The History of Raydon
Raydon is recorded in the Doomsday Book as “a village of little consequence” and indeed for many centuries that was precisely what it was. On old maps it is recorded as Reydon St Mary.
A feudal agro-economy, presided over by Thomas and Elizabeth Reydon in the fifteenth century, it pottered along contentedly, coping with drought, flood, famine, glut, pestilence and plague, its rural peace was rudely disturbed by the Civil War in 1642.
Parliamentary visitor William Dowsing arrived at the village church when he “brake down a crucifix and twelve superstitious pictures and a popish inscription.” The pictures were probably stained glass.
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Raydon like this; A village and a parish in Samford district, Suffolk. The village stands 1½ mile S of the Hadleigh railway, and 3 S E of Hadleigh; and has a r. station. The parish comprises 2, 335 acres; and its post town is Hadleigh, under Ipswich. Real property, £3,801. Pop., 561. Houses, 128. The property is divided among a few. The manor belongs to Mrs.Cripps. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Norwich. Value, £554.* Patron, the Rev. J. W. Tomkin. The church is good.
In 1884 the first Salvation Army service was held in Raydon and in time the village became a Salvationist stronghold and could field a brass band of 24 or more bandsmen and women who were reputed to be one of the best small bands in the Army!
In 1924, the band was invited to play at the Army’s flagship centre in Oxford Street in London, where they marched through the streets. An event which remained a talking point in Raydon for many years! Perhaps in London too!
After nearly 100 years as a major influence in Raydon, The Salvation Army waned to the point where it ceased to operate in the village in November 1981.
In 1846 the Eastern Union Railway Company opened a railway line between Ipswich and Colchester. The chairman of the company, Mr J Cobbold (of brewing fame) then set up a company to construct a branch line from Bentley to Raydon to Hadleigh. The work was sub-contracted out for the sum of £75,000 and was completed within the year. How things have improved today!
The growing motorbus services gradually put the railways under such commercial pressure that in 1932 the passenger service ceased on this branch line. The goods service continued with 2 trains a day until the outbreak of the Second World War when the railway was extensively used to construct and supply the new underground ammunition store in Hadleigh. The railway also transported rubble from blitzed London houses to be used as hardcore in the construction of Raydon Airfield by the Americans.
Prior to 1875, village children were taught in a tiny schoolroom, which today serves as a sitting-room. In 1875, a new school was built comprising 2 teaching rooms and a house for the head teacher, combined, with bucket toilets outside. Water came from a well behind the school.
By 1930, the school had to be enlarged to cope with the numbers of children. As war approached and the men folk were called up the children were allowed to stay away from school to help on the farms or in the orchards, a very popular move!
In 1986, a new infant’s school was built at Stratford St Mary and a bus laid on, and as a consequence the Raydon School was closed and sold off in 2 parts, one to become a private house and the other to become a Village Hall.
Within living memory the village has been served by a variety of shops, a post office, 2 pubs (The Fox and The Chequers) a blacksmith and a pork butcher, all of which have sadly closed leaving Raydon a dormitory village.
Some thirsty villagers in 2000 decided to construct a sports and social club on the playing field using an old Dutch sectional building as a chassis, and the end result is very comfortable and resembles a proper old English pavilion, complete with bell tower and clock and veranda.
The biggest impact on Raydon was the outbreak of WW2. The school was reinforced with RSJ’s to make a bomb shelter; the Raydon Home Guard wisely commandeered the Chequers pub as their HQ. A photograph taken at the time shows the Home Guard to be 47 strong, Oh, why should England tremble!
Shelley Hall was taken over and filled with Land Girls, to the delight of the remaining menfolk!
But by far and away the biggest trauma was the arrival of 833rd and 862nd Engineer Battalions in 1942 to construct an A standard bomber airfield on the plateau overlooking Hadleigh. It was designated as USAAF STATION 157 RAYDON
Locals remember the village street being constantly full of trucks on the move. The road was not metalled in those days and quickly became a sea of mud so deep that the house fronts were completely covered in it.
Farms and houses were requisitioned and dynamited, changing the look of the village forever. To this day, it is said that the Yanks did more damage to Raydon than Hitler ever did!
This was one of the last airfields of its type to be constructed in the war and was, in the event, never used by bombers, although the very first plane to land was a battle damaged B17 Flying Fortress who gratefully crash-landed at the first airfield he came to. What shame the concrete runway was still soft!
The 357th Fighter Group first occupied it in November 1943 and they were only the second group in England to be equipped with the new P51 Mustang. One pilot with the 357th was a Lt. Charles ‘Chuck’ Yeager, who later achieved fame by flying the X-15 through the sound barrier and also becoming the first man in space!
In January 1944, the 358th Fighter Group replaced them at Raydon with their Thunderbolts while the 357th moved to Leiston.
In April 1944 the 358th were sent to the south coast, Raydon airfield came under the command of the Eighth Air Force and the 353th Fighter Group from Metfield moved in with their Thunderbolts.
The 353rd‘s trademark was the colorful yellow and black checkerboard on the engine cowlings, and they were commanded by the charismatic Colonel Glenn Duncan. He demonstrated the ability of Americans to appreciate irony when, ordered by top brass to rename his aircraft, which he had christened “Flying Death!” They feared recriminations if ever the plane was shot down intact. He sarcastically renamed it “Dove of Peace”! Political correctness even then!
In October 1944, the 353rd were re-equipped with P51 Mustangs which gave them the range to escort the bombers over to Germany and back. About this time Raydon was known colloquially as “Bomb Alley” due to the number of German V-1 “Doodlebug” flying bombs which flew directly overhead on their way to London. One blew up as it went over and the engine narrowly missed the bomb dump in Raydon Great Wood.
Raydon Airfield reverted to RAF Fighter Command on 20 December 1945 although it was not used again and the station was closed on 8 August 1958 and in 1960-62 the land was sold back to local farmers. Some of the buildings and hangers were retained by the Home Office for storage until they were given up in the 80’s. These buildings are now a small industrial park and remain largely unaltered in appearance. Much of the concrete runways and peri-tracks containing all that London blitz rubble were dug up and recycled into the base of the new A12 road.
And so Raydon remains much as it was, a sleepy little Suffolk village of little consequence to any except those that live here, with the exception of one evening in October 1989 when an illegal rave was held on the site of the old airfield in Raydon, follow this link for more information BBC Look East We still cope with drought and flood, famine and glut although pestilence and plague are less of a problem these days. It’s still an agro-economy but not so feudal, and less dependant on it with all manner of diverse and interesting little businesses secreted away in sheds, barns and back rooms.
We keep ourselves to ourselves, we like it that way.