Melton is an old-established settlement. Its history can be traced back to the Doomsday Book of the 11th Century, if not to the time of the Roman occupation a thousand years earlier. Its closeness to the Sutton Hoo burial site of Redwald, first king of Anglia, bears witness to this. It has doubtless been inhabited for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years before records were written down.
From the 8th century, Melton grew in importance as a result of its association with Queen (later Saint) Etheldreda (aka St. Audry), founder of Ely Cathedral. In the days when the church was central to all aspects of community life, Melton is believed to have been an important local administrative centre. It is perhaps fitting that the headquarters of Suffolk Coastal District Council is here in Melton at Riduna Park.
The Suffolk Traveller of 1829 shows that the Manor of Melton formerly belonged to the Dean and Chapter of Ely, but at that time was held by a Mrs Christine Burroughes. It records gifts made in the middle of the 16th century for the building and maintenance of the bridge at that time. In 1829 the rebuilding of the former House of Industry to form the Suffolk Lunatic Asylum was begun – “very pleasantly situated on a hill, commanding a delightful view of the country.” At the time of that publication the population of the village was 607.
The 1855 edition of White’s Suffolk Directory stated, “Melton is a large, pleasant and well-built village, on the western side of the River Deben, about a mile north-east of Woodbridge. Its parish increased in population from 501 in 1801 to 1,039 in 1851 (including 269 in the Suffolk Lunatic Asylum). It comprises about 1,410 acres (570 hectares) of land stretching southward to the suburbs of Woodbridge”.
Commercial navigation of the river had been extended from Woodbridge to Melton in 1840, with the construction of a new quay. The railway came to Melton in 1859 with the opening of the East Suffolk Railway. The station closed in 1955, but we were fortunate to see it reopened, in response to public requests, in 1984. The state of the roads improved in the mid 19th century with the formation of the turnpike trusts, Melton lying on the main Yarmouth – London turnpike, a road well known to the author Charles Dickens. Just as the railway brought an end to commercial use of the river, the improved roads brought a great increase in traffic and the end of local freight trains. The construction of bypasses, firstly for Woodbridge and later for Wickham Market, relieved Melton of the weight of traffic on the modern A12, which our local roads would surely have been unable to take.
More of the history of Melton may be found in Robert Blake’s Melton a Changing Village published in 1994 (ISBN 0-9518571-2-6).
One of the defining aspects of Melton, until relatively recent times, had been the absence of a central focus to the village. In historical terms, it failed to “nucleate” in the Middle Ages and remained as a collection of widely separated farmsteads until the coming of the turnpike road and the railway, when The Street, Station Road, Dock Lane and Melton Road were developed.
Perhaps perversely, the construction of the relief road (the western end of Wilford Bridge Road) in the 1980s helped identify a village centre, around the new crossroads and the village street.