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Hadleigh Society timeline project delves deep into 650-year history of town’s guildhall

A deep-dive history project covering more than six centuries is set to reveal the fruits of its labour, to highlight the enduring significance of a town’s civic centre.

The Hadleigh Society has produced a vast timeline on the heritage of The Guildhall complex in Market Place, following two years of exhaustive research by volunteer historians.

Spanning from its origins in 1374 to the present day, the project marks the first time a study has been carried out into the site’s 650-year full lifespan, drawing upon original documents from local archives.

Members of the society - Sally Looker, Margaret Wood and Jan Byrne. Picture: Mecha Morton
Members of the society - Sally Looker, Margaret Wood and Jan Byrne. Picture: Mecha Morton

A public presentation will take place at the Grade I-listed venue next month to launch the timeline, which will then be made available to view on the Hadleigh Society website.

It comes after Hadleigh Town Council commissioned a report from a historical architecture firm to explore possibilities for the long-term future of The Guildhall.

Jan Byrne, from the Hadleigh Society’s history group, said that, by cataloguing and compiling this history, the volunteers hope to bring the importance of the complex further forward in the public’s minds.

“For all 600 years of its life, it has been the civic centre of the town,” she told SuffolkNews.

“It is a complex of buildings that has been used for absolutely everything in the town, and still is, in that people can hire it. There are five rooms to hire, and it’s a super venue for weddings, parties, exhibitions – you name it.

“The important thing to come out of this project is, for 600 years, it has been a working building. It’s not a museum.

“We know that Hadleigh Town Council is looking at the future of the building, although we don’t know everything that it is contemplating.

“We decided to bring this timeline together so that, if changes are made, we have a document that shows how important The Guildhall is.”

The timeline, which stretches across 35 pages, was produced primarily from historical documentation kept in Hadleigh, as well as sources further afield, including the Bury St Edmunds archive office.

In addition to the history of The Guildhall’s use for governing the town and local market, it includes details on the complex’s various guises, including a school, a workhouse, almshouses, a fire station and a corset factory.

Jan said the document is not final, and they intend to continue adding to it as and when new archived material on the complex emerges.

She added: “One of the things you notice in Hadleigh, when it comes to our Guildhall and our church is, we’ve got these marvellous medieval buildings, and they are just part of our lives.

“People don’t look at them as special, because they are just always there, and they can be used for anything.

“This project is saying to people that, this is what we’ve got, we should be proud of what we’ve got, and we should maintain it.

“It’s still the civic centre of Hadleigh. It’s a building for the town and it belongs to the town.”

The Hadleigh Society talk will take place at The Guildhall on August 23 from 8pm.

For more information, go to the organisation’s website at hadsoc.org.uk.