps being ‘founder’ burials of revered ancestors.

A scattering of white pebbles was also found around the monument; this tallies with MANY other Neolithic  and Bronze Age monuments in Britain and Ireland where white pebbles (sometimes quartz) are found deliberately placed around the monuments or even used in revetments and facades (as at Newgrange.) It is surmised they may have been meant to catch the light of the sun or moon, both of which were  highly important to the ancient people of the Isles.

The old idea that these monuments were in isolation to each other and prehistoric folk did not know what was going on over the next hill is a rapidly dying one–another fallacy cast out by science and open-minded study.


Suffolk neolithic site

Barbed and tanged arrowhead found on site. Aurochs skull with bored hole.

The Court of Requests and Thomas Seckford

In 1484, King Richard III created a minor equity court to deal with minor disputes in equity; these are disputes where the harshness of common law would be acknowledged by those appointed by the Crown. Equity courts were mostly seen as the Lord Chancellor’s remit, and the split of the Chancery Courts from the Curia Regis happened in the mid-fourteenth century. By the time of King Richard III, the Chancery Court had become backlogged from cases pleading the harshness of the common law, and the Court of Requests was no doubt and attempt to remove minor equity cases from the backlog and free up court time – Richard’s attempt at reducing bureaucracy and better administration.

So successful was the Court of Requests that it survived Richard’s reign, and was formalised by the Privy Council of Henry “Tudor”, the usurper. It was a popular court, because the cost of cases was relatively low and justice was swifter than the common law courts, which would ultimately prove its undoing.

Two Masters of Requests Ordinary were appointed by Henry VIII, and another two Masters of Requests Extraordinary were appointed by Elizabeth I. One of these was Thomas Seckford, of Woodbridge in Suffolk.

Thomas was an influential man, even before Elizabeth appointed him to the Court of Requests in 1558. He was MP for Ripon in November 1554, just months after his Grey cousins were executed, and was then elected MP for Orford (a fishing village on the Suffolk Coast which had two MPs despite only having a handful of residents) in 1555 and again in 1558. He was MP for Ipswich in 1559 and for Suffolk in 1571. Seckford Hall, (right) near Woodbridge, is known to have hosted Elizabeth’s court as she progressed, and was built in 1530 as the Seckford Family home; it is now a hotel, while a golf club sits within what was once its grounds. The A12 Martlesham bypass sweeps across the Finn Valley in front of the hall, giving wonderful views to motorists but somewhat destroying the character and appearance of the building and grounds. As an interesting side note, the hotel contains furniture from Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, including (allegedly) the chair Henry the Usurper died on.

Thomas Seckford commissioned Christophe Saxton to create the first surveyed atlas of the realm, which Elizabeth granted him a patent for its sole publication for ten years. This made him an even wealthier man and he added to his estates Clerkenwell, endowing the Seckford Almshouses with income from Clerkenwell. His wealth also led to the establishment of a free school, Woodbridge School, which is a minor public school. His wealth still helps young and old in Woodbridge today.

The Court of Requests fell foul of the common law courts at the end of the 16th century. Angry that business deserted them in favour of the more efficient Court of Requests, the common law courts overturned a number of decisions of the Requests Court, and banned them from imprisoning people; ultimately this was to prove their undoing, and the English Civil War, which led to the invalidation of the Privy Seal, was the final death of the Court, set up all those years before by King Richard for the better delivery of justice.

Thomas Seckford (left) died in January 1587, although we are not sure exactly when, whilst in his early seventies. His mother was Margaret Wingfield, relating him to both the de la Pole and Brandon families, and her mother was an Audley. In fact, Thomas could claim double descent from Edward I, through Joan of Acre, as well as many other great mediaeval magnates, including Edmund “Crouchback”. At his death, Thomas Seckford remained without issue, just like his fellow long-term royal servant Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon. I need hardly add that Huntingdon was his cousin.

A Bayeux Tapestry replica comes to Woodbridge

This EADT article explains how, with help from the writers Michael Linton and Charlie Haylock, together with the Mayor and themselves, have ensured that a metal replica of the tapestry will be on show in Woodbridge for two months:image (2)image (3)

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