Suffolk is a county situated in the East Anglia region of England. It is bordered to the north by Norfolk, to the west by Cambridgeshire, to the south by Essex & to the east by the North Sea. Suffolk covers an area of 1468 square miles & stretches, at its widest points, more than 50 miles from east to west & over 30 miles north to south. The county town is Ipswich.
Population:- At the 2011 census the population of Suffolk was 730,133.
How to get there:-
By road: From London, the principal route is the A12 which runs through Essex & enters Suffolk at Stratford St. Mary. It then bypasses Ipswich, joining with the A14 for a few miles, before heading north, traversing the county & entering Norfolk just north of Lowestoft.
From the Midlands & the west, the A14 enters Suffolk just north of Newmarket & then bypasses Bury St. Edmunds & Ipswich, before reaching the coast at Felixstowe.
Other main roads into the county include the A140 from Norwich, Norfolk, & the A131 from Essex in the south, which crosses the border near Sudbury & becomes the A134 that leads to Bury St. Edmunds, before reaching the county’s northern border close to Thetford.
By rail: From London, use London Liverpool Street Station. This line serves Ipswich & traverses the county, terminating at Norwich, Norfolk. Branch lines also extend to Felixstowe, Lowestoft, Sudbury & Bury St. Edmunds; the latter linking with Cambridge via Newmarket. Lakenheath & Brandon are served by the Breckland Line which runs from Norwich to Ely.
By sea: Suffolk’s main port is Felixstowe, which is the UK’s largest container port.
The nearest major airport is Stansted in Essex. From there take the A120, then the A12 northwards. Alternately, take the M11 northwards, then the A11, before joining the eastbound A14 west of Newmarket.
Time zone: Greenwich Mean Time. Daylight saving time in summer +1 hr.
Order of contents on this page: (Click on the links below)
Towns of Suffolk:
Strange But True:
For lots more photos of Suffolk, England, go to the Photo Gallery
As far back as the Upper Palaeolithic or Late Stone Age, settlements have been discovered across the land that would eventually become Suffolk. These are predominantly found in the Brecklands in the west of the county & the Sandlings in the east; probably due to the former’s proximity to the Fens & the latter’s accessibility from the coastal estuaries & rivers. Many round barrows & ditches are still visible today, mainly from the air.
Prior to the Roman occupation of Britain, the lands that would become Norfolk & the northern part of Suffolk were inhabited by the Iceni tribe, whose famous Queen Boudica was later to lead a revolt against the Romans. The Iceni were a Celtic people, although whether they had migrated from mainland Europe or not has not been determined. The south of Suffolk was in the hands of the Trinovantes tribe, also Celts but with a continental origin evident in their Gallo-Belgic pottery & coinage. The name has been translated as “very new” or possibly “very vigorous”, the former suggesting that they were relative latecomers to the area. The exact boundary between their territory & that of the Iceni is uncertain & was probably very fluid.
In AD 60 the Iceni joined forces with their former enemies the Trinovantes, in an uprising that saw the destruction of Roman towns & settlements stretching as far south as London. Although the revolt was eventually put down & the Iceni lost their kingdom status, their identity & influence remained in Suffolk & Norfolk throughout the Roman occupation. Although no evidence has been found for large walled towns of Roman origin in Suffolk, there are many market towns, villas, farmsteads & forts throughout the county where Roman pottery, coins & other items have been excavated.
Soon after the Roman troops left Britain at the beginning of the fifth century, their place was taken by Germanic tribes migrating from what is now Denmark & northern Germany. These were the Angles & Saxons.
Exactly when the kingdom of the East Angles came into existence is not known, although a reference to the “King of the Angli” can be found which relates to the middle to late sixth century. The ruling family of the East Angles were known as the Wuffinga Dynasty. The Venerable Bede, who wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the English People around the year 720, mentions a king named Wuffa “from whom the kings of the East Angles are called Wuffings”. The ship burial at Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge (see Sutton Hoo section, below) is thought to have been a memorial to Rædwald, who was high king of East Anglia & died around the year 625. According to Bede, he was the grandson of Wuffa. The burial itself has elements of the Vendel tradition from Old Uppsala in Sweden, which suggest that there was at least some contact with Scandinavia & possibly that the Wuffa dynasty were originally from that area.Although the county of Suffolk didn’t actually come into existence until sometime after the Norman Conquest of 1066, the “folc” as the East Angles came to be known, are mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is recorded that Ulfketill, Earl of East Anglia, attacked but was defeated by, the Vikings near Thetford in the year 1004. Again in 1010 at the Battle of Ringmere, it is recorded that “many good thegns and a countless mass of the folc were killed”.
At some point, a distinction was made between the “folc” living in the north of East Anglia & those in the south; at which point the South Folk came into being, from which the name Suffolk derives. The name was first recorded in 895 as “Suthfolchi” in the Cartularium Saxonicum, and in the Domesday Book (1086) as “Suðfulc”.
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Located to the south east of Woodbridge, overlooking the tidal waters of the River Deben, is the seventh century Anglo-Saxon site of Sutton Hoo (derived from the Old English “Haugh”, meaning a high place). The site consists of 18 burial mounds & is considered one of the most important Anglo-Saxon archaeological finds in England.
The site was first excavated in the late 1930s, after the owner of Tranmer House & the Sutton Hoo estate, Mrs Edith Pretty, gave Ipswich Museum Corporation permission for archaeologists to dig here. The task was undertaken by Suffolk archaeologist Basil Brown, who initially opened three mounds in 1938. It was in 1939, however, that the greatest discoveries were made. In that year, the remnants of a wooden ship were discovered during excavation of the largest mound. Although the wood had long since rotted away, the impression of the ship was still discernible in the sandy soil. Further digging revealed a vessel some 89 feet in length. Within the ship, evidence of a burial was discovered, together with the dead man’s possessions. The hoard of uncovered treasures included gold ornaments inlaid with garnets, silverware, tools, weapons, armour, buckles, cauldrons & fragments of clothes. One of the most striking finds was the ceremonial burial helmet, found close to where the body would have been (see photo of replica in section above).
Subsequent excavations of the other mounds have uncovered a second ship burial, as well as evidence of several other burial chambers, cremations & even a horse burial. Exploration was put on hold during the Second World War, after Mrs Pretty had gifted the finds to the British Museum in London, where they remain to this day. Other excavations have taken place on the Sutton Hoo mounds since the end of the war; most notably from 1965-71 & from 1983-92.
In 1998, the Sutton Hoo house & estate were acquired by the National Trust, & since 2002 the estate has been open to the public. A pathway circumnavigates the burials mounds, with a raised viewing platform allowing not only a clear view of the site, but also stunning views of the River Deben beyond. The exhibition hall includes a reconstruction of part of the burial ship (see photo, right), together with many original artefacts.
The most likely candidate for the burial in the ship mound is King Rædwald, who ruled around 599 – 625 AD. Son of Tytila & grandson of Wuffa, the founder of the Wuffings dynasty, Rædwald was king of the East Angles & is thought to have been one of the first English rulers to be converted to Christianity. Around the year 616, after the death of King Ethelbert of Kent who had reigned over much of southern England, Rædwald, until then a subordinate king, rose to power & marched north to defeat the Northumbrian army; thus making him the most powerful ruler in England at that time. Rædwald was succeeded by his stepson Sigeberht, who founded the monastery at Bury St Edmunds.Top of Page
Up until 1974 Suffolk was divided into the two separate counties of East Suffolk & West Suffolk, each with its own county town; Ipswich & Bury St Edmunds respectively.
Created in the year 1020, West Suffolk was a ‘Liberty’ or ecclesiastical shire, owned by the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, to which all taxes or ‘geld’ were paid. The Liberty of Bury St Edmunds is first mentioned in a charter of 1044 as Thinghog & comprised eight & a half hundreds*. The name Thinghog, later more commonly known as Thinghoe, is thought to be of Scandinavian origin (the ‘thing’ element meaning an assembly or meeting place, which also occurs in the ancient Thingstead at Ipswich).
East Suffolk, on the other hand, wasn’t owned by any monastic house & all taxation was paid to the Crown, through a local shire-reeve or sheriff, whose administrative centre was at Ipswich.
Within East Suffolk, however, were the five & a half hundreds known as Wicklaw, with its own centre at Woodbridge. Wicklaw was also known as the Liberty of St Etheldreda & belonged to the monastery at Ely, to which all taxes were paid. St Etheldreda was born c.636 at Exning, near Newmarket. She was the daughter of Anna, the first Christian King of East Anglia. She founded the monastery of Ely in 673 on the site of the present cathedral & was its first abbess until her death in 679. The first documented reference to Wicklaw appears in a charter dated 970, when Ely was being re-founded. Woodbridge was granted its market charter in 1227 & Wicklaw in effect functioned as a county in its own right, separate from the other ‘geldable’ hundreds of East Suffolk.
Although the Crown eventually asserted its control over these ‘Liberties’ or ecclesiastical territories, the division of Suffolk was so well established by tradition that when the Local Government Act 1888 established county councils and county borough councils in England and Wales, which came into effect from 1st April 1889, although their populations didn’t warrant it, West Suffolk & East Suffolk remained as two separate administrative entities. This continued until 1974, when another Local Government Act saw Suffolk merge into one unified county.
West Suffolk coat of arms East Suffolk coat of arms
*A hundred is not a fixed measurement of land, but an ancient term that relates to a hundred 'hides' or 'carucates', which themselves were units of land that could sustain an extended family. Therefore one hundred could vary considerably in size from the next.Top of Page
St Felix was born in Burgundy, & arrived in Britain around 630AD at the invitation of King Sigeberht, (stepson of King Raedwald), who had been converted to Christianity by Felix whilst in exile in France. After being ordained at Canterbury, Felix became the first Bishop of the East Angles when , according to Bede’s Historia Novella, he established his episcopal see at Domnoc (or Dommoc), where he remained as bishop until his death 17 years later. There has been much debate over the years as to the location of Domnoc; the long held assumption that it is synonymous with Dunwich being challenged by some who believe a more likely site to have been Walton Castle near Felixstowe. If it is assumed, however, that Felixstowe is a corruption of Filchestou, deriving from the personal name Filica, then Dunwich, (or Duneuuic as it is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086), seems the more likely setting. As well as building a church at Domnoc, Felix is thought to have established one of the first schools in England, with monks from Canterbury as teachers, based on the schools that Sigeberht had witnessed in France.
Very little else is known about the life of St Felix. He is said to have died in 647 on 8th March; the date that was to become his feast day. He was initially buried at Domnoc, but some time later, monks moved his body to Soham Abbey in Cambridgeshire. How long after his death this occurred is not known, but his remains were at Soham in 869, when the abbey was sacked by the Vikings. His remains were later reinterred at Ramsey Abbey, also in Cambridgeshire.
A book said to have belonged to St Felix, known as the Red Book of Eye, survived until the early nineteenth century. This was a copy of the Gospels which, after Felix’s death, was brought by monks to the town of Eye in Suffolk, where it was used for taking oaths. What became of it is now unknown. Another manuscript thought by some sources to have belonged to St Felix, & consisting of parts of St Luke’s & St John’s Gospels, is in the Archbishop Parker collection at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge.
From 1927 through until the 1960s, pilgrimages to Dunwich were held in memory of St Felix; usually taking place in late August or early September, with a service being held on the clifftops.
St Felix can be seen today depicted in a stained glass window in Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh, not far from Dunwich.
St Edmund the Martyr was an Anglo-Saxon king of East Anglia who died around the year 869 AD. Very little is known about his life; the only contemporary written evidence stemming from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Most of the details available today derive from the works of the Abbo of Fleury, a Benedictine monk of the monastery of Fleury sur Loire near Orléans, France, who wrote a biography of this king & saint whilst based at Ramsey Abbey, near St Ives, Cambridgeshire, more than 100 years after Edmund's death. This was translated from Latin into English by Ælfric of Eynsham, an abbott who lived c 955 – c. 1010. A large number of coins, minted from around the year 890 onwards, have been found with the inscription Sc Eadmund Rex.
It is said that Edmund was crowned king by St Humbert (Bishop Humbert of Elmham) in 855, at a location near Bures St Mary, Suffolk. In 869, in a battle with the Danes, Edmund is said to have been killed; the popular version of events being that he preferred to die rather than renounce his Christianity. Various sites have been proposed for this battle, one being near Hoxne, another being at Bradfield St Clare, near modern day Bury St Edmunds.
Having originally been buried at Hoxne, Edmund’s remains were moved to Bury St Edmunds (then known as Beodericsworth) in the year 915; after which his shrine became a site of pilgrimage. The exact date of his canonisation is not known, although it is thought to have happened during the reign of King Athelstan (924–939); a result of miracles that were alleged to have taken place at the shrine. The shrine itself at Bury St Edmunds was destroyed in 1539 during the Reformation. Many churches throughout England are still dedicated to St Edmund. His feast day in the Orthodox, Roman and Anglican traditions is 20th November.
In 2006, a campaign was launched by BBC Radio Suffolk & the East Anglian Daily Times to have St Edmund replace St George as the patron saint of England. Although this move was ultimately unsuccessful, St Edmund has now been named the patron saint of Suffolk, with a new Flag of Suffolk, (or St Edmund's Flag) having been designed by Bill Bulstrode (see right).
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The Battle of Sole Bay was a naval battle which took place off the Suffolk coast close to the town of Southwold on 7th June 1972 (28th May in the Old Style or Julian calendar). It was the opening sea skirmish in what was to become the Third Anglo-Dutch War.
The Third Anglo-Dutch War was the final war in a sequence that had begun in 1652. War in the third conflict was declared on 6th April 1672 & continued until 1674, although the Franco-Dutch War, of which the Third Anglo-Dutch War was a part, would not end until 1678.
Although England had signed a triple alliance with the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands & Sweden in 1668, in an effort to prevent France occupying the Spanish Netherlands, King Charles II had then secretly signed the Treaty of Dover with France in 1670, which would see England & France combine forces against the Dutch. Charles had been given a promise by Louis XIV of France that, should the French be successful, England would gain strategic coastal positions along the Dutch coast. The Anglo-French plan was to blockade the Dutch in their home ports and deny them access to the North Sea.
On 7th June, the English & French fleets were lying off Southwold, where they had come to refit. In the intervening centuries since the battle, both the headland at Easton Bavants to the north of Southwold, & the cliffs at Dunwich to the south, have been the victims of severe coastal erosion, but in the seventeenth century this now lost land formed much more of a bay than is in evidence today. This was Solebay, now known as Sole Bay.
In the early hours of the morning the Allied fleets, with many of their crew still ashore, were taken by surprise by the appearance of the Dutch, under the command of Lt-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter. The French fleet, under the command of Admiral Jean II d'Estrées, inexplicably sailed to the south & were engaged only in long range action against a small contingent of pursuing Dutch ships. Whether this was by accident or design on the French part has never been satisfactorily explained. This left the English, under the command of James Stuart, Duke of York and Albany (later King James II) & Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, facing the main Dutch fleet.
Sources vary as to the exact number of ships involved in the battle. The English fleet seems to have comprised between 55 & 65 warships, together with around 22 fire ships, whilst the French warships numbered around 30, with a further 8 fire ships. The Dutch fleet consisted of around 75 ships of the line and frigates, together with 36 fire ships & a number of smaller vessels. (Fire ships were wooden sailing vessels filled with combustible material that were ignited & deliberately steered or allowed to drift into enemy craft).
Although outnumbered, the Dutch, with the element of surprise on their side, enjoyed the better of the early skirmishes, with the Duke of York having to move his flag on two occasions; with first the Prince Royal, then the St Michael sustaining heavy damage, before the London finally became his flagship. With a drop in the wind, however, the English gradually got the upper hand, & by around nine o’clock that evening, after a battle lasting nearly 14 hours, the Dutch fleet withdrew northwards & the fighting ceased. Both sides claimed victory, although the outcome can best be described as inconclusive.
Casualties on both sides were high, with an estimated combined total of more than four thousand dead. Bodies are said to have washed up along the Suffolk shore for several months after the battle. The most high profile death was the Earl of Sandwich, whose flagship, Royal James, was sunk by an attack from a Dutch fire ship; one of two English warships destroyed. The Dutch & French also lost two warships apiece.
Many people gathered on the Suffolk cliffs to watch the battle, smoke from which drifted down the coast as far as Essex. The noise of the battle, however, travelled still further, with reports of gunfire being heard as far away as London.
On the outside wall of the Red Lion public house in Martlesham near Woodbridge, Suffolk can still be seen the figurehead of the 48 gun Stravoren, one of the Dutch ships sunk that day (see photo, left).
The 19th century expression “Suffolk Crag” was first used as a generic term to describe the two types of crag found in Suffolk (Red Crag & Coralline Crag) that gave rise to the coprolite industry. Whereas Red Crag is also found elsewhere in the eastern counties, Coralline Crag is only found in the County of Suffolk, thus “Suffolk Crag” later became a specific term & alternative name associated with this particular type of material.
Suffolk Crag (Coralline Crag): In geological terms, the Suffolk coastland is a young landscape, having the youngest rocks in Britain. Underlying everything is chalk, formed as part of a sea bed between 70 & 100 million years ago. In east Suffolk the chalk curves downwards & younger deposits were formed on top of it as it became submerged beneath later seas. The oldest of these rocks is called London Clay & was deposited around 50 million years ago. Further north, mainly in northern Essex, Suffolk & Norfolk, the London Clay is overlain by a much younger material, known as Crag. The term “crag” is used throughout East Anglia for any shelly, pebbly sand. During this period, what is today the southern North Sea was probably a partly enclosed bay which periodically flooded the land of what is now eastern England.
There are three types of Crag deposits, aged between 1.5 and 4.2 million years, Norwich Crag, Red Crag & Coralline Crag. Of these, Coralline Crag is the oldest, laid down between c. 4.2 and 2.3 million years ago, & found exclusively in Suffolk, hence it is also referred to as “Suffolk Crag”. It is also known as “White Crag” because it is a creamy-golden, sandy limestone full of fossil shells. Another name is “Bryozoan Crag” named after the fossil bryozoa found in its deposits. Bryozoa are marine invertebrates, otherwise known as moss animals. These were mistaken for corals when this crag was first studied in the early 19th century, hence the alternative name of Coralline Crag was given to the formation, although coral is not actually present. It is essentially made up of fragments of molluscan shells & bryozoans, which formed as offshore shell banks in shallow seas. The fossils show a warm water origin for the Coralline Crag, whereas fossils in the younger Red Crag on top of the Coralline Crag originated in cold-water. This indicates to geologists that this is the boundary between the older Pliocene & the younger Pleistocene epochs, with the cooling of the climate that heralded the approach of the Ice Ages.
The Coralline Crag is an elongated outcrop in a NE-SW direction restricted to south-east Suffolk. The formation exceeds 20 metres thick in places & everywhere rests unconformably on the London Clay which had already been deeply eroded before the Pliocene marine transgression. It is of very limited extent, ranging over an area about twenty miles in length, & three or four miles in breadth, between the rivers Stour & Alde in Suffolk.
There are numerous pits throughout the area where the crag and overlying sand were extracted for many years, though very little extraction goes on at present. Most of the old crag pits have been disused for many years & are now completely overgrown, but good exposures of Coralline Crag can be seen in pits near Aldeburgh, Gedgrave & Ramsholt. It was occasionally used as a building-stone. Wantisden & Chillesford churches, in neighbouring villages, are the only two in England where the towers are built of Coralline (Suffolk) Crag.
Crag Pit Farm is a classic Coralline Crag site. It is rich in Bryozoans, and well documented for wave-features in the sands. Crag Pit Farm is near Sudbourne in Suffolk. Permission is needed from the farm owners to visit.
Suffolk Crag and the Coprolite Industry: Coprolite is the scientific name, coined in 1829, for the fossilised excrement, faeces or droppings of prehistoric animals. It literally means “dung stone” from the Greek “kropos” (dung) & “lithos” (stone). At the base of the Red Crag is a bed, 3 to 18 inches thick, containing fossil bones, fish teeth and shells, which had been naturally converted over time into phosphate rich nodules or pebbles. These nodules were referred to as “coprolites” in the mistaken belief that they were fossilised animal excrement.
The discovery that the spreading of a certain type of stone on fields was good for crops was noted by a Suffolk farmer in the 18th century. However, it was not realised at the time that most fossil remains contain a high element of phosphate, & that this provided the cheapest form of fertiliser apart from animal manure. This discovery was made by the Rev. John Stevens Henslow, a professor of Botany at Cambridge University where he was tutor to Charles Darwin. In 1842 Henslow discovered these so-called “coprolites” in the Suffolk Crag around the villages of Trimley, Falkenham & Kirton, & investigated their composition. After being ground to powder, they were dissolved in sulphuric acid which converted the phosphate of lime they contained into a soluble superphosphate. Realising their potential as a source of available fertiliser, he patented an extraction process so that the coprolites could be marketed as a commercial concern. Thus began coprolite-digging, the extraction of phosphatised clay nodules for fertiliser.
Coprolites were being raised from the Suffolk Crag beds on both banks of the Deben estuary from as early as 1845. Several Ipswich & London-based manure manufacturers capitalised on the availability of this coprolite supply, willing to pay up to several pounds per ton for the coprolites. As a result, farmers & landowners found this deposit on their fields a lucrative source of income. The major area of extraction occurred over the whole of eastern England, with its refining soon being carried out in Ipswich.
Edward Packard from Saxmundham in Suffolk built the first fertiliser factory at Bramford, near Ipswich in 1847. His son, also Edward, joined the company in 1863 & was instrumental in developing the business & rationalising the fertiliser industry in Britain. The business was incorporated in 1895 under the name of Edward Packard & Company Limited. In 1919 it bought a fertiliser business founded by James Fison of Thetford in 1808, & in 1929 the parent company’s name was changed to Packard & James Fison (Thetford) Limited to reflect the acquisition. The company formally changed its name to the shorter Fisons Ltd in 1942. It became one of the largest fertiliser manufacturing businesses in the United Kingdom. Today, there is a Coprolite Street near the old Ipswich docks where the Fisons works once stood.
The coprolite-digging industry declined in the 1880s. The main reasons for the decline were the extensive cheap imports of foreign phosphates, especially from America, for the manufacture of fertiliser, & the exhaustion of the best part of the Suffolk Crag that contained phosphatised material.
Located close to the River Waveney in the northeast of the county, close to the Norfolk border, is the town of Beccles. The population in 2011 was 13,868.
Opinion is divided on the origin of the name; one theory being that it derives from the Brittonic Becc-Liss, meaning “small court”, another that it comes from the Old English Bece-Laes meaning “meadow by a stream”.
In 1260 Beccles was granted the right to hold a yearly fair on the Feast of St Matthew (21st September), & the town received its charter in 1584. Future Lord of Mayor of London, Sir John Leman (1544–1632) was born in Beccles. He founded the Sir John Leman High School in 1631. Now a Grade I listed building, it today houses Beccles Museum.
Dominating the town is the sixteenth century bell tower of St Michael’s church. It was here in 1749 that Horatio Nelson’s parents were married. The tower is unusual, inasmuch as it is a separate building from church.Top of Page
Formerly the county town of West Suffolk, the cathedral town of Bury St Edmunds today has a population of 41,113 (2011 census).
Dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, Bury St Edmunds was originally known as Beodericsworth. The town grew up around the monastery founded around 633 AD by Sigeberht, king of the East Angles. It is allegedly the burial place of St Edmund the Martyr, king of the East Angles, who had died at the hands of the Danes in 869. Initially interred at Hoxne, his remains were moved to Bury in 915. Owing to miracles reputed to have taken place at his shrine, by 925 the monastery had become a place of pilgrimage & the surrounding town’s name was changed to St Edmund’s Bury. It is said that a powerful Danish warlord by the name of Sweyn was struck dead at the tomb of St Edmund in 1014 for threatening to sack the town.
In 1020, King Canute (Cnut) granted the surrounding lands to the Benedictine monks who guarded the shrine. The Abbey of St Edmund was built during the 11th & 12th centuries, with the church of St James being built within the Abbey precincts around the year 1135. Largely rebuilt in the early sixteenth century, this church became St Edmundsbury Cathedral when the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich was created in 1914. The Abbey was largely destroyed with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, although the ruins can still be seen today in the Abbey Gardens. St Mary’s Church, built in the fifteenth century, also within the Abbey precincts, is the burial place of King Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor.
In 1214, Cardinal Langton, together with 25 feudal barons, met in the Abbey church & swore on the altar of St Edmund that they would obtain from King John the ratification of the Magna Carta. Thereafter the town’s motto became “Shrine of a King, Cradle of the Law”.
Charles Dickens knew Bury St Edmunds well, having stayed in the Angel Hotel on more than one occasion. In The Pickwick Papers, published in 1836, he calls Bury “a handsome little town, of thriving and cleanly appearance”. (see also Charles Dickens - The Suffolk Connection, below)
Now a museum, Moyse’s Hall on the Cornhill is reputed to have been built by a Jew named Moses or Moyse around the year 1180. At one time used as both a tavern & a gaol, it opened as a museum in 1899. Exhibits include a history of the building, a collection of clocks & watches in the “Faces of Time” gallery, & the history of the Suffolk Regiment.
Situated in a thoroughfare known as The Traverse in the centre of Bury is the Nutshell, which is purported to be the smallest pub in Britain (see photo, left). It has been a public house since 1867. The floor space of the interior measures approximately 15 x 7 ft; comfortably accommodating up to around 15 people, although in 1984 a record 102 people squeezed inside.
The coastal town of Felixstowe is situated in the south east of Suffolk, just across the estuary of the Rivers Stour & Orwell from Harwich in Essex. From Felixstowe Ferry on the banks of the River Deben in the north, to Landguard Point in the south, Felixstowe offers over 4 miles of sand & shingle beaches. Just to the south of the town is the Port of Felixstowe, which is the largest container port in the UK. Felixstowe’s population at the 2011 census was 23,564.
Settlements have existed in the area of Felixstowe since Roman times, although at that time the village was known as Walton. A Roman fort, probably dating from around the third or fourth centuries was situated overlooking the River Deben, although due to coastal erosion, this now lies beneath the sea. The traditional view is that the name Felixstowe derives from the seventh century St Felix (Felix of Burgundy), first bishop of the East Angles, who is usually associated with Dunwich. However, the first recorded instance of the name, in 1254, uses the spelling Filchestou, which suggests that it is derived from the personal name Filica, & that the connection with Felix is a later misunderstanding. Soon after the Norman Conquest, Walton Priory was founded, near to the Roman fort, by monks from Rochester at the invitation of Roger Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk. The Bigod family built a castle & manorial hall in the area; the castle being destroyed in 1178 on the orders of King Henry II. In 1317, due to the encroachment of the sea, the priory was forced to move inland.
To the south of Felixstowe, overlooking Harwich Harbour & the Orwell estuary, is Landguard Fort (see separate section below).
Close to the fort is the 64 acre Landguard Nature Reserve which has been designated as an area of Special Scientific Interest due to its importance to wild flowers, grasses & birds. Adjacent to the reserve is the Landguard Bird Observatory.Top of Page
The town of Haverhill is situated in the far southwest of Suffolk, close to the border with both Essex & Cambridgeshire. The town lies on the Stour Brook, a tributary of the River Stour. The name is thought to mean “hill where oats are grown”.
Settlement in the area dates back to pre Roman times & the town’s market is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Although many of the town’s buildings were destroyed by a great fire in 1667, one house that survived is known as Anne of Cleves House; allegedly given to her as part of her divorce from Henry VIII in 1540. The house is situated in Hamlet Road, & after extensive restoration it is now a private nursing home (see photo, left).
Queen Elizabeth I also passed through Haverhill in 1568.
Haverhill was the birthplace of Nathaniel Ward (1578 - 1652), who wrote the first constitution in North America in 1641. After studying Law at Cambridge, he emigrated to America in 1634 & settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Here he wrote The Body of Liberties, which was adopted by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Company in December 1641. (For a more detailed biography of Nathaniel Ward, go to , Ipswich, Massachusetts page). Many other Puritan families from Haverhill also emigrated around this time & the town of Haverhill in Massachusetts was established in 1640.
During the 1950s the town expanded, with many new housing developments being built, predominantly for the resettlement of people from London. A 1962 planning review proposed that the town’s population should increase threefold from the figure of around 5,500 at that time. The population at the 2011 census was 27,041.
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The county town of Suffolk is Ipswich. Located in the south east of the county, on the River Orwell, Ipswich is one of the oldest continually inhabited towns in England & has been a trading port since at least the seventh century; at which time it was the most important commercial centre in Britain.
Ipswich was the birthplace of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, as well as being home for several years to the famous painter Thomas Gainsborough. Ipswich is mentioned in the works of three of the most famous authors in the English language: Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare & Charles Dickens. Famous historic buildings include The Ancient House & Christchurch Mansion, as well as many churches that date back to medieval times. St Lawrence church in Ipswich town centre boasts the oldest working set of church bells in the world.
Today the Borough of Ipswich covers 15.2 square miles & the population in 2011 was 133,384.
Located just of the east of Ipswich, Kesgrave only became a town on 1st January 2000.
Recorded in the Domesday Book as Gressgraua, the name is of uncertain origin. One theory suggests that the first part of the name derives from grass, with the second part being grave or grove; hence “grassy grove”. However, the most likely derivation is from cress since the early spellings of the name retained the Old English word for cress (kerss), hence “the grove where cress was grown”. In 1254 the name is first recorded as Kesgrave.
With a population of only 103 in 1921, Kesgrave’s proximity to Ipswich has seen its population rise dramatically in the twentieth century, & with the building of the Grange Farm district from 1988 onwards, the figure stood at 14,402 in 2011; elevating it into the top ten most populated towns in Suffolk.
The town of Lowestoft is in the north of Suffolk & is the most easterly town in the British Isles. It is Suffolk’s second largest town with population figures being given as 70,945 at the 2011 census.
The name derives from a combination of the words ‘Hlothve’, which is thought to be a Viking personal name, & ‘toft’ which means homestead. In the Domesday Book, the name of the town is given as Lothu Wistoft. Since the Middle Ages the town’s main industry has been fishing. With the coming of the railways & the building of the docks in the mid nineteenth century, Lowestoft became a centre for trade with continental Europe. It was also at around this time that Lowestoft began to flourish as a seaside holiday resort.
During the latter half of the eighteenth century, a pottery in Crown Street began producing soft- paste porcelain that soon became famous as Lowestoft Porcelain. Today Lowestoft Porcelain is highly collectable & is divided into three distinct periods; Early Lowestoft circa 1756 to 1761, Middle-Period circa 1761 to 1768 and Late-Period from 1768 onwards until the factory finally closed around 1802.
The most easterly point in England is Ness Point in Lowestoft, where a direction marker known as the Euroscope is situated. Built in 1990, the circular dial gives distances & directions to various locations in Britain & Europe.
The town of Mildenhall is situated in northwest Suffolk, ten miles north east of Newmarket. The population as at 2011 was 13,388.
The town is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Mitdenehalla, which may mean “middle nook of land”. By at least the fifteenth century a weekly market had been established. The market place is still central to the town today, & features a sixteenth century hexagonal market cross & town pump.
In January 1942, a hoard of fourth century Roman silver tableware known as the “Mildenhall Treasure” (see photo, right) was uncovered during ploughing at West Row close to the town. The find was acquired by the British Museum in 1946; where it remains to this day as part of the museum's Romano-British gallery. The hoard includes plates, bowls, pedestal dishes & spoons; all decoratively inscribed with both Christian & pagan themes & motifs.
Two United States Air Force bases, RAF Mildenhall & RAF Lakenheath, are situated just north of the town. Together the bases are the largest USAF bases in the UK.
RAF Mildenhall was opened by King George V in 1934 & is currently the headquarters of the 100th Air Refueling Wing .
RAF Lakenheath was built in 1941 & is now the home of the 48th Fighter Wing.
In sport, Mildenhall’s main claim to fame is their speedway team, the Mildenhall Fen Tigers. The Tigers currently compete in the National League (formerly the Conference League); the third tier of British speedway. Founded in 1975, the Tigers home track is the Mildenhall Stadium at West Row, just to the west of the town, with home fixtures normally taking place on Sundays. The team’s greatest period of success came during the years 2000 - 04, when they were Conference League Champions twice & also won the Conference League KO Cup twice & the Conference League Trophy three times. The stadium also hosts stock car & greyhound racing.Top of Page
Located in the far west of Suffolk, Newmarket is almost an enclave surrounded by Cambridgeshire, with just a strip of land connecting it to the rest of the county. The population at the 2011 census was 20,384.
The town of Newmarket came into being in the year 1200, when Sir Richard de Argentein applied for a charter for a ‘new market’ on the land he received in his dowry following his marriage to Cassandra, daughter of Robert de Insula, the Lord of the Manor of Exning.
Newmarket is considered the birthplace of horse racing in Britain & is the largest training centre for racehorses in the country. There is evidence of horse racing taking place at Newmarket as far back as 1174. Racing at Newmarket became popular during the reign of King James I (1603- 1625), when the King recognised the flat land of Newmarket Heath to be suited to sporting endeavours. The first recorded race took place in 1622, when a horse belonging to Lord Salisbury beat one of the Marquess of Buckingham's for a stake of £100. Future monarchs also carried on the tradition of coming to the races here. During his reign (1625 to 1649), King Charles I had the first grandstand built on the Heath. During the reign of Charles II (1660 – 1685), the King would move his whole court to Newmarket during the time of big race meetings. He also established the Town Plate in 1664 or 1665; a race that still takes place each year.
Newmarket has two race courses; the July Course & the Rowley Mile, both of which are located on Newmarket Heath & straddle the border between Suffolk & Cambridgeshire. The Rowley Mile used during spring & autumn & is named after King Charles II's favourite horse ‘Old Rowley’ & is adjacent to the Millennium Grandstand, which was opened by the Queen in 2000. Two of the five ‘classic’ flat races take place on this course in May each year: the Two Thousand Guineas & the One Thousand Guineas, first run in 1809 & 1814 respectively.
The July Course is used, as the name suggests, during the summer months; one of the highlights being the Newmarket July Festival. In total, Newmarket hosts 9 of Britain’s 32 annual Group 1 races.
Since 1963, the UK’s thoroughbred horse breeding centre, the National Stud, has been based in Newmarket. The world’s oldest bloodstock auctioneers Tattersalls (founded 1766) have also been based in the town since 1965. In Newmarket High Street is the National Horseracing Museum, which was opened by the Queen in April 1983. Included are exhibits detailing the history of horse racing, trophies, horse racing memorabilia & paintings of famous horses, jockeys & trainers, together with a history of betting section. The museum is open daily from March to December.
It is estimated that there are more than 2,500 race horses in Newmarket & the surrounding area, with around 70 licensed trainers and more than 60 stud farms in the vicinity. Many of the stables are situated in the town centre, & special horse routes have been made to allow easy access to the gallops on Newmarket Heath.
In the High Street stands the Jubilee Clock Tower; erected in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria's golden jubilee.
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With a population of 19,280 (2011 census), Stowmarket is situated on the River Gipping, roughly half way between Bury St Edmunds to the west & Ipswich to the south east. The name ‘Stow’ means place of assembly, or holy place. The town was granted its market charter by King Edward III in 1347. However, in the Domesday Book the settlement here was known as Thorney (island of thorns), and it was the Hundred that was called Stow. Thorney Hall was the other side of the River Gipping adjacent to the railway station of today, and it was here that the market for Stow was located. The name Stowmarket is first recorded in 1268, and by 1347 it had moved to the other side of the river around Pickerel Bridge where it was necessary to receive a new charter. The town today has 131 buildings designated as of special architectural or historic interest by the Department of National Heritage.The poet John Milton (1608–74), whose best known poem is the epic Paradise Lost, was a regular visitor to Stowmarket, as his private tutor, Dr Thomas Young, was vicar of Stowmarket from 1628.
Between 1790 & 1793 the Ipswich & Stowmarket Navigation was constructed on the Gipping. This consisted of 15 locks which allowed boats to traverse the 17 miles & 90 feet rise of the river between the two towns. With the coming of the railways, river trade dropped & the Navigation was finally closed in 1934. Much renovation has been done in recent years, however, & today a footpath called the ‘Gipping Way’ follows the towpath for most of the route.
Opened in 1967, The Museum of East Anglian Life is situated at the eighteenth century Abbot’s Hall, close to the town centre, & covers a 75 acre site. This open air museum is dedicated to preserving the agricultural history of East Anglia & includes woodland & riverside nature trails, a watermill, windpump & exhibits of traditional crafts & gypsy culture, as well as rare breeds of cattle & sheep.
The town of Sudbury is situated on the River Stour in the west of Suffolk, on the border with Essex. The population in 2011 was 22,213.
The town dates back to Saxon times; first being recorded in the year 799. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles the town is mentioned as Suthberie meaning south borough. A market was established here in the year 1009 & is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. A Dominican priory was founded in the town during the mid thirteenth century. During the reign of King Edward III (1327-77) many Flemish people settled in the area; resulting in a period of prosperity associated with the flourishing of the silk & wool industries, which their expertise in cloth production & weaving brought to the region.
The town’s most famous son is the artist Thomas Gainsborough, born here in 1727 (see Thomas Gainsborough section, below).
Charles Dickens is known to have visited Sudbury in 1835, reporting on the Sudbury election for the Morning Chronicle. It is thought that the fictional town of Eatanswill in The Pickwick Papers is based on Sudbury. (see also Charles Dickens - The Suffolk Connection, below)
The city of Greater Sudbury in Ontario, Canada is named after Sudbury, Suffolk; the name deriving from the English wife of James Worthington, the commissioner of the Canadian Pacific Railway, who had been born here during the nineteenth century.
The town of Woodbridge is situated to the northeast of Ipswich on the River Deben. The population at the 2011 census was 11,341. Although the name implies that there was a wooden bridge here, no evidence has come to light for this, & an alternative suggestion is that the name derives from the Saxon Woden Burg, meaning "Woden’s town".
The earliest record of a settlement at Woodbridge occurs in 970 AD, when the land was acquired by St Aethelwold, bishop of Winchester, as part of the Liberty of St Etheldreda, which belonged to the newly re-founded monastery of Ely. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, much of the land in the area was under the control of the Bigod family. During the 12th century a priory was established by Augustinian Canons. A mill, operated by the Canons, was first recorded here in 1170, standing on the site of the present day Tide Mill which dates back to 1793. The mill was restored in 1982 & is now open to the public (see photo, right).
One of the town’s greatest benefactors was Thomas Seckford (1515-87). Woodbridge born, he was educated at Cambridge & became a barrister at Gray’s Inn, London. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) he became Master in Ordinary of the Court of Requests. It is known that the Queen held court at Seckford Hall; the family home just outside Woodbridge which is today an hotel & golf club. The Queen granted Seckford the manor of Woodbridge in 1564. He founded seven almshouses in the town, as well as paying for Woodbridge Abbey to be rebuilt.
He also built the Shire Hall on Market Hill. Once the Magistrates Court, the hall was bought by Woodbridge Town Council in 1984, restored in 2004, & now also houses the Suffolk Horse Museum (see also Suffolk Punch page).
During the Second World War, two RAF bases were built just to the northeast of Woodbridge; RAF Woodbridge & RAF Bentwaters. From 1951 until their closure in 1993, the bases were under the control of the United States Air Force. Opened in 2007, Bentwaters Cold War Museum is now situated at the former base & is open to the public on Sundays from April through to October. (See also “The Rendlesham Forest Incident” section, below)
The Suffolk Heights is a name generally applied to the highest part of the county in its southwest corner. Topographically it comprises the Newmarket Ridge of low chalk hills extending for over 20 miles, from Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. There are numerous tops over 100 metres, but the hills in this region tend to have quite steep sides and very flat tops, thus there is little variation in height along its length. The highest point of the Ridge is Great Wood Hill at 420 ft (128 metres), the highest point in Suffolk. The top is in the middle of a wood, near the village of Rede. Suffolk Heights has become a popular name for enterprises in this part of the county, of which we mention two below.
The only town in this region is Haverhill (see above), lying at the bottom of a gentle dip in the chalk hills. As indicated, the town centre is surrounded by many large housing estates, one of which is the Suffolk Heights Development comprising private detached houses (see photo, left). This lies to the east of the town centre and consists of a number of roads named after birds: Osprey Road, Kestrel Road, Kingfisher Close, Falcon Close, Redshank Close, Larks Close, Gannet Close etc.
The Suffolk Heights Benefice in the Diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich comprises the parishes of Chedburgh, Chevington, Depden, Hargrave, Hawkedon and Rede. It was formed in about 2004 to support the Church of England in its ministry and encourage lay participation in worship. The six churches are of Norman or Medieval origin, and are important landmarks in this rural countryside of rolling hills.
The towns & villages of south Suffolk known as the “wool towns” prospered from the fourteenth century onwards, after the influx of Flemish weavers brought in new expertise in the manufacture of wool & cloth. Centred around Sudbury, many other towns & villages in the area still retain fine timber framed buildings from the fifteenth & sixteenth centuries.
Bildeston: Five miles north of Hadleigh, the land around Bildeston had been a royal estate of Queen Edith, consort of Edward the Confessor, prior to the Norman Conquest.
The site of the village was originally around half a mile from its present location. The original community revolved around St Mary Magdalene’s Church, which now stands isolated from the village. The move took place around the year 1264, after a charter for a market was granted on the Stowmarket to Hadleigh Road, which resulted in the inhabitants gradually relocating there.
Cavendish: The name of this village, situated to the west of Sudbury between Long Melford & Clare, is thought to derive from Anglo-Saxon times & refers to a man named Cafa, who owned a meadow or ‘edisc’ here. The surname Cavendish originates here; Sir John Cavendish (c1346-81) was killed during the Peasants Revolt of 1381, after his son, also named John, had been responsible for killing the leader of the uprising, Wat Tyler. Other descendents of the family include the explorer Thomas Cavendish (see below), & Cardinal Thomas Wolsey's biographer William Cavendish.
With its picturesque thatched ‘Suffolk Pink’ cottages & fourteenth century church overlooking the large village green (see header photo of this website), Cavendish is rated one of the prettiest villages in Suffolk & still retains many buildings dating from the fourteenth century .
Clare: To the west of Cavendish, on the banks of the River Stour, lies the small town of Clare. The town is recorded in the Domesday Book as Clara; a possible reference to the clearness of the waters. Overlooking the town is Clare Castle, first recorded in the eleventh century as being built by Richard de Clare on the site of a previous Saxon fort. This was probably a wooden structure, with the stone ruins seen today dating back to the twelfth or thirteenth centuries. The castle is now part of Clare Country Park, which also includes a visitor centre, nature trails & the now disused railway station.
The de Clare family were feudal barons of Norman descent; Richard fitz Gilbert, Chief Justiciar to William the Conqueror, obtaining the land around Clare & styling himself “de Clare”. As well as their estates in Suffolk, the de Clare’s held lands in Kent & the Welsh Marches. The de Clare’s later picked up many titles, including the earldoms of Pembroke, Hertford & Gloucester. Richard fitz Gilbert de Clare (died c.1136) was founder of Tonbridge Priory in Kent, whilst Elizabeth de Clare (1295 -1360), daughter of Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford, is best known for founding Clare College in Cambridge. When Elizabeth’s grand-daughter Elizabeth de Burgh, 4th Countess of Ulster (1332 -63) married King Edward III’s son Lionel in 1352, he was created 1st Duke of Clarence; the name deriving from the estates at Clare which he inherited. Both Lionel & his wife Elizabeth are buried at Clare Priory.
In 1090, a small Benedictine Priory was founded within the castle precincts by Gilbert de Clare, although this priory was moved to the nearby village of Stoke-by-Clare in 1124 (see below). The Priory which stands beside the River Stour today was established in 1248 & was the first house of the Augustinian friars in England. It is still in use as a retreat centre. Parts of the house date from the fourteenth century.
The Grade I listed Clare Ancient House in the High Street, parts of which date back to the fourteenth century, is now open as a museum.
East Bergholt: Situated to the south of Ipswich on the county boundary with Essex, East Bergholt is in the area known as “Constable Country” after the famous artist who was born here (see John Constable section, below). Built in the fifteenth & sixteenth centuries, The Church of St Mary the Virgin is famous for its bell cage, which stands in the churchyard. A tower was planned to house the bells, but due to the fall from grace of Cardinal Wolsey in 1530, it was never built; the bells instead being housed in a wooden cage outside, where they remain to this day (see photo, left). At a combined weight of four & a quarter tons, the five bells are believed to be the heaviest set in use in England today.
Hadleigh: Situated approximately midway between Ipswich & Sudbury, the ancient town of Hadleigh is said to be the burial place of Guthrum, King of the Danes, who died around the year AD 890. The town still retains many timber framed buildings in its main streets, many of which still show the elaborate plasterwork or ‘pargeting’ from the seventeenth century. The most notable building is the fifteenth century Market Hall or Guild Hall, located next to St Mary’s Church. Just across the churchyard is the Deanery Tower or Gatehouse; built in 1495 by William Pykenham, Archdeacon of Suffolk, who was also responsible for the Pykenham Gatehouse in Ipswich. The proposed deanery itself, however, was never built.
Kersey: Lying two & a half miles from Hadleigh, the picturesque village of Kersey has many fine timber framed buildings lining the main street. The street also boasts a ford, which is a tributary of the River Brett. Long associated with the wool trade & cloth making, the famous Kersey Cloth (coarse woollen cloth) is thought by some to derive its name from here. Kersey cloth is thought to have originated in the eleventh century, & whereas most of the wool towns of south Suffolk produced a broadcloth to a standard width of 63 inches, Kersey cloth was narrower; being only 37 inches wide.
Kersey cloth is mentioned by William Shakespeare in Loves Labours Lost (Act V, Scene 1):
Lavenham: Probably the most well known Suffolk village, Lavenham is widely regarded as the best example of a medieval wool town in England. It is located a few miles to the northeast of Sudbury. After the Norman Conquest, the manor of Lavenham became the estate of the de Vere family, who held the title Earls of Oxford from 1141 onwards. Having been granted its market charter in 1257, by Tudor times Lavenham had become one of England’s twentieth wealthiest towns. Many of the timber framed buildings date from the fifteenth century & remain little altered to this day (many with slanting or crooked walls & roofs). Two of the most notable of these buildings are situated on the Market Place; Little Hall & the Guildhall.
Little Hall was built in 1390 as a wool merchant’s mansion & is now owned by the Suffolk Building Preservation Trust. Close by, the Guildhall of Corpus Christi, built in the sixteenth century, is now maintained by the National Trust. Both buildings are open to the public as museums.
Lindsey: Lindsey is a small village not far from Kersey. Close by is St James’ Chapel; a thatched structure built around the year 1250 & now classified as a Grade I listed building by English Heritage.
Like its near neighbour Kersey (see above), it is possible that Lindsey gave its name to its own particular cloth; in this case Linsey. Doubt has been cast on this, however, & the name of the cloth is thought by many to derive from ‘linen’ (linsey-wolsy being a course woven fabric combining linen & wool).
Long Melford: Just north of Sudbury, the village of Long Melford is recorded in the Domesday Book as Melaforda, which probably means “mill by a ford”. Dominated by its long village green & fifteenth century Holy Trinity Church at the end of a main street two & a half miles in length, the village also boasts two historic mansion houses; Kentwell Hall & Melford Hall.
Although the present Kentwell Hall was built in the 1430s, the manor of Kentwell is far older; being mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The house seen today was built by local landowners & cloth merchants the Clopton family. It was bought in 1971 by Patrick Phillips, since when it has been repaired & renovated. It remains a family home, but is open to the public & stages regular historical re-enactment events.
The Melford Hall seen today dates mainly to the sixteenth century, although it also comprises remnants of a building held by the abbots of Bury St Edmunds dating from around 1065. It is the family seat of the Parker Baronetcy. Although damaged by fire in 1942, it was restored & first opened to the public in 1955. Five years later it was acquired by the National Trust & is now open on selected days from April to October.
Stoke-by-Clare: Two miles to the west of Clare, is the small village of Stoke-by-Clare. The clock in the turret of St John the Baptist church is thought by some to be the oldest working clock in Britain. Very little is known about its origins, although the construction & design of the Italianate style clock suggest a date of pre 1500 AD. It has been fully restored in recent years. The clockface was deliberately fashioned with only one hand - the hour hand.
Stretching almost the entire length of the Suffolk coast, the Sandlings is an area of heathland that was created in ancient times by human activity over a period of centuries, with the clearing of woodlands & the introduction of grazing sheep onto the land. Over time, the once heavily wooded landscape, with its the sandy, acidic soils, has been transformed into the heathland seen today, with its characteristic flora dominated by heather & gorse. The area is intersected by the estuaries of the rivers Blyth, Alde, Ore & Deben, with a landscape alternating between shingle beaches, sandy cliffs, salt marshes & open heaths. The area has been designated as the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Somerleyton: Situated to the north of Lowestoft, a manor house has stood on the site of Somerleyton Hall since before the year 1240; at which time the hall was rebuilt by Sir Peter Fitzosbert. In 1604 the house was transformed into a Tudor-Jacobean mansion by John Wentworth, & further rebuilding took place from 1843 onwards, after the house had been bought by Sir Samuel Morton Peto. In 1863 Somerleyton was purchased by Sir Francis Crossley, whose son was created Baron Somerleyton in 1916. Although the family have lived there ever since, the hall & gardens are open to the public on certain days from April through to September. The gardens include one of the finest yew hedge mazes in Britain, as well as ornate iron and glass greenhouses designed by Joseph Paxton, the architect of London’s Crystal Palace.
The sign as you enter the village declares Somerleyton as “The Birthplace of the Hovercraft”. This is a reference to the work of Sir Christopher Cockerell (1910 - 99) who, between 1953 & 1956, experimented with the concept of injecting air under the hull of his boat, in an effort to increase speed. From these beginnings he developed a working hovercraft model, which he demonstrated to Lord Somerleyton on the lawn at Somerleyton Hall. Lord Somerleyton then arranged for Sir Christopher to demonstrate the model to First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Mountbatten. With the backing of the National Research & Development Corporation, the prototype SR-N1 was built & made its first crossing of the English Channel on 25th July 1959. In July 2006 a roundel was unveiled on the lawn at Somerleyton Hall to mark the spot where the first demonstration of the hovercraft model had taken place, whilst in 2010 the Hovercraft Celebratory Column was unveiled in the village (see photo, left).
Kessingland: Located four miles south of Lowestoft, the popular seaside resort of Kessingland was once the home of novelist Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925). The zoo named Africa Alive! formerly known as Suffolk Wildlife Park, is situated here. As the name suggests, the zoo is orientated towards African species & attractions include white rhinoceros, chimpanzee, lions, cheetahs, zebra, giraffes, hyaena & ostriches.
Covehithe: A few miles to the north of Southwold lies Covehithe. Once a large community (some estimates put the population at more than 1,000 during the fourteenth century), Covehithe today consists of just a few houses & the parish church of St Andrew, which is today a ‘church within a church’. The large church, built in the fifteenth century, fell into ruin as the village declined, & was replaced in 1672 by a small thatched chapel attached to the original tower & located within the former nave, with the ruins of the first church still standing guard around it (see photo, right).
Southwold: Located approximately 11 miles south of Lowestoft, at the mouth of the River Blyth, the town of Southwold is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 & received its town charter in 1489. In 1672, the Battle of Sole Bay (see above) was fought just off the coast from here, in what was the first naval battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War. The battle is commemorated on the green above the beach named Gun Hill, where 6 cannons point out to sea. The town centre is dominated by the lighthouse, built in 1887. The sand & shingle beach is famous for its row of brightly painted beach huts, & for the pier; originally constructed in 1900 & restored in 2001. On the pier is the Water Clock; built in 1998 by Tim Hunkin, Will Jackson & Jack Trevellian out of recycled scrap metal objects, it was sponsored by Thames Water, with the purpose of educating people about water recycling.
Separating Southwold from Walberswick to the south is the mouth of the tidal creek of the River Blyth, with the village of Blythburgh four miles inland. The river was opened to navigation in 1761 as far as Halesworth, a further five miles inland, with four locks being built. The navigation was used for trade up until 1911 & was formally closed in 1934.
Walberswick: Now a small village due to coastal erosion, Walberswick was once a much larger community; being a major trading port from the thirteenth century onwards. During the late nineteenth & early twentieth centuries Walberswick became popular with English Impressionist painters, influenced by Philip Wilson Steer’s “The Beach at Walberswick” (see picture, right). Architect & artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) lived here for a time from 1914. Walberswick is the home of the British Open Crabbing Championship, held here every August. The winner is the person who catches the largest crab within a period of 90 minutes.
Blythburgh: A few miles inland from Walberswick & Southwold is the small village of Blythburgh. With its commanding presence dominating the surrounding countryside, Holy Trinity is one of the largest churches in Suffolk & is sometimes referred to as the “Cathedral of the Marshes”. It is said that in 1577, during a storm, the church was visited by the devil in the form of a black dog or “Black Shuck”. Scorch marks can still be seen on the north nave door, through which the dog is supposed to have fled after wreaking havoc. The church tower was struck by lightning & badly damaged during the storm. An almost identical legend is also attached to St Mary’s Church in Bungay (see North & Central Suffolk section, below).
South of Walberswick is the small village of Dunwich (see The Lost City of Dunwich section, below).
Minsmere: To the south of Dunwich is the hamlet of Minsmere, famous for its Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve. Established in 1947, Minsmere is the RSPB’s flagship site & noted as one of Britain’s premier bird watching locations; with areas of shingle beach, heathland, reedbeds & grassland. The reserve is an important breeding & roosting site with more than 100 resident & 240 migratory species being recorded here, as well as over 1, 000 species of butterflies & moths, plus one of the largest herds of red deer in England. Minsmere is open daily & includes a visitor centre.
Leiston: To the south of Minsmere, approximately two miles from the coast, lies the town of Leiston. Just to the northwest of the town can be found the ruins of Leiston Abbey. Founded in 1182 at Minsmere by Ranulf de Glanville, Lord Chief Justice to Henry II, the Premonstratensian abbey known as St Mary's Abbey moved to Leiston in 1363; after which the buildings seen today were built by Robert de Ufford, 1st Earl of Suffolk. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, the Abbey was granted to Charles Brandon, 3rd Duke of Suffolk. The ruins are now maintained by English Heritage.
In 1788 the Richard Garrett Engineering Works opened in Leiston, manufacturing agricultural machinery, steam engines &, latterly, electric vehicles such as trolley buses. They were also pioneers in the construction of diesel-engined road vehicles, as well as producing munitions during both World Wars. After several takeovers, the factory finally closed in 1981. Housed in the old works, The Long Shop Museum in Leiston Main Street is dedicated to the history of the firm.
Sizewell: On the coast just to the east of Leiston, the hamlet of Sizewell is overshadowed by two nuclear power stations; Sizewell A which was shut down in 2006, & the pressurised water reactor (PWR) Sizewell B.
Saxmundham: The small town of Saxmundham is located a few miles inland, to the west of Leiston. The town was granted its market charter in 1272 by King Edward I. The town has several buildings of historic interest, including the sixteenth century former Angel Inn in the market place, the Victorian built Market Hall, & the Bell Hotel; the present building dating from 1842 on a site occupied by an inn for centuries & which entertained King George II in 1737.
Thorpeness: Originally a small fishing hamlet, the entire area around Thorpeness was bought in 1910 by Scottish barrister Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, who developed Thorpeness into a private fantasy holiday village, with many buildings being designed in Jacobean and Tudor styles, including a country club & golf club. To make the water tower fit in with the surrounding architecture, in 1923 Ogilvie had the tank clad in wood & made to look like a house sitting on top of a five storey tower. Now known as the “House in the Clouds” (see photo, left), its function as a water tower became redundant in 1977 & the building has been converted into holiday accommodation. Close by is Thorpeness post mill; initially built at nearby Aldringham in 1803, but moved to its present location in 1923 & converted to a water pumping mill to supply the water tower.
Also at Thorpeness is The Meare; a 64 acre artificial boating lake inspired by JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, complete with many channels, islands & landing sites with Peter Pan themed names.
Aldeburgh: Located to the south of Thorpeness on the River Alde, the coastal town of Aldeburgh, meaning “Old Fort”, was a thriving port with a flourishing ship building industry in the sixteenth century; two of Sir Francis Drake’s ships being built here. During the nineteenth century it became a popular seaside resort. On the seafront is the Moot Hall, built in 1650 & still used as the town clerk’s office today, as well as housing a museum.
Aldeburgh’s name has become widely known due to the Aldeburgh Festival; a classical music event founded by Suffolk born composer Benjamin Britten in 1948. (See Benjamin Britten section, below).
On the beach, at the north end of the town, stands a sculpture known as “The Scallop”. Standing over 12 feet tall, it was created by Maggi Hambling & was unveiled in 2003. It is dedicated to Benjamin Britten & has the words “I hear those voices that will not be drowned” cut out around the top edge; a line taken from his opera Peter Grimes.
Snape: A few miles inland along the River Alde is the village of Snape. It is here, in the nineteenth century Snape Maltings, that the main events of the Aldeburgh Festival have taken place in June each year since 1967. The Snape Maltings now has four performance venues, numerous rehearsal rooms, craft shops, art galleries & restaurants, as well as housing the Holst Library. The latter is named after composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934), famous for his orchestral suite The Planets & a close friend of Benjamin Britten. The library collection comprises books, scores and audio material covering many genres of music.
The River Alde becomes tidal at Snape, before meandering past Aldeburgh & then flowing southwards, where it becomes the River Ore as it approaches Orford. This was once the mouth of the river, but over the course of the centuries a bank of shingle has accumulated to form a spit known as Orford Ness, & the river now empties into the sea after its confluence with the River Butley, five miles further south near the small hamlet of Shingle Street. Orford Ness is the longest shingle spit in Europe. Within the estuary, sheltered by the spit, is Suffolk’s only island; Havergate Island, which is run as a nature reserve by the RSPB. Access is by boat only.
From the time of the First World War onwards, Orford Ness was a top secret military testing site & was used to develop radar prior to the Second World War, before research was moved a few miles south to Bawdsey. From the 1950s it was a base for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. Orford Ness is now owned by the National Trust. (See also Orford Ness, Bawdsey Manor & the Birth of Radar, below).
Orford: The small town of Orford is nominated by Orford Castle (see photo, right); built between 1165 and 1173 by King Henry II . The well preserved castle has a unique design, with an 18 sided polygonal keep with three towers, possibly inspired by Byzantine architecture. It is situated on a prominent hill overlooking the town & is encircled by an earth embankment. The castle is now managed by English Heritage & is open to the public.
To the south of Orford Ness is the mouth of the River Deben, with the village of Bawdsey on the north bank & the hamlet of Felixstowe Ferry on the south. A ferry for foot passengers still links the two communities. Described by poet Edward Fitzgerald as “the Queen of Rivers”, the Deben rises near Debenham in central Suffolk & passes through Woodbridge before becoming a tidal estuary. The estuary, with its shifting sandbanks, is an important site for over-wintering avocets & has been designated a Special Protection Area and Ramsar Site (Convention on Wetlands of International Importance).
The nineteenth century Bawdsey Manor was used from 1936 onwards as a research station for Radar & was an RAF base until the 1990s (see also Orford Ness, Bawdsey Manor & the Birth of Radar, below).
Martello Towers: Between 1804 & 1812, 103 small defensive forts known as Martello Towers were built along the south & east coasts of England, 18 of which were in Suffolk; eight between the Rivers Alde & Deben, a further eight between the Deben & Orwell, & two on the Shotley Peninsula. Named after the sixteenth century Torra di Mortella, a Genoese tower in Corsica, these fortifications were constructed during the Napoleonic wars to prevent invasion. Although they were never actually needed for this purpose & never came under military attack, they remained in active service until the 1870s, & were used as observation posts during both World Wars.
Most Martellos are around 40 ft in height, ovoid, with thick stone slanting sides; the lower level being used as storage space, with quarters for up to 30 men above. The door was normally several feet off the ground & could be accessed only with a ladder. A cannon would have been mounted on the roof. Some were also surrounded by a moat.
Seven of Suffolk’s Martello Towers have since been either lost to coastal erosion or destroyed, but eleven still remain. The one at Slaughden near Aldeburgh is England’s most northerly & largest. It is now owned by the Landmark Trust & is available as holiday accommodation. Most other remaining Martello Towers in Suffolk are now privately owned or derelict. (The one pictured above is a private residence in Felixstowe. For photos of the tower at Slaughden, go to the Suffolk, England: Rivers & Coast album in the Photo Gallery).
Oft gazing on thy craggy brow,
We muse on glories o’er;
Fair Dunwich; thou art lowly now,
Renowned & sought no more.
Agnes Strickland - c.1820
Now little more than a small village, Dunwich on the Suffolk coast between Southwold & Aldeburgh was probably first settled during the Roman occupation, & by Anglo-Saxon times was a thriving port. Around the year 630 AD St Felix of Burgundy founded the See of East Anglia at Domnoc (or Dommoc), which some historians believe to be a reference to Dunwich, although this location is disputed by others. By the time of the Domesday Book of 1086, Dunwich was one of the ten largest towns in England, with a population estimated at around 3,000, & is recorded as having three churches. During the next two hundred years the town continued to expand as a centre for fishing, shipbuilding & trading; the main exports being wool & grain. During this period the population may have increased to around 5,000, with several more churches being built & religious houses being established by both the Greyfriars (Franciscans) & the Blackfriars (Dominicans), as well as the only house in Suffolk of the Knights Templars. A leper hospital was founded here, as well as a guildhall, mint & market; with the town receiving its royal charter in 1199. It has now been estimated, from the ruins discovered beneath the North Sea, that there were as many as eighteen ecclesiastical buildings at the height of Dunwich’s prosperity.
Although the elevation gave the settlement protection against the tides, Dunwich’s location on cliffs of sand & shingle was to prove its downfall. Although erosion had already caused loss of land & buildings prior to 1286, a great storm in that year not only saw many buildings washed away, but also resulted in the partial silting up of the River Dunwich. Further storms in 1328 & 1347 resulted in many more buildings being lost, as well as the destruction of the harbour. Encroachment by the sea continued over the centuries & resulted in the gradual decline in the size of the town, until by 1740 only one ancient church, All Saints, remained. This was eventually claimed by the sea between 1904 & 1919, with the churchyard & gravestones gradually disappearing through the course of the twentieth century. One buttress from All Saints was saved, however, & was moved inland & re-erected in 1922 in the churchyard of St James church, where it can still be seen today. St James was built in 1830, close to the still extant ruins of the chapel of the leper hospital of St James. On the clifftops, the ruins of the Greyfriars precinct wall & two gatehouses also still remain, as the order had relocated further inland after the devastation of 1286.
During the nineteenth century, Dunwich became a popular destination & inspiration for a number of poets & writers, such as Edward FitzGerald (see below), Agnes Strickland, Jerome K Jerome, H Rider Haggard & Rudyard Kipling.
Today Dunwich has a permanent population of around 120. Dunwich Museum charts the town's history & decline & is open on Saturdays & Sundays during March, then daily from April to October.
In the past few years, many discoveries have been made by research teams just off the coast using the latest acoustic imaging technology. Discoveries include the remains of the churches of St Nicholas & St Peter.
A myth persists to this day that, at certain times, the bells of the lost churches of Dunwich can still be heard from beneath the waves.
To the east of both Woodbridge & Ipswich is a peninsula bordered in the north by the River Deben & to the south by the River Orwell, with the town of Felixstowe on its eastern coastline.
The Trimleys: Just to the west of Felixstowe are the neighbouring villages of Trimley St Mary & Trimley St Martin. The villages join each other, & their parish churches stand in the same churchyard, less than 100 yards apart on the parish boundary (see photo, right - St Martin’s church on the left).
Nacton: In the village of Nacton, to the northwest of the Trimleys, & not far from Ipswich, is Orwell Park, once home to Admiral Edward Vernon (1684- 1757). Nicknamed “Old Grog” because of the waterproof grogham (or grogram) coat he habitually wore (made from silk, wool & mohair), he is probably best remembered for ordering the Navy to dilute its rum with water, which became known as “Grog”. Vernon’s greatest triumph at sea came in November 1739 when he captured the Spanish colonial possession of Porto Bello (now in Panama) with just six ships. For this he became a national hero & was granted the Freedom of the City of London. He also served as a member of parliament for Ipswich during the early 1740s. He is buried in Nacton church.
After the house burned down in 1840, it was rebuilt by its then owner George Tomline, who added an observatory tower & an Italiente water tower. It is now a school.
Orwell Country Park: To the west of Nacton village, on the shores of the River Orwell & on the outskirts of Ipswich, is Orwell Country Park. Opened to the public in 1995, this 200 acre site includes a variety of habitats along the river estuary, such as ancient woodland, reedbed & heathland. The park also includes the Grade II listed Pond Hall Farm, which was once part of the thirteenth century Alnesbourne Priory. From the shoreline, the river is dominated by the 4,222 ft span of the Orwell Bridge, opened in 1982.
The northern banks of the River Orwell mark the southern boundary of the Felixstowe Peninsula. The Orwell, which becomes the River Gipping in Ipswich, rises near Mendlesham in central Suffolk & empties into the sea at Harwich, where it merges with the River Stour. Between the two rivers lies the Shotley Peninsula.
Wherstead: Located just to the south of Ipswich, close to the village of Wherstead, is Pannington Hall Farm. Nowadays, the farm is better known as “Jimmy’s Farm” after a BBC television series of documentaries in 2002 highlighted the trials & tribulations of Jimmy Doherty’s efforts to set up the rare breeds piggery called the Essex Pig Company. This was followed by two further series, “Return to Jimmy’s Farm” & “Crisis on Jimmy’s Farm”, the latter being aired in 2007. As well as the farm operation, which also includes rare breeds of sheep, cattle & poultry, the site also includes a farm shop, garden shop, restaurant, woodland walk & nature trail, as well as holding regular farmer’s markets, open air concerts & other events & festivals.
Freston: Just to the south of Ipswich, on a hill overlooking the Orwell estuary, is Freston Tower; thought by some to be England’s oldest folly (see photo, left). This six storey red brick building has only one room on each floor, connected by a spiral staircase which terminates in a small rooftop corner turret. There are no hearths or fireplaces. The builder & the exact purpose of the tower are not recorded, although the building has been dated as being from the late 1570s when Thomas Gooding owned the manor of Freston. The tower now belongs to the Landmark Trust & is available as holiday accommodation.
Tattingstone: To the south of Freston, just outside the village of Tattingstone, stands another folly, known as The Tattingstone Wonder (see photo, right). First appearances suggest that this is a church, but closer inspection reveals that it is in fact three cottages with a facade tower built of flint. It was constructed around 1790 by Edward White, who added a third cottage to an already existing terraced pair, then added the tower & inserted pointed gothic windows into the north & east walls. The south & west sides, however, appear as ordinary cottages with conventional doors & windows. White’s reason for doing this was so that he could gaze out onto a church from his home at Tattingstone Place. From this direction, the only clue that this is not a church is the presence of a chimney! The three cottages have now been turned into one residence & the building is privately owned.
Alton Water: Close to the village of Tattingstone is the manmade reservoir Alton Water. With a circumference of around eight miles, it is the largest lake in Suffolk. The reservoir was opened in 1987, having taken 13 years to construct. With a pathway encircling the reservoir, Alton Water is a popular recreation area for walking, cycling, fishing, birdwatching, sailing & watersports.
Holbrook: At the southern extremity of Alton Water, midway between the villages of Holbrook & Stutton, stands the Royal Hospital School. Established at Greenwich, London in 1712, it moved to its present location in 1933. The campus was designed by Herbert Tudor Buckland, & many of the buildings are now Grade II listed. Many of the Royal Hospital School traditions are associated with the Royal Navy or seafaring, with students still required to wear naval uniforms on ceremonial occasions.
Shotley: At the tip of the peninsula, overlooking the confluence of the Orwell & Stour, is the village of Shotley. Located on the marina is the HMS Ganges Museum. Named after the second ship to bear the name, HMS Ganges was built in 1821 & was an 84-gun second rate ship of the line; becoming the Royal Navy’s shore based training facility for boys in 1865. She moved to Shotley in 1905, having previously been located in Falmouth & Harwich. The facilities were closed down in 1976. The museum’s exhibits include memorabilia, photographs & documents, as well as the restored HMS Ganges figurehead.
Erwarton: Just to the west of Shotley is the small village of Erwarton. Anne Boleyn (c1501 – 36), the second wife of Henry VIII, spent time during her childhood at Erwarton Hall; owned at that time by Sir Philip Calthorpe, whose wife Amata was Anne’s aunt. The Hall was rebuilt around 1575 by Sir Philip Parker. The house is in private ownership, but can be viewed from the road, where the ornate red brick gatehouse stands (see photo, left).
Legend has it that Anne Boleyn requested that her heart be buried in Erwarton church. When the north aisle was being renovated in 1838, a small heart shaped lead casket was found in the walls. Whether or not the dust inside was the remains of the Queen’s heart will probably never be known. A row of houses along The Street in Erwarton today bears the name Boleyn Place.
The Shotley Peninsula is bounded to the south by the River Stour. The river rises in Cambridgeshire & marks most of the southern county border with Essex. Set up in 1968, the River Stour Trust is a charity organisation whose aim is to restore the locks & navigability on the river, as well as to conserve & protect the environment.
Click here to sign the Guestbook
There have been fortifications at Landguard Fort, which overlooks the River Orwell & Harwich Harbour near to the modern day port of Felixstowe, since at least 1543, when King Henry VIII had two blockhouses built here. It was around 1628, however, that a square fort of earth & wood was constructed, with bastions at each corner. In the 1660s the fort was restored & brick fortifications erected.
Four years later, Landguard saw action during the Second Anglo-Dutch War, when a Dutch fleet sailed to the mouth of the Orwell on 2nd July 1667. Although the sandbars prevented their ships coming too close to shore, up to 1,500 Dutch soldiers landed in rowing boats & proceeded to attempt to scale the walls; their intention being to take the fort & from there control Harwich & the approaches to the Orwell. The English in the garrison, the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot under the command of Captain Nathaniel Darrell, fired on the invaders, who eventually withdrew to their ships. This was the last time that a foreign invading force has landed on English soil.
The fort was rebuilt several times over the course of the centuries, firstly during the period 1717 -20 when a battery was built, then with the construction of a completely new fort in the shape of a pentagon on an adjacent site during the 1740s; the oldest structure that survives today dating from this era. Other extensions & additions also took place during the nineteenth & twentieth centuries, most notably in 1875 when much rebuilding was undertaken, including a mock ravelin block, constructed to house a submarine mining contingent.
Landguard Fort was used as a garrison during both World Wars; the gun pit in the Left Battery being converted into an anti-aircraft operations room in 1939. Also during World War II, the fort was used as one of the balloon launch sites for Operation Outward, a project to attack Germany with free-flying hydrogen balloons that carried incendiary devices or trailing steel wires (intended to damage power lines). The fort also acted as a Soviet monitoring station during the 1950s, before being closed for military purposes in 1956.
After being abandoned by the military, the fort was sealed up & left to deteriorate. In 1997-8 it was acquired by English Heritage, who undertook renovation work to make the structure safe. It has now been designated an Ancient Monument & a Listed Building, & is maintained by Landguard Fort Trust. The fort houses a museum & is open to the public daily from April - October.
Ever since the 1750s, Landguard Fort has had a reputation for paranormal activity, with locals & visitors alike still reporting ghostly activity to this day. The ghost of a sailor is said to have been seen looking out of a top window, lights have been seen at night, & visitors have experienced the sensation of being “pushed” whilst visiting the top floors. Unaccountable aural phenomena have also been reported. Ghost hunting tours & seances are run regularly at the fort.
Although on the north bank of the Orwell & therefore officially in Suffolk, during the eighteenth & nineteenth centuries the fort was often considered to be part of Essex, with deaths there being registered as ‘Landguard Fort, Essex’.
Away from the coast, the sandy acidic heathland of the Sandlings gives way to the predominantly clay soil of the central Suffolk plateau. Although often called the Suffolk Uplands, the elevation rarely rises above 300 feet. For much of its border with Norfolk, the county’s boundary is marked by the River Waveney, which rises just to the north of the Suffolk village of Redgrave, before winding its way eastwards passed the towns of Bungay & Beccles, where it becomes part of the Suffolk & Norfolk Broads; an area of mostly navigable waterways created during Mediaeval peat excavations & subsequent flooding. From there it flows northwards before its confluence with the River Yare, at which point the county boundary diverges from the course of the river; the border running eastwards to reach the North Sea to the north of the village of Corton.
Bungay: The Town of Bungay, on the Norfolk border around six miles west of Beccles, is dominated by the ruins of its castle; built by Roger Bigod from around the year 1103, after he had been granted the land by King Henry I. The castle was owned by the Dukes of Norfolk from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, but gradually fell into ruin until restoration work began in 1934. The castle was given to the town in 1987 & is now owned by the Bungay Castle Trust.
In the centre of the town is the Buttercross (see photo, right); erected in 1689, it was where the local farmers came to sell their butter & other dairy products.
The town is also associated with the legend of “Black Shuck”; a ghostly black dog that supposedly gatecrashed a service in St Mary’s Church in August 1577, killing two people in the process. The black dog is still depicted on the town’s coat of arms.
Hoxne: Southwest of Bungay, but still only half a mile south of the Waveney is the small villlage of Hoxne. It is said to be the site of the original burial place of St Edmund, & a monument to the martyr stands in a field by the road just to the southeast of the town.
Hoxne is the site of what has come to be called the “Hoxne Hoard”; the largest hoard of late Roman silver and gold discovered in Britain & the largest collection of gold and silver coins of the fourth and fifth century found anywhere within the Roman Empire. It was discovered in 1992 & consists of 14,865 gold, silver and bronze coins, plus around 200 items of silver tableware and gold jewellery. At the time of its discovery, the hoard was valued at £1.75 million. The collection is now in the British Museum in London.
Eye: South of Hoxne, the small market town of Eye stands on the banks of the River Dove; a tributary of the Waveney. The name derives from the Old English word for “island”, as the area was once surrounded entirely by water & marshland. Soon after the Norman Conquest, the Honour of Eye was granted to William Malet, a Norman Lord who built Eye castle; the ruins of which still dominate the town today. Malet’s son Robert founded the Benedictine priory of St Peter to the east of the town around the year 1087.
The fifteenth century Church of St Peter and St Paul in the town is considered one of the finest churches in the county & is a Grade I listed building, as is the nearby Guildhall which dates from the same period.
Eye: View of the church & Guildhall from the castle
Ixworth: West of Eye, approximately 6 miles north east of Bury St Edmunds, lies the village of Ixworth. The outlines & ditches of a Roman fort have been discovered here, as well as evidence of an Anglo Saxon settlement. An Augustinian priory was founded here in 1170, the ruins of which are still visible today.
On the Stow Road in Ixworth are four sets of semi detached houses built in 1893 & said to be the oldest rural council houses in England.
The Ixworth is also the name of a breed of chicken, first bred in the 1930s by Ixworth resident Reginald Appleyard. In his quest to produce a mature table bird that also gave good egg production, he crossed five existing breeds; White Orpington, White Sussex, White Minorca, White Old English Game & Indian (or Jubilee) Game, to produce a bird with all white plumage, white skin, a pea comb & pinkish legs & beak. Development of the breed was completed in 1939 & it was accepted into the British Poultry Club’s Standards.
Mr Appleyard also produced a new breed of duck, known as the Silver Appleyard, of which there is also a bantam or miniature variety.
Ickworth: Not to be confused with Ixworth, Ickworth House lies to the south of Bury St Edmunds. It is a National Trust property & is open to the public. Designed by the brothers Francis & Joseph Sandys & inspired by the designs of Italian Architect Mario Asprucci, the house was built for Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol; although the building wasn’t completed until after his death in 1803. The main feature of the house is a 100 ft high rotunda. The land had been owned by the Hervey family since the fifteenth century, with the surrounding parklands being designed by famous landscape architect Capability Brown. As well as collections of Regency silver, Georgian furniture & porcelain, the house boasts an unrivalled art collection including works by Gainsborough, Reynolds & Hogarth, amongst others.
Woolpit: Located around halfway between Bury & Stowmarket is the village of Woolpit. Although in a region renowned for its wool, the name, first recorded in the tenth century, actually derives from the Old English “Wlpit” meaning a “pit for trapping wolves”.
The twelfth century legend known as “The Green Children of Woolpit” alleges that during that century two children (a boy & a girl) appeared in the village who spoke an unknown language, wore strange clothes & had green skin! When the girl had mastered English, she stated that they had come from an underground world called St Martin’s Land.
(For more information on Woolpit, see Suffolk White Bricks on the page)
Needham Market: Located to the southeast of Stowmarket, the village of Needham Market was once home to theologian, dissenting clergyman & natural philosopher Joseph Priestley (1733 – 1804), who became minister of the parish in 1755. He is credited with the discovery of oxygen, which he initially named “dephlogisticated air”.
Needham Market gives its name to the town of Needham in Norfolk County, Massachusetts; a suburb in the Greater Boston area.
Debenham: The village of Debenham, to the northeast of Stowmarket, is the source of the River Deben. The river is believed to have been navigable in ancient times & the Anglo Saxon Kings of East Anglia are said to have held court here. The ford that runs through the village is one of the largest in Britain.
Helmingham: Helmingham Hall lies to the south of Debenham in the village of Helmingham. Begun in 1480 by John Tollemache, it has been the home of the Tollemache family ever since, with major exterior renovations & changes having been made over the centuries. The house has a moat well stocked with fish, traversed by two drawbridges which are drawn up at night; just as they have been every night since 1510.
Queen Elizabeth I is said to have visited Helmingham twice, & prior to the Restoration of 1660, Helmingham was the headquarters of the Society of the Sealed Knot, which was instrumental in bringing Charles II back to the throne. The present Queen & members of the Royal Family have stayed at Helmingham on several occasions over the years.
Although the house is not open to the public, the gardens are open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday & Sunday from May through to September. The gardens are surrounded by a 400 acre deer park, which contains herds of both fallow & red deer.
Saxtead: To the east of Debenham & just northwest of Framlingham is the village of Saxtead, where the Grade II listed Saxtead Green Windmill can be found (see photo, left). Built in 1796 & still in working order, it is considered one of the best examples of a post mill in the country. It is maintained by English Heritage & is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays & Bank Holidays from late March to September.
Framlingham: To the north of Woodbridge, the town of Framlingham is dominated by its castle; built in the twelfth century by Roger Bigod, who had been granted the land in 1101. Over the next two centuries, the castle was seized by the crown on several occasions, only to be returned to the Bigod family as their loyalties & fortunes changed.
From the fifteenth century the castle passed to the Howard family, who would later become Earls of Suffolk.
On 12th July 1553, Mary, eldest daughter of Henry VIII, fled to Framlingham where she assembled a military force against Lady Jane Grey (daughter of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk), who had been proclaimed Queen just days earlier. Later that month Jane was deposed & Mary became Queen.
Framlingham Castle is probably Suffolk’s best known castle & remains in a good state of preservation, with thirteen towers along its outer walls. It is today managed by English Heritage & is open to the public.
Close to the castle is Framlingham Mere, a 33 acre lake fed by the River Ore that is now run by Suffolk Wildlife Trust as a nature reserve.
Wickham Market: Situated to the south of Framlingham, but north of Woodbridge, is the village of Wickham Market. It was in a field near the village in 2008 that a collection of 840 Iron Age coins were discovered that have become known as the “Wickham Market Hoard”. The coins date from around two thousand years ago & were minted by the Iceni tribe. The collection is now in the British Museum.
Easton: Just to the north west of Wickham Market is Easton Farm Park. Built in the 1880s for the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton as a Model Farm for the Easton Estate, the site was opened to the public as an educational farm in 1974. Designed mainly for families with children, the farm features lots of animals to interact with, pony & cart rides, a Suffolk Punch horse & walks by the River Deben. Easton Farm Park also has holiday cottages for rent. The farm is open from mid March to mid September each year, & also holds farmers’ markets throughout the year.
To the west of the central Suffolk Uplands, the clay plateau gives way to the alkaline calcareous sandy soils of the Brecklands. Further west still, in the extreme northwest of the county, the Brecklands give way to the peat of the Fens. Much of the north western county boundary with Norfolk follows the course of the Little Ouse, a river which rises near Thelnetham & flows westwards until its convergence with the Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire; the river & county border diverging only where the latter skirts around the south of Thetford. The River Lark, another tributary of the Great Ouse, rises at Bradfield Combust & flows in a generally northwesterly direction; forming the boundary with Cambridgeshire for a few miles to the west of Mildenhall.
Thetford Forest: Straddling the border between Suffolk & Norfolk, Thetford Forest is the largest lowland pine forest in Great Britain. The forest was created after the First World War & is managed by the Forestry Commission. It is home to red, roe & muntjac deer, as well as several scarce breeding birds, such as woodlark, nightjar, goshawk & crossbill.
Euston: To the southeast of Thetford is Euston Hall; home to the Dukes of Grafton for more than 300 years. The manor of Euston is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as belonging to Bury St. Edmunds Abbey. It was visited by Queen Elizabeth I in 1578 &, after Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, had the French style house built in 1666, it was visited on several occasions by King Charles II. In 1685 it was inherited by the first Duke of Grafton, Henry FitzRoy; the illegitimate son of Charles II & the Duchess of Cleveland. Within the grounds stands the seventeenth century Church of St Genevieve, an octagonal folly known as The Temple; designed by William Kent in 1746, & the Watermill; built in 1670 & now fully restored. The surrounding park & gardens were also designed by William Kent & were worked upon intermittently by Capability Brown from 1776 to 1784. Euston Hall is open to the public on Thursdays from mid June to mid September, & on certain Sundays.
Elvedon: To the west of Euston & to the south of the small village of Elvedon, by the side of the main A11 road, is the Elvedon War Memorial, which commemorates the dead of the three parishes of Elvedon, Eriswell & Icklingham. Erected in 1921, at 127 feet tall it is probably the tallest war memorial in Britain.
Brandon: On the western edge of Thetford Forest, & on the banks of the Little Ouse, is the town of Brandon. The name means “the hill where broom grows”. During prehistoric times the region was an important flint mining area, whilst during the medieval period the town was renowned for its rabbit fur.
Lakenheath: To the southwest of Brandon stands the village of Lakenheath on the edge of the Fenlands. Close by is the Lakenheath Fen RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Reserve. Once farmland, the reserve was established in 1996 & has been transformed back into the reed bed & marsh habitat that would once have covered the area. It is now an important breeding site for such birds as the great bittern, marsh harrier, great crested grebe, little grebe, water rail & golden oriole. In 2007, common cranes were also been found breeding here for what is thought to be the first time in 400 years.
The Icknield Way: The Icknield Way, which is sometimes claimed to be the oldest road in England, runs through the northwest corner of Suffolk. Pre-Roman in origin, the route begins in the Chiltern Hills in Oxfordshire & progresses in a more or less north easterly direction through Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire & Cambridgeshire, before crossing the Suffolk border to the south of Newmarket. From there it continues its course close to the villages of Kentford, Cavenham, Lackford & Icklingham, before leaving the county near Knettishall & crossing the border into Norfolk. At times following the course of modern roads, sometimes distinguishable only through indentations in the ground made by ancient use, & at certain points undetectable & its route open to guesswork, the Icknield Way is thought in some quarters to be named after the Iceni tribe, although others dispute this. It is first mentioned in Anglo-Saxon charters dating from the tenth century.
The modern Icknield Way Path is a footpath which follows, in part, the ancient track. It was devised by the Icknield Way Association & was recognised by the local authorities in 1992.
Moulton: To the east of Newmarket, in the village of Moulton, stands the Packhorse Bridge. This four arched bridge with low parapets was built in the fifteenth century to allow packhorses to cross the River Kennett, which at the time was much wider than it is today; the modern road that runs alongside the bridge & fords the river being normally dry in all but exceptional circumstances now. The bridge is maintained by English Heritage.
West Stow: Midway between Mildenhall & Bury St Edmunds is the village of West Stow. It was near here, between the years 1965 & 1972, that an archaeological dig headed by Dr. Stanley West uncovered an Anglo-Saxon village dating from the fifth to the seventh centuries AD. The remains of more than 80 structures have been discovered here, including seven large halls & numerous dwellings & storage buildings, which suggests that the village was inhabited by several extended families.
Several buildings have been reconstructed & are now part of West Stow Country Park (see photo, right). Opened in 1979, the park covers 125 acres & includes a visitor centre & museum. Away from the Anglo-Saxon village, the park also includes a man-made lake, as well as nature trails through the woods & on the heathlands along the River Lark.
Hengrave: Situated just to the north west of Bury St Edmunds is Hengrave Hall in the small village of Hengrave. It was built between 1525 & 1538 by merchant Thomas Kytson the Elder, & was constructed from stone taken from nearby Ixworth Priory, as well as with Suffolk White Bricks from Woolpit. Queen Elizabeth I is known to have stayed here in 1578. In the seventeenth century, the house passed to the Gage family, following the marriage of Kytson’s descendant Penelope Darcy to Sir John Gage, 1st Baronet. King James II also stayed here several times during the 1670s.
Sir William Gage, 7th Baronet, was the first person to import the Reine Claude plum (Prunus domestica italica) into Britain in 1724. The story goes that one of his gardeners at Hengrave couldn’t remember the name of the fruit, & therefore coined the name “Green Gage”. They have been known as greengages in the English speaking world ever since.
The Gage family also included the antiquarian John Gage Rokewode (1786 – 1842), who wrote The History and Antiquities of Hengrave in Suffolk & The History and Antiquities of Suffolk, in 1822 & 1838 respectively. For most of the twentieth century, & up until 2005, the hall belonged to 'The Religious of the Assumption' order, who ran it as a convent school for several years. Today Hengrave Hall is an exclusive conference, wedding & events venue.
Orford Ness is a shingle spit on the Suffolk coast, which begins south of Aldeburgh & then runs parallel with the coast southwards, separated from the mainland by the River Alde & River Ore, passing Havergate Island before ending at North Weir Point, close to the small hamlet of Shingle Street. At more than ten miles in length, it is the largest vegetated shingle spit in Europe, covering an area of around 2,230 acres (900 ha). Most of the spit is shingle, but mud flats, sand flats, salt marshes & grassland habitats can also be found here.
Orfordness* Lighthouse was originally built in 1637. The 98 ft (30 mtr) brick tower seen today was designed by the architect William Wilkins & built in 1792. It was electrified in 1959, & became fully automated in 1965. The beam from Orfordness light, which has a range of some 20 nautical miles, is thought by some to have been the cause of the “The (see below) in December 1980. ”
The skeletal remains of many buildings at various points along the shingle bear witness to the spit’s military past. Orford Ness was first used for military purposes in 1913, when the area was drained & airfields constructed. During the First World War, the area was used for experimentation with, amongst other things, aerial photography, parachutes & the development of camouflage.
In 1929 the Orfordness Rotating Wireless Beacon, commonly known simply as the Orfordness Beacon, was set up on the Ness. Housed in a squat, black painted tower that still exists today, the Orfordness Beacon was used in the development of early radio navigation systems. Prior to the tests conducted here, a system known as radio direction finding (RDF) had been developed in the early twentieth century, in which radio broadcasters (beacons) were used as landmarks that were visible to a radio receiver located on a ship or plane using a simple mechanism known as a loop antenna. Whilst this system could be used over distances of a few hundred miles, it proved only moderately successful, as the size of the antenna needed was not always practical for the size of vehicle involved, & the smaller the antenna, the less accurate the measurements produced.
The system developed on Orford Ness overcame this problem by situating the loop antenna at the beacon, rather than on the ship or plane. The beacon would broadcast a continuous AM longwave signal through the loop antenna that was mechanically rotated 1 rpm, or 6 degrees a second. As the antenna passed north, the signal was briefly keyed with the morse code signal for the letter “V”, before returning again to a continuous signal. Navigators could then tune in to the station on their radio and wait for the V signal to be broadcast. Counting off the seconds between the V & the signal dropping to zero (known as the null), then multiplying this by 6, produced the angle from the station to the receiver. The beacon also broadcast the letter “B” as it passed east, allowing the navigator to check that the system was operating properly by timing the period between the V and B, and checking that it was the proper 15 seconds.
In 1935 Sir Robert Watson-Watt (1892 -1973), often credited as being the “Inventor of Radar”, & a team from the Ministry of Defence, set up the first permanent base for experiments on the early warning defence system that would eventually become known as Radar. In the following year, however, the work at Orford Ness was moved a few miles down the coast to Bawdsey Manor (see below).
During the Second World War, a wide range of experiments were conducted on Orford Ness, such as work on the aerodynamics of bombs, machine gun ammunition, & the development of rockets & other projectiles. Testing was also done on the vulnerability of aircraft to attack.
During the Cold War, the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment used Orford Ness as a base, which became one of only a few sites in the UK where purpose built facilities were created for testing the components of nuclear weapons. Six laboratories were constructed, named Labs 1-6, which were used for mechanical & vibration testing, as well as for drop tests. The buildings were designed to absorb any accidental explosion & allow gases to vent & dissipate in a directed or contained manner. The first test took place on August Bank Holiday 1956. Two of the later structures, Labs 4 & 5, are known locally as “The Pagodas” due to their shape. In the event of an accident, the roofs of these buildings were designed to collapse in on themselves, sealing it with a lid of concrete (although the Ministry of Defence always maintained that no nuclear material was involved in these experiments, very high explosive initiator charge was present here, & as such the tests were remotely controlled). The “Pagodas” are still visible to this day.
During the late 1960s, an Anglo-American initiative took place on Orford Ness. Codenamed “Cobra Mist”, this involved the development of an over-the-horizon radar system. The project closed in 1973. From the late 1970s onwards, the spit was the home of the Orfordness transmitting station; a powerful mediumwave (AM) broadcasting facility. Initially run by the Foreign Office, it was later owned by the BBC for the transmission of the BBC World Service. Later still it was run by a series of private companies, before finally closing in May 2012.
Today Orford Ness is an internationally important nature conservation area owned by the National Trust, & is part of the Alde-Ore Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), as well as being within the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). There is no public access from the point where the spit joins the coast south of Aldeburgh, & therefore Orford Ness can be reached today only via a foot ferry run by the National Trust from Orford Quay. The ferry runs from Tuesday to Saturday during July, August & September, with a Saturday service only from April to October.
On the mainland close to the southern tip of Orford Ness, lies Shingle Street. Evacuated during the Second World War, rumours persisted for decades that an attempted German invasion had taken place here in 1940. However, official documents, released by the government in 1993, make no mention of any such incident.
Bawdsey Manor (see photo, right) stands on the north shore at the mouth of the River Deben. It was built in 1885 by Sir William Cuthbert Quilter, who established the chain ferry across the Deben to Felixstowe in 1894. Requisitioned by the military during the First World War, it was returned to its owners when the conflict ended, before being purchased by the Air Ministry in 1936 when a new research centre for the development of Radar was established; with the work previously being undertaken at Orford Ness, lead by Robert Watson-Watt, being relocated here (see above). RAF Bawdsey, also known as Bawdsey Research Station, became the development centre for the Chain Home Radar system when the RAF opened its RDF training school here in January 1937, with the system up & running by May of that year.
The principle of Chain Home Radar (also known as AMES Type 1) was that it sent a burst of radio energy at a target, then measured the time it took for the energy to reflect back to the receiver. The range to the target could then be calculated by multiplying the time between sending the pulse and its return by the speed of light, then dividing by two. Chain Home relied on antenna that illuminated a huge area, like a floodlight. These antenna did not move, but were controlled by radar operators who chose a target or ‘blip’ on their screen, then moved the controls of a special coil-like instrument, called a radio goniometer, to minimise the blip. They could then read the direction to this target from a dial on their instruments. Chain Home RDF was developed in haste, due to the rising threat posed by Nazi Germany. Although with limitations, & primitive by today’s standards, Chain Home was invaluable during the Battle of Britain, giving early warning & precise locations of incoming German raids on Britain.
The Chain Home Radar site at Bawdsey was located along the coast around 1/3 mile to the north of the Manor. It consisted of eight tall masts, four for transmitting & four for receiving. There was also an underground command centre here.
Bawdsey Manor remained an active RAF base throughout the Cold War, & from 1978 onwards Bloodhound missiles were stationed here. After the withdrawal of the missiles in 1990, Bawdsey Manor remained an MOD training centre until it finally closed down in 1991. It has since been converted into a wedding & events centre. Also on the Bawdsey Manor Estate is Alexanders International School; a boarding school for students aged 11-17 from all over the world.
*In some instances, such as in the case of the Lighthouse, the Beacon & the Transmitting Station, Orfordness is written as one word. More correctly, however, it should be written as two words: Orford Ness.
The “Rendlesham Forest Incident” is the name that has been given to a series of strange occurrences which are supposed to have happened over a period of several nights in late December 1980, in an area of forest close to RAF Woodbridge, which at that time was a US Air Force base. The incidents were witnessed by many US Air force personnel, including several high ranking officers. Some investigators allege that the sequence of events was a series of UFO sightings, or even encounters with alien beings. In fact, within UFO circles, the incidents are sometimes referred to as “Britain’s Roswell”; a reference to the supposed discovery of a crashed flying saucer & alien bodies in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. Sceptics, on the other hand, point to much more mundane explanations, such as the sight of Orfordness Lighthouse through the trees (some five miles away), meteorites, stars, or a fireball out at sea. More sinister explanations that have been put forward include speculation that the incident was actually the result of tests on secret US aircraft that went wrong & crashed, that a Soviet satellite came down in the forest, or even that a nuclear missile was involved. A further school of thought is that the whole thing was a hoax; although perpetrated by whom & for what purpose remains unclear.
The incidents are supposed to have taken place on Forestry Commission land just east of the East Gate of RAF Woodbridge in an area of mainly coniferous plantations, interspersed with deciduous woods & heathland, known as Rendlesham Forest; approximately twelve miles east of Ipswich & only five miles from Woodbridge (see photo, right). The nearest villages are Butley & Capel St Andrew. There is some confusion over the dates on which the incidents occurred, with different sources giving the early hours of 25th, 26th,27th,28th or 29th December. One of the key pieces of evidence, a memo from Deputy Base Commander Colonel Charles Halt, puts the initial incident as taking place around 3am on the 26th, which is now the date commonly excepted at which events began. It is also generally accepted that the incidents occurred over three nights.
On the first night, three US servicemen went out into the forest after a security patrol reported seeing lights amongst the trees. Their reports suggest that a craft with flashing lights & symbols on it was seen to land within the forest, & that at least one serviceman approached & touched the craft. After this encounter, the craft took off silently & disappeared from sight. At daybreak, burn marks on nearby broken tree branches were found, together with evidence of three impressions in the ground, said to have been made by the craft’s landing gear. Sceptics suggest the latter were made by rabbits or other animals. Radiation readings later taken at a supposed landing site found in the forest revealed that levels were higher at the actual point of contact with the ground than they were in the surrounding area (whether this was the site from the first night’s events or a different site is unclear).
On the second occasion (which was probably two days later, in the early hours of the 28th), Colonel Halt, along with at least twenty to thirty other servicemen, saw & followed a UFO which zig-zagged through the trees before hovering over a farmer’s field adjacent to the forest. Animals, both wild & domestic, were reportedly acting strangely in the area & a strange fog was said to be permeating certain sections of the forest. Accounts differ as to what actually happened, but the object was described as red & yellow & appeared to be throwing off sparks. Suddenly it split into several bright lights, with some of these sending out thin beams of light that seemed to be scouring the forest floor & the parts of the Air Force base. Eventually the lights ascended & the men returned to base.
More activity is said to have taken place the following night (28th into 29th December), when around forty men were present. On this occasion, a large pyramid shaped craft was observed in the forest. Alien beings are said to have been observed & it is alleged that Wing Commander Gordon Williams approached the craft & was seen to actually converse with the occupants. Once more, other strange lights were seen hovering amongst the trees. According to at least one witness, the craft was still on the ground at the time when the men were ordered to return to base.
What are we to make of all this? The British Ministry of Defence have always said that there was no threat to Britain’s security, & the fact that much of the information has never been made public has led to allegations of a cover up from some quarters. Many US servicemen (including Colonel Halt) have come forward & vouched for the truth of the events over these three nights. Would all these individuals really have been fooled by the light from Orfordness Lighthouse (which can be seen on any night), or stars shining through the trees?
Whether Suffolk really was visited by extra-terrestrials over the Christmas week of 1980; whether natural phenomena can account for all the strange events that are alleged to have happened; or whether the UFO incidents are an elaborate cover-up story concocted to throw researchers off the scent of what was actually a far more sinister event in Rendlesham Forest, may never be known for certain.
Many books have been written about the subject, such as Sky Crash: A Cosmic Conspiracy by Brenda Butler, Dot Street & Jenny Randles (1984) & You Can't Tell the People: The Definitive Account of the Rendlesham Forest UFO Mystery by Georgina Bruni (2000). Several TV documentaries have been made, including London Weekend Television's Strange But True? in 1994 & History Channel's UFO Files: "Britain's Roswell" in 2005. There are also numerous websites in existence that document & analyse the evidence.
Although the Great Storm of October 1987 caused an enormous amount of damage to Rendlesham Forest, many of the locations associated with the alleged incidents can still be identified, & are marked as part of a three mile UFO Trail through the forest. The trail starts at the Rendlesham Forest Centre, on the B1084 Woodbridge to Orford road.
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Founded in 1856, the Suffolk Show is an agricultural event that was established by the Suffolk Agricultural Association, & which has been held annually ever since. It was established by the amalgamation of the East Suffolk Agricultural Association; who had held their first show at Wickham Market in 1832, & their West Suffolk counterparts; who had commenced their own show in the following year. After the merger, the Suffolk Show was held at various locations throughout the county until 1960, when it acquired a permanent site of approximately 300 acres at Nacton, just outside Ipswich. Originally known as the Suffolk Showground, the site is now known as Trinity Park, the name deriving from the three native Suffolk breeds; the Suffolk Punch, Red Poll Cattle & Suffolk Sheep. A statue of the trinity stands at the park entrance on Felixstowe Road (see photo, above). The site now incorporates the Trinity Park Conference & Events Centre, which hosts both indoor & outdoor events throughout the year, such as weddings, parties, business meetings, antiques fairs & caravan rallies.
The Suffolk Show itself takes place on a Wednesday & Thursday, usually in the first week of June. Whilst it is still primarily a show for exhibiting livestock, it has now diversified into a day out for all the family, with trade stalls, activities, exhibitions, entertainment & displays. The show now attracts upwards of 80,000 visitors each year over the two days.
Cricket has been played in Suffolk since at least 1743, with Suffolk playing their first county match against near neighbours Norfolk at Bury St Edmunds in August 1764. A county organisation has been in existence since 1864, although it wasn’t until 1904 that the county played their inaugural game in the Minor Counties Championship (competed for by county cricket clubs that don’t have first-class status). This first competitive match was against Norfolk & took place at Lakenheath. Suffolk competed in the competition for ten years, followed by a twenty year absence; not returning to Minor Counties action until 1934. Two years prior to this, in 1932, the present Suffolk County Cricket Club was formed.
In 1946, Suffolk won the Minor Counties Championship for the first time; winning a challenge match against Buckinghamshire at High Wycombe after having finished second in the league table. The championship has been won on three further occasions since then; twice outright, in 1977 & 1979, & once shared jointly with Cheshire in 2005. On 27th August 2007, Suffolk CCC won the Minor Counties Cricket Association Knock-Out Cup in their first ever game at Lord’s; beating Cheshire by 35 runs in the final.
Since its formation in 1983, Suffolk have played in the Eastern Division of the Minor Counties Championship. They play their home fixtures at the following grounds throughout the county:
Victory Ground, Bury St Edmunds
Old London Road, Copdock
The Park, Exning
Ransomes & Reavell Sports Club Ground, Ipswich
Wamil Way, Mildenhall
Woodbridge School, Woodbridge
Former Hampshire batsman & left arm spin bowler Phil Mead, who represented Suffolk during 1938 & 1939. He also played for England on 17 occasions between 1911 & 1928.
Leg spinner Robin Hobbs, who joined Suffolk from Essex in 1975, before returning to first class cricket with Glamorgan in 1979. He represented England between 1967 & 1971.
Batsman Derek Randall, who joined Suffolk in 1994 & played for the county until 2000, after retiring from a first class career spanning more than 20 years with Nottinghamshire. He played 47 test matches & 49 one day internationals for England.
Former Gloucestershire, Yorkshire & Sussex batsman Bill Athey, who played for Suffolk during 2001 & 2002. He played 23 test matches for England, plus 31 one day internationals.
Jamaican born fast bowler Devon Malcolm, who represented Suffolk in 2004 & 2005, after a first class career with Derbyshire, Northamptonshire & Leicestershire. He also played for England in both one day internationals & test matches.
Apart from the full Minor Counties side, Suffolk County Cricket Club also promotes representative cricket at every level within the county, from under 10’s through to over 60’s sides, as well as women’s cricket.
Until 2007, Suffolk was one of only three English counties not to have a university (Herefordshire & Wiltshire being the others). In September of that year, however, this changed with the opening of University Campus Suffolk (UCS); a collaboration & partnership between the University of Essex, the University of East Anglia & local government.
The main hub of UCS is the newly built Ipswich Campus on the Waterfront (see photo, left), officially opened by Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex in June 2009. A few minute’s walk away is the newly relocated Suffolk New College in Rope Walk. Other centres are located at Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft, Otley & Great Yarmouth (the latter being across the county boundary in Norfolk!).
Attempts to bring rail travel to Suffolk can be dated back to the mid 1820s. In December 1824, The Times published a proposal to build the Norfolk and Suffolk Railroad from London to Norwich via Chelmsford, Colchester, Ipswich, with branches to Harwich, Bury St Edmunds, Great Yarmouth & Kings Lynn. This may or may not have been the same venture as the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex Railroad, which was reported in January of 1825 as taking a similar route. The chairman of the latter company was reported as being Lord Teynham, & further press articles from October & November of 1825 suggested that surveying was nearing completion, & that application was being sought from parliament to approve this project. For whatever reason, however, these ventures failed to get off the ground.
A proposal to form a company known as the Ipswich and Suffolk Railway was made at a meeting in February 1825 at the Shire Hall in Ipswich. This was chaired by Rev. Dr. John Chevallier of Aspall Hall, Suffolk, who would later be a leading player in the creation of the Eastern Union Railway (EUR) in 1843. These plans, which would have seen a line linking Ipswich with the Suffolk town of Eye & Diss in Norfolk, however, also failed to reach fruition.
The first rail lines to be built on Suffolk soil were the Colchester to Ipswich & the Ipswich to Bury St Edmunds lines, both of which were built by subsidiary companies of the EUR, & were opened in 1846. A further stretch of line was opened from a new junction on the Ipswich to Bury line at Haughley in 1849, which linked to Norwich. (For further details of lines with Ipswich in their name, see the Railways section on the Ipswich, England page of ).
The building of the first section of what would become the East Suffolk Railway was started in 1851 as the Halesworth, Beccles & Haddiscoe Railway. The line was built by the civil engineering partnership of Peto, Brassey and Betts, & as the name suggests, ran from the Suffolk town of Halesworth in the south, via Beccles, to the village of Haddiscoe just over the border in Norfolk. The East Suffolk Railway, which was a subsidiary of the Eastern Counties Railways (ECR), was incorporated in July 1854 & took over from the Halesworth, Beccles and Haddiscoe Railway once the route opened on 4th December 1854.
In 1859 the line was extended northwards from Haddiscoe to Great Yarmouth. The line was also extended to Woodbridge in the south, where it met up with the newly built EUR line from Woodbridge to Ipswich (although once rivals, the ECR had, in 1854,taken over the running of the EUR, even though the two companies continued to operate separately & weren’t formally amalgamated until 1862). 1859 also saw the opening of a branch line connecting Beccles with Lowestoft, as well as other branch lines to Framlingham, Snape & Leiston; the latter being extended as far as Aldeburgh in 1860. A branch line from Westerfield to Felixstowe opened in 1877, with a narrow gauge line connecting Halesworth with Southwold opening two years later.
One hundred years after its completion, the Beccles to Great Yarmouth section was closed in 1959, making Lowestoft the new northern terminus, & resulting in the East Suffolk Line now operating entirely contained within the county.
Many of the other branch lines extending from the East Suffolk Line have also since closed:
Southwold in 1929 (although the The Southwold Railway Trust, established in 2006, is planning to reopen the line).
Snape in 1952.
Framlingham in 1963.
Aldeburgh & Leiston in 1966, (although the line is still partly in use for nuclear flask trains serving Sizewell power station).
In 1904 the Mid Suffolk Light Railway opened its newly built line from Haughley to Laxfield. Known locally as ‘The Middy’, the line’s original terminus was adjacent to, but separate from, the main junction with what was now the Great Eastern Railway (GER) at Haughley, although from 1925 this was closed & all services were diverted to the main line station. The 19 miles of track opened to freight traffic in 1904, with a passenger service commencing in 1908. A further extension of the line, to meet up with the East Suffolk line at Halesworth was started, but never completed; with around one mile of track being laid beyond Laxfield to the village of Cratfield, which ran a freight service for a few years before falling into disuse in 1912. A junction at Kenton was also intended to serve a branch line running southwards to Westerfield near Ipswich. Two miles of track was laid in the direction of Debenham, before this project was also abandoned due to lack of funds.
In 1924 the line lost its independence when it became part of the London and North Eastern Railway. It became part of British Rail in 1948 & closed in 1952, with the last trains running on 26th July of that year.
In 1990 the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway Society was formed. This society of volunteers runs the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway Museum, which is situated on the site of Brockford and Wetheringsett Station, & tells the story of the line, with exhibits including locomotives & rolling stock, plus many other artifacts & archive photographs. Currently around a ½ mile of track has been restored, with more being planned in each direction in the future. The Mid-Suffolk Light Railway is the only steam preservation railway currently operating in Suffolk.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Railway (NSJR) was a company set up in 1898 by the Great Eastern Railway (GER) and the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway (MGNJ). The company remained independent until nationalisation in 1948, when it became part of British Rail.
Consisting of two separate sections, only a small length of the coastal section of the Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Railway was actually in Suffolk. This line ran from Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, to Lowestoft Central Station, with two other Suffolk stations en-route; Corton & Lowestoft North. The other, Norfolk, section of the NSJR ran from North Walsham to Cromer. The Suffolk section of the line opened in 1903 & continued until November 1970. None of this line survives today.
Other branch lines in Suffolk:
A branch line to Hadleigh from Bentley, between Colchester & Ipswich, opened in September 1847, & operated passenger services until 1932, with freight services continuing until the line finally closed in 1965.
The Mellis and Eye Railway (M&ER) was a short branch line which opened in April 1867. The single track line ran from Mellis, on the Ipswich to Norwich line, two miles to Eye. Opened in April 1867, the line closed in February 1931.
The Long Melford-Bury St Edmunds branch line opened in August 1865 & almost completed 100 years of service, before finally closing for freight transport in April 1965.
Built by the Bury St Edmunds and Thetford Railway (B&TR), the line from Bury to Thetford in Norfolk opened in March 1876, & was bought by Great Eastern Railway two years later. It closed in June 1960.
The Sudbury Branch Line, also known as the Gainsborough Line, opened in 1849. It is still in use today & runs from the junction with the Great Eastern Main Line at Marks Tey in Essex to Sudbury in Suffolk. The line was originally the southern section of the Stour Valley Railway, with a northward continuation of the line being opened in 1865 from Sudbury, via Long Melford, Cavendish, Clare & Haverhill in Suffolk, before passing into Cambridgeshire & terminating at Shelford near Cambridge. The Sudbury to Shelford section closed in March 1967.
Haverhill was also the northern terminus of the Colne Valley and Halstead Railway (CVHR), which ran from Chappel and Wakes Colne station in Essex. The line opened in stages, finally reaching Haverhill in May 1863. Passenger services ceased in 1961, with freight traffic finally ending in 1965.
Newmarket’s first station opened in 1848, as the northern terminus of the Newmarket and Chesterford Railway, which ran 15 miles from Great Chesterford in Essex. The line became one of the first railway closures in British history when it closed in 1851. The continuation of the line from Newmarket to Bury St Edmunds was completed in 1854, however, by the Eastern Counties Railway, who had bought out the the Newmarket and Chesterford Railway Company. This line now forms part of the main Ipswich to Ely line.
From April 1885 the Suffolk town of Mildenhall was served by the Cambridge to Mildenhall Railway.
Built by the Great Eastern Railway, the Suffolk section of the 20 ¾ mile track closed in June 1962, with line closing completely in 1965.
The Suffolk towns of Brandon & Lakenheath are now served by the Breckland Line, which runs from Norwich to Ely. Opened on 30th July 1845, the line to Brandon was the meeting point for two companies that opened their tracks on the same day; the Norfolk Railway which operated the eastbound service, & the Eastern Counties Railway line that ran westwards into Cambridgeshire.
As well as the East Suffolk Railway & the Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Railway, Lowestoft was also the eastern terminus for the Norfolk Railway’s link from Reedham in Norfolk. Originally opened in 1847, it is now part of the Wherry Line service to Norwich.
As well as being on the East Suffolk Line, Beccles was at one time also the eastern terminus of the Waveney Line, which ran westward to Tivetshall in Norfolk. Opened in stages, the line meanders over the River Waveney, & therefore the county boundary, in three separate locations. The Suffolk section of the line, linking Beccles to Bungay, opened in 1863; the connection from Bungay to Harleston in Norfolk having opened three years earlier. Passenger services ceased in 1953, with the line closing for freight traffic in 1966.
Thomas Wolsey was born in Ipswich between 1471 & 1475. After studying at Magdalen College, Oxford, he was ordained as a priest in 1498 & became Royal Chaplain to King Henry VII in 1507. He became Almoner to the newly crowned Henry VIII in 1509, & from thereon his rise to prominence, both in the church & in the Royal court, saw him become the most powerful man in England; becoming both Archbishop of York & Lord Chancellor. His eventual fall from favour happened in 1529, when he was unable to get Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled by the Pope. He was arrested in 1530 & accused of treason, but died at Leicester before coming to trial.
Known as “The Navigator”, the explorer & privateer Sir Thomas Cavendish (1560 -1592) was born in Trimley St. Martin near Felixstowe, Suffolk. His ancestors were originally from the village of Cavendish in the west of Suffolk (see The Wool Towns section, above). After attending Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, he became a member of parliament for Shaftesbury in Dorset at the age of just 24. In the following year, 1585, he sailed with Sir Richard Grenville’s expedition to Virginia.
Having returned to Britain, Cavendish began to make plans for his own venture; a circumnavigation of the globe, in the wake of Sir Francis Drake who was the first Englishman to achieve this feat. This was the time of war between Spain & England, & a major incentive for Cavendish was to raid Spanish ports & ships en-route (with the approval of the English Parliament).
Setting sail from Plymouth in July 1586 with 123 men in three ships –Desire, Content & Hugh Gallant – their route followed closely that of Drake’s nine years earlier. The master of the Desire was Thomas Fuller from Ipswich, & another Ipswichian, the merchant Thomas Eldred, was also part of the expedition (see also Thomas Eldred section on the Ipswich, England page of ). After reaching the Cape Verde Islands, Cavendish headed west to Argentina, where he established Port Desire (Puerto Deseado); a spur of land at the mouth of the harbour is still known as Punta Cavendish.
After heading south & navigating the Straits of Magellan, they emerged into the Pacific Ocean in February 1587, before heading north up the coast, sinking or capturing nine Spanish ships in the process & looting several settlements as far north as the Gulf of California. Having intentionally sunk one of his ships (Hugh Gallant) the two remaining vessels, now heavily laden with gold & other plundered goods, set sail across the Pacific; the Desire arriving in Guam in January 1588, but with the Content being lost en-route. After stops at various islands in the Philippines & Indonesia, Cavendish & his remaining crew, which now numbered less than 50, arrived in Plymouth via the Cape of Good Hope in September 1588. Their circumnavigation of the globe in two years & 49 days was nine months faster than Drake’s. After triumphantly sailing up the River Thames to London, Cavendish was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I.
In August 1591, Cavendish set sail again for South America, but lost many of his crew in a battle with the Portuguese in Brazil. He died during the return journey across the Atlantic in May 1592.
Although there had been witch trials & executions before, the seventeenth century was to see the greatest period of persecution of witchcraft in English history. This reached its zenith during the years 1645-47. The leading figure in the persecution of witches in the eastern counties of England was Matthew Hopkins, the self-styled Witchfinder General.
From the time of the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), laws against witchcraft & the practitioners in the art of ‘magic’ had been getting gradually more draconian, with the punishment for being found guilty being increased to the death penalty in most instances.
The 1640s were a time of great political, religious & social upheaval in England, with the Civil War being waged between the Royalist (Cavalier) supporters of King Charles I, & the Parliamentarians (Roundheads). Underlying this was the concern of the Protestant Church of England, & in particular the Puritans, that the King was moving the church away from Calvinism & back towards Catholicism. Much of the subsequent persecution of so-called witches can be put down to the religious intolerance that was stirred up by this unrest (the Parliamentarians/Puritans actively promoting the myth that the Royalists were in league with the devil). Superstition also played a huge part in the selection of suspected witches, such as laying the blame for natural events like death, disease & crop failure on anyone (man or woman) who seemed slightly strange or different. The blame, however, more often than not fell on elderly women who usually lived alone, often as outcasts, with a cat or other animal which was thought of as her ‘familiar’ or demonic spirit; in other words what we would now call the stereotypical witch.
It was into this fiercely anti-Catholic society, around the year 1620, that Matthew Hopkins was born; the son of local Puritan vicar James Hopkins in the south Suffolk village of Great Wenham. Very little is known about his early life, other than that in the early 1640s he moved south across the River Stour & bought the Thorn Inn in Mistley, Essex with money inherited from his father. It is also possible, although hard evidence is lacking, that he worked as a lawyer’s clerk in Ipswich around this time.
The first known witchcraft case in which Hopkins is known to have been involved, concerned an elderly widow named Elizabeth Clarke of Manningtree, Essex in March 1645. In this he assisted Manningtree resident John Stearne in the interrogation & torture of the accused, until they not only obtained a confession, but were also subsequently able to extract the names of five other women from the district who were also later to stand trial as witches.
For the next two years, Hopkins & Stearne set forth zealously to find & send to trial as many witches as they could; scouring the countryside for anyone thought to be dabbling in the Dark Arts. Initially moving into Suffolk, their campaign took in such towns as Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds & Sudbury, as well as many smaller villages throughout the county such as Copdock, Hintlesham, Rattlesden, Long Melford, Aldeburgh & Yoxford. Thereafter, they spread their net further afield into Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire & Northamptonshire. Usually, they would stay in a town or village only long enough to get a confession & set up legal proceedings, before moving on, leaving the local magistrates to prosecute their unfortunate victims. For this service they received a fee from the community. Although torture was illegal, methods used to extract a confession included; pricking the flesh of the accused (to see if they felt pain); swimming (to see if they sank or floated; the latter outcome proving their guilt); walking (in which the unfortunate victim was forced to keep walking backwards & forwards for days on end); starvation & sleep deprivation.
Bury St Edmunds was the scene of one of the most notorious cases over which Hopkins presided. It took place in August 1645 & involved the accusation & trial of almost 200 suspects, many of whom were hanged for their alleged crimes, including the elderly Royalist clergyman John Lowes.
The case of Mary or ‘Mother’ Lakeland of Ipswich is unusual in that it was one of the few instances in England of a witch being burned to death, as opposed to the more usual method of hanging. One of the allegations against Mary Lakeland was that she was guilty of killing her husband; an act of petty treason for which the punishment was burning. She was put to death in September 1645.
Stearne & Hopkins’ reign of terror, however, lasted only two years. With the setting up of a parliamentary commission to monitor trials, & with the clergy & other community leaders questioning the methods of obtaining confessions, magistrates became less inclined to bring the accused to court. Furthermore, as time went on, an increasing number of the accused that did reach the courts were being acquitted on the grounds that the evidence against them was flawed, or even completely fabricated.
Eventually, having been almost continually on the road for two years, Hopkins returned to Manningtree in ill health. There, in May 1647, he published the pamphlet The Discovery of Witches, in which he defended his methods. By this time, the backlash against him was in full swing & there were even calls from some quarters to have him tried as a witch himself. He died in August of that same year from consumption. His partner in crime, John Stearne, carried on with his campaign until the autumn of 1647, before retiring to his home in Lawshall in Suffolk (south of Bury St Edmunds). He died in 1670. Altogether it is thought that Hopkins & Stearne were responsible for around 100 executions throughout the East Anglia region, with countless others probably dying in custody due to the abuses suffered, the methods of torture used, & disease brought about by the unsanitary conditions of the prisons.
Portrait and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk in May 1727. At the age of thirteen, his father allowed him to go to London to study art, where he first trained under engraver Hubert Gravelot; also being influenced by William Hogarth & Francis Heyman.
After marrying Margaret Burr, the couple moved back to Sudbury around 1748, where he began concentrating on portraits; having previously favoured landscape painting. It was here that he painted one of his most famous works, Mr & Mrs Andrews. In 1752, Gainsborough, his wife & two daughters, moved to Ipswich, where commissions for portraits began to increase.
After seven years in Ipswich, the family moved to Bath in 1759, where he became influenced by the work of Van Dyck & Rubens. From 1761 onwards he began to send work to the Society of Arts exhibitions in London. Now concentrating on well-known or notorious characters for his portraits, his fame increased & he became one of the founding members of the Royal Academy in 1769; submitting works to their annual exhibitions until 1773, & again from 1777 until 1783.
In 1774, Gainsborough moved to London & set up a studio in Schomberg House, Pall Mall. In 1780 he painted portraits of King George III & Queen Charlotte, thereafter becoming the Royal Family’s favourite artist. In 1784 he finally broke his association with the Royal Academy & began exhibiting his works at Schomberg House.
Thomas Gainsborough died in May 1788 & is buried at St. Anne's Church, Kew.
As well as his famous portrait work such as Mr and Mrs Andrews (1748/49) & The Blue Boy (1770), Gainsborough also painted a number of landscape views of Suffolk.
Gainsborough’s House, situated at 46 Gainsborough Street, Sudbury is now a museum & art gallery which exhibits many of his works from throughout his career. More of his work is displayed in Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich.
Self Portrait 1758/59
Commonly thought of as Suffolk’s finest poet, George Crabbe was born at Slaughden Quay, just south of Aldeburgh in 1754. After training as a doctor, Crabbe decided to take up writing; having acquired a love of poetry during his childhood. His first published work, a poem entitled Inebriety appeared in 1775, after which he moved for a while to Rendham near Saxmundham, before relocating to London & publishing The Candidate in 1780 & The Library in the following year. In 1782 he was ordained a clergyman & became chaplain to the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire.
Crabbe’s two best known works are The Village (1783) and The Borough (1810), the latter having actually been written during his time at Rendham. The Borough is a collection of poems arranged as a series of 24 letters, the most famous of which is that of Peter Grimes, later adapted into an opera by Benjamin Britten (see below). Later works include Tales in Verse (1812) & Tales of the Hall (1819), as well as the self explanatory Posthumous Tales published two years after his death, in 1834.
Crabbe’s work is mostly written in heroic couplets & depicts an unsentimental view of rural Suffolk life and society in the late eighteenth & early nineteenth centuries. His work was admired by both Wordsworth & Byron, the latter calling him "Nature's sternest painter, yet the best". His other great interest was natural history, especially the study of Coleoptera (beetles).
In 1814 George Crabbe took up the position of rector at Trowbridge in Wiltshire, where he remained until his death in 1832. Today, a marble bust commemorates Crabbe in Aldeburgh parish church, whilst a blue plaque adorns Ladywhincups, his house at Rendham.
Born in the village of Honington, north of Bury St Edmunds in 1766, Robert Bloomfield is often known as the “Suffolk Poet” or the “Pastoral Poet”, as his work evokes images of Suffolk rural life during the late eighteenth & early nineteenth centuries.
After an elementary education, Robert worked in the fields from the age of 11, but found the work arduous & moved to London to work for his brother as a shoemaker. It was here that his interest in poetry was stirred. His first published work was a poem entitled The Village Girl, which appeared in 1786. The poem that was to make him famous, however, was The Farmer’s Boy, which was published in 1800 & sold more than 25,000 copies within two years. It was also published in America & translated into French, German & Italian. The poem is said to have been admired by the Suffolk artist John Constable, who used some of the couplets from it to complement two of his paintings when exhibiting in London in 1814 & 1817. Later works included Rural Tales (1802), Good Tidings (1804) & Wild Flowers or Pastoral and Local Poetry (1806). Some of his poetry was set to music by his brother Isaac, & in 1804 his poem The Miller’s Maid was adapted into an opera by John Davy. Some of his later poems, such as The Horkey, are written in the Suffolk dialect.
After leaving London, Bloomfield, together with his wife & children, moved to Bedfordshire, where he died in poverty in 1823. A brass plaque to his memory can be seen in Honington Church. In 2000 the Robert Bloomfield Society was formed to promote awareness of his life & work.
Artist John Constable was born in East Bergholt in the south of Suffolk on 11 June 1776. His father, Golding Constable, was a corn merchant who owned nearby Flatford Mill on the River Stour, which marks the county’s southern border with Essex & overlooks Dedham Vale.
From an early age, John began sketching, inspired by the countryside of south Suffolk & north Essex. In 1799 he entered the Royal Academy School, where he began studying art. One of his major influences at this time was another Suffolk born artist: Thomas Gainsborough. By the early years of the nineteenth century he was determined to become a professional landscape artist & by 1803 he was exhibiting his works at the Royal Academy. Apart from some time visiting ports in the south east of England & a stint in the Lake District, his early work mainly featured everyday scenes of country life in & around his home. He also took up portrait painting at this time, although this was simply to make ends meet, as he found this type of work dull & uninspiring.
Constable married Maria Bicknell in 1816 & moved to Hampstead Heath near London in 1819. It was in this year that he became an Associate of the Royal Academy & sold his first important work; The White Horse. Two years later he produced his most famous painting, The Haywain; a depiction of Willy Lott’s cottage at Flatford on the banks of the Stour, which was first exhibited at the Academy. In 1824 The Haywain, along with some of his other paintings, was exhibited in Paris & was awarded a gold medal by the French King Charles X. During his lifetime Constable’s work was always more popular in France than in England, although he always refused to go abroad, stating "I would rather be a poor man [in England] than a rich man abroad."
Constable’s wife Maria died in November 1828, leaving John to bring up their seven children alone. In February of 1829 he was elected to the Royal Academy as a full member & in 1831 was appointed Visitor at the Royal Academy. At this time he began giving public lectures on landscape painting. He died on 31st March 1837 & was buried in St John-at-Hampstead, Hampstead in a family tomb that he shares with his wife & two of his sons.
Many of Constables best known works are of the Suffolk/Essex border region (which is now often referred to as “Constable Country” & attracts visitors from all over the world), including Dedham Vale (1802), Boat Building near Flatford Mill (1815), Flatford Mill (1817) & The Cornfield (1826). Other famous works include Hampstead Heath (1820) & Brighton Beach (c.1824-6).
Two of his landscape paintings, dating from 1815, can be found in Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich, namely Golding Constable's Flower Garden & Golding Constable's Kitchen Garden, together with portraits that he painted of his mother & brother.
Willy Lott’s cottage, which featured in The Haywain, still stands to this day near Flatford Mill. A Grade I listed building dating from the sixteenth century, it was restored in the 1920s. Nearby Bridge Cottage is now a museum detailing Constable’s life & works.
The Haywain - 1821 Flatford - May 2011
The ‘Suffolk School’ is applied to a number of artists who worked in Suffolk in the early-to-mid-19th century when the “school” developed characteristic landscape paintings and depictions of rural and domestic Suffolk life, often with horses and farming scenes. Although their paintings displayed the real Suffolk landscape, to some extent they represented an idyllic and nostalgic picture of a passing rural life as the industrial revolution in Britain changed the landscape elsewhere. To this day the name “Suffolk” is often given to buildings and locations to conjure up the image of a more peaceful and leisurely way of life as portrayed in these paintings.
Some of the early artists were contemporaries of John Constable (see above) and they became followers of his style of painting, continuing his legacy into the late 19th century. This group of artists did not constitute a formal “school” as did the similar group of artists in Norfolk led by John Crone, who founded the Norwich Society of Artists in 1803 (the ‘Norwich School’), but they were a small group of self-taught, local artists who painted their familiar surroundings. The group of artists who are usually included in the ‘Suffolk School’ are Thomas Churchyard, Edward Smythe, Thomas Smythe, Robert Burrows, Frederick Brett Russell, John Moore, John Duval and Christopher Maskell.
One of Constable’s closest followers was the Woodbridge solicitor and part-time artist Thomas Churchyard (1798-1865). Churchyard collected and copied Constable’s work and also that of Thomas Gainsborough (see above). He produced a large amount of watercolour sketches and landscape paintings of the Suffolk countryside around Woodbridge. (see above right, Churchyard's watercolour of Aldeburgh Moot Hall)
The reputation of the two Smythe brothers of Ipswich is very high in the art world for their beautifully observed depictions of rural and domestic Suffolk life during the second half of the 19th Century. At an auction in December 2011 two of their works sold for a total of just under £300,000. Edward Smythe (1810-1899) is famous for his painting of the Master and Hounds of the Suffolk Hunt before Euston Hall (1865), while the work of his brother, Thomas (1825-1906), became instantly recognisable when his famous “Snowball Fight” scene was widely reproduced on Christmas cards and jigsaw puzzles in the UK and America (see picture, left).
Robert Burrows (1810-1883) was another Ipswich artist, who painted scenes of the River Orwell and Suffolk landscape. John Moore (1820–1902), born in Woodbridge, preferred to paint the East coast. He became an active member of the Ipswich Art Club on its formation in 1875, where he regularly exhibited until a year before his death. Although born in Kent John Duvall (1816-1892) moved to Ipswich before 1852 where he is recorded as a “teacher of drawing”. At this time Duvall was a portrait painter but the spread of photography caused a decline in portrait commissions; consequently Duvall began to specialise in horse portraits. He was responsible for the illustrations in the Suffolk Horse Society Stud book.
Just to the north of Bury St Edmunds, the small village of Ampton is the birthplace of Vice Admiral Robert FitzRoy (1805 – 65), grandson of the 3rd Duke of Grafton & best known as the captain of HMS Beagle during Charles Darwin’s five year voyage to South America between 1831 & 1836. Although FitzRoy & Darwin got on well during their time at sea, FitzRoy, as a Creationist, found Darwin’s theory of evolution abhorrent &, upon their return to England, was outspoken in his condemnation of the idea that man had evolved from apes.
Prior to the journey with Darwin, FitzRoy & the Beagle had already made one surveying voyage to South America between the years 1828 & 1830, at which time he had named several islands along the pacific coast including Islas Ipswich, Islas Grafton & Isla Londonderry (Viscount Ipswich is a subsidiary title of the Dukes of Grafton. FitzRoy was related to the Marquess of Londonderry on his mother’s side). FitzRoy’s surveying work in Tierra del Fuego & along the Pacific coast of South America was to prove invaluable for navigation; the charts produced from his work being used for more than a century.
In between the two voyages, FitzRoy stood, unsuccessfully, as Tory candidate for Ipswich in the General Election in May 1831.
In 1839 Narrative of the surveying voyages of H.M.S. Adventure and Beagle was published; a four volume work to which FitzRoy contributed one volume, as did Darwin.
After a spell as governor of New Zealand from 1843 - 1845, FitzRoy returned to Britain & was made superintendent of the Royal Naval Dockyards at Woolwich, before being given his final sea command, HMS Arrogant, in 1849. In 1854 he was appointed Meteorological Statist to the Board of Trade (the forerunner of the Meteorological Office) where he was instrumental in the development of more accurate weather forecasts for shipping.
In April 1865, having suffered for several years with depression, FitzRoy commited suicide by slitting his throat. He is buried in the churchyard of All Saints Church in Upper Norwood, London.
Several places are named after him, including Mount Fitz Roy on the Argentina-Chile border, the settlement of Fitzroy in the Falkland Islands & Port Fitzroy in New Zealand. In 2002 the shipping area off the coast of Spain formerly called Finisterre was renamed FitzRoy in his honour. He also has a South American conifer; Fitzroya cupressoides, named after him, as well as Delphinus fitzroyi; a species of dolphin discovered by Darwin (now more commonly known as the Dusky Dolphin Lagenorhynchus obscurus, see photo, right) . He has also appeared on Royal Mail commemorative stamps in both the Falkland Islands & St Helena. Delphinus fitzroyi
Best known for his translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Edward Purcell was born at Bredfield near Woodbridge in March 1809. The family name change to FitzGerald was brought about in 1818, after his father John assumed the name of his wife’s family, one of the wealthiest families in England at that time, in order to inherit her father’s fortune. Upon the family’s return to England from a brief period in France, Edward went to King Edward VI Grammar School in Bury St Edmunds. In 1826 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became friends with future literary giants such as the poet Alfred Tennyson & the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray. After another stint in France from 1830, FitzGerald returned to Suffolk, where he was to spend the rest of his life; living at various times at Wherstead, Boulge & Woodbridge.
FitzGerald’s first published work was Euphranor, based on his life in Cambridge. This appeared in 1851, & the following year saw the publication of Polonius. By this time he was studying Spanish poetry &, in 1853, began studying Persian literature at Oxford.
FitzGerald first encountered the Persian philosopher & poet Omar Khayyám (1048 -1131) in 1857, after being sent some of the latter’s quatrains by his Oxford professor Edward Byles Cowell. Two years later, FitzGerald published (anonymously at first) The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám; a selection of translations of the poet’s ruba'i, (two-line stanzas with two parts per line). A slow seller at first, it eventually became popular after being discovered by the poets Rossetti & Swinburne. In 1868, a second edition was published, with two more editions appearing in FitzGerald’s lifetime & a fifth being published posthumously. The contents of each edition differed somewhat, & criticism has been forthcoming from some quarters that the poet’s work has been paraphrased, or even made up by FitzGerald himself. Nevertheless, the work remains popular to this day.
FitzGerald also published translations from the Persian of Jami's Salaman o Absal & Attar of Nishapur's Mantic-Uttair (the latter posthumously) & as well as plays by the Spanish writer Calderón.
In 1856 he married Lucy Barton, daughter of the Quaker poet Bernard Barton. From the 1860s onwards, FitzGerald developed an interest in the sea; keeping a yacht at Lowestoft, as well as being part owner of a herring lugger. In 1869 he published Sea Words & Phrases along the Suffolk Coast.
Edward FitzGerald died at home in 1883 & is buried in Boulge churchyard just north of Woodbridge. Legend has it that the rose bushes that grow around his grave originated from seeds taken from those at the grave of Omar Khayyám.
Composer, conductor & pianist Edward Benjamin Britten (better known as just Benjamin Britten) was born in Lowestoft, Suffolk in November 1913. Encouraged by his mother Edith, who gave him his first piano lessons, he made his first attempts at composition at the age of five, after which he composed prolifically. He began formal piano lessons at the age of seven, & viola lessons at ten. When he was 14, he became a pupil of the composer Frank Bridge, after hearing the latter’s orchestral poem The Sea. From 1930 to 1933 he attended the Royal College of Music in London; studying composition under John Ireland & piano under Arthur Benjamin. His first compositions to attract attention were written during this period, notably Sinfonietta Op. 1, A Hymn to the Virgin (1930) & A Boy was Born (1934). After writing the film score for the documentary The King's Stamp in 1935, & collaborating with poet W H Auden, he met tenor Peter Pears, who not only became his musical collaborator, but also his life partner. In 1939 the pair moved to America; living in the village of Amityville in Suffolk County, New York, before returning to Britain in 1942; at which point, as pacifists, they applied to become conscientious objectors. During his American sojourn, Britten composed Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, the first of many song cycles that he would write for Pears. It was also whilst in America that Britten first encountered Balinese gamelan music through Canadian composer Colin McPhee. This influence later manifested itself in such works as the ballet The Prince of the Pagodas (1957) & the opera Death in Venice (1973).
During the early 1940s, Britten wrote what was to become one of his most famous works, the opera Peter Grimes, which is based on the work of Suffolk poet George Crabbe (see above). It premiered at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London in 1945, & was the first in a series of English operas written over the next few years, including Billy Budd (1951), The Turn of the Screw (1954) & A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960); the latter being based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name. In 1946 he wrote The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, which originally accompanied a British Government educational film entitled Instruments of the Orchestra. It would become one of his best known works. In 1962 Britten completed the War Requiem; a non-liturgical setting of the Requiem Mass, written for the consecration of the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral. It is widely regarded as his greatest success. This posthumously received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998.
In 1948 Britten, along with Peter Pears & librettist Eric Crozier, founded the Aldeburgh Festival in the town that the pair had made their home on the Suffolk coast. Established originally for the English Opera Group, which Britten had co-founded the previous year, the festival soon expanded to include poetry readings, literature, drama, art exhibitions, lectures & a wide range of classical music performances. Initially held in Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall, the festival soon outgrew this venue, with events taking place in the neighbouring towns of Blythburgh, Orford & Framlingham. In the 1960s, the festival acquired a new, larger concert hall with the conversion of Snape Maltings. Although extensively renovated, the venue still retains much of the original character of nineteenth century barley malthouses. The new concert hall was opened by the Queen in June 1967. Since 2007 the festival has expanded further to include electronic & experimental music events.
In 1953 Britten was appointed a Companion of Honour for his services to music. This was followed in 1965 with the appointment to the Order of Merit, & in 1976 he accepted a life peerage & became Baron Britten of Aldeburgh.
Only months later, on 4th December 1976, Benjamin Britten died of a heart attack at his Aldeburgh home. He is buried in the churchyard of St. Peter and St. Paul's Church in the town, next to Sir Peter Pears. Two years after his death, a memorial stone to him was unveiled in Westminster Abbey. The Red House, in which Britten & Pears lived for more than thirty years, is now the headquarters of the Britten-Pears Foundation; an organisation that promotes the pair’s work.
Musician, composer & record producer Brian Eno was born in Woodbridge, Suffolk in May 1948. He went to St Joseph’s College in Ipswich, before studying art at Ipswich Art School & Winchester School of Art. St Joseph’s had been founded by the St John le Baptiste de la Salle order of Catholic brothers, & whilst a student there he added this to his birth-name; becoming Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno. Despite this, he is now better known simply as Eno.
After forming & experimenting with improvisational bands at school, Eno’s first appearance on record is on The Great Learning (1971) by the experimental music ensemble Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra. His musical career took off, however, in 1971 when he joined the band Roxy Music. Eno appeared on synthesiser & backing vocals on the band’s first two albums, Roxy Music (1972) & For Your Pleasure (1973), plus the hit singles Virginia Plain & Pyjamarama, before leaving after disagreements with the band’s frontman Bryan Ferry.
During this period, Eno was also a member of the the Portsmouth Sinfonia, a performance art-classical orchestra. He produced two of their albums, both released in 1974 (The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics & Hallellujah! The Portsmouth Sinfonia Live At The Royal Albert Hall) as well as playing clarinet on both recordings.
After leaving Roxy Music, Eno brought out four song-based albums, playing a variety of instruments & singing on Here Come the Warm Jets (1973), Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974), Another Green World (1975) & Before and After Science (1977). He also contributed to the June 1st 1974 live album with Kevin Ayers, John Cale & Nico, the Quiet Sun album Mainstream (1975) & the 801 Live album (1976) (The name 801 being taken from the lyrics of the song The True Wheel, which appears on the Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) album).
In 1975 he also brought out Discreet Music, the first release on his own Obscure Records label. Other artists whose work later came out on the label include Michael Nyman & John Cage. From this point onwards Eno’s work has veered away from his more pop orientated earlier work to instrumental & electronic music. He is widely credited with coining the term “ambient music” to describe this mood music. Some of his many solo albums since this time include Music for Films (1978), Ambient 4: On Land (1982), Thursday Afternoon (1985) & Another Day on Earth (2005). Although proficient on a wide variety of instruments, Eno separates his role from that of the traditional instrumentalist, describing himself as a “non-musician”, and using the term “treatments” to describe his modification of the sound of musical instruments.
On some of his albums, such as Apollo (1983) & Music for Films III (1988), Brian has collaborated with his brother Roger Eno, himself a multi-instrumentalist who has brought out several solo albums of his own, beginning with Voices in 1985.
Alongside his purely solo work, Eno has also collaborated with many other artists over the years, including Robert Fripp of King Crimson, the German electronic duo Cluster & their offshoot band Harmonia, David Byrne of Talking Heads, Jon Hassell, John Cale, Peter Sinfield & Harold Budd. His most famous collaborations, however, are with David Bowie on the latter’s ‘Berlin Trilogy’ of albums, Low, “Heroes” & Lodger, which came out during the period 1977-79. His contribution to the 1974 Genesis album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, is credited as ‘Enossification’.
As well as a performer, Brian Eno is also a well known record producer, one of his first producing credit being for the Lucky Leif and the Longships album in 1975 by Robert Calvert of Hawkwind fame. With Daniel Lanois he co-produced several of U2’s best known albums, such as The Unforgettable Fire (1984), The Joshua Tree (1987) & Achtung Baby (1991). He has also worked with such diverse acts as Talking Heads, Devo, Ultravox, Coldplay & Grace Jones amongst others.
In 1994 Eno was approached to compose The Microsoft Sound; a piece of music lasting only six seconds to be used as the start up music-sound of the Windows 95 operating system. During the 1990s Eno also began experimenting with what he termed “generative music”; self-generating musical systems in which several independent musical tracks of varying lengths are blended together to play concurrently. When each individual track finishes, it immediately restarts again, mixing with the other ongoing tracks & creating an almost infinite combination of sounds, in which it is almost impossible to hear exactly the same music twice.
In the 1970s Eno collaborated with Peter Schmidt on Oblique Strategies, a set of printed cards, each of which offers a phrase or cryptic remark intended to be used by musicians & other artists to break a creative block or dilemma situation. Since their first appearance in 1975, various editions of Oblique Strategies have appeared over the years, with the number of cards differing from edition to edition. Many editions are now collectors’ items & change hands for considerable sums of money.
Away from music, Brian Eno has taken an active interest in politics, & is a columnist for the Sunday newspaper The Observer. He has frequently contributed to political debates, such as speaking out against Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip. In December 2007 he was appointed as the party’s youth affairs adviser by leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg.
A selection of Brian Eno's recordings:
Eno - Another Green World
Cluster & Eno
Fripp & Eno - (No Pussyfooting)
Quiet Sun - Mainstream
Brian Eno/Peter Sinfield - In a Land of Clear Colours
Eno - Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
Harmonia 76 - Tracks & Traces
Fripp & Eno - The Equatorial Stars
Although world famous author Charles Dickens (1812 – 70) never lived in Suffolk, he was a frequent visitor to the county & several places in his novels are based on Suffolk towns & villages. Dickens is known to have bought a copy of the book Suffolk Words & Phrases (1823) by Edward Moor, which gave him an insight into the dialect. He may also have been acquainted with the work of the Suffolk poet George Crabbe (see above); his description of Mr Peggotty’s beach house in David Copperfield being reminiscent of Crabbe’s description of a fisherman’s shed.
It is known that Dickens visited the Lowestoft area in 1848 as part of a walking holiday, at which time he visited his friend Sir Morton Peto at Somerleyton Hall. He may also have visited Blundeston Hall. The village of Blundeston itself is thinly disguised as Blunderstone in David Copperfield (1849/50), with the birthplace of the eponymous main character, the Rookery, being based on Blundeston Rectory. The Plough Inn in the village is where David Copperfield & Barkis the Carrier are supposed to have begun their journey to London. Today, several of the streets in Blundeston are named after characters from David Copperfield, such as Barkis Meadow & Micawber Mews. There is also a Dickens Court.
Dickens first visited Bury St Edmunds in 1834 & was a frequent visitor to the town thereafter; staying at the Angel Hotel & giving readings of his work at the nearby Athenæum (see photo, left). Both the town & the hotel are featured in The Pickwick Papers, published in 1836/7:
“The coach rattled through the streets of a handsome town of thriving and cleanly appearance and stopped before a large Inn situated in a wide open street facing the old abbey. “This must be Bury St Edmunds, and this” said Mr Pickwick, looking up, “is the Angel”.”
The hotel is still in existence today, with one of the rooms being named the “Charles Dickens Room”.
Another location in Bury that Dickens used in The Pickwick Papers is South Hill House, which in the mid nineteenth century was an “Academy for Young Ladies” & was the inspiration for Westgate House girl’s school in the novel.
Ipswich, which Dickens first visited in 1834, also features in The Pickwick Paper, with Mr Pickwick staying at the Great White Horse Hotel. For more details go to Planet Suffolk’s sister site
A third Suffolk town that Dickens used for inspiration in The Pickwick Papers is Sudbury. Dickens was working as a journalist for the Morning Chronicle when, in 1835, he visited Sudbury to report on the General Election. In the novel, the town is disguised as Eatanswill & much of the electioneering & corruption that he witnessed is reflected in the book’s plot, albeit with a large dose of artistic license. The Peacock, at which Mr Tracy Tupman & Mr Augustus Snodgrass stay during the election, is probably based on the now demolished Swan, which once stood near to the Corn Exchange.
Sudbury based brewers Mauldons (established 1795) now produce a range of beers with a Dickensian theme, such as Micawbers Mild, Eatanswill Old, Dickens, Peggotty’s Porter & Pickwick.
Satis House in Yoxford, situated on the A12 between Saxmundham & Southwold is mentioned in the novel Great Expectations (1860/1). It may even have been here that Dickens wrote part of the novel, which was originally published in serial form in the publication All the Year Round, between December 1860 & August 1861.
When the central character Philip Pirrip or ‘Pip’ enquires about the name of the house, he is told by Estella Havisham that:
“It's Greek, Latin or Hebrew, may be all three, for enough” & that “It means that whoever lives in the house could wish for nothing more”.
At that time the house belonged to the Hulkes family, who also owned property close to Gadshill Place in London where Dickens lived from 1856 onwards, & who later attended the wedding of Dickens’ daughter. Satis House was later owned by barrister William Anthony Collins, a relative of writer Wilkie Collins (1824 - 89); the latter being a great admirer of Dickens’ work, who based part of his own novel No Name (1862) at Aldeburgh. Today the eighteenth century Satis House is a Grade II listed building & is run as a hotel & restaurant.
Dickens also has a connection with Suffolk County, Massachusetts. On his second American reading tour, which began in December 1867, Dickens stayed in Boston & was a regular visitor, along with several other famous literary figures, to The Old Corner Bookstore at the junction of Washington and School Streets. (See Freedom Trail section on the Page)
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