The Godell Will - Altruism or enlightened self-interest

In his will dated May 1509, William Godell shows himself to have been not so much an unqualified altruist as one determined to use his huge wealth circumspectly to secure himself a place in heaven. There was to be a £20 contribution to St Edmund's Church refurbishment fund on condition that the vicar took a year off in Rome and spent it singing for Godell's soul sy five specific churches there. There would also be £14 in it for the vicar himself. He also wanted mass held for him at St Edmund's Church every day for a month after his death and, at each service, 12 of the town's poor people were to pray for his soul for the payment of a penny a go, while his wife Margaret was to put three pence into the offertory each time.

Margaret was left two of his ships and allowed to continue to live in the marital home for her lifetime. She was also given the house and estate of Skylmans, enjoying the income from the farms and rental properties on it, on condition that she ensured that her husband's soul was prayed for by a 'secular priest'* at the church for the whole of that time.

That wasn't the end of it... After Margaret's death, the Skylman's estate, which seems to have included all that we now think of as The Common, Marshes and much of Southwold, was to pass into the hands of 'the Bayliffs and Commonality of Southwold' for the next 16 years, on condition that a priest continue to sing for the soul of William and his friends for the whole of that period.

Finally, 'after the span and term of sixteen years' the praying and the chanting could at last stop and, Godell declared: 'I will that the said place called Skylmans... wholly remain to the said Town of Southwold for ever to give and sell.'

* A secular priest was one who was parish-based as distinct from one based in a monastery.