The Prosperous Years: 1500-1650
By 1500 Aldeburgh was emerging as a port. Evidence of the town’s growing prosperity can be found in the Chamberlains’ Account Book and in two big building projects.
1. The Church
Before 1500 Aldeburgh Church consisted of just the tower and nave. Now the North and South chapels were added and a little later these were extended to form aisles. 1524 saw the roof of the nave and the tower arch raised, then in 1545 the chancel was added. The Elizabethan church would have looked much as it does today, but the churchyard extended to the middle of the present road until 1824.
The Church was used for many secular purposes. Ship auctions were regularly held in the nave. London theatre companies toured the provinces when the play houses were closed in the capital and several came to Aldeburgh Church. It is possible (although there is no proof) that Shakespeare played here.
2. The Moot Hall
Sometime during the first half of the 16th Century a new high-status building was erected in the centre of Aldeburgh to serve as Council Chamber, focus for the Market and prison – the Town Hall. (The name Moot Hall was bestowed upon it much later, as were the tall chimneys.)
This fragment from an old map shows the Town Hall quite soon after it was built. The ground floor opened on to the market and was occupied by six self-contained shops and two prison cells. The round building with the pointed roof was the Market Cross, which would have been surrounded by stalls. Four “token” stalls are depicted between the Market Cross and a market building which might have been for storage. Market days (Wednesdays and Saturdays) would have been lively affairs, very noisy and smelly. The market opened and closed to the ringing of the market bell. Hours: 9-3 in summer; 10-2 in winter.Trading outside these hours was not permitted.
Upstairs (there were only outside stairs) there was a large meeting room and a much smaller room at the southern end which may have served as an office. Today’s Council Chamber would have performed many functions during the course of a typical week in the 15th and 16th Centuries, ranging from the holding of borough and market courts to wedding feasts, schools and guild meetings.
The houses between the Market Place and the shore have long ago been swept into the sea.
The three legged objects on the beach close to the sea are capstans for fishing boats. The annual rent payable by each fisherman for his capstan in 1560 was ½d (approximately a ¼ of 1p today). This was payable to the Council.
Inside the Council Chamber c1924. The Mayor’s table is at the other end today: he faces South. The cross beam with the clock is where the dividing wall was originally: the mortises (slots) for the studs (upright timbers) can still be seen.