The Thurlows

Village News & Information

The Soame family

The major influence on the villages came in the late 16th century, a development which was to dominate the villages for the next three centuries. A man named Thomas Soame came to the area in 1582, having married Anne, daughter of Francis Knighton of Little Bradley. They were to found a dynasty that endured for the next three centuries, and influenced the fabric of the villages to the extent that many of the historic buildings that make the villages so attractive are testaments to their wealth and influence. There is little information concerning the Lords of the Great Thurlow Manor between 1613 and 1715 so it seems likely that the villages were run as one. Similarly, the Day Book referred to later, includes references to both villages indicating that they were seen at that time as one entity.

Extensive records do exist about this family, and their influence extends far beyond this estate. Their wealth was based not only on their farming interests, but also in later years on coal mining, property and foreign investments. They owned land in Norfolk, Suffolk, Warwickshire and Yorkshire. They had a house in Hatton Garden and owned land in London itself, and eventually had land and interests in Tobago. Thomas' son was to become Sir Stephen Soame, the Lord Mayor of London and Lord of the Staple, which means he sat on the Wool Sack. This curious term meant that he was in a position to oversee all the imports and exports in and out of London, a prime position from which to make profitable investments. The family were also very far sighted and the records show that they were heavily involved in drainage and fresh water projects in the centre of London and later in the Fenlands of Cambridgeshire. It was they who commissioned Vermuyden to prepare plans to drain the Fens.

Sir Stephen Soame was not a man to hide his wealth. He restored and reglazed the great north window in St Paul's Cathedral, renovated the roof of the Grocers' Hall in London and left money in perpetuity for the poor. He commissioned the building of a magnificent mansion at Little Thurlow with extensive formal gardens, ponds and a splendid library. Sadly, the original house burned down in 1809, but sketches and etchings of it still exist. Later family members commissioned a beautifully painted map of his lands in the area which clearly shows many of the houses that exist to this day, and a few that have long since disappeared. The map also shows the extensive grounds and the comparative size of the mansion itself.

In addition, Soame ordered almshouses to be built for 'eight single poor persons of 64 years of honest life and conversation' overseen by an usher. Such beneficence came with strings attached and the occupants were required to attend church services twice on Sunday and every Holy Day and working day when divine service was read, and if they did not their pension of 14 old pence per week was to be forfeited and dispensed between the rest of the inhabitants! The almsfolk should be given eight faggots per year and every two years they should have a gown of 'some northern black cloth or some other decent or seemly colour which shall cost 5s a yard'. He also decreed that a school be built for the male children of Thurlow and the surrounding villages and similar strong conditions were imposed: 'such scholars as shall once be put to this school shall not upon any high occasion or idle business as gleaning and such like take them from school and after send them thither again.'

Manor Farm was also built at approximately the same time, and may have been the farm that served the mansion. Many of the other houses in the village street also date from this period, and it seems the Soame family kept the village in good repair, as records exist for repairs and extensions to the Cock Inn and other houses. Seventeenth century houses in Great Thurlow have survived, but are fewer in number. The Rose and Crown was a favourite meeting place and records in the Parish Book reveal that decisions concerning the care of villagers were made at meetings held there. Church Farm, the Hawthorns and several other cottages and the wonderful aisled barn next to the church reveal that the village continued to be cared for during this period. However, it was from the late eighteenth century onwards that Great Thurlow was to receive more attention.

Sadly, the great mansion burnt down on the 23rd January 1809, and the present house was completed on June 26th 1849.