As is the case with many of our villages, Otley is first mentioned by name in the Domesday Book of 1086. The name is thought to mean ‘the clearing or meadow of Ota', who would have been an early Anglo-Saxon settler. He was by no means the first person to settle here, Romano-British pottery found near the church indicates much earlier habitation. There are certainly other similar or, perhaps even older sites yet to be discovered. The Romans drove a road through what is now the southern end of the village, and archaeological evidence suggests that there were several Roman settlements in the area, although none has yet been found in Otley itself.
The early medieval period has left only scant remains; visually, the Mount at Otley Bottoms, now thought to be the original site of the Manor of Netherhall, is the most prominent. Slightly later the church was rebuilt in stone.
The liberal scattering of moated homestead sites in the village, most of them now fragmentary if not completely erased, bear witness to a thriving community in the middle and later years of the medieval period, and field walking is currently bringing to light a growing number of humble dwellings of similar date. It is possible that just a few of the existing timber-framed houses have their origins in the latter part of the Middle Ages, although close analysis of their construction to confirm this has yet to be undertaken.
The picture that emerges at the dawn of the ‘Early Modern' era is a village of widely scattered farmsteads, set in broad wooded pastures, and with no clearly defined centre as such. The yeomen derived their living from cattle farming, particularly dairying, with cereal production (mainly wheat) as a sideline. This system of farming was already well established by the end of the 15th century, and continued with very little change until Napoleonic Wars swung the pendulum abruptly and, as it transpired, irrevocably, to the plough.
The earliest part of this splendid house is thought to have been built by John Gosnold in the 15th century - the present kitchen wing originates from that time. His son, Robert I (‘The Elder') became Lord of the Manor of Netherhall in 1543, at which date the house may have first assumed manorial status. Major additions and extensions to the house were made by Robert III (‘The Justice') in the period 1573 - 1615. The west wing and the gallery are of that age. Robert III married Ursula Naunton of Letheringham and their coats of arms are still to be seen in one of the bedrooms of the hall. He was the Uncle of Bartholomew Gosnold, who sailed to America.
Otley Hall remained the property of the Gosnold family until about 1668, when financial difficulties arising from the Civil War (the Gosnolds were Royalists) forced its sale. It was owned for a short while by Sir Anthony Deane, Commissioner for the Navy and member of parliament for Harwich, before passing to the Rebow family of Wivenhoe, Essex, around 1686. They held it, not as a mansion, but as a tenanted farmhouse, until 1900.
This is another beautiful early 16th century house, thought to have been held by the Gosnold family from before 1572 to around 1615, when it was bought by the Leman family of Brampton and Beccles; they owned it until 1837. Anthony Gosnold, brother of Robert III of Otley Hall, and father of Bartholomew, numbered this house among his various properties, and may well have lived here. It is therefore possible (but as yet unproven) that Barthomolew grew up here. He later married and moved to the Bury St. Edmunds area, where he had seven children, including a daughter Martha, who died as an infant and after whom the famous Martha's Vineyard in the U.S.A. was named.
This house possibly dates from the post-Reformation period (after 1540); it contains an ornate beam, said to be the rood-beam which would have been forcibly removed from the church (and ought to have been destroyed) in those years of religious unrest. The date of the earliest Gosnold connection with the house is unknown, but after Otley Hall had been sold by Robert VII, who died shortly afterwards, his brother and heir Lionel, the Rector of Otley, lived here until his death in 1702/3. His son. Also named Lionel, was barrister in London, and it is thought that he sold the house around 1710, thus marking the end of the association of the Gosnold line in Otley.
This beautiful small 13th century church has many interesting features. It contains a memorial to John Gosnold, a courtier to Elizabeth I and James I, and a Privy Counsellor to Charles I. He was a land owner in Otley. He church also contains many interesting coats of arms. In the vestry is a feature that is unique in a church in Suffolk, a 6 foot font for total immersion, to be found under the floor. It is thought to have been used by Anabaptists around the middle of the 17th century. Two members of the Gosnold family have been Rectors in Otley - William from 1514 - 1541, and Lionel (of Church House) from 1674 to 1702. The church has been under the patronage of the Earls of Huntingdon and Pembroke, and, by marriage, the family of Baron Bergavenny, since the Middle Ages.
Formerly known as Wisdam's, this fine old house possibly has 15th century origins. It has Gosnold connections around 1483/4, when John Gosnold held the farm as a tenant of Netherhall Manor. It passed to the Morse family in 1523.
The original Netherhall Manor house no longer exists. According to 17th century documents, it was situated on land to the north of the house now know as ‘Netherhall' adjacent to an ancient (possibly Norman) earthwork that can be seen to the right of the road leading from Otley Church to Otley Bottoms. The Gosnolds elevated their main seat (Otley Hall) to a manorial status subsequent to their becoming Lords of the Manor of Netherhall at an unknown time, sometime after 1496.
The home of the Ling family. The farm was part of the estate sold in the late 1660's by the Gosnolds as their fortunes waned after the Civil War. The house itself is possibly of late medieval origin, and there exists a very interesting inventory of its contents in 1733.