Parish History

ALDRINGHAM is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Alrincham, ie Allrinc's Ham, in Anglo Saxon meaning "Foreign but Honourable Warrior's Hamlet" (Ipswich Archives: "Suffolk Chronicles (1950) Suffolk Names"). It was probably the homestead of Aldere or Jarl. Thorpe is a common name from old Scandinavian (the Viking language) meaning outlying farmstead or hamlet. It became Thorpeness in the last century to distinguish it from other villages of the same name. The origin of Sizewell is obscure but may come from Syse’s well. 

Two thousand years ago the Hundred River is thought to have carried barges at high tide to and from the Roman town of Cogimagus where Knodishall church now stands. Ships anchored in the Haven which is now a marsh and water meadow lying between Thorpeness and Aldeburgh. 

The river was the northern boundary of Queen Aethelfleda’s Benefice in the 7th century in Saxon times. Today it divides Plomesgate Hundred to the south from Blything Hundred to the north. It takes its name from the ancient Saxon administrative unit which is still in use. By the 14th century there may well have been an anchorage by the Aldeburgh road south of the Aldringham crossroads.

Photo of the old Parish & Punchbowl Inn

The Parrot & Punchbowl Inn of old

Although Aldringham and Thorpeness are two separate villages it seems they were treated as one parish since the dissolution of Snape Priory in the 16th century. There is evidence of the name Aldringham-cum-Thorpe being used in 1650. The oldest building in the parish is the Parrot and Punchbowl public house on the crossroads in Aldringham. It had a long association with smuggling up to the late 18th century. Contraband was hidden there until it was safe to take it on to Bromeswell or Ipswich.

THORPENESS was originally a small fishing hamlet. By the end of the 19th century erosion by the sea had reduced it to only four houses.

Image of Frolics on Thorpeness Mere

Frolics on the Mere

The landowner, Mr Stuart Ogilvie, decided to create one of the first purpose-built holiday villages at his own expense. One of its major attractions today is the Meare, a boating lake with the story of Peter Pan as its theme as J.M.Barrie was a close friend of Mr Ogilvie.

The windmill at Thorpeness was originally at Aldringham on Mill Hill. It was moved to its present site in 1922 to pump water to the House in the Clouds, a cleverly disguised water tank. It is no longer used for that purpose but both buildings are kept in a good state of repair and are major attractions.

For several centuries the villagers took to smuggling, especially if they were hard up. Sometimes they could not make ends meet when the fishing and harvest were poor. A shipment of tobacco or spirits could bring in as much as could be earned in a year. The coastline was full of quiet spots suitable for the ‘Gentlemens’ operations.

SIZEWELL was a favourite haunt of smugglers. Landings of contraband reached their peak during the second half of the 18th century. The Excise Officers were kept very busy. The village also suffered severely from erosion. It is now best known nationally for its nuclear power station, and locally for its exceptional crabs!

Photo of Sizewell Hall

Sizewell Hall

There are several fine houses along the cliffs at Sizewell. The most imposing is Sizewell Hall. In the 19th century Mr Alexander and Mrs Margaret Ogilvie, the then owners, built up a magnificent herd of Shorthorn cattle. Mr Menteith Ogilvie, a younger brother, created the most comprehensive bird collection and kept it in a purpose-built museum at Ness House. It is now a holiday venue for handicapped and young people.


After hundreds of years of slow change the pace has quickened inexorably in the past few decades. It is hoped that the villages and their inhabitants will benefit from whatever the future brings, and not lose their essential character and charm.

Learn more about the history of the Parish on the Parish Past & Present pages.