The Two Courts of Nayland




Have you ever wondered how the road or street in which you live got its name? In a lot of cases it is quite obvious: Mill Street, Stoke Road and Heycroft Way are self explanatory for instance. Having lived for many years in Court Street, I have often wondered when and how the street got its name. We shall probably never know for sure but it is interesting to speculate.

The most likely reason for the name is Court Knoll, Nayland’s scheduled ancient monument. As most people know, this five acre field surrounded by a deep ditch was an ancient settlement called Eiland and is believed to be the original site of Nayland. Occupied by manorial buildings from at least the thirteenth century the first Manor Court would almost certainly have been held there. The historian Philip Morant, in 1768, referred to “the mansion house in a pasture ground called ‘The Court’ but no foundations of any part of it are to be seen except the Chapel.” On the 1838 Tithe map the field is still called “The Court” but by 1886 the name Court Knoll was appearing on Ordnance Survey maps – I wonder if it was the Ordnance Survey who thought up this modern name. It probably took some time for local people to adopt the new name as I remember our late neighbour, May Wilson, who was born in 1907 and whose family lived here long before that, always referred to the field as “The Court”.

As the ancient buildings on Court Knoll gradually disappeared the “new” village began to grow a short distance away from the site. At some stage village elders perhaps decided to use the old name for the street running from the heart of the new village to the site of the old. It would be interesting to be able to pinpoint when this happened. In fact some street names do originate from medieval times, others did not become fixed until Victorian times leading to some confusion on old maps. Court Street’s name has remained constant at least since the eighteenth century while some others in Nayland have changed several times. The earliest reference to Court Street I have seen is in a Rate Roll in 1768.

Another possible reason for Court Street’s name is Alston Court, formerly called Grooms until about 1905. The house passed through several families until the Alston family owned it for about two centuries from the eighteenth century. According to minutes of the Court of the Manor of Nayland with Downings, members of the Alston family were Stewards of the Manor Court during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It seems quite likely that the Court proceedings would have been carried on in the home of the Steward and, in fact, the 1892 edition of White’s Directory listed Miss Margaret Alston as living at “The Court House”. Is it possible then that the street leading up to the Court (“Alston’s Court”) was named after it?

Until the bypass was built Court Street had been for centuries the main route from Colchester to Sudbury. As well as being an important highway I am sure my neighbours would agree with its description in a nineteenth century newspaper. An advertisement announced that an auction sale was to be held at the White Hart, Nayland, and the properties to be sold were to be found in Court Street described as “the preferable part of the town”!


Wendy Sparrow, Nayland