The First Charter
With the grant of its first Charter in 1529 (much later than usual) Aldeburgh gained control over its own affairs. Eighteen years later Borough status was granted.
1561: ‘This ship in the waves of the sea, all sayles bearinge, with a Lyon rampant in the mayne sayle’, was assigned for use as ‘ye common seale for ever’.
1568: ‘The Burgesses petitioned ‘by reason of the increase of mariners, nourished, taught and brought up by the inhabitants’, for a Saturday market as well as a Wednesday market. This was granted.
The new Borough was flourishing
The Borough was governed by a group of leading citizens called Burgesses. There were two Bailiffs (sort of joint mayors), twelve Capital Burgesses and twenty-four Inferior Burgesses. Every Sunday the Burgesses processed up the hill from the Town Hall to the Church impressively arrayed in their robes of office.
The watercolour below shows the road up the hill that the Burgesses walked on their way to Church. The Order Book for 1564 sets out the order of march: they should proceed ‘orderlie in ther best apparelle …by cowples accordinge to antiquitie’. Non-attendance or unsatisfactory dress could result in a fine.
Aldeburgh won the right to return two MPs to Parliament in 1571. It continued to do so until the Reform Act of 1832. Roger Woodhouse, Esq. and Robert Hihfourd, gent. were the first members to be elected – by a very limited electorate.
The reason for Aldeburgh’s prosperity at this time lies largely with the shifting nature of the coastline. At first, access to The Meare (not to be confused with the present Meare at Thorpeness) between Aldeburgh and Thorpe became possible, providing safe shelter for ships and shipbuilding. When this silted up, a deeper Haven presented itself south of the town at Slawten (Slaughden).
These two parts of a large map from the time of Elizabeth show that many smaller boats were drawn up by capstans and berthed on the beach. Note the beacons on Firetree Hill – the Terrace today; they were used both to guide boats inshore and as a warning of danger. There were cannon on the beach – this was the time of the Armada threat – and a bulwark with five cannon called The Mount at Fort Green.
(The map at the bottom fits to the left of the map above. The little group of dwellings labelled ‘The base towne’ connect the two.)