Hadleigh is an ancient market town situated in the Brett valley, the river Brett runing along the edge of the town. Architecturally, it is a fascinating town and archaeological finds and excavations show that it was visited from as early as the Stone Age.
Two Roman farms have been excavated and lots of small artefacts from the period have been discovered around the town. By the time we get to the year 890, the Saxon period, the area’s history has to some extent at least, been chronicled. Hadleigh was a royal town and when Guthrum the Danish leader died he was buried at his royal town of Hadleigh.
In 991, Earldorman Brythnoth bequeathed the Manor of Hadleigh which included such places as Kersey and Monks Eleigh to the Priory Church of Canterbury Cathedral. Hadleigh’s status as a peculiar of the archbishop lasted until 1838. The rectory was in the archbishop’s personal gift and several incumbents became bishop’s. During the Reformation of 16th century Rowland Taylor and his curate Richard Yeoman were burnt in Hadleigh for refusing to follow the beliefs of the period.
Hadleigh received a market charter in 1252, and, by 1438, administration had passed from manorial control to trustees, but it was not until the late 20th century that the market was sold to the district council.
Hadleigh, like Lavenham and many other surrounding towns, was a centre for the production of woollen-cloth throughout the medieval period and into the 17th century; and it was this that made Hadleigh one of the wealthier towns in the country. Hadleigh is definitely worth a lingering visit so park the car or better still stay a few days and really explore its fine streets and the area around the church – there are many fine period buildings to enjoy.
In 1618, borough status was achieved but was lost again in less than 70 years due to mal-administration. At the same time the cloth industry declined dramatically and the town which had gone from rags to riches returned to rags once more. It took until 1847 and the arrival of the railway for some kind of revival to take place. Hadleigh was gentrified once more and walking along the High Street you will notice that many of the shops, despite being medieval, have a 19th century front.