Lo­cal his­tory is a pas­sion

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Bram­ford is a vil­lage three miles west of Ip­swich; it was recorded in the Domes­day Book as ‘Brun­fort’ or ‘Bran­fort’. Bram­ford WI Pres­i­dent Beryl Sims is an avid lo­cal his­to­rian and a foun­tain of knowl­edge, and she tells Kate Peacher, Suf­folk East Fred­er­a­tion of WI’s trustee, she has more than 500 pho­to­graphs of the area.

“We moved here nearly 40 years ago,” re­calls Beryl Sims. “My hus­band and I bought the Old Water Mill, which was derelict, the top three floors hav­ing burned down in 1917.”

The prop­erty over­looks the River Gip­ping, which flows at the side of their gar­den and was a nav­i­ga­ble water­way in the 19th Cen­tury.

“As young teenagers my friend and I used to cy­cle to Bram­ford and spend time sit­ting by the river op­po­site where I live now. I never dreamed I would live there one day. Although not listed, the mill does have a brick dated 1861.” And that started Beryl’s quest to find more in­for­ma­tion.

“In those days you had to visit the Ip­swich Record Of­fice, write things down and ap­ply for copies of maps and pho­to­graphs, and I was keen to learn so much more’.

Beryl en­rolled on sev­eral palaeog­ra­phy cour­ses held at Bel­stead House, Ip­swich, learned to read Latin and a type of Latin short­hand which has en­abled her to tran­scribe mano­rial doc­u­ments, a 1420 list of debtors to Bram­ford Manor and the bap­tism, mar­riage and burial reg­is­ters 1553-1837 from the parish church of St Mary the Vir­gin, which can be viewed from Bram­ford bridge on the south-east side of the vil­lage.

Beryl’s thirst for knowl­edge led her to em­bark on three years of evening classes at Bury St Ed­munds, gain­ing a cer­tifi­cate in lo­cal his­tory.

Bram­ford has a lo­cal his­tory so­ci­ety, started by Beryl 25 years ago, which meets each month and con­tin­ues to re­source and ar­chive doc­u­ments, pho­to­graphs and anec­do­tal in­for­ma­tion.

Book pub­lish­ers Hals­grove ap­proached the group a few years ago and asked if it would con­trib­ute to pub­lish­ing a de­tailed his­tory of Bram­ford. One third of the con­tent was on an­cient his­tory, the re­main­der look­ing at var­i­ous as­pects of so­cial his­tory, and the de­vel­op­ment of the vil­lage. The book, now in its sec­ond edi­tion, has about 300 pho­to­graphs and the nar­ra­tive was typed by Beryl!

Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal test pits have also been co-or­di­nated by the group. Th­ese are a me­tre square and a me­tre deep and took place in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Stu­dents from the lo­cal sixth form col­leges found in­ter­est­ing frag­ments from early life but noth­ing as splen­did as an An­glo-Saxon cre­ma­tion urn un­earthed in 1904, which is now in the Ip­swich mu­seum.

Dur­ing my chat with Beryl, we looked at a vast ar­ray of pho­tos, in­clud­ing one of a smartly at­tired and uni­formed Capt Eus­tace Lo­raine , the 12th Baronet and heir to Bram­ford Hall and es­tate.

He was a test pi­lot for the Royal Fly­ing Corps and died in 1912 when his plane crashed on Sal­is­bury Plain. He was buried with full mil­i­tary hon­ours in Bram­ford church­yard and a me­mo­rial ded­i­cated to him and his co-pi­lot is on Sal­is­bury Plain. His younger brother Percy in­her­ited the ti­tle. He never had chil­dren and so the ti­tle died with him.

Like many WI mem­bers Beryl has added her en­thu­si­asm to other or­gan­i­sa­tions over the years, and this is her sec­ond term of of­fice as pres­i­dent of the WI which meets in the aptly-named Lo­raine Vic­tory Hall on the sec­ond Mon­day every month at 7.30pm.

Beryl Sims loves lo­cal his­tory.

Bram­ford Mill.

Cap­tain Eus­tace Lo­raine.

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