Beccles Townlands Charity Emblem

Beccles Townlands Charity


Beccles Feoffees, or Beccles Townlands Charity, has existed since 1544. Prior to the Reformation, charitable work was carried out by the church under various Guilds – seven in all – including St Michael's Guild of Corpus Christi, the Halfpenny Guild and the Holy Ghost Guild from which we originate.

When Henry VIII established the Church of England with himself as head of the church, not only was he the spiritual leader but he had control over the considerable assets of the church - in land, properties, monasteries and valuables. He began to sell these assets and it came to the notice of the Holy Ghost Guild that they could lose their land and property and consequently their ability to carry out charitable work in the town. They therefore decided to form a new charity and to transfer their assets into what became, and remains, The Beccles Townlands Charity.

There were twelve Feoffees (Trustees) and a Collector who acted as Chairman and was responsible for the collection of rents. The first Collector was John Thorne. Records show that when he died he left £40 for the paving and stoning of Blyburgate, which was the main road from Yarmouth to London.

The Charity initially held 42 acres in land and property and the rents from these provided the income for charitable and other purposes. The original Feoffees were charged with providing money for prayers to be said for their benefactors, payments to poor scholars, the choir and the Crown, with the balance used for the relief of the poor and infirm of Beccles.

The record of lands in our possession date from 1544. Records are sparse but show that in 1636 the income was £47.94 rising to £102 in 1757 when the main expenditure was poor relief, maintenance of buildings and payments to the local militia. Individual items from later records include £2 for taking an apprentice, the purchase of 70 yards of cloth to make clothes for the poor, £4 for the amputation of a leg, £4.10 for attention to'Richard Todd, a lunatic and £1 to Widow Makins for the purchase of a horse to allow her to carry on her trade of carting fish.

In the 17th century the Feoffees owned a Guildhall in Smallgate, almshouses in Puddingmoor and a workhouse next to the Guildhall together with other buildings. Coal for the poor was kept in a store adjacent to the Guildhall. In addition to maintaining their own property, provision was made towards the upkeep of the watchtower on the river, the church, the town pump, paving to Old and New Markets and repairs to the Town Cross. On 27th September 1671 when King Charles II visited Beccles, the Feoffees paid for the bells to be rung and laid 2 loads of gravel, no doubt to assist his passage through the town.

In the 16th and 17th centuries Beccles was damaged by fire on seven occasions and the Feoffees made themselves responsible for primitive fire-fighting equipment. In the 18th and 19th centuries help was given towards welfare in the town, and records show blankets and coal being distributed to the needy.

After the 2nd World War and the introduction of the Welfare State, other agencies took over work formerly done by the Feoffees, but donations continued to be made from limited resources at the time.

In more recent times a reassessment of activities was undertaken and an application made to the Charity Commissioners to formalise the Charity. In addition some of our land was sold to the local authority for the Townlands housing development which generated funding for other property investment, and provided investment income to support larger projects in the town.

One of the first projects receiving financial investment was the replacement of the Waveney Centre, which began in 1983 and was finished six years later. Premises were required for Waveney Enterprises and 13 Smallgate was purchased and converted into workshops with a shop. This continues to provide occupation for up to 18 handicapped people, and we also continue to help with staff costs. Another major project was the purchase of Leman House, part of which was converted for use by the Beccles and District Museum. More recently Exchange House and a property in New Market, now rented to the Citizens' Advice Bureau, were added to our portfolio of local property.

In addition to the properties mentioned we own some almshouses, private housing for rental, agricultural land including grazing marshes, and two river frontage plots. Some properties were inherited, and others purchased to hand on to future generations for the benefit of the town.

We are non-political, entirely voluntary and care about the welfare of our town and the people who live here.

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