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Hadleigh Society wins Heritage Champion Award after research project secures protections for medieval bridleway

A community-driven initiative to protect an ancient town bridleway, which dates back to late medieval times, has earned special recognition for helping safeguard the site for future generations.

The Hadleigh Society was presented with a Suffolk Heritage Champion Award in honour of its work to secure protected status for the natural environment at Bacon Lane, by demonstrating its historic value to the town.

The accolade was presented by the Suffolk Preservation Society, which praised the ‘valuable contribution’ of volunteers, who carried out an extensive research project into the site, via the Hadleigh Archive.

Hadleigh Society members Sally Looker, Mark Lawrence, Richard Fletcher, Martin Looker and Graham Panton
Hadleigh Society members Sally Looker, Mark Lawrence, Richard Fletcher, Martin Looker and Graham Panton

Their work revealed that Bacon Lane was an ancient holloway, with roots stretching to the 15th century and evidence of continued public use over the following 500 years.

This led to the sunken track being added to the Hadleigh Local List – a set of places identified as non-designated heritage assets, meaning they are deemed important to the area’s history and character.

While this does not equal national listed status, it affords Bacon Lane special consideration on planning matters going forward.

Richard Fletcher, chairman of the Hadleigh Society, explained that the project was sparked by concerns raised by residents about the pressures that ongoing development would have on the town’s heritage.

“The residents wanted to know what we could do to give added protection to this public bridleway,” he told SuffolkNews. “We looked at old maps and came to the conclusion that it was of ancient origin.

“Our members examined the Hadleigh Archives, looked through the documents and found it had been used since medieval times. It was a path of some substance and age.

“It met the criteria to be added to the Local List and, therefore, has very careful consideration when it comes to planning. Babergh District Council will need to take into account its heritage significance.”

Subsequently, the Hadleigh Society successfully applied for a grant from the Tree Council, to help re-establish trees and hedgerows along the lane.

Residents and volunteers from the Hadleigh Environment Action Team (Heat) then set about sowing the seeds over a 25-metre stretch along the ancient path, which has sunk as a result of its hillside location.

Mr Fletcher paid tribute to the community for not only nominating the Hadleigh Society for the heritage award, but also for its contributions to the project.

“We all feel it’s a great accolade for the work the society carries out on behalf of the town,” he added.

“It also recognises the efforts of the residents and the Heat team, as many of them undertook the tree and hedgerow planting.

“It’s also thanks to the tree council as, without this grant award, this would not have been possible. Hopefully, it will re-establish this lovely sunken road of local character, overlooked by hedgerow.

“All in all, this was a community effort, and the accolade should be looked upon as a community award.”