Photo Juliet Bullimore.
Westleton Common was purchased by the Parish Council in 2003 with substantial help from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Common covers 17.95 ha. and is split into three parts divided by Bakers Lane and Mill Street with a small triangle of land between these two roads included in the Common. The Common is registered under the Commons Act 1899.
The aim of the management of the Common is two-fold. First it is to maintain the area as an open space for use and enjoyment by parishioners and others. Secondly it is to manage the habitat to maintain and increase the important wildlife species, in particular the Silver-Studded Blue butterfly for which the Common is of national importance.
A little History
In the Westleton Tithe Map of 1840, the Common is shown as area 710, which has the same boundaries as the present site. It was used for pasture, and had no owner listed. There were a few cottages adjoining the Common, and Ralph’s Mill was shown. Also adjoining the Common, the church had some allotments (where the gun club is now). The area south of the Common was heathland owned by Lord Huntingfield.
The Ordnance Survey Map of 1885 shows several gravel pits, which provided gravel for roads. Some of these pits, and others, are shown in the Ordnance Survey Maps of 1904 and 1927.
From the early 1900s to the 1940s, the Common was owned by the Lord of the Manor (Caines family), and during World War II, gravel was extracted for making airfields.
Before a mains water supply came to Westleton, families living near the Common obtained water in the summer from two ‘rock-holes’, which never dried up.
In World War II, the Common was used as a camp by the Army. Concrete bases for their buildings, and a well they dug, can still be seen near The Cleeves. They had a search light on the Noddle.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Common was owned by a sand and gravel company, and the southern part of the Common was worked as a major gravel pit. This accounts for the steep sides to the edges of the Common, the damp areas in the centre where the washing pits were, the bank of washed sand in the southern corner and the large concrete base where the main machinery stood. In recent years, an area next to the layby on the Reckford Road was used by Suffolk County Council as a dump for soil and other road diggings. This was landscaped and made safer in January 2004.
Over 20 years ago, on the northern section of the Common, an area was cleared of gorse and set out as football field, and used regularly by small groups until the 1990s. The mowing has resulted in a good area of short heather.
The gravel company tried unsuccessfully to reopen planning permission for more gravel extraction nearby in the 1990s. They then put the Common on the market, and it was bought by Westleton Parish Council in 2003, with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund.