How was the wealth in Southwold generated?

Traders were coming to Southwold from Europe well before Domesday as is evidenced by the Viking ship rudders on display in the nuseum. (Click on the IN THE BEGINNING storyline for more.) These were found, or trawled up, adjacent to the beach. From then until well into the 20th century herring fishing provided the underlying support for the town’s economy. But it was sea trade that was for centuries at the heart of Southwold’s prosperity. Ships traded as far afield as Iceland and the Baltic.

What cargoes did they carry ? Coal from Newcastle; cod and ling from Iceland; corn, butter and cheese to London; herring and red sprats to the Netherlands; timber from the Baltic. In 1601 a Southwold merchant acquired a local monopoly of

‘….the byeuing of divers Blobbers and making of Trayned Oil…from Cod’s livers…..’

Everything was either landed or loaded down at the harbour where the activity and hubbub must have been immense.

The halcyon days for a few wealthy merchants and mariners of the town were in the 15th and 16th centuries and again in the 18th century. They prospered and gained great wealth during this period by engaging in commercial activity. In addition to commerce, others made their wealth from the brewing trade. The wealth was used to buy land and build and thus leave a permanent mark on the town.

Just how rich were these merchants?

Richard Buckenham
had interests in fishing and brewing and built Buckenham House.

The Thompsons. John (Bailiff in 1694); William (Bailiff in 1705); who owned the Swan Brewery also lived in Buckenham House.

The Nunns had a brewery in Victoria Street. Thomas Nunn was a Bailiff in 1723 and his son, Samuel, who was a ship owner and also a Bailiff. They had a house where Somerfield is now located.

The Robinsons, who were timber importers, owned the property which is now Lloyds Bank. John Robinson was Bailiff or Chamberlain every year from 1760 to 1799.

The May family owned the Saltworks and were able to build the Manor House. Robert May was Bailiff in 1798. (Click on INDUSTRY to learn more about the Saltworks.)

Thomas Postle was a merchant, grocer and draper trading at premises in the market Place at the end of the 17th century. The weather vane from the old Market Cross bears the initials TP and JW; those of Thomas Postle and John Wigg. Postle had his own trade tokens stamped to use in lieu of coins at a time when the latter were not good currency and when many people were poor. Postle was Bailiff in 1662 but refused to take the Oath and was removed. However, he was elected Bailiff again in 1671, 1688, 1690 and 1692.

For more information, buy a copy of Merchants and Mariners (by Rachel Lawrence – a member of the Southwold Museum and Historical Society) from the Museum Shop