Suffolk: A Portrait in Colour
The beauty of Suffolk with its contrasting and varied scenery is the subject of a new book by local authors MARK & ELIZABETH MITCHELS. SUFFOLK: A PORTRAIT IN COLOUR (Countryside Books £9.95) is an affectionate look at the county – its villages and towns
, its rivers and its countryside, its castles and its coastline. The full page colour photographs each have their own commentary and include such scenes as the Woodbridge Tide Mill, Orford Castle
Fish Stalls, Saxstead Green Windmill
, RSPB Minsmere
, Blythburgh, Snape Maltings, Southwold
Lighthouse and a host of others.
Saxtead Green WindmillThe present mill dates from 1796 and worked until 1947. It represents the very peak of the art of mill construction, and it is extraordinary that a building which is functional in every respect, should at the same time be so aesthetically satisfying. It is a post mill, which means it can be turned to keep the sails square to the wind. In this case it sits on a brick round house, which served as a store. The white boarded upper section is approached by alarmingly steep stairs, which have to travel round as well. The sophistication of the present design is that the wind would not only work the millstones inside, but also power the sack hoist. Inside there are two pairs of stones, driven by the enormous sails, which have a total span of 55 feet. The great fan tail which rises from the stairway keeps the mill into the wind at all times.
Today Saxstead Green Windmill is in the care of English Heritage and the visitor can enjoy a full tour of the building, and appreciate its workings with the help of the excellent information boards which are on display everywhere.
Orford CastleIn the world of make-believe, we always imagine that if we could live in another age, we would be one of the great and the good, comfortably surrounded by servants and gracious living. Well, any hopes that life in a medieval castle would meet these requirements are cruelly shattered by a tour of Orford Castle. Life in its stone keep must have been awful, and only the direct threats to safety must have enforced residence! From the moment of passing through the main doorway there is a sharp drop in temperature, and the eyes have to adjust to the gloom. Leading off from the central hall are various chambers, serving as kitchen and chaplain’s room, which are hollowed out of the actual walls. The chapel is a bit better, having a couple of reasonable windows, but even here the warlike purpose of the place is paramount, for the portcullis rose up the wall through a hole in the floor when not in use. The upper hall follows a similar design, except that the wall cavities are now apartments for the Constable and other officers. Add to the gloom and cold the smell from the wall-discharging latrines, and the attractions of castle life pale. And this is without the possibility of death or injury – for above all Orford Castle was a building for war.
Helmingham HallEvery evening since the year 1510 both of the drawbridges at Helmingham Hall have been raised, leaving the wide, deep moat to ensure the privacy and security of the Tollemache family for another night! Originally the Hall was built in the half-timbered style, but subsequent building improvements have altered the exterior appearance to the one seen today. At first glance it may seem that the Hall is wholly of brick construction, but in reality the upper half of the wall comprises thin tiles, hung from the original timber frame-work. It is the combination of warm brickwork, elegant white windows and delightfully varied chimney pieces which make the Hall so pleasing to the eye. The moat, with its two iron bridges, is well stocked with fish, and in former days was even the source of the water supply!
Above all, the photographs in this book evoke a powerful image of Suffolk. Artists, musicians and writers have all found something special here. Gainsborough confessed, ‘Suffolk made me a painter’, while Constable wrote ‘I associate my careless boyhood with all that lies on the banks of the Stour. They made me a painter, and I am grateful’. In 1951 Benjamin Britten told an audience ‘I am firmly rooted in this glorious county. And I proved this to myself when I once tried to live somewhere else.’ As the Mitchels comment in their introduction ‘For many people in Suffolk these words express their own feelings towards this beautiful county’.
AldeburghAldeburgh is a town which never loses its charm; whatever the season, it is delightful to breathe in the bracing sea air, or stroll along the broad High Street with its traditional shops. Life here is rather slow and old-fashioned, perhaps, but it is certainly genteel. The geographical isolation of Aldeburgh and its connection with music and the arts combine to create a delicate harmony which even the throngs of summer visitors fail to destroy.
The church of St Peter and St Paul, set on high ground, has a plaque to the memory of the crew of the Aldeburgh, the lifeboat which on duty in 1899 with the loss of seven men. In a chapel is a bust of the poet George Crabbe. It was his poem The Borough, depicting Aldeburgh and its inhabitants, which was the inspiration for another genius associated with the town; Benjamin Britten lived in Crabbe Street for ten years and composed Billy Budd and The Turn of the Screw here. John Piper’s commemorative window enlivens the church with its bright colours; Britten is buried in the churchyard beyond. His real memorial, perhaps, is the Aldeburgh Festival which he founded in 1948, and which within a few years outgrew its birthplace and is now housed in the famous Snape Maltings Concert Hall, upstream on the river Alde.
WoodbridgeThe Tide Mill is the most famous building in Woodbridge, and offers an insight into the past, which our present energy-conscious time might reconsider. It uses the natural action of the tide to fill a pond which drives a mill wheel – twice a day, every day. The present mill building dates from 1793, and was working until 1957 when the main shaft broke. Today it has been restored and is working once again, although the original mill pond is now a marina. It is a popular tourist attraction, and artists cannot resist its appeal.
CavendishThere are many pretty villages in this part of the upper Stour valley, but surely none is more well-known and photographed than Cavendish. To be sure, the whole of the village is picturesque, with its well-tended gardens fronting old cottages and timbered inns; but the perfect view is acknowledged to be that from the village green, looking towards a group of pink-washed cottages and the church. The thatched cottages are in fact almshouses, collectively known as Hyde Park Corner; ruinous in the 1950s, they were restored, but subsequently burnt to the ground in a disastrous fire and rebuilt.
MARK and ELIZABETH MITCHELS live in Middleton, near Saxmundham
, and both are teachers. Mark was born and brought up in East Anglia and teaches English and History at Woodbridge School. Elizabeth teaches French at Leiston High School. Mark Mitchels is also author of Treasure Hoards of East Anglia.
Framlingham CastleThe walk up to the wall platform and the view from the wall itself are not to be missed, for Framlingham Castle exactly fits our expectations of a medieval fortification. In all directions the view is worth-while, and during the summer the courtyard below offers a varied programme of operas, plays, concerts and even medieval combat.
In its heyday the main courtyard would have been like a farmyard, with animals, smells and outbuildings everywhere. Now the scene is one of green lawns, flowers and a pretty stone hall. This building was once the town poorhouse, but today it contains a shop, the town museum and an exhibition space.
Ickworth HouseThe idiosyncratic 4th Earl of Bristol, Frederick Hervey was born in 1730. He was also the Bishop of Derry and it is said that he instituted the peculiar practice of curate racing, whereby hopeful candidates for vacant parishes raced for the jobs on offer!
He travelled Europe indulging his love of art and architecture and decided to build a great house, to an original design, capable of displaying the cultural treasures he would acquire to fill it. He set off for Italy and there he met Mario Asprucci, an architect. The two began work on the building of Ickworth House, and as the design took shape the plans and instructions were sent to builders on the site. Incredibly, neither of them ever saw the house they were building in any other form than a papier mâché model!
Today the house contains many marvellous treasures, although most of them are not the product of those great European tours by Frederick Hervey. The National Trust is responsible for the house and gardens, so now at least there are thousands of admirers who have cause to be grateful to an eccentric 18th century Bishop.
Long MelfordLong Melford is a village which merits its name; the main street is over a mile long, and broad. The inns, shops and houses which line it are an interesting mixture of Tudor, Georgian and Victorian and it is delightful to walk under the avenue of trees in such a delightful setting.
SUFFOLK: A PORTRAIT IN COLOUR by Mark Mitchels is published by Countryside Books at £9.95 and is available from all local booksellers, garden centres and local attractions or direct from the publishers at www.countrysidebooks.co.uk
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our article on Suffolk Attractions
and our full list of Attractions in SuffolkEnglish Heritage in Suffolk
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