A general overview of Eriswell

Eriswell churchEriswell has a long history as a farming community. The oldest surviving building is the church of St Laurence, though remains of St Peter's church can be found near Eriswell barns. Today Eriswell sits next to the American airbase of RAF Lakenheath and closeby RAF Mildenhall. Many of the dwellings are rented to local servicemen from the bases. Adjacent to Eriswell are the villages of Lakenheath and Mildenhall.


The homes of the inhabitants of the duplex manor of Eriswell-cum-Chamberlains have lain along the edge of the Fen for 1500 years. On today's maps the Eriswell of old is now called Little Eriswell and the Chamberlains of old is now called Eriswell. The Great Fields, the Warren and the Sheep Heaths of the old days lay in the Breck to the east. When the invading Anglo-Saxons dispossessed the Romanised Britons they founded the two present villages on new sites. The low hills (Portway and Codson) behind the settlements contain the cemeteries of the pagan settlers. When the Anglo-Saxons became Christian they built a church in each village. St Peter's parish church stood near Eriswell Hall and the Old Rectory but collapsed in the 16th century and only the chancel remains today next to Eriswell Barns Auction Centre. The present St Laurence's dates back to a 13th century rebuild of a structure mentioned in the Domesday Book. It was more than doubled in size by the Chamberlain family in the 14th century. The hamlet around this beautiful building was called Coclesworth in the Domesday Book (1086) and duly became known as Chamberlain's three hundred years later.

William the Conqueror gave this duplex manor to Eudo his Steward. In the 12th century it passed to the de Rochester family, then in the 13th century through a married daughter to the de Tudenham family and in the 15th century to the Bedingfield family again through a married daughter. In the 17th century Cromwell confiscated the property from the Loyalist Bedingfields and in 1649 sold it to a newly formed missionary society "The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and Parts Adjacent in America". This became the New England Company and "NEC" is inscripted on many cottages later built by that institution whose rents supported its work in America. In 1869 the Society sold the manor to the Maharajah Duleep Singh and in 1894 it was bought by the newly rich Guinness family whose titular head is the Earl of Iveagh.

A gentle farming community?

Life at Eriswell-cum-Chamberlains was prosaic: seed time and harvest, lambing and shearing, cutting peat for fuel. However in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 the crowd fresh from killing Sir John Cavendish in Lakenheath streamed through the village on the way to kill the Abbot of Bury at Mildenhall. In 1461 Sir Thomas de Tudenham was beheaded on Tower Hill for treason. His sister and heiress Margaret Bedingfield founded a chantry in old St Peter's but her grave and those of her ancestors perished when the building collapsed during Cromwell's "protectorate". A field whose rent paid part of the priest's stipend is still called "Chantry".

Rabbits and aircraft

At the end of the 18th century the third Earl of Orford leased the Old Rectory and invented a method of weighing beef cattle to test feeding systems. During the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) Eriswell Warren supplied up to 25,000 rabbits a year to feed the hungry of London. The Warriners lived in a low fortified tower and its constructional materials have subsequently been incorporated into buildings at Eriswell High Lodge. Today many acres of the parish support housing for American service personnel stationed at Lakenheath Air Base. Indeed two of the five church bells were donated in 1958 by US Air Force personnel, and they are rung on special occasions.