A Short Introduction to Debenham


The village of Debenham sits in the heart of the Suffolk countryside, so close to the source of the River Deben, of which the village derives its name, once part of a thriving wool trade.

A Brief History

Debenham was mentioned in the Domesday book in 1086 and was said to have been one of the most populated places in the area. Among those listed with property rights were King William and his brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux and William Malet, whose family were famous for the construction of Eye Castle.

The popularity of the village was so well known, that as such, East Anglian Kings, including the Anglo Saxon Rædwald, viewed it as an important route in their realm. Many in fact held courts here, “tradition says the Deben was then navigable up to the town”. Records from the reign of Henry III also refer to markets on Monday and Friday, as well as a regular fair.

Blood Field

On the outskirts of Debenham, to the west of the Eye road lies an area of land referred to as ‘Blood Field.’ The name reflects a valiant past, as it was here that, legend suggests, a great battle took place against the Danes in 870. It was after this such battle that King Edmund was killed.

This legend was strengthened by findings of human and horse bones in 1859 during field leveling. However, many believe this still to be a folk tale.

Interesting Architecture

Evidence of the past wealth of Debenhams wool trade can be seen dotted on the high street, with some of the timber framed merchants houses dating back to the 14th and 17th century. However, during a great fire in 1744, many of the old houses from Coopersfield to the Wash were destroyed, resulting in the modern mixture of architecture that we see today.

St Mary Magdalenes Church and St Andrews Church

The Domesday book of 1086 recorded that, at the time, Debenham had two churches, St Mary’s, which still survives today and St Andrews.

The mystery of the disappearance of St Andrews Church is one that is still questioned today. Many believe that it disappeared before the 13th century, yet nothing of its original site remains. Local Samuel Dove reported in the 19th century of a past legend about an earthquake which swallowed both the church and the Sunday congregation and also referred to an anonymous poem on the topic:

     ”A structure stood in former days,
     Whose walls immense and scowling brow
     Frown’d shadowy over the vale below.
     In cell immured full often there
     The monks have muttered many a prayer,
     And there the sad devoted nun
     Hath often dismal penance done,
     By superstition vainly driven
     Thus to benefit themselves for heaven
     But Gothic arch and moss green stone
     Or wide walls remaining none,
     No vestige of the pile remains
     Upon the hills and round the plains,
     And only by its name alone
     Of Priory Field the spot is known.”
Although St Andrews remains a distant memory, St Mary Magdalene Church still stands tall high on the hill. Listen out for the ringing of the 8 bells, said to be the most mellow in the county. As you enter the church you can see evidence of true craftsmanship in the brick patterned floor, one of the major trades within Debenham during the 19th century. The bricks are arranged in a diamond pattern with small floral tiles at the points.

There are numerous memorials within St Marys, including that of Reverend John Simpson who died in 1697. The monument is made up of a large tomb-chest set back behind iron railings. The tomb-chest is guarded by two putti (male, chubby baby-looking features), which are labelled ‘Fides’ and ‘Spes’ meaning Faith and Hope, reflecting the Christian influence of Simpson.

Among others that reside here include two former Debenham citizens, Sir Charles Framlingham and his wife. There eyes are set wide open, as if they have been stunned to death. They can be found lying in the chancel.

Crows Hall

Perhaps one of the most fascinating features of Debenham is the Grade II listed, 16th century, moated manor house which sits on the summit of ground rising from the River Deben. It is of course, Crows Hall.

Crows Hall got its name from the occupant John Crow who resided here in the late 13 century, sources have suggested that the Crow’s were a family originating from Yarmouth, who made their fortune in shipping.

In recent years, Crows Hall has undergone an award-winning restoration, with the adjoining barn being one of the longest in the country. This barn in fact is thought to be an early cout hall.

The garden too is one of sheer delight. The courtyard follows 16th century footings, with a formal pool and knot garden, famously designed by Xa Tollemache.

Should you wish to explore Crows Hall for yourself, numerous viewing take place throughout the year.


Today, Debenham is a truly community centred village, with various shops and cafes. If you’re thinking of planning a visit, do take a walk through Hoppit Wood and Hogs Kiss Meadow, a truly breathtaking area, with a man-made lake. Stunning.

Main image from EADT; Image 1, source: Heart of Suffolk; Image 2, source: onesuffolk; Image 3, source: Wikipedia; Image 4, source: Invitation to View; Image 5 by Carl Scott, source: here.