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Eye Town Hall
Eye shown within Suffolk
|Population||1,716 (2001 Censuss)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Ambulance||East of England|
|EU Parliament||East of England|
|UK Parliament||Central Suffolk and North Ipswich|
- An island
The town of Eye derives its name from the Old English word for 'island' and it is believed that the first settlement on the site would have been almost entirely surrounded by water and marshland formed by the River Dove to the east and south east; its tributary to the north; and by the low land, part of which now forms the Town Moor, to the south and west. Even today, the area is still prone to flooding in areas close to the River Dove, a tributary of the River Waveney which forms the boundary between Suffolk and Norfolk.
- Earliest habitation
There have been Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age finds in and around Eye but the earliest evidence of settlement in the town dates from the Roman period and includes buildings and coins dated circa 365 A large Anglo-Saxon cemetery including many urned cremations and some furnished inhumations, in use during the 6th century, was excavated near the Waterloo Plantation, Eye, in 1818.
In 1781 some labourers unearthed a lead box by the river at Clint Farm in Eye, 4.8 km (3 mi) south of Scole and 3.2 km (2 mi) south–west of Hoxne. The box contained about 600 Roman gold coins dating to the reigns of Valens and Valentinian I (reigned 364–375), Gratian (375–383), Theodosius I (378–395), Arcadius (395–408), and Honorius (393–423). This was the largest hoard of Roman gold coins ever discovered in Britain.
- Norman Eye
In Saxon Britain, before the Norman Conquest, Eye was one of the numerous holdings of Edric of Laxfield, a wealthy and influential Saxon and the third largest land holder in Suffolk. After the Norman Conquest, the importance of the town was firmly established in the region when the Honour of Eye was granted to William Malet, a Norman Lord, and continued to be held by royal or noble families until 1823. Between 1066 and 1071, Malet constructed a castle, to establish his military and administrative headquarters, and started a highly successful market thus initiating the urbanisation of the settlement. Later in 1086-7, Robert Malet, William's son, founded Eye Priory, a Benedictine Priory of St Peter, a cell of the Abbey of Bernay in Normandy.
- The castle
Eye began to lose its strategic importance after 1173 when the castle was attacked by Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk, during the rebellion against Henry II, and later during the Second Barons' War of 1265 after which it never regained its former status. Its prison continued in use up until the early 17th century despite a programme of demolition of most of the castle buildings during the 14th century. A windmill, built in 1561-62, stood on the motte until the circular mock keep was built in 1844. The ruins of the keep are still in place today, and Castle Street and Church Street trace the elliptical shape of the former outer bailey.
- The church
There has been a church in Eye at least since 1066 but the present building, the Church of St Peter and St Paul, dates from the 14th century; it is considered one of the finest churches in the county. A 13th century Early English doorway, from a former building, was retained in the construction of the church. In the 15th, and again the 16th century, there were periods of new work and of renovation, including the installing of an Altar Tomb to William Honnyng in the South Chapel, or Lady Chapel; and one to Nicholas Cutler to the north west of the nave. The church was restored in 1868 by James Colling, a London architect. A particular feature of the church is the magnificent late-15th century rood screen which has a loft and rood designed by Ninian Comper in 1925. The screen is reputed to originate from Great Massingham Priory in Norfolk.
The earliest mention of industry in Eye records that in 1673 'the women's employ in this town is making of bone lace' and in 1830, 'the humbler class of industrious females employ themselves in lace making'. It would appear that Eye was at the centre of a localised lace making industry for many years; the last lacemaker in the town died in 1914. Lace was not the only industry, however, and the County Directories list the many trades and occupations of the people of Eye over the 18th and 19th centuries. They included blacksmiths, wheelwrights, coopers, clockmakers, tailors, milliners, and printers.
There were several slaughterhouses, two breweries, and two retteries for the processing of flax. Iron and brass founders, agricultural implement makers, and church bell frame makers and hangers remained in operation into the 20th century. Businesses recorded in Eye in 1937 included auctioneers, booksellers & printers, boot & shoemakers, corn chandlers, drapers, surgeons and watchmakers as well as banks, bakers, butchers and grocers.
- The borough
Eye was once the smallest borough in the country, its claim based on the 1205 Charter of King John. The charter was renewed in 1408 then many more times by successive monarchs. However, in 1885 the town clerk of Hythe proved that the original charter belonged only to Hythe in Kent, the error having arisen from the similarity of the early English names. The error was confirmed by archivists in the 1950s but borough status was not discontinued until 1974 after government reorganisation when Eye became a civil parish but retained a Town Council, a Mayor and the insignia. From 1571 to 1832 Eye returned two MPs, then, following the Reform Act 1832, a single MP until 1983 after which the Eye Constituency became the Suffolk Central constituency.
- The railway
In 1846 Eye Borough Council failed in its attempt to route the new London-Norwich railway line through Eye. The line, completed in 1849, went instead through Diss ensuring its growth in prosperity and population while the importance of Eye waned. Eye railway station, located at the end of a branch line from Mellis, closed in 1964. Today Eye retains its character as a small market town, with a population of around 2,000. Diss is more than three times the size.
Services and amenities
Through the years Eye has had a deer park, a leper hospital, a gaol, a workhouse, a David Fisher theatre, a coaching inn with posting establishment, a working men's hall and reading room, an Esther, a guildhall, a grammar school, 52 pubs (including beer houses) and an airfield which was occupied by the 480th and 490th USAAF Bomb Groups during World War II.
Eye today has a hospital, a health centre, two schools including Hartismere High School, three churches, a library, police station, fire station, an industrial estate on the former airfield, a WI market and a picnic site (The Pennings) beside the River Dove. The Town Moors recreation site has play areas including a skateboard park, football pitches and a large area of woodland walks. Eye also boasted one of the smallest professional theatres in the country which inhabited the Assembly Room of the former White Lion coaching inn. The Somershey Theatre (1988–1990) became Eye Theatre (1991–2005). The building is now in private hands and the former booking office, fronting onto Broad Street, is a secondhand bookshop. Indeed, the town's range of shops is refreshingly traditional; free of charity shops, coffee shops and retail chains. That said, there are many times when the observations of author Leonard P. Thompson, writing in 1946, ring true when he said the town "wears an atmosphere of having been deserted... the empty streets would suggest a town from which the inhabitants have fled overnight."
Eye has three Grade One listed buildings: the Guildhall (now a private house); the castle and the Church of St Peter and St Paul. There are seven Grade Two* and 152 Grade Two buildings in the town. Eye Town Hall, an imaginative and unorthodox building dating from 1856 and listed Grade Two*, was designed by Edward Buckton Lamb, one of the 'Rogue Architects' of the mid-Victorian period. The town hall rather divides opinion locally, between those determined that it has to be preserved and others who agree with Pevsner that the building is out of scale and character to the surrounding townscape. The building is in an increasingly fragile state, but funds have been secured to preserve it, with major building work scheduled to take place during much of 2010. The weekly country market, held in the town hall on Wednesdays between 10 and 11am, was shortlisted for the 2009 BBC Food and Farming Awards.
Janet Frame (1924-2004), New Zealand author, lived for a short period in 1963-64 in a rented cottage in Braiseworth, near Eye, where she began her novel An Adaptable Man, inspired by the local area, with Eye being fictionalised as 'Murston'.
Actor Brian Capron was born in Eye.
- The History of Eye, Clive Paine ISBN 0-9522509-0-X
- S.E. West, 1998, A Corpus of Anglo-Saxon material from Suffolk, East Anglian Archaeology 84, 35-6.
- Eye Community Website
- Town Web Site
- Diss Express Eye's local newspaper website
- Mid-Suffolk District Council
- Eye profile from the independent Suffolk Tourist Guide website
- Hartismere High School
- 490th Bomb Group
- Fine Art Canvas prints
- Eye Bookshop
- Luxury Bed & Breakfast & Self Catering