The Two Courts of Nayland




How can anything so mundane as street lighting be of historical interest you might ask? It’s something we all take for granted until the light outside our house goes out. We might then perhaps wonder how villagers in days gone by managed to get around at night when the only help they had in negotiating the rough, unmade up roads was the light from the moon and the glow from candlelit windows. Most people probably did not venture out after dark but there were no doubt always a few people to be seen making their way home from the pubs and alehouses, sometimes taking a tumble, either because of the rutted roads or too much alcohol, or both!

There must be very few villages which have had their own street lighting for nearly three hundred years, as Nayland has, and even today there are many villages which still do not have any public lighting at all. Nayland has always been a progressive village and no doubt because of its prosperous and industrial past has been fortunate in having, amongst other things, its own street lighting.

Originally the street lamps were powered by oil, then gas and finally electricity. Records show that it was the Feoffees, the charity trustees, who back in 1752 provided £12. 14s. 1d. from Nayland charity money for lamps and oil for the “Town” and further amounts in subsequent years for oil and for paying a man to light the lamps. So, we have to thank Nayland’s benefactors from the days of the cloth making industry for providing the original lamps.

Gas came to Nayland in the mid nineteenth century, firstly to the silk-throwsting mill in Fen Street, the gas being used for lighting to allow for longer working hours. However, it was the owners of the new gas works which started up in Newlands Lane in 1866 who replaced the oil street lamps with gas lamps. The Lighting & Watching Act of 1833 had been in force in Nayland since 1867 but in 1898 the powers and duties of the Lighting Inspectors were transferred to the recently created Parish Council. Council minutes record that a letter was sent to the proprietor of the gas works asking him to continue to light the village lamps; it was hoped he would not tender at a rate exceeding his charge the previous year “as increased costs would possibly provoke an endeavour to do away with the lighting altogether”! Fortunately this did not happen.

The switch over to electricity came about in 1924 through Nayland’s own entrepreneur, Mr William Hindes, a village grocer and former owner of the gas works. He saw the power of the water running through the old mill and established the Nayland Electric Light and Power Company. He agreed to light the 20 street lamps which Nayland had that time for £2 per lamp per annum, from one hour after sunset until 10.30 during 8 months of the year, exemption to be given for those evenings which the Parish Council may consider to be moonlit evenings. A small amount of electricity was also supplied by the mill to residents’ homes and this private enterprise continued until 1938 when the East Anglian Electric Light Company took over.

With the development of the village in the twentieth century many more street lights have been installed. The original lights provided by the Feoffees in the old part of the village, however, are probably still in the same positions. Next time one of these lights go out spare a thought for the inhabitants of Nayland in centuries gone by as they made their way home in the dark and remember how fortunate the village has been in having its own gas works and electricity company, as well as a group of such forward thinking people as the Nayland Feoffees. Perhaps we should also spare a thought for Wiston residents who, though part of the parish and therefore contribute through their council tax to all its amenities, do not have their own streetlights!


Wendy Sparrow, Nayland