Bardwell Family Connections

Today, we filled in some more gaps in our family history. We had already found about my family who were illiterate tin miners in Cornwall and we caught up with Jill’s paternal side once before in the little village of Kragero in Norway. Today we sought the origin of Jill’s maternal side at Bardwell in Northern Sussex.

We drove directly to the area of Thetford, Bury St Edmonds and Bardwell which are all close to each other and then just pottered around following our nose within this area.

At Thetford, we came across the ruins of another Priory. This Priory of Our Lady of Thetford was one of the largest and most important monasteries in medieval East Anglia. Founded in the early 12th century, for 400 years it was the burial place of the Earls and Dukes of Norfolk, and enjoyed their powerful protection. It was because of this that Thetford was one of the last monasteries to be suppressed in the Reformation when it surrendered to Henry VIII’s commissioners in 1540.


In our historical notes, I read that the priory church was home to a miracle-working statue of the Virgin in the mid 1200’s. It became a popular object of pilgrimage. These pilgrims brought considerable financial reward to the priory, and before the end of the century the whole east end of the church was rebuilt on a more elaborate scale.

In 1536, when the priory was threatened with suppression, the staunchly Catholic 3rd Duke of Norfolk petitioned Henry VIII to convert it into a religious college, but the duke’s petition failed, and on 16 February 1540 the last prior and 16 monks surrendered to the king’s commissioners.

The prior’s lodging continued to be occupied as a house for another 200 years. By the 1820s, however, it was a roofless ruin.


Down the road at Elveden, we saw a very ornate church and stopped for a look, especially as a sign near the entrance gate said that the graveyard contained some Commonwealth War Graves.

6050209 Pano

I couldn’t find the war graves but I did make another interesting discovery. I found the graves of the family of the Maharaja of Lahore. Here’s how they got to be here:

The leader of the Sikhs, Ranjit Singh, once controlled a united Punjab that stretched from the Khyber Pass to the borders of Tibet. His capital was at Lahore, but more importantly it included the Sikh holy city of Amritsar. The wealth of this vast Kingdom made him a major power-player in early 19th century politics, and he was a particular thorn in the side of the British Imperial war machine.

The British forced Ranjit Singh to the negotiating table over the disputed border with Afghanistan, and a year later, in 1839, he was dead. A power vacuum ensued, and his six year old son Duleep Singh became a pawn between rival factions. Over the next three years, the British gradually extended their rule, putting down uprisings and turning local warlords and the Sikhs political structure was in disarray. Prince Duleep Singh was sent into remote internal exile.

The missionaries poured in to the Punjab and the young Prince, eventually became a Christian. A year later, he sailed for England with his mother. He was admitted to the royal court by Queen Victoria, spending time both at Windsor and, particularly, in Scotland, where he grew up. His mother died in 1863. The Prince returned with her ashes to the Punjab, and there he married his wife, Bamba Muller. As part of the British pacification of India program, the young couple were granted the lease of a vast, but derelict stately home at Elveden Hall.

With some considerable energy, Duleep Singh set about transforming the fortunes of the moribund estate. He also begun to glorify the church so that it was developed in size, consistent with the splendour of his estate. He seems to have settled comfortably into the role of an English country gentleman but eventually decided to return to the Punjab to fulfil his destiny as the leader of the Sikh people. He got as far as Aden before the British arrested him, and sent him home. He returned to Elveden to shoot grouse with the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII.

This is quite a remarkable story. Ultimately, his attempts to save his people from colonial oppression were doomed to failure. He died in Paris in 1893, the British seemingly persistent in their control of India. He was finally buried at Elveden churchyard in a simple grave.


We had a snack of a morning bun (filled with custard) at a delightful little bakery in Bardwell. It’s underneath the old black windmill and opposite the primary school. Bardwell Mill is a four storey tower mill. The beehive cap is winded by a fantail. When fitted, the four double Patent sails have a span of 19.20 metres and are carried on a cast iron wind shaft which was cast in 1989.



Bardwell has a stack of old buildings including its medieval parish church. The pub, the Din Cow, was a good place for lunch. It, and the houses on either side, are all over 500 years old. The Domesday Book records the population of Bardwell in 1086 to be 86. The River Blackbourne passes about half a mile west of the village. According to Eilert Ekwall the meaning of the village name is “Bearda’s Spring” or brim/bank of spring.




Bardwell is where Jill’s maternal family, the Ruffels (sometimes spelled Ruffles) came from. Her Great,Great, Great Grandfather was married on October 3, 1860 in the local parish church – St Peter’s and St Paul’s. Much of the structure of the church visible today dates back to the 14th and early 15th Centuries.



We understand that there are  are still some people named Ruffles living in the village. We could see that a number of men of that name are listed on the WW1 memorial panel in the church, but we need to do some more research to know if they are connected.


One of Jill’s ancestors was transported to Australia for seven years for stealing a silver spoon worth ten shillings.

Bardwell is a pretty village with four main streets (Church Street, School Street, Quaker Street and  Spring Road). These form a rough square shape around which most of the old buildings are located.. Two large farms border the central green.

Unlike the area that we have visited in Wales and western England, where grazing sheep and cattle is the predominant form of agriculture, here the fields are sown with cereal crops (mainly wheat and barley). We can see occasional fields of canola and something that may be a form of sugar beet. At least,  there is a sugar beet processing factory in the nearby town of  Bury St Edmonds.

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