In search of Polsborough Gate

During the years of 1732 to 1734, John Kirby, a Suffolk land surveyor and topographer, journeyed throughout the County of Suffolk surveying the roads and recording the details which he subsequently published in 1735 as a book titled The Suffolk Traveller: or, Journey through Suffolk. Over the decades following Kirby’s death in 1753, this publication was reprinted in four editions with alterations and amendments made by other authors.

Two editions can be found online, the 1764 2nd edition [1] and the 1735 1st edition [2] which was published by John Bagnall who set up business in 1720 printing the Ipswich Journal. The business lasted for 19 years, after which it was taken over by William Craighton in 1739. There is a physical copy of the 1st edition that is held at the Ipswich Records Office. The second edition, published by J. Shave, is substantially different and is worth referencing to correlate against when determining distances.

Kirby was a true Suffolk man, born in Halesworth in 1690, becoming a schoolmaster based in Orford and later residing in a mill at Wickham Market. He was undoubtedly familiar with the area of Coastal Suffolk around Snape and therefore his written accounts of this area should be dependable in their descriptions.

There are numerous references to a feature that Kirby names as Polsborough Gate (also spelt Polesborough Gate) throughout his works and these are always referred to as a landmark in his surveys for which both distance and directions are taken. The references are included in road surveys from:

  • Blythburgh to Melton,
  • Melton to Aldeburgh and
  • Aldeburgh to Wickham Market via Saxmundham.

Each survey describes features together with a distance in miles and furlongs from the starting point. This provides the feasibility of deducing locations of long forgotten features provided that the measurements are accurate. There is no detail of how the measurements were made and it is not for this investigation to determine the ways and means of measurement that were employed in the 1700s. To assess the accuracy of his recorded results, measurements can be compared with known locations against Kirby’s measurements and if these values are close, then we can deduce the most likely position of the long forgotten Polsborough Gate.

In order to do this we require like units, therefore we will need to convert Kirby’s miles and furlongs into decimal miles. A furlong is a distance of measurement derived from the Old English words furh (furrow) and lang (long) that can be traced back to early Anglo-Saxon times to define the length of a furrow in one acre of a ploughed open field. The length is equivalent to 1/8 mile and therefore we can convert Kirby’s measurements employing with a simple mathematical conversion. If we then use online facilities offered by Google Maps in measuring distance then a direct comparison can be made.

Roads have obviously changed over the centuries but the specific route of interest between Leiston and Snape still exists, albeit half of this is now only track or footpath. Prior to the 19th century, this was the principal route south out of Leiston and connected the town with the community known as Snape Street (the area around the marshes where the Crown pub is located) and Snape bridge, the first dry crossing upstream on the river Alde, also known as the River Ore in centuries past.

A bridge at Snape can be traced back to at least medieval times and may have dated from earlier times [3] and therefore gives this route the importance that it deserves.

With the introduction of the Turnpikes to the area at the end of the 18th century, the road alignments changed to resemble the layouts that remain today where the route from Aldeburgh through to the junction with the A12 (A1094) was implemented, known as the Aldeburgh to Benhall turnpike, which improved access to both the town of Aldeburgh and the racecourse at Snape which drew visitors from afar [4]. The road was constructed in the 1780s with it becoming a turnpike by an Act of Parliament in 1792 (Suffolk Roads Act 1792, 32 Geo III, c. 126). Additional local acts also affected this road in 1813 (Aldeburgh Roads, 53 Geo III c, 24, itself repealed by Statute Law (Repeals) Act 2008 c. 12). This created a junction with the Leiston to Snape road at what is locally known as Blackheath Corner.

There is no reason to doubt that the modern section of road from Leiston through to Blackheath Corner has changed course since the survey in the 1730s, although the junctions with the Aldebugh to Benhall and the Aldeburgh to Saxmundham roads have been realigned, combining two junctions into a single junciton. There have also been numerous changes to some of the roads and tracks that lead off of the Leiston to Snape road. Many of these have fell into disuse as roads in modern times but are clearly depicted on old maps such as the map that accompanies the Kirby publications plus John Careys map of 1794 [5].

The fact that Kirby’s survey mentions the Aldeburgh to Benhall road would indicate that maybe there was a forerunner to the road in place in the 1730’s. There are three such mentions of this road in his road surveys, yet when he records the journey between Aldeburgh and Wickham Market, instead of using this route he proceeds via Saxmundham, a significant diversion that implies that the route to Benhall was not easily accessible at this period of time. The 2nd Edition of his book takes a completely different route between the two towns and proceeds in a reverse direction so it is difficult to gain further knowledge on this.

Maps from this period of time include an accompanying map to Kirby’s 2nd Edition [6] which bears no reference to the Aldeburgh to Benhall road, J. Andrews and A. Drury’s map of 1776 where there is a spur from the Aldeburgh road, Hodkinsons Map of 1783 which details the road through to Snape Church [7] and John Carey’s 1794 map where the full course of the road is highlighted.
The specific extract from John Kirby’s Suffolk Traveller that we are concerned with is the description from Leiston to Snape which is contained on page 30 of the 1st edition of his publication, and reads:

Going from the White-Horse Inn aforesaid avoid the left hand Way, which goes to Aldeburgh, and the right that leads to Saxmundham, and take the Way right forward. At 1m 1/2f. is Coldfair-Green, where there is a Fair kept yearly on the Feast of St Andrew and the Day following. At 1m. 4 1/2 f. the right goes to Knodishall, the left to Aldeburgh, leaving a Windmill a little on the right. At 2m. 3 1/2 f. the right goes to Saxmundham, the left to Aldeburgh. At 2m, 5 1/4f. is Polsborough-Gate; the left goes to Aldeburgh, the right to Benhall; leaving Friston Decoy a little on the left, at 3m 3 3/4f. a View to Friston-Hall. At 4m. the left acute backward, over Snape Race-Ground, goes to Aldeburgh. At 4m. 3 f. Snape Crown Inn.

This provides all the features and landmarks and distances that we require to determine exactly where these lie in the modern day. This will be cross-referenced by using Google Maps utility to measure distances and a calculator to convert furlongs to miles using 1 furlong = 0.125 miles and rounding the result to a single decimal place.

The start of the survey in question, which is a subsection of his Blythburgh to Melton road survey, is described as The White Horse Inn, Leiston which is an identifiable building in the town that still stands at the town centre crossroads. This is described as an 18th century coaching Inn but I can find no specific date for its construction. The Leiston history book, From Flint Knappers to Atom Splitters only provides an abstract reference to it being built during the latter half of the 18th century when coastal smuggling was at its height. This is clearly incorrect if Kirby stayed at the Inn in the 1730s and would indicate the inn is much older. Kirby’s description is accurate with what is now Waterloo Avenue heading to Saxmundham and the road through town being the main route to Aldeburgh. Therefore we set this as our zero point.

Location: The White Horse
Kirby’s Distance: 0 miles
Modern Measured Distance: 0 miles

We now proceed to the hamlet of Coldfair Green which was part of Leiston parish up until the 1980s after which it was annexed with Knodishall. As Kirby points out, a fair was held here each year. This occurred on the feast of St Andrew, which was the 11th and 12th December. Due to its Winter season it came to be known as the Cold Fair and hence the name of the hamlet. He does not provide a specific location as to where his distance is placed. Back in Kirby’s day the main road through Coldfair Green would have been what is now St Andrews Road as the straight modern highway through the village did not exist. In Alfred Sucklings The history and antiquities of the County of Suffolk there is reference to a 1606 Perambulation of Leiston parish boundary where it follows the parish boundary through Coldfair Green and mentions until you come unto a cross at St. Andrewes Green. It should be noted here that St Andrews Green was the former name of the hamlet. The cross is long gone, most likely desecrated by puritans during the mid 1600s. The best guess would be that this would have been at the junction with the lane to Aldringham and therefore we may mark this as the centre point. If we measure this against Kirby’s recorded mileage, it is spot on.

Location: Coldfair Green
Kirby’s Distance: 1.1 miles
Modern Measured Distance: 1.1 miles

The next point of reference is a cross roads, with the left to Aldeburgh and the right to Knodishall. Modern day there are no crossroads in Coldfair Green. There is the Aldringham Road and the Knodishall Road which are separated by some 275 yards so can hardly be considered crossroads. However, looking back into the past the road network may well have been different. On Careys map of 1794 it distinctly puts the Aldeburgh road as following the southwest side of the river Hundred and making a crossroads with the Snape road to continue following the river towards Knodishall. There is an old lane here that still exists and is known as Fitches Lane which runs parallel to the river from the Snape road. It is no more than a footpath these days but back in Kirby’s time this would have been the route that led through to Aldeburgh. Fitches Lane would have emerged onto the Snape road at the west end of the village somewhere around Sloe Lane. On the opposite side of the road there are residential buildings but going back to the start of the 20th century this would have been part of Knodishall Common where a track led through to the modern Knodishall road. The track is still there behind the houses and follows the western edge of the present day common. This appears to fit with Careys map and Kirby’s description. If we measure this distance it is in agreement with Kirby’s recorded result and the Coldfair windmill, as depicted on late 19th century OS maps will be on the right, a little further behind.

Location: Coldfair Green Crossroads
Kirby’s Distance: 1.5 miles
Modern Measured Distance: 1.5 miles

The next marker is another crossroads where Kirby notes the right goes to Saxmundham, the left to Aldeburgh. It is tempting to think that this is the modern day Blackheath Corner. I am dubious about this since Careys map of 1794 depicts the Aldeburgh road branching prior to its junction with the Snape road, forming two crossroads that are close to each other. This agrees with Kirby’s description for after the first of these crossroads, a mere 1 3/4 furlong onwards (0.2 miles) is another crossroads. The road layout was obviously changed soon after the Careys map as by the time the Ordnance Survey Unions Map of 1803 was produced, it depicted the modern road layout that still exists today. So what can we deduce from maps and the landscape? A curiosity to note on the 1888-1913 OS map is that of an odd triangular piece of land at the end of a strip of heath that leads from Park Farm to the Aldeburgh road. If a line is continued from the hypotenuse of this triangle leading away from the road it meets directly with the course of a path on Knodishall Whin, also known as Friston Walks. This seems to be too coincidental and may well have been the line of the original road which then continues into Friston. The footpath no longer exists although the field border certainly follows its former course. This is in agreement with Kirby’s description of the road from Aldeburgh to Saxmundham, where he records …through Rushmere street, avoid the left hand Way at the entrance of the Walks leading to Polesborough Gate. At 3m 1 3/4 f. cross the Road leading from Blithburgh to Melton, leaving Polesborough Gate on the left near a Furlong, passing over Friston Walks, a 4m is a pound on the right; the right goes to Knodishall. Rushmere Street was a section of the road that led down into Aldeburgh and is still referenced to this day with Rushmere Lodge Farm that stands on this road. The heathland was more extensive back then and even the first OS maps of the 19th century indicate heathland on both sides of the Leiston to Snape road. The distances tally and descriptions agree with the road to Knodishall being the present day track that leads back to Knodishall common. This would imply that the road layout has been changed over the centuries with the two branches of the Aldeburgh road being combined into a single entity with a junction that proceeds directly to Friston, with the main road bearing around to the left to head to Snape church. Therefore if we take the point where the original road would have crossed the Snape road at the point where the path runs across Friston Walks and compare this with Kirby’s measurement we find yet another correlation.

Location: Aldeburgh to Saxmundham Crossroads
Kirby’s Distance: 2.4 miles
Modern Measured Distance: 2.4 miles

We now come to the next crossroads where the left goes to Aldeburgh, the right to Benhall and which Kirby declares IS Polsborough Gate. This would be the line of the modern road which runs through to Snape church and beyond to Friday Street where it junctions with the modern A12 trunk road which is Benhall parish. As stated previously, there is some contention here as the road does not appear on maps of the time but it is nonetheless referenced by Kirby, therefore we cannot deny its existence. We can conclude there must have been some path or track that led to Benhall that the modern road, which was implemented later that century, followed. The position of the crossroads would be what is now known as Blackheath Corner. Once again the modern measurement is in agreement with Kirby’s measurement.

Location: Polsborough Gate, Aldeburgh to Benhall Crossroads (Blackheath Corner)
Kirby’s Distance: 2.7 miles
Modern Measured Distance: 2.7 miles

We now continue onwards to where Kirby mentions a View to Friston-Hall. It is well documented that an Avenue once existed that led from Friston Hall down to the Racecouse on Black Heath. The upper part of this from Friston Hall to the modern A1092 road still exists and is a long straight avenue bordered by trees on each side. If we extrapolate this across the road and down to the present day track to Snape, this being the former course of the old Snape Road, we find that there would be a direct view up to the Hall which is some 14 metres above the track and just under a mile in distance away. Again the modern measurement from Leiston to this point is in agreement with Kirby’s records

Location: View to Friston Hall
Kirby’s Distance: 3.5 miles
Modern Measured Distance: 3.5 miles

Next is Kirby’s reference to left acute backward, over Snape Race-Ground, goes to Aldeburgh. This is undoubtedly what is now known as the Sailors Path and there is no reason to consider the course or location of its junction to be any different in Kirby’s day. The distances match.

Location: Left Acute to the Racecourse
Kirby’s Distance: 4.0 miles
Modern Measured Distance: 4.0 miles

Finally, we come to the Crown Inn at Snape and the only real contention in the distances. It is pretty certain that the Crown Inn is the same public house that exists today on the corner of the road to Snape Bridge. This popular pub describes itself as a 15th century smugglers inn and no records can be found to place this inn or its name at a different location. However the distance between the modern measurement and Kirby’s value provides an almost 0.2 mile difference, 0.16m to be exact. This is not a huge discrepancy and certainly does not reflect negatively on the previous measurements.

Location: Crown Inn Snape
Kirby’s Distance:  4.3 miles
Modern Measured Distance: 4.5 miles

We can also refer to Kirby’s other surveys to qualify measurements to Polsborough Gate. He records the distance from Melton village to Polsborough Gate as 10.6 miles against 10.7 miles plotted using the modern route, and the distance from Aldeburgh’s Market Cross (considered to have probably been somewhere around the location of the Moot Hall) as being 3.2 miles with a measured distance of 3.3 miles. Other measurements from his book also bear very close or exact tallies to modern measurements so there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of his recorded distances. This is quite remarkable considering the crude methods that must have been employed in measurement during the 18th century.

The obvious conclusion of this analysis is that the Polsborough Gate landmark was at what is presently known as Blackheath Corner where the modern A1094 meets the junction with the B1069 Leiston road. It is unfortunate that Kirby does not detail any measurements and descriptions travelling from Benhall towards Aldeburgh to deduce whether this landmark was a specific point and therefore a physical structure at an actual location, or whether it had an extent and was therefore a road, trail or track or even an area with extent. The location is in Friston parish but very close to the border with Knodishall parish. To the north is heathland known as Knodishall Whin in the late 19th century and referred to as Friston Walks at the time of Kirby.

Therefore we have a conundrum and have to suffice with suggestions and guesses as to what Polsborough Gate was and where the name was derived from as it does not appear on any map and is not referenced by any other documentation thus far found other than Kirby’s own surveys. The two best possible ideas are that it was either a physical gate or entrance or it was an area, or a road or track heading to the north or north-west on a route that is not included in Kirby’s surveys other than the mention where it intersects with his other surveys. The most likely route would be what he infers as the way to Benhall, which is considered to be the route of the modern road.

Firstly, if we take the initial suggestion of a gate or entrance and consider the plausibility of this. When one reads Kirby’s surveys, the term Gate appears many times with a capital G indicating a direction reference. Such examples include:

  • …a Gate to Easton
  • …a Gate leading to Sibton Abbey
  • …through a Gate to Stow-Langtoft
  • …from Bury to Gastrop Gate
  • …Lopham Gate
  • …the Gastrop Gate Inn

Some of these references are obviously physical objects, as he mentions going through the Gate whereas others appear to be name references to locations or areas. He also makes mention of Toll Gates in his survey. It would be simple if Polsborough Gate was the location of a toll gate to the Aldeburgh to Benhall turnpike. However the Act of Parliament which enabled the turnpike from Aldeburgh to Benhall did not come into force until 1792, some 58 years after Kirby began compiling his works. There are also no records of such a toll gate or gate house at this point. Therefore we can fairly confidently discard this possibility.

The Reference to Lopham Gate is certainly not an entrance and is an area of swampy ground between two springs, a name still in use today. This is obviously an area whose name origins have been lost but the name Gate has been retained. Similarly, the Gastrop Gate is also a term that is not in reference to an entrance, but derives from the old village name. This is undoubtedly Gasthorpe on the Norfolk/Suffolk border rather than Gastrop and the name is derived from the old name of Gasthorpe Gate where it is thought that the word Gate is derived from Old Norse for a tiny hamlet [8].

This certainly leads onto the second suggestion that Polsburgh Gate was either an area or route. If we firstly investigate the possibility of it being an area, or more specifically a hamlet, then it has certainly been lost in the mists of time with no mention of it found in other documentation found to date. The fact that in this specific survey Kirby relates At 2m, 5 1/4f. IS Polsborough-Gate appears to indicate that he had arrived at a specific place, a known location or a named feature or area, as he does not make such a distinction to any of the other junctions, reserving this specific declaration for specific places, examples in this survey being IS Coldfair Green and IS Snape Crown Inn. Therefore to suggest this as being a hamlet is not that far fetched.

It has to be said that there are many lost hamlets mentioned in the Domesday Book that are located in the Plomesgate Hundred, the area we are interested in, and the names recorded here may well have changed so there may not be a direct relationship. An example of such name changes is the lost village of Hethern further up the coast close to Dunwich which is recorded as Alneterne in the Domesday Book and whose location would have been debatable if it was not for documentation regarding Dunwch which was a significant port during the centuries that Hethern was in existence.

The most likely candidate from the Domesday Book for Polsborough Gate, purely from a name perspective, is probably Burgesgata [9], although this has been linked to a quay near Orford but even this is conjecture [10]. No-one knows for sure. Even so, the origins of Polsborough Gate as a hamlet cannot be discounted. To the immediate south west of this junction, close to what Kirby references as Friston Decoy, (an artificial pond used to lure wildfowl) is an area described in a 2014 geophysical survey as having sub-circular and circular geophysical anomalies [11]. Although initially this was postulated to be a Saxon boat burial, this idea has now been discounted and it is thought to be the remains of buildings and a round barrow. It is also thought that the discovery of the so called Friston Figurine, a copper-alloy statue possibly associated with the Freyja fertility cult, was discovered within this proximity although there are no specific details of its discovery location. Could this have been an ancient hamlet known as Polsborough Gate? This is a lot of conjecture and speculation and more archeological investigation would be required to firmly establish what lies below the surface before we can take such suggestions seriously.

Another interesting point to note is that Snape parish was divided into Manors, namely Bekling, Rysing, Tasards and Scotts and two of these, Rysing and Bekling were in the ownership of the de la Pole family during the 15th century. Unfortunately, I cannot deduce the extent or specific boundaries of these Manors. It is also notable in Kirby’s surveys that he uses two different spellings, Polsborough and Polesborough. Could the name have simply been derived from the family name to define a gated access onto enclosed land that came within the boundary of their Manor? The main point of contention here is that the location of Polsborough Gate as defined by Kirby’s road survey, is in Friston parish according to the boundaries indicated on OS maps from the late 19th century and there is nothing to determine that these had been changed since Kirby’s days.

At this point we should attempt to understand the etymology of the word Polsborough. As referenced by Robert Steerwood in his Lost Features of an Ancient Landscape [12], Claude Morley in the East Anglian Miscellany makes the suggestion that the name is derived from Pfoles beorth relating it to Bronze Age and Saxon burial mounds, which could be interpreted as Pfoles Barrow which evolved into Pols Borough. Pfoles or Pols relates to the Norse deity Balder and the Germanic goddess Fulla [13]. This is speculation but worth pursuing. The geophysical survey has provided us with the possibility of a barrow close to the site. However there are more significant barrows a little further along the road to Benhall.

We have already noted that Kirby makes mention of the turn at the point of Polsborough Gate in 1735 leads to Benhall indicating some kind of track led in that direction and preceded the introduction of the road that was established in the 1780s which became the turnpike. The present day road is a straight line through to Snape church but there is much more to this route. If we study the landscape of the road, firstly it comes to an area known as Thingelow which is said to date from at least the C13-C14 [14]. There is a suggestion that the name is derived from the old English, ‘Thing’ (meeting) and ‘Waw’ (mound), and that this was a meeting place of the Plomesgate hundred. The mound in the name brings us to the next point, the site of Saxon burial mounds that the modern road cuts directly through and which was largely obliterated during the last century.

It should not be understated on the importance of this Saxon cemetery. Although the modern landscape is now predominantly given over to agricultural land, this was originally all heathland, part of what remains of Church common. This richness of what lay within these mounds was known from at least 1826 when a Gentlemen from London departed with gold rings, brooches, chains etc [15]. An archeological investigation of the plundered mounds was conducted in 1862/3 which made the discovery of a Saxon ship burial, some 48ft in length and 10ft at midships. Although half the size of that discovered at Sutton Hoo, it is nonetheless a remarkable discovery. This would have had to have been hauled up from the Alde estuary to accompany the burial of a man, presumably of great importance. Consequently the site is of great significance not only from an archeological point of view but from a Saxon point of view [16].

So could we suggest that preceding the implementation of the road in 1780s which ploughed through the mounds regardless, there was a route that led through to an ancient meeting place that was part of an even more ancient burial ground. The name of Polsborough Gate could then be interpreted as the avenue (from the Norse gate) to Pols Barrow. Could this have been some kind of ancient processional route that led to the burial mounds?

In conclusion, we have firmly established the location of Polsborough Gate thanks to Kirby’s meticulous road surveys and can pinpoint it to what in modern day is known as Blackheath Corner, the junction of the B1069 from Leiston with the A1094 road from Aldeburgh to the A12 at Friday Street. There is not enough evidence to firmly establish what Polsborough Gate referred to. The most likely suggestions are that it was an ancient lost hamlet whose remains may lie beneath the soil to the south west of the junction or that the name refers to a route that predated the modern road through to Snape Church, but specifically led to the burial mounds on Church common that was also anciently used as a meeting place for the Plomesgate Hundred.


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  4. (2013). Aldeburgh Conservation Area Appraisal Supplementary Planning Document December 2013. [online] Available at: Appraisals/Aldeburgh-Conservation-Area-Appraisal-December-2013.pdf [Accessed 2 Feb. 2020].
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    %20Part%204%20(2008)_Lost%20features%20of%20an%20ancient%20landscape%20R%2 0Steerwood_481%20to%20487.pdf [Accessed 2 Feb. 2020].
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