A Brief History Of Our Community


There were small groups of middle to late Stone Age hunter-gatherers wandering across the countryside, setting up simple camps, until shortage of game forced them to move on. They made their tools and weapons from the flints found in abundance in the area and it is still quite common to find flint implements and detritus in neighbouring fields. 

Although no significant Roman remains have been found in the village, with the close proximity of the Icklingham and Mildenhall treasures, both on the River Lark, there is little doubt that the Romans also had a presence. The coming of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, and their inter­marrying with the native British, led to the establishment of fixed settlements and associated forest clearing and farming. An excellent example of this was at West Stow, with further examples found in many sites round about. Within Fornham, two small burial sites have been excavated.

The name ‘Fornham’ is thought to be of Saxon origin meaning ‘The homestead by the trout stream’. The village is well documented in the Domesday Book and, as with much land in the locality, was controlled by the Abbey of St Edmundsbury. The main settlement was in the area of Old Hall Lane, around the Old Hall.

Even a ‘brief’ history would be incomplete without mention of the ‘Battle of Fornham’ which took place in October 1173 when a strong force of Flemish mercenaries under the then Earl of Leicester was defeated by a combined force, loyal to Henry II, of townspeople and men under the command of Humphrey de Bohun, Constable of England. Fighting extended from Tollgate to St Genevieve along the valley and terraces of the River Lark. It was a touch-and-go affair and had the result not gone in favour of the King, it would have changed the history of these Isles. Very few items of interest survive the battle, except perhaps, the Fornham sword in Moyses Hall Museum.

In 1539 at the Dissolution of the Monasteries the whole area of‘the Fornhams’ was given by Henry VIII to his friend Sir Thomas Kytson whose family controlled the associated estates until 1731 when St Genevieve was purchased by Samuel Kent, member of parliament and High Sheriff of Suffolk. In 1760 St Martin was bought by his son in law, Sir Charles Egleton, thus creating the three Fornhams.

In 1778 a change of ownership of the villages occurred with Bernard Edward Howard, later 12th Duke of Norfolk, buying St Genevieve and building Fornham Hall. This was sold to Lord Manners MP in 1842, who in 1862, then sold it to Sir William Gilstrap. As the Gilstrap family owned Fornham All Saints, all the three Fornhams came under one ownership until the end of the century. There is no doubt, that over the latter half of the 19th century the Gilstrap family exerted significantly more influence within the area than the Ord family. They owned some 4,000 acres and, in 1895, the then Prince of Wales was a guest at Fornham Hall during the shooting season. The Gilstrap estate was partially sold off during the first part of the 20th century but was finally disposed of by the last owner in 1950 which led to the demolition of the Hall and the inevitable break-up of the Fornhams into what they are today, with many tenants becoming owners.

With the demolition of Fornham Hall the most significant building in the village was and still is, Fornham House, but this never had a large estate. It is now a residential care home for the elderly.

Recent Changes

Three changes have had a significant impact on the community. In the 1970s, extension to the Barton Hill development and creation of the Lark Valley estate of nearly 200 dwellings increased the number of households in Fornham St Martin by 60%. Opening the A134 Fornham St Martin bypass in 1992, and subsequent HGV restrictions, led to a dramatic reduction in heavy goods traffic through the village.

The development of a golf course in parallel with the Lark Valley housing development, and more recently an associated hotel, plus in the early 90’s, creation of the Oak Close development of affordable and shared equity housing, are other changes of note.