Flixton, Waveney and the Adairs

 

The Museum’s rural location in Flixton near Bungay, is within the picturesque Waveney Valley and has several historic market towns nearby.  It is worth mentioning that there is another Flixton; this is near to Lowestoft and close enough to cause confusion - hence reference to Bungay in our address.  Evidence of early man has been found in our small village, possibly around 6,000 BC, from flint tools, etc., discovered during archaeological digs.  The name is believed to have come from Saint Felix who brought Christianity to the people of Anglia, after being invited from the continent by King Sigeberht - he became the first Bishop of East Anglia. 

 

In the 6th Century AD, the family of great Anglo-Saxon lords called the Wuffings dominated the area around Ipswich and were in the process of turning themselves into kings.  Excavations in Flixton by the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service suggest that one of their royal estates existed there, and possibly a Saxon “shrine”.   It is a classic settlement site and a routine rescue excavation of an Early Bronze Age ring-ditch revealed that this had later become a focus for Anglo-Saxon burials.  Only one grave was recovered intact in 1990 but finds from metal-detector sweeps showed that there had been others.  One of the finds from this area was a high status artefact; a beautiful glass claw-beaker.  Later, two spearheads were located from the site of the cemetery when excavating Iron Age and Early Roman pits - this suggested Anglo-Saxon burials.  Careful trowelling revealed the almost imperceptible shape of a series of NE to SW oriented inhumations and, eventually, some 46 Anglo-Saxon burials were discovered.  Items recovered yielded a reliable 6th Century date - a time when the Flixton Park area may have been a royal estate.   Further work in 2001 revealed that the cemetery contained another 150 or so inhumations.

 

Then followed the discovery of a settlement, and reports said that it was unusual to find a settlement with a cemetery.  The range of buildings was also unusual: a high proportion of “halls”, plus some strange structures for which there were no parallels.  Even more intriguing was the discovery of a large rectangular enclosure at least 60m across, enclosing a smaller ditched enclosure.  This suggested that it could well be what a pagan sanctuary of the Anglo-Saxon period would look like.  In summary, the settlement appeared to have an elite component in the proportion of halls to other buildings present, plus the strange rectangular enclosure.  Alongside everyday artefacts, slag from metalworking was discovered, plus imported pottery from Merovingian Gaul.  The cemeteries on the other hand were quite ordinary - no swords for example.  Two explanations were advanced: that only the serfs were in the excavated cemeteries and the elite elsewhere, although a high status beaker had been found in one grave; or that the elite were peripatetic, moving from one estate to another and perhaps were always taken elsewhere to a special cemetery for burial in another part of their domain.  In the case of the Wuffings, thought to be the probable owners of the Flixton Park estate, this might possibly have been to the cemetery at Sutton Hoo.    

 

Not far from St Mary’s Church, Flixton, and within Abbey Farm, there are the ruins of an Augustinian Nuns Priory founded in 1258 by Margery de Creke.  These are on private land but can be seen from the Flixton Road.

 

In more recent times, the village was well known for the very grand Flixton Hall - the seat of the Adair family.   

The Adair family resided at Flixton Hall for nearly 200 years.  It was built in 1615 by John Tasburgh and was originally surrounded by a moat.  In 1753, the direct male line of the Tasburgh family became extinct and the Estate passed to the Wyborne family; they sold it to the first of the Adairs.  This was William Adair who was “patron of the living”.  He died in 1783 and in his Will left “as much money as should be found in my charity bag at the time of my death for charitable purposes”.  The bag contained £300 13s 7d.   The charity provided red cloaks for the schoolgirls, blue jerseys for the boys and boots for both, so “Flixton children” were easily distinguished when visiting town.  The charity survives in a different form, providing “extras” for deserving people in the area at Christmas time.

 

When William died in 1783, the Estate passed to Alexander Adair, great grandson of Sir Robert Adair of Ballymena and Custos Rotulorum of County Antrim.  This branch of the family, who thus succeeded to the Flixton Estate and the Lordship of the Manor of South Elmham, were of Scottish descent and one of their ancestors had fallen on the Flodden Field.  The family subsequently settled in Ireland.   Sir Robert Adair of Ballymena (1659-1745) raised a regiment for King William lll and was knighted on the battlefield of the Boyne.  He was married four times and was succeeded in the Ballymena estates by the son of his first wife William Robert Adair (1745-1760).  He was a Captain in Lord Mark Kerr’s Regiment of Horse at the Battle of Culloden. 

 

Research next shows that, in 1805, Alexander Adair raised and commanded the Loyal South Elmham or 9th Troop of Suffolk Yeomanry.  They encamped at Flixton Hall, and their weapons were preserved in the Armoury at the hall until its contents were sold.   Alexander Adair died in 1834 and was succeeded by his cousin Hugh Adair, who held a commission in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and was present at the siege of Gibraltar.  He married Camilla Shafto, heiress of Benwell Tower.  As he was 80 when inheriting the Hall, he made over the property to eldest son, Sir Robert Shafto Adair, born 1786 and created first Baronet in 1838; he latterly held a commission in the Life Guards.  A fire caused major damage to Flixton Hall in December 1846 and repairs took some years.  Ten years later, the already ruined local church collapsed further so he paid for its complete restoration.  The architect - a Mr Salvin - completed it in 1861 and the lines of the original building (Saxon tower, Norman nave, aisle and chancel) were closely followed.  

 

He died in 1869 and was succeeded by his son Sir Robert Shafto Alexander Adair, 2nd Baronet.  He was M.P. for Cambridge and Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum of County Antrim.  Queen Victoria subsequently created him Baron Waveney.  In 1870 he had the Bungay to Harleston road re-routed so that traffic no longer passed close to the hall.  Sir Robert died childless in 1886 so the title then lapsed.  He was succeeded by his brother Sir Hugh Edward Adair, 3rd Baronet who was M.P. for Ipswich 1847-74.  He had Flixton Hall reconstructed and a new wing added (1888-92), making it a mansion of 60 rooms and 365 windows; he died in 1902.

 

He was followed by his eldest son, Sir Frederick Edward Shafto Adair, 4th Baronet who once held a commission in the Rifle Brigade and was High Sheriff of Suffolk 1910-11.  He was very fond of his seaside residence “Adair Lodge” at Aldeburgh and formed a strong friendship with James Cable, then Coxswain of the Aldeburgh lifeboat.  Sir Frederick died in 1915 at the young age of 54.  His funeral was made all the more imposing because some 800 members of the Shropshire Yeomanry were then encamped at Flixton Hall.

 

He was succeeded by his brother Sir Robert Shafto Adair, 5th Baronet, who was always known as Sir Shafto.  He spent much of his time in London where he was once a barrister.  He was a great patron of the arts and a director of the Royal Academy of Music.  He was Deputy-Lieutenant of County Antrim and held the unique office of “King’s Clog”, a right granted by the King in connection with taxes imposed by the Metropolitan Water Board. 

 

During World War ll, the job of one special employee of the Ministry of Economic Warfare was to go to the USA and sell antique firearms, many of which had been donated or purchased from Britain’s country houses.  In turn, the proceeds went towards the purchase of modern weapons for the country’s war effort.  For this purpose he purchased the contents of the Flixton Armoury - circa 100 items and mainly of the Royal Welsh Fuziliers.  Many of these weapons may still be held in the restored Powder Magazine and the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg in the USA.  Sadly, no example is thought to be within the UK.  Around this time, an airfield was constructed adjacent to Flixton Park and Station 125 became the home of the 446th Bomb Group USAAF - known as the Bungay Buckaroos.   This was subsequently occupied in turn, post-war, by units of the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force.  There is more information on this within our website.

 

In 1948, the whole Flixton Estate of 2,970 acres - then under the management of Major-General Sir Allan Shafto Adair - was offered for sale: there were 21 farms, several small-holdings, two licensed public houses, two schools, three village post offices, various houses, numerous cottages, marshlands, woodlands, and grazing rights.  The family retained ownership of Flixton Hall and Flixton Park, plus Home Farm and Home Woods.  Everything was purchased by Metropolitan Railway Country Estates Limited, although many of the cottage dwellers were later able to buy their homes.

 

Sir Robert died in 1949 and was succeeded by his only son, Major-General Sir Allan Adair, CB, DSO, MC, JP, DL, 6th Baronet who had been commissioned into the Grenadier Guards in 1916.  He then resided at Amner Hall on Her Majesty the Queen’s Sandringham Estate and served in the Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard.  He was a distinguished soldier of both World Wars and commanded the Guards Armoured Division in World War ll.     According to his 1986 memoirs, Sir Allan regarded Flixton Hall as ‘a vast, uncomfortable mausoleum, still with no proper central heating.  In winter the children had to wear their overcoats when moving from room to room’.  The Estate was expensive to keep and maintain, and owing to heavy death duties levied on his father’s Estate, General Adair was forced to sell.  The decision was no doubt made easier by the fact that his only son and heir had been killed whilst serving with the Grenadier Guards in World War II, during the battle of Monte Camino in Italy. 

 

On retirement General Adair had set up residence in Raveningham and, in 1950, the massive library and all the fine contents of Flixton Hall were offered for sale.  Despite efforts by both the East and West Suffolk County Councils to buy Flixton Hall and 250 acres of the land for use as a joint farm institute, it was sold privately to a speculator.  Two years after the purchaser had removed and sold all the protective lead from the roof, water was causing serious problems to the interior so he applied and gained permission to demolish the building in June 1952.  As a result, one of the most magnificent buildings in East Anglia was allowed to disappear forever - only the shell of part of the ground floor survives today and is used for farm storage.

  

Around two acres of the museum’s land to the west stretches to the River Waveney and is a designated flood plain.  It is mainly a mature Willow plantation but a few years ago we added a raised boardwalk so that visitors could stroll its length and then sit and look out over the river to tranquil scenes beyond in Norfolk.  Information boards along its route identify various plants, insects, reptiles, birds and animals known to frequent the area, although the timid, such as deer and otters, are not always visible.   It is a popular diversion, and enjoyed by many.  The Adair Walk is so named to commemorate the Adair family’s connection with Flixton.  In addition, the cottage nearest our entrance is named Adair Cottage, and a bar in The Buck Inn next door also reflects the family name.  Leaving the museum in the direction of Homersfield to the west and the A143 junction, the entrance to the impressive drive leading to the old Flixton Hall Estate and Park can be seen at the junction only 250 yards away.  The original road bridge further along on the left, close to the A143 junction, still carries the Coat of Arms of the Adair family (motto: Loyal au mort  (“Loyal to the death”).  Many members of the family were laid to rest in St Mary’s Church, Flixton, near to this road junction.  Descendants of the Estate’s large herd of deer still roam the countryside.

 

Recommended reading

The superb 2002 book 18th Century Weapons of the Royal Welsh Fuziliers from Flixton Hall by Erik Goldstein (Thomas Publications, P.O. Box 3031, Gettysburg Pa. 17325) is thoroughly recommended for detailed information on these weapons and more on Flixton Hall itself - I have referred in part to its contents in producing this account.  

 

The museum shop, meanwhile, has copies of Flixton - Countryside, War and a Boy by Frederick Coles (Raven Publishing) - he was born on the Estate and his parents were employees of General Sir Robert Shafto Adair.  His book is a fascinating collection of memories of that time.  Details in the Shop page of our website.

 

Information compiled by Ian Hancock

 

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