The Centenary Lecture of 1989
CENTENARY LECTURE by Dr Ormonde Pickard
DUNWICH TOWN TRUST - 1889 TO 1989
Let us begin with the final entry in the series of leather-bound assembly books of the Corporation of the Borough of Dunwich, a borough that had figured prominently in the Domesday Book in 1086 and until 1832 had sent two Members to Parliament.
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the Body Corporate of the Borough of Dunwich in the County of Suffolk held at the Town Hall of and in the said Borough on Monday the 30th day of August in the 50th year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lady Queen Victoria by the grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen Defender of the Faith and in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty six.
Lieut. Colonel Barne
Mr. Thomas Pead Gooda
Mr. John Sadd
The Revd. J. F. Nook
Mr. Richard Girling
Mr George Dix
AT THIS ASSEMBLY (the Corporation having ceased to exist) it was proposed by Mr Thomas Pead Gooda and seconded by the Revd. J. F. Nook that an application be made to the Charity Commissioners for a Scheme dealing with the Corporation property
In truth, by 1886, the Corporation was a mere phantom. Ever since 1716, when, as recorded in the 18th century assembly book, "it having pleased Almighty God by the force of the sea to make our said town house dangerous to enter into", the Corporation had been without a home of its own. The freemen, who were the Corporation, had been refugees, firstly meeting for nearly forty years in an annex which Sir George Downing built on to his residence known as The Place, in the ruins of Greyfriars Priory, and secondly, in a small house in St. James's Street (still known as the Old Town Hall). The six freemen present at this last sad meeting brought to an end the business of the Borough of Dunwich. Three years later the Charity Commissioners published their Scheme setting up The Dunwich Town Trust, to be managed by four trustees elected by the inhabitants, one appointed by the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, and three co-opted.
Had the Charity Commissioners consulted astrologers in 1889. they might have been warned that the time was not auspicious for the establishment of a charity to deal with the property of the defunct borough for the benefit of the inhabitants. During the six centuries that had elapsed since the loss of the harbour in 1286, the town of Dunwich had been destroyed by the sea. But after it had been reduced in numbers to the size of a village its further decline had been gradual, and for several centuries the lives of the people had changed but little. Even the political excitements of the rotten borough had had little effect on village life. The borough no longer had a mayor at its head, the Latin mass had given way to the services in the Book of Common Prayer and companies of strolling players had come to perform some of the plays of Shakespeare, but it was only comparatively recently that the railways had sent disturbing shock waves into the remote Suffolk countryside, heralding changes to come - changes that were to make the next hundred years the most dramatic in human history, including as they did two wars conducted on a scale never before experienced by mankind. Thus the trustees appointed in the peaceful 1880's, and their successors, would have to strive to achieve the charity's purpose and to manage its properties in conditions that were always shifting and at times were in turmoil.
The trustees had also to contend with two other potential difficulties that arose from local circumstances. Dunwich was an estate village in which almost all the inhabitants were either employees, or tenants, or both, of the Barne family's estate. For the Town Trust to establish for itself an identity clearly independent of the estate, was almost bound to bring the trustees into conflicts of interest and clashes of personality. In the background was a less tangible difficulty. The trustees would have to win the confidence of the Charity Commissioners who knew that the past record of charities in Dunwich included cases of gross mismanagement and fraud. While the Town Trust was starting with a clean sheet, for how long would it remain unsullied?
The properties acquired by the trust are listed in Appendix 1 and the purposes to which the revenues should be applied are shown in Appendix 2.
The Early Years
Trouble for the people and charities in Dunwich was not slow in coming. The year in which the village lost its status as a borough brought a more personal loss in the death in March of Lieut. Colonel Frederick Barne. In his youth he had been the last member of the family to represent Dunwich in Parliament, and he had owned the estate for almost half a century. The modem village had largely been his creation, as his memorial in the parish church testifies. His relations with the villagers had been friendly and considerate. It was his son, Lieut. Colonel F. St John Barne, who presided over the last assembly of the freemen of Dunwich. While he cared for Dunwich, he soon showed another side of his character: a distressing weakness for getting involved in disputes with the villagers.
It was not long before the charities in the village were drawn into these disputes, which concerned such matters as the participation of the people in village affairs, the management of parish properties, and trivialities such as the times of meetings. This is not the place to go into the details of these disputes; it is sufficient to note that the villagers found a leader in a Scottish engineer named Gurdon Stephenson, who gave his name to this village saga, which became known as "The Stephenson Rumpus". The vicar supported his parishioners; one meeting ended with "hearty cheers for the vicar". But alas, those cheers it seems cost the frail old clergyman £40 a year which Colonel Barne, as the patron of the living, allegedly withheld from his stipend. Affairs became so serious that the local Member of Parliament drew the attention of the Charity Commissioners to the involvement of the charities in the mounting disputes.
With an alacrity that suggest that the commissioners were not unprepared for bad news from Dunwich, they announced that a public enquiry would be held into the management of the village's charities. The date was the 11th of November 1895 and the venue would be the inn, the Barne Arms. An assistant commissioner, Mr R Durnford, briskly and incisively examined the witnesses, one of whom was Lieut. Colonel Barne. He was in a defiant and unyielding mood, which was not lost on the reporter whose account of the day's proceedings appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times on the following day Mr. Dunford's report to the commissioners concentrated on the relations between the charities and the Barne estate. Transactions in property came under his critical scrutiny, even though he decided that Colonel Barne had not done anything that was illegal. From almost every page of the report it is clear that the management of the charities needed strengthening if serious scandals were to be avoided. The commissioners quickly took action on the report. Some transactions in property were ordered to be revised; negotiations for other transactions had to be continued under the close supervision of the commissioners. Their most drastic order was that the much depleted properties of the medieval hospital charities should no longer be managed by the Master appointed by the Parish Meeting, currently Colonel Barne, but should be transferred to a new charity, the Dunwich Pensions Charity, which should be managed by a committee of parishioners. The Colonel obstinately resisted this last requirement up to the time of his death in 1898. His successor was his son, Captain Miles Barne, but he was not able to maintain the opposition to the commissioners as his father had done, and the properties were taken over by the new charity. The commissioners however, made one concession. It was that the Pensions Charity should be managed by the same trustees as the Town Trust. Separate accounts would have to be kept and submitted to the commissioners annually The supervision of the commissioners would not be limited to transactions in property but would cover all except very routine items. The commissioners would not agree to the funds of the two charities being merged, nor would they agree to any transfer of funds between the two charities.
In 1907 the trustees of the Town Trust, with the agreement of the commissioners, purchased the buildings of the coastguard station on Dunwich Common from the Admiralty when they surrendered the lease. They then let them as a private residence to two families who were well known in educational and literary circles.
Cross v. Rix
The Town Trust found itself in more trouble in 1911. Its ownership of the foreshore extended almost into the village of Walberswick, some of whose fishermen had huts on the Dunwich side of the unmarked boundary. They used these huts for the storage of their gear but in the summer they hired them out to bathers as changing rooms. The Town Trust charged owners of huts on their foreshore a nominal annual rent of 2s. 6d. but in 1913 one, Cross by name, refused to pay. The trust's chairman, Captain Barne, recruited a former policeman and three other men as bailiffs, issued them with crowbars, and on September 4th sent them along the beach with instructions to remove Mr Cross's huts if he still refused to pay. He did refuse and in the ensuing fracas he was injured by "a metal implement" about the face and chest. He needed medical attention and his huts were demolished. There was much indignation in Walberswick at this outrage, which was also reported in a long letter published in the East Anglian Daily Times from a holiday maker who had witnessed the affair.
The result was that the Town Trust was sued in the name of its Clerk, Mr F W Rix, a Beccles solicitor, by Mr Cross claiming damages. The case of Cross v. Rix wound its way through the courts beginning in the Halesworth County Court, where the plaintiff lost. However, he appealed successfully to the High Court in London, which remitted the case back to the County Court for a re-hearing. This lasted two days at the end of which the jury found in favour of Mr Cross and awarded him damages. The court also ordered that his costs should be paid by the Town Trust. These, for all three hearings plus the trust's own costs and the amount of the damages, added up to a bill of a size that made it necessary for the trustees to seek the permission of the Charity Commissioners to sell investments to pay the debt. The commissioners were not pleased to be reminded that Dunwich's charities had a habit of coming to grief and that once more the involvement of the Barne estate in the affairs of the Town Trust was to blame. The commissioners agreed to the sale subject to the amount being repaid out of revenue over a period of years. It must be added that this high-handed action was not typical of Captain Barne. He had had the occasional difference with the villagers but their disagreements had always been conducted without rancour. In this case there was in the background a long history of disputes between Dunwich and Walberswick reaching back as far as the commercial rivalries of the Middle Ages.
Two World Wars and the Years Between
The carefully tended war memorial opposite Dunwich parish church records the tragic losses of men in two World Wars. The list includes Major Miles Barne, D.S.O. and his brother Captain Seymour Barne, M.C. who both died of their wounds in 1917, marking the beginning of the end of the Barne family's connection with Dunwich. Major Barne's heir was his schoolboy son, Michael. His cousin, Captain Michael Barne, D.S.O, R.N., who lived in one of the family's houses in the village, became a trustee of the Town Trust.
Not long after 1918 Dunwich had to start coming to terms with the growing influx of motorists. The village was much divided about this For some, motorists brought a welcome new source of income, and among the beneficiaries were the Pensions and Town Trust charities. Each had land that was well placed for car parking for which fees could be collected. One car park was adjacent to the beach at Dunwich and the other overlooked the beach at Minsmere, where the common also provided ample space for campers. Mr Rix reported to the trustees that the car parks were a "gold mine", and he indefatigably chased up defaulters, whom he was able to trace through the registration numbers of their cars with the co-operation of the police!
Among those who objected to the charities providing parking spaces was Captain Barne, R. N., who resigned from the Town Trust in protest, claiming that the type of visitor likely to be attracted would soon turn Dunwich into a seaside Hampstead Heath, thereby destroying its attraction for the artists and writers who had hitherto been frequent visitors to this quiet unspoiled village. The young owner of the estate, Michael Barne, took his place as a trustee.
In 1930, the Admiralty surrendered the lease of land in Dunwich on which they had build two cottages for coastguards. With the permission of the Charity Commissioners, the trustees purchased these for £40 and let them to local residents. At this time the trustees were having difficult negotiations with the Charity Commissioners who were unwilling to allow the Trust to invest any capital in new housing. The Trust had a plot of land along the road to Westleton on which they wished to build two houses. The commissioners objected on two grounds: one was that the Trust should use its resources for the general benefit of the inhabitants of Dunwich and not for a few tenants of cheap housing; the other objection was that in spite of the shortage of housing, investment in residential property could be speculative and therefore unsuitable for a charity. After several years the commissioners reluctantly gave their consent on condition that the dwellings should be let only to persons in receipt of pensions from the Pensions Charity, so that the Town Trust could be sure of collecting the rents.
In 1934 the Diocese of Ipswich and St. Edmundsbury created a post for a suffragan bishop for whom it was decided to revive the title of Bishop of Dunwich, last used in the ninth century when Dunwich was the head quarters of the diocese. This reminder of the ancient history of the place stimulated the village to establish a museum, for which the Barne estate provided a small building, the Old Rocket Station, at a yearly token rent of £1. The Town Trust made itself responsible for the running of the museum. Very little expenditure seems to have been needed over what could be collected in donations from the public, except for one item in 1939. In that year the trustees, with the consent of the Charity Commissioners, purchased from the estate of the late Sir Kenneth Kemp for £50 the charter granted to the Borough of Dunwich by King John, minus its seal.
During the second World War much of the Trusts's property was requisitioned by the forces, including the foreshore and Dunwich Common.
Post-war and in the Aftermath of the Barne Estate
Two years after the end of the Second World War Colonel Michael Barne sold his Dunwich estate to Commander Lloyd who, three months later in October 1947, re-sold most of it in individual lots by public auction. The catalogue included the Old Rocket Station used by the museum, a cottage in St. James's Street which housed the reading room (parish hall), and the nearby billiard room. The Town Trust's trustees hastily visited the Charity Commissioners in London seeking permission to bid for these properties, but they were unsuccessful. Just before the day of the auction they were told that "other arrangements" were being made about these properties, and they were withdrawn from the sale. There ensued lengthy negotiations between the trustees, Commander Lloyd's solicitors, and the Charity Commissioners. The outcome was the establishment in 1952 of the Dunwich Reading Room and Museum Charity which took over these three properties. The Town Trust, however, continued to run the museum, an arrangement which later gave rise to complications in the relations between the two charities.
As the authorities after 1945 gradually released properties that had been requisitioned, the trustees were caught up in difficult and protracted negotiations with the Government about the restoration of the properties with compensation for the costs involved. Land agents, architects, valuers, contractors, solicitors, and the Charity Commissioners all had to take part, with a hard pressed Treasury always seeking to minimize the calls on public funds. A steadily rising rate of inflation, shortages of labour, and erratic supplies of materials all had to be coped with somehow. The problems must have seemed endless and not until 1956 was Dunwich Common completely released by the Royal Air Force.
There were other problems. As the public were again able to gain access to the beaches and to the common, and wartime austerity gave way to postwar prosperity and full employment, allowing more and more family motorists to head for Dunwich, they brought with them traffic problems, parking problems, and most serious of all for the trustees, problems of maintenance of the roads leading to the beach and across Dunwich Common. These roads had never been intended for the traffic that was now using them. After much research into ancient records, the trustees eventually persuaded the local government authority that the road to the beach at Dunwich had always been a public highway which should he maintained out of public funds. For the time being the road across the common remained a problem. With these major problems the trustees also had to deal with the irritating one of litter which caused them some expense and brought constant complaints from both residents and visitors.
The Charity Commissioners were usually helpful in dealing with these post-war problems, but they complicated matters by urging the trustees to dispose of any property that was not producing a revenue. For a time the trustees resisted this pressure. The increase in the value of property in East Anglia lagged behind the rest of southern England until the 1960's. In consequence, when in the 1950's the trustees did begin to act on the commissioners' advice, the prices realised did not reflect the dramatic rises in the value of property in East Anglia that were to come. Several scattered pieces of agricultural land a few miles from Dunwich were sold for what they would fetch. The much more valuable Hospital Farm (now called Church Farm) in Dunwich was sold in 1955 for £2,500 with the approval of the commissioners. Its value 25 years later does not bear thinking about. In 1984 the trust sold its last piece of arable land amounting to 22 acres for £17,084.
As they employed no staff of their own, the management of property in these difficult years was a burden on the trustees. It is not surprising therefore that in 1953 they tried to dispose of the common as a Nature Reserve, but nothing came of this. The general maintenance of this increasingly popular tourist attraction, in addition to the problem of the road, was becoming too much for the trustees. Furthermore they were divided about the policy they should adopt. As we have seen, campers had been allowed to use the common ever since the first war. After the second there was scope for developing camping and caravan sites, which would have substantially added to the market value of the common. But several of the trustees were vehemently opposed to this and they were supported by many of the villagers, including newcomers who had bought their homes in Dunwich to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the place. The local authority was drawn into the argument, wishing to implement a policy of keeping caravaners and campers away from the coast. It tried to limit camping on Dunwich Common to a restricted specified site. Those trustees who wished to maximise the market value of the common argued that there was an "established use" of the whole of the common for camping. The argument went on for some years until, in 1965, it was overtaken by negotiations to sell the common to the National Trust. The desire to keep the common free from campers and caravaners had now to be traded for hard cash. The trustees had the common valued on two assumptions: (i) with camp and caravan sites, and (ii) with both campers and caravans banned. The valuers came up with two figures to correspond: £10,500 and £6,500. Finally the views of the no camping lobby prevailed, and with the consent of the Charity Commissioners the common was sold in 1968 to the National Trust for £6,500 with camping and caravans prohibited and local residents to be given unrestricted access to the common at all times.
As we have seen, the Town Trust continued to run the museum after the establishment of the Reading Room and Museum Charity. The donations from visitors exceeded expenses and allowed the trustees to pay an annual honorarium to the custodian, Mr. Clark, until his death in 1966. By this time the museum was in poor shape. At the suggestion of Miss Pat Butler, the curator of Ipswich Museum, the trustees sought the advice of the Carnegie U.K. Trust, which financed a visit by the then Director of the London Museum. He recommended that there should be a museum in Dunwich, provided that its standards of display and conservation could be greatly improved. For this he estimated that £2,000 would be needed. The trustees took some time considering his report. The premises were damp and the trustees first decided to accept an offer that had been made by the County Record Office in Ipswich to take over, conserve and repair the historic records of the Borough of Dunwich. They are now available to students and to research workers in a way that would not have been possible had they remained in Dunwich. The trustees of the Town Trust and the Museum Charity then decided to use the old billiard room, no longer required for that purpose, as the Parish hall, and to convert the old reading room and empty caretaker's flat above for use as a museum. The Town Trust allocated £2,000 for this purpose. The old rocket station was let as a store and subsequently sold for conversion as a residence.
Work began on the conversion in 1970 and by the time it was nearly completed it was clear that the £2,000 available from the Town Trust would not be nearly sufficient for the display cases and fittings lighting, and furnishings. At this point the trustees were advised by their new Clerk, Major Rodwell, that they should consult the Charity Commissioners, as they were in danger of having the expenditure disallowed. This they did, and helpfully the commissioners did sanction the expenditure already incurred, but insisted the town Trust should not continue to be responsible for the running of the museum. This should be undertaken by the Museum Charity although the Town Trust could, with the commissioners' prior approval, make further grants for specified purposes. The museum trustees then obtained help from the area Museum Service for South-East England, which was able to provide the professional, technical and material assistance required. In addition it was able to make a 50% grant towards the costs. These were escalating all the time, and the trustees were at their wits’ end to find their share of these costs. In this crisis an old friend came to their rescue: Colonel Barne was the current chairman of the Town Trust and he generously contributed £1,000 from his own pocket to meet the greater part of the bill owed to the Area Museums Service. The Countryside Commission then came forward with a grant of £ 1,000 towards the cost of equipping and setting out the Wild Life Gallery. Finally, the Charity Commissioners gave permission for the Town Trust to make a grant of £300 towards the cost of lighting the museum and for three annual grants towards the running costs, to get it well launched. It opened its doors in 1972 and was fully operational by 1974, and self-financing except for very major items of expenditure.
With the approval of the Charity Commissioners the Town Trust sold the two coastguard cottages in Dunwich to their tenants for £1,500 each. Both tenancies were protected under current legislation. The trustees were at this time in disagreement with the Charity Commissioners, and among themselves, about property development, reflecting a similar divergence of views among the villagers. Dunwich is an unspoiled village in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. All are united in wanting to keep it so. Some however carried this desire to the extreme of opposing any new building in the village, while the planning authority and many villagers were prepared to see some limited amount of new building, mainly for filling in some of the gaps. In 1971 a local resident offered to build at her own expense, as a memorial to her late husband, two dwellings on a piece of land the trustees owned along the Westleton road. The trustees decided to accept this "generous offer" subject to approving the plans. In 1973 a prominent member of the trust drew the attention of his fellow trustees to the need for more houses to let in Dunwich. At the same meeting it was reported that planning permission had been given to Mrs. Lewis for the building of the two buildings on the Trust's land. Thereafter, silence. There is no further mention of this project and Mrs. Lewis herself died without having placed a contract for the work or making provision for it in her will. Why the trustees did not respond more vigorously to Mrs. Lewis's offer we do not know, but whatever the reason an opportunity to add to the Town Trust's property assets was lost and a derelict piece of land remains derelict.
Ironically by 1980 the trustees had themselves applied for the planning permission to be renewed so that the Town Trust could build the two dwellings out of its own funds. Two trustees, who were opposed to this, resigned and the local authority refused to renew planning permission. A few years later the trustees made a fresh application for planning permission for two dwellings on this site, which with some difficulty they obtained, only to have the project turned down by the Charity Commissioners.
Shortly afterwards the commissioners consented to the sale of the Priory Cottage and the re-investment of the proceeds, plus some of the Trust's own funds, in the purchase of a modern bungalow on the Westleton Road. One other strand of the post war history of the Town Trusts's properties needs to he mentioned. Not until sometime after the end of the war did the authorities release Corporation Marsh. Until 1939 this land had been let every summer for grazing, but this practice was not renewed after the property was returned. In 1954 the trustees gave permission for a local resident to erect a bird hide on the marsh. Thereafter they seemed to lose all interest in this property and eventually, after many changes in membership they seem not even to know that they owned it. Some wild-fowlers from Walberswick took over the marsh, maintaining the footpaths and using it for shooting. In 1980 the Walberswick Parish Council proposed to the Boundary Commission that the marsh should be transferred to their parish from Dunwich. The trustees promptly resumed possession of the marsh and the proposed boundary change was rejected by the Commission. The trustees then leased the marsh to the Nature Conservancy Council, who sub-let the shooting to the Walberswick wild-fowlers. The Town Trust now receives an annual rent of £425 for land they abandoned for thirty years.
Today it can be said that the trustees, after the traumas of the post-war releases of their properties and of the erratic fluctuations of the property markets over the years, are managing their remaining properties successfully. They are let at economic rents with only the plot along the Westleton road still yielding no income. Fishermen are charged reasonable but economic fees for licences to fish commercially from the foreshore and to have winches and huts on the beach. After a disastrous fire in 1988 the beach restaurant has been skillfully re-built and brings in a good return, while providing a well patronized amenity much appreciated by visitors.
The Dunwich Town Trust enters its second century under more auspicious circumstances than prevailed in 1889. As we have seen, the trustees have learned to cope with the problems that are inevitable in the management of property in an unstable market. While the trustees and the Charity Commissioners do not always see eye to eye, relations are much happier than when memories of the Stephenson Rumpus and Cross v. Rix were fresh in people's minds. The change-over from an estate village to one of owner-occupiers has been completed. The trustees in future will need skills of diplomacy and imagination to apply the benefits of the Trust to a community that is affluent, mobile, educated, and well served by networks of entertainment and information undreamed of a century ago.
The Pensions Charity for a time at least will be able to continue to supplement the benefits of the welfare state, although it seems inevitable that the calls on its revenues are bound to decrease in time.
The future can never be predicted, but the century into which the Trusts are about to enter is likely to be less changeable and therefore more stable than the one from which they have just emerged.