The pretty village of Earl Soham, 2 miles west of the delightful market town of Framlingham, began as an ancient Roman settlement. Its name means the “hamlet by water of the Earls”, in reference to the Bigod family, the Earls of Norfolk, who once owned the village.

In Earl Soham today you will find a great village pub and brewery, a prize winning butcher and delicatessen and the coffee shop Eat Anglia, as well as the beautiful Church of St Mary’s, what is described as the “most ornate of hammer-beams in the county” by local author Miles Jebb.

The story of Earl Soham is, as Yeoman wrote for the East Anglian Daily Times in 1928, one that is “wild and romantic … a past of blonde-bearded invaders, of Christian edifices sacked and despoiled by heathen adventurers, of murderous onslaughts and deadly combat … of noble names and knightly deeds … associations with those builders of Empire who swept the seas“.

The Saxon St Felix, the Bishop of Dunwich, the kingdom lost to the sea, resided in Earl Soham. It is thought that he was buried in 647 in a monastery at Earl Soham. The monastery was said to have been “razed to the ground by the ravening marauders of the North – those splendid fighters, but ruthless savages, the Danes” but Felix’s bones were found during the reign of King Canute by the Abbot Athelstan and moved to his abbey in Ramsey. So the story goes, but some historians believe there to have been some confusion and that Monk Soham and not Earl Soham that was meant.

The mighty Bigods, the Earls of Norfolk, owned the Manor of Earl Soham between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. Under the reign of Edward I, Earl Soham was granted the right to hold a fair and market. Then, this estate, part of the estates of the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk was sold by Thomas Howard and became the seat of the Cornwalis family. The manor came to be inherited by John Cotton, second son of Sir Allen Cotton, the Lord Mayor of London in 1626. John Cotton went on to become Sheriff of Suffolk.

 There is a “particular historical interest and a certain romantic aspect” Yeoman recalls of “the ancient oaks which spread themselves in all their knightly grandeur in the park about Earl Soham Lodge …  Many and many a year back before the age of steel, before the belching smoke of the modern ironclad made the sweet ocean air hideous, before men, half-naked and grimy, sweated and choked as they shoveled coal into the maw of the flaming furnaces, this park at Earl Soham was famous for its mighty oaks. And when those “wooden walls” of England put out from their snug harbours to carry the flag into the remote corners of the earth, and show whatever foemen they came across that the vessels of that seemingly insignificant island washed by the grey sea waves its sons rode upon in search of action and adventure, could withstand their onslaughts, and hurl the gage of battle in their teeth, it was oak from the trees which flourished at Earl Soham that often formed the backbone of the fleet. For many a ship-of-war owed its strength and toughness to these Earl Soham oaks, and thus to this Suffolk village must be given some part of the credit due to those of our ancestors who kept these shores inviolate against apparently hopeless odds“.

The grand Earl Soham Lodge was built in the Middle Ages as a hunting lodge complete with moat and fish ponds and then rebuilt in 1789. A short distance from the lodge is St Mary’s on the old Roman road and Deben valley floor, along which the village of Earl Soham runs.

Visiting Earl Soham?  Stay nearby in Framlingham

For the full article by Yeoman, please see the Earl Soham website.