Each year the first Tuesday of July is a special day on the Sudbury Common Lands. It is the day when Freemen of Sudbury reacquaint themselves with, and reaffirm their ancient links and rights on the Sudbury commons, namely the right to graze their livestock. Some of those freemen travel hundreds of miles to attend.
In spite of the fact that the freemen no longer exercise those rights and that the Sudbury Common Lands Charity manages the lands in no way compromises or diminishes the important role that they have played through the centuries. Were it not for the freemen there would be no Sudbury Common Lands for anyone to enjoy in terms of landscape, informal recreation or wildlife so the annual gathering of a number of freemen on the Common Lands is important, serving as a reminder of the heritage and historical links binding the town’s freemen with the Sudbury Common Lands. Today those lands are of increasing significance as every other available piece of land in Sudbury is developed for housing and industry. However, that in itself increases the pressures on the riverside as people have nowhere else to go on their doorstep.
This year’s visit focussed on North Meadow Common to hear about those historic links as well as viewing some of the nature conservation treasures that the land supports. At this time of year tubular water dropwort comes into its full flowering glory along the watercourses and it would be very hard indeed to find a better site for this uncommon species in the whole of Suffolk. North Meadow Common was acquired piecemeal following the passing of the Sudbury Town Lands bill in 1838. The act enabled landowners to buy out or exchange land in order to extinguish half year grazing rights on their own farmland. In this way housing development was able to take place along the Melford Road and this is demonstrated by the names and dates of the cottages erected at the town end of the road during the latter part of the nineteenth century.
Prior to 1838 only St Leonard’s leper hospital existed on the Melford Road. This was founded by John Colney in 1372. He suffered from the affliction and became its first governor. This institution had to be at a distance from the town as leprosy was considered to be a contagious disease. In 1858 the charity came under the control of the Sudbury Municipal Charities and in 1867 the income was, by arrangement with the Charity Commissioners, put towards the support of the new St Leonard’s hospital on the Newton Road which is currently being redeveloped for housing.
A small part of the northern tip of North Meadow Common which originally formed part of the endowment of the ancient Colney charity came under the control of the Sudbury Common Lands Charity towards the end of the nineteenth century. It was purported to originally have been a vineyard and in recognition of that fact the trustees planted apple, pear and cherry trees in the far corner where Brundon Lane joins the Melford Road.