History

Some 4500 years ago the first Neolithic people moved into East Anglia, settled and cleared areas of the "wild wood" for agriculture. Where the trees had been growing on the acid sands the nutrient levels soon became depleted and the land left for domestic and wild grazing to find what graze was available. The grazing prevented the regeneration of tree cover and encouraged the growth of heathers and acid grasses. Many species, particularly invertebrates such as solitary wasps, parasitic bees and silver studded blue butterfly evolved to make use of this habitat of a tight grazed sward with areas of bare ground which quickly warm up on sunny days.

While wool and mutton were valuable crops and labour costs were low, heath land grazing was economic and continued. Other crops were taken from the heath, heather and bracken was cut for bedding and thatch, gorse and turf was taken for fuel, those trees that did survive the grazing were collected for construction materials and fire wood, sand and gravel were dug for construction. Sheep were often folded overnight on adjacent arable fields were there dung would improve the fertility of the soil. All these activities mirrored the effects of grazing, trees were prevented from regenerating and nutrients were continuously exported from the heath, creating conditions in which the heath land flora could thrive. Heath land products became so vital to the survival of village communities that the right to take from the heath became regulated and rigidly defined as Common Rights, a very complex branch of law.

When sheep grazing became uneconomic most other heath land management ceased and the only regular management would have been in the form of rabbit grazing and burning. Many of the village heaths have a history of annual gorse fires, with a block of gorse scrub being set on fire each bonfire night. This would create areas of acid grass and young gorse for small scale sheep and goat grazing and would prevent gorse becoming the dominant vegetation on a site. Old gorse stands are very easily set alight and this practice might also have reduced the risk of accidental summer fires.

It is probable that what is now Rushmere Heath existed as some form of common land as far back as the Middle Ages. We know that in 1763 and again in 1766 the common was used for public execution.

The common has been used by the Army on many occasions and as far back as 1804, Sir James Craig had 11,000 men under arms on the common.

The boundary of the common has been slowly eroded over the years, although the Commoners have often shown great courage and determination in resisting encroachment. For at least two hundred years, the ownership of the soil was claimed by one of the local Manors. The commoners resisted the claims of the Lord of the Manor, the Marquis of Bristol, and he tried to prosecute some of the Commoners. A prominent champion of the commoners' rights was a character named Nathanial Abblit. In 1861, he had a stone tablet erected on the outside of his cottage, setting out the rights of the Commoners. The tablet can still be seen today on the wall of the Baptist Chapel.

The first Commoners Committee was formed in 1881, mainly to resist the claims of the Marquis of Bristol.

In 1895, the first Ipswich Golf Club was formed and an agreement was made between the Commoners Committee and the Club. The Club agreed to pay £30.00 a year for the Commoners non-interference and co-operation. This agreement was terminated when the Club transferred to Purdis Heath, but shortly afterwards, in 1929, the Rushmere Golf Club was formed.

Although the ownership of the Common has been the subject of much debate over many years, in 1958 the title was purchased by Mr Hugh Law, Chairman of the Commoners Committee, for £500.00. He then sold it to the Commoners for the same price. The title is held in trust by the Trustees and the conduct of the Commoners' affairs is regulated by the Trust Deed.

In 1967 the common was registered as a common under the Commons Registration Act. After that time, all commoners' rights not registered by individual commoners were lost.