Monk Soham means "monks meadow by a lake".  The monks belonged to the abbey at Bury St Edmunds, who were given the land in the late 10th century by Alfric, Bishop of East Anglia. The lake no longer exists but is believed to have lain immediately north of the back road which now runs from Earl Soham towards Ashfield-cum-Thorpe.

In the Domesday Book of 1086, Monk Soham was recorded as having fifteen acres of meadow and enough woodland for sixty pigs.  The villagers owned one horse, ten cattle, forty-three pigs, forty-three sheep and twenty-one goats. 

 

Between 1500 and 1640 most of the woods were felled to make more pasture and the village is described in County records as consisting mainly of meadow with people rearing dairy cows, pigs, horses and poultry as well as growing a variety of crops.  These included barley and wheat, rye, oats, peas, vetches, hops and hemp.  The 21st century of Monk Soham farmers concentrate on intensively grown cereals and sugar beet.

 

Monk Soham's population rose to a peak in the second half of the nineteenth century.  In 1086 there were 32 men adjudged able to pay tax but women, children and the elderly or infirm were not counted. By 1524 there were still only 35 taxpayers and the records suggest that this may have included neighbouring Worlingworth. However, from the 17th century onwards the census becomes more reliable and detailed.  In 1603 there were 129 adults in the village, living in thirty-nine households. By 1801 the population had risen to 329 and in 1871 peaked at 470.  A slow decline followed in the 20th century and by 1931 there were 208 people and 160 in the last census of 2001.

 

Until the middle of the 20th century farming and its associated supply trades provided most jobs and in 1831 for instance, Monk Soham had 57 farmers & farm workers, 19 people working in the retail trade and 13 domestic servants.  By 1912 there were 12 farmers, a beef retailer, a farm bailiff, a shopkeeper, a cattle dealer, a publican, a thatcher and a school mistress.  Today some people who live in the village commute to London, Ipswich, Norwich and Cambridge and all points beyond, leaving only a very small minority to work on the land.

 

However, the days when Monk Soham residents all found a livelihood in the village were no rural idyll for the majority.  A recurring theme of the official records is the supply of poor relief and in 1792 the Guildhall (now the site of a modern bungalow) and two cottages, plus 48 acres were let at £42 a year to maintain the poorhouses.  In 1818, the Reverend Francis Capper left funds to supplement existing relief and to give twelve loaves of bread every Sunday to the hungry. This system seems to have continued into the 20th century, although by 1922 the bequest was buying coal instead of bread. There is mention in the county records of poor relief coal being supplied to the village as late as 1937.  Poor relief in Monk Soham cost £83-17s-6d a year in 1776 but rose sharply to £575-19s-od in 1818 and £439-7s-od in 1834. During years when coal burning and rural poverty was intense and many East Anglia villages saw rick burning and other protests against high corn prices.

 

A school opened in the village in 1850 and was built to hold up to 85 pupils and with a succession of resident school mistresses living in the house provide next door.  School attendances averaged 82 by 1883 but had fallen to 42 in 1900 and then by gradual decline to lower numbers. In 1947 the school was marked for closure although the building remained in use as a school hall until 1953.  Today the village's primary children travel the two miles to Bedfield

 

Monk Soham has been a shrinking village since the Victorian villagers worked so hard and lived so poorly, seeing a net loss of at least 20 houses since 1871.  Old maps show houses and farms where there is now no trace of habitation.  In 1862 the Great Green of Monk Soham.  a sweep of open land covering 25 acres of common land where Oakfields now stand was privatised under the 1848 General Acts with the aim of making it more profitable and productive. A small surviving tract of open land at Hungers Green is close to the former school and is cared for by the Parish Council.  It provides in  way that will encourage wildlife to thrive there and provide a beautiful open space for use of the villagers.

 

In the late 19th century the people of the village were given the chance to travel and in 1904 the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway (the "Middy") opened stations two miles away at Kenton & Worlingworth for goods traffic and extended the service to passengers in 1908. It was then possible to catch a train to Haughley Junction and thereonwards to Ipswich & London in one direction and Laxfield in the other. The line was never extended as intended and was closed on Monday 28th July 1952.

 

In 1958 the Suffolk Parish History described Monk Soham as "a small dispersed settlement". This is still true and High Suffolk Community Bus operates a greatly appreciated, volunteer driven service to neighbouring towns.  Other public transport runs from Bedfield and Earl Soham to Framlingham and Ipswich (see the USEFUL INFORMATION page).

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