Suffolk has a rich history, unique architecture, stunning beaches and breathtaking countryside as well as first-class local food & drink, so it’s no wonder that we attract a host of celebrities & famous residents, both past and present.
Sir Peter Hall CBE was born in Bury St Edmunds on November 22, 1930, and during his life founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and directed the National Theatre, Glyndebourne and then his own The Peter Hall Company.
Peter Hall made his mark at the age of 24 when, in 1955, he produced a new play by a relatively unknown writer – Samuel Beckett. The play was Waiting for Godot and the rest, as they say, is history.
In 1974 Peter made a film based loosely upon the book ‘Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village’ by Ronald Blythe. The book has been described as a work of rural realism and is based in East Anglia. The author himself appeared in the film, as did Sir Peter Halls’s father, and all other parts are played by real-life villagers who improvised their own dialogue.
Benjamin Britten was expected to write the music for the film as a fellow Suffolk resident (see below), but unfortunately, he was unwell, so it fell to Michael Tippett, also from East Anglia, who produced his Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli which contributed significantly to the popularity of the film.
Big fan of performing arts? See our guide to Theatres in Suffolk or find out more about the lovely town of Snape Maltings.
Homegrown Wimbledon champions are few and far between, but we have our very own in Suffolk – Christine Truman made her Wimbledon debut at 16 and won the French Open 2 years later in 1959. She won £40! Today she lives and plays tennis in Aldeburgh, where she’s President of the Tennis Club & regularly beats us lesser mortals on the court. A dream to watch and an inspiration to many younger players, including her daughter Amanda Janes who followed in her footsteps and became British No 1. Amanda coaches regularly in Aldeburgh and Ipswich. You can recognise her easily as she’s the spitting image of Gwyneth Paltrow – but a much better tennis player!
If you love the great outdoors, see our guide to Camping in Suffolk or for some great active days out….
Did you watch Poldark on BBC on Sunday evenings? The original Poldark in the 1970s was Robin Ellis, who plays the Reverend Mr Halse in the recent series. Robin Ellis is an actor and cookery book writer who was born in Ipswich, and he remains a loyal Ipswich Town Football Club supporter to this day even though he now lives in France. Find out more about Ipswich
P.D. James – the renowned crime fiction writer P. D. James had a second home in Southwold and was created by Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991. Several of her novels were set in Suffolk – for example, in Unnatural Causes, when Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh spends a quiet holiday at his aunt’s cottage on Monksmere Head, just south of Dunwich. However, all hope of peace is soon shattered by murder. On his initial journey, the detective stops at Blythburgh church and enters ‘the cold silvery whiteness of one of the loveliest church interiors in Suffolk’. Covehithe is the setting for Death in Holy Orders, and in The Children of Men, a novel set in the future, Southwold is the centre for the compulsory suicide of the old! P. D. James’ autobiography is full of local allusions, including pictures of the Cathedral of the Marshes at Blythburgh.
Visit a Suffolk Museum to find out more about the rich and varied heritage of our historic county.
Bob Hoskins 1942 – 2014 – well known and award-winning actor Bob Hoskins was famous for playing a great variety of roles in many films over a long period (his acting career began in the 1960s and lasted until close to his death). He was particularly known for playing tough, Cockney gangsters – but was actually born in Bury St Edmunds in 1942! His mother was evacuated to Suffolk from London as a result of the heavy bombings, and the Hoskins family left Bury while Bob was just a baby. Star of The Long Good Friday, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and many more, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and retired in 2012.
Ralph Fiennes was born in Ipswich on 22 December 1962. As well as being a world-famous actor (credits include Schindlers List, The Constant Gardener, The English Patient, Harry Potter etc) he is an 8th cousin of the Prince of Wales and a 3rd cousin of adventurer Ranulph Fiennes. He is the eldest of six children, and his siblings include actor Joseph Fiennes as well as Martha Fiennes, a director (in her film Onegin, he played the title role); Magnus Fiennes, a composer; Sophie Fiennes, a filmmaker; and Jacob Fiennes, a conservationist. Ralph Fiennes is a UK UNICEF Ambassador, and his full name is ….Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes!
Benjamin Britten – (22 November 1913 – 4 December 1976) –
2013 was the centenary of his birth in Lowestoft to a dentist father and an amateur musician mother. Britten was educated at Old Buckenham Hall School in Suffolk, and in 1927 he began private lessons in music that would be the beginning of his world-famous musical career.
In 1947 he and his partner Peter Pears founded the Aldeburgh Festival, an English arts festival devoted mainly to classical music. In 1976 Britten accepted a life peerage as Baron Britten of Aldeburgh, but he died of heart failure soon after at his house in Aldeburgh and is buried in the churchyard of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church. The Red House in Aldeburgh, where Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears lived and worked together for almost thirty years, is now the home of the Britten-Pears Foundation, which promotes their musical legacy.
Ed Sheeran is a singer-songwriter who is currently signed to Asylum / Atlantic Records. Sheeran broke through commercially in June 2011, when his debut single “The A Team” debuted at number 3 on the UK chart. He was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, to Irish and English parents, before moving to Framlingham, Suffolk. He learned guitar at a very young age and began writing songs during his time at Thomas Mills High School in Framlingham.
John Peel – the influential DJ and radio presenter, John Peel lived in Suffolk for 33 years, and his gravestone was erected three years after his death. Peel was Radio 1’s longest-serving DJ when he died aged 65 in October 2004, famously championing The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks on his show. He was quoted as saying he would like the song’s line “our teenage dreams so hard to beat” on his tombstone. The DJ is buried in St Andrew’s Church, in the village of Great Finborough, Suffolk. Peel’s widow, Sheila Ravenscroft, said: “We have put the words on the stone that he would’ve wanted. I wouldn’t dare do anything else!”
John Peel Centre for Creative Arts. The former Corn Exchange building in the Town Centre of Stowmarket is being converted into a top-quality centre for creative arts in honour of the legendary John Peel, who lived just outside the
Town. A group of dedicated volunteers – including John’s wife, Sheila – have done some excellent work to raise funds to carry out initial improvement work, which will enable the building to be used to host events.
To find out more information, visit www.johnpeelcentreforcreativearts.co.uk
Twiggy – one of the world’s most famous models, Twiggy, shares a home in Southwold with her actor husband, Leigh Lawson. The couple (pictured above) can often be seen taking a walk along the beach in Southwold, and Twiggy says she loves shopping – especially for food – in a number of Suffolk markets. It was one winter in 2004, when the couple were having lunch in a pub after one of their walks on the gusty beach that she was spotted by Steve Sharp, the marketing executive for Marks & Spencer….the rest, they say, is history
He had the immediate idea of using her in the well-regarded M&S; campaign. Twiggy says, “I’m very happy I went to that pub. It’s funny, when I think of all the times I’ve been to meet someone about a job, and worried about what to wear, and got changed a million times. And then there I am that day in Southwold in my woolly hat and anorak, and Steve spots me. It just shows, doesn’t it?”
BBC Radio 4 and Newsnight Broadcaster Martha Kearney lives in Suffolk, where she enjoys producing honey from her six beehives. Watch her on a BBC4 TV series called The Joy of Honey in 2014.
Griff Rhys Jones
Presenter, comedian and documentary maker Griff Rhys Jones may love the open road and exploring rivers, but home is where the heart is. For Jones, that means Holbrook with a garden sloping down the banks of the River Stour, on the Shotley Peninsular in Suffolk, where he lives with his wife Jo and Labrador Cadbury.
After making his name alongside Mel Smith in Not The Nine O’clock News and Alas Smith and Jones, the multi-talented Jones went on to star on stage and screen.
A keen sailor who first tacked his way around the East Anglian waterways with his father Elwyn, Jones has brought the magic of sailing yachts to life through programmes such as Three Men in a Boat and the BBC series River Journeys, which have featured the River Orwell and Pin Mill. He is a keen conservationist who supports the work done by the RSPB and has owned several boats over the years, often based at Shotley Marina. See some of the reasons why Griff Rhys Jones loves Suffolk: Bury St Edmunds, she was evacuated to Wales. At 17, she met and married the actor John Garley, but he suffered depression and committed suicide at home in 1957. In 1958, she married Robert Arnold, star of the well-known early BBC television programme Dixon of Dock Green. Since Arnold died in 2003, June has lived alone in their house in Surrey.
Humphrey Lyttelton May 1921-April 2008
The famed jazz trumpeter, broadcaster and quizmaster was a regular visitor to his father’s home in Grundisburgh, enjoying the solitude of Suffolk’s scenic countryside.
Humphrey’s father, George, the second son of the 8th Viscount of Cobham, moved to Suffolk after retiring as a housemaster at Eton College in 1945 and stayed there until his death, aged 79, in 1962.
Although an accomplished jazz musician, Humphrey’s celebrity stemmed from his roles on the radio with I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue and The Best of Jazz.
Marcus Evans – Ipswich Town
The owner and chairman of Ipswich Town Football Club spent his early years in a family cottage in the small village of Walsham le Willows, near Bury St Edmunds.
That abiding memory was a factor when he bought the Portman Road club in 2007 at a knockdown price. The 49-year-old Evans is listed 143rd in the Sunday Times Rich List with a £625 million fortune from companies which employ more than 3,000 people worldwide.
A keen golfer, he has two homes in London but is a regular visitor to Suffolk, often arriving by helicopter and staying and dining close to the Ipswich club. See places to stay
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (approx. 1471-1475 – 29 November 1530) – this historical political figure and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church was born in Ipswich and attended Ipswich School. Wolsey came into great power as King Henry VIII’s chief adviser and held Henry’s confidence until the King decided to seek an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Wolsey’s failure to secure the annulment is widely perceived to have directly caused his downfall and arrest. In 1529, Wolsey was stripped of his government office and property and accused of treason. Wolsey fell ill and died just before his hearing on 29 November 1530.
George Orwell – Born: Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950) – the English writer George Orwell penned works such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm and is considered one of the 20th Century’s best narrators of English culture. His work displays high intelligence and keen wit, focusing on social injustice. Orwell’s family set up a home in Southwold upon his father’s retirement. Orwell attended a Cram School there and frequently visited in his later life. In 1929 he returned to his parent’s house in Southwold, where he stayed for 5 years. The family was well established in the local community, and his sister Avril was running a tea house in the town. During his last year in Southwold, he wrote A Clergyman’s Daughter, based on his life as a teacher and on his experiences in Southwold. On 21 January 1950, Orwell died of a burst artery aged just 46.
Sir Alfred Munnings – (8 October 1878–17 July 1959) – one of England’s finest painters of horses, Alfred Munnings was born in Mendham, Suffolk. Munnings’ artistic talent was employed as a war artist, and he painted many scenes, working on canvas just a few thousand yards from the German front lines. Munnings was elected president of the Royal Academy of Art from 1944 until 1949. His presidency is most famous for the departing speech he gave in 1949, attacking modernism. He was awarded a knighthood in 1944. In 1959 he died at Castle House, Dedham, and his wife later turned their home in Dedham into a museum of his work. The village pub in Mendham and a street is also named after him.
WG Sebald – (18 May 1944 – 14 December 2001) – Although not a Suffolk resident, the great author WG Sebald focused his second novel, The Rings of Saturn, on an account of his own on a walking tour of East Anglia, including Suffolk. The first sentence of the novel thus begins: “In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work.” In addition to describing the places he sees and the people he encounters, Sebald also discusses various episodes of history and literature. Sebald died in a car crash near Norwich in 2001, losing control after suffering a heart attack. He is buried in St. Andrew’s churchyard in Framingham Earl, Norwich, close to where he lived.
Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, LSA, MD (9 June 1836 – 17 December 1917) – Garrett was a physician and feminist. She second of the nine children of Newson Garrett, a grain merchant and maltster from Aldeburgh. After studying medicine in London, her name was entered on the medical register, and she was the first woman qualified in Britain to do so. In 1897 Dr Garrett Anderson was elected president of the East Anglian branch of the British Medical Association. On 9 November 1908, she was elected mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor in England. She died in 1927 and is buried in Aldeburgh.
Famous Suffolk People
Beryl Cook, OBE – (10 September 1926 – 28 May 2008) – born in Surrey and best known for her comical paintings of people, Beryl Cook had no formal training and did not take up painting until middle age. Beryl met John Cook when they were just ten years old and living as neighbours, and the pair met again after the Second World War and went on to marry in 1948. They took a tenancy of a pub in Stoke by Nayland in Suffolk, but the countryside was not for them. As Beryl said, “It may have been healthy, but we hated the life.”!
William Godwin (3 March 1756 – 7 April 1836) – the journalist, political philosopher, and novelist William Godwin moved to Debenham with his parents when he was just 2 years old. William Godwin moved to Stowmarket in 1780, where he became a deist. He married early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797, and that same year Mary gave birth to their daughter, also called Mary – who later became Mary Shelley and wrote the world-famous novel Frankenstein. On August 30 1797, Mary Wollstonecraft died from complications ten days after the birth of her daughter.
George Crabbe (24 December 1754 – 3 February 1832) – the English poet and artist George Crabbe, was born in Aldeburgh, where he first developed his love of poetry. In 1768 he was apprenticed to a local doctor. The field of medicine taught and interested him little, and in 1771 he changed masters and moved to Woodbridge. There he met his future wife, Sarah Elmy. His first major work, a poem entitled Inebriety, was self-published in 1775. He became most well known for The Village (1783) and The Borough (1810). He was ordained as a priest in 1872. At one time, Crabbe was also an active and notable coleopterist and recorder of beetles and is credited for taking the first specimen of Calosoma sycophanta L. to be recorded from Suffolk.
Jimmy Hoseason (1927-2009) – one of the region’s most successful and well-known holiday entrepreneurs, Jimmy Hoseason, grew up in Lowestoft, where his father Wally was the harbourmaster. A civil engineer by trade, he took over his father’s small boatyard after Wally’s death. Hoseasons was founded in 1944 by Wally, who started hiring out boats in Oulton Broad as holiday homes on behalf of their owners during a fuel ban because of the Second World War. Mr Hoseason, who lived in Beccles, died on Saturday, 7th November 2009, at age 82.
Angus McBean (1904-1990) – a highly influential photographer thought to have revolutionized portraiture in the 20th century by photographing the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Agatha Christie, Laurence Olivier, Noel Coward, Vivien Leigh, and The Beatles (to name but a few). During the 1970s, McBean began his first short-lived retirement and moved to Suffolk. Here he concentrated on restoring his spectacular moated house, Flemmings Hall, in Bedingfield near Eye. McBean turned the house into a decorative fantasia on Greensleeves, in keeping with his own sartorial style. For ten years, McBean did not work as a professional photographer, preferring to photograph a few of his Suffolk friends as a hobby, and instead focused his energies on giving guided tours of Flemmings Hall and restoring antiques for the antique shop he owned in Debenham. McBean was a highly regarded member of the Suffolk community, and there are even reports of him having judged a photography competition in Eye. By his eightieth birthday, McBean was restoring his second medieval house in Suffolk. He died in 1990, on the night of his eighty-sixth birthday.
Norman Tebbit – the outspoken former Conservative MP who was a key figure in Margaret Thatcher’s government, Lord Tebbit and his wife, Margaret, currently live in Bury St Edmunds, where he aimed to enjoy his retirement and “a peaceful life”. The couple also favoured Bury St Edmunds because of the facilities close at hand for Margaret, who was confined to a wheelchair after the IRA’s bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the 1984 Conservative Party conference, where Tebbit was also injured.
Brian Eno -the musician, composer, record producer and singer Brian Eno is best known as the keyboard and synthesiser player for Roxy Music. He grew up in Woodbridge, where he still owns a large Victorian house.
Maggi Hambling – Maggi Hambling is a household name in British art for her work as a figurative painter, sculptor and printmaker. Maggi has many connections with Suffolk, having been born there and created the Scallop sculpture on Aldeburgh beach. Please see Maggi Hambling for more information.
Ronald “Carl” Giles (1916 –1995) – often referred to simply as Giles, this Suffolk-born cartoonist was most famous for his work for the British newspaper the Daily Express. A bronze statue of his character “Grandma” to commemorate him is located in the Ipswich town centre.
Two of Britain’s greatest painters, John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough, were both born and lived in Suffolk – please see Gainsborough and Constable for more information.
Claudia Schiffer – the eternally youthful German super-model and actress Claudia Schiffer owns a £5 million Elizabethan mansion, Coldham Hall (pictured below), in Lawshall near Bury St Edmunds. Schiffer was married to Matthew Vaughn, producer of the hit British film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, in St. George’s church in the village of Shimpling on 25 May 2002. Shimpling is in south Suffolk, located around 7 miles from Bury St Edmunds, and is part of Babergh district. Despite being a very private person, Schiffer has been seen at the fashionable Suffolk Show in Trinity Park, Ipswich.
Ronald Blythe – the English writer and editor for Penguin Classics, Ronald Blythe is best known for his book, Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village, which details life in Suffolk from the turn of the century to the 1960s. Blythe was born in Suffolk and educated in Sudbury. While a young man, he worked for Benjamin Britten at the Aldeburgh Festival.
Sportsmen – Suffolk’s contributions to sport include Formula One magnate Bernie Ecclestone and England footballers Terry Butcher, Kieron Dyer and Matthew Upson. Due to Newmarket being the centre of British horseracing, many jockeys have settled in the county, including Lester Piggott and Frankie Dettori. For more information, please see Newmarket Racing.
Sue Ryder (1923–2000) – this remarkable British peeress who worked with Special Operations Executive in the Second World War later opened and based the Sue Ryder Foundation (AKA Sue Ryder Care) in Cavendish, Suffolk, in 1979.
Cradle of Filth – this extreme metal band featuring songs that focus on a horror theme were formed in Suffolk in 1991, and lead singer Dani Filth married his girlfriend Toni on October 31 2005, in Ipswich – the couple and their daughter Luna still reside in Suffolk.
Corgis from the film, The Queen – Helen Mirren impressed cinema-goers the world over with her performance as the Queen – but few people know her co-star Corgis come from a small Suffolk village! The dogs – Anna, Poppy, and Poppy’s puppies Megan, Alice and Oliver – belong to Liz Smith, a retired outside caterer from Little Blakenham, near Ipswich, who became known as “Corgi Liz” on set. Smith was approached to help with the film after her dogs were spotted at an obedience competition by an animal consultant for film and television.
If you love bringing your furry friends on holiday with you, then you’re in luck – Suffolk is a super dog-friendly county, and we have a whole heap of articles, especially for dog owners, including Doggy Days out and Dog Friendly beaches. Click here to read more Dog friendly Suffolk
Famous Suffolk People
A number of famous people were born in Suffolk and spent their childhood here – these include the actor the film & theatre director Trevor Nunn (Ipswich), Hip-Hop DJ and television presenter Tim Westwood (Lowestoft), and poet, writer, and traveller Charles Montagu Doughty (1843 – 1926, Saxmundham).
William Songer – Captain Arthur Wakefield’s brother-in-law who travelled to Nelson, New Zealand on the Whitby as Wakefield’s servant, was born in the village of Stoke by Nayland and suggested naming the township after his birthplace.
Francis Bacon – not exactly a resident, but the artist Francis Bacon was a frequent visitor to Long Melford, where his lover’s brother, David Edwards, owned Westgate House. This Georgian house was an ideal escape for Bacon from London pressures. The House has a large walled garden which played host to riotous parties, as Bacon enjoyed entertaining his friends from the East End. Long Melford today offers a thriving Arts Scene with many top-class art galleries. For more information, please see Art Galleries in Suffolk and Art Exhibitions in Suffolk.
Ruth Rendell – another much-loved author, Ruth Rendell once lived in Polstead, and in 1997 was created Baroness Rendell of Babergh (of Aldeburgh in the County of Suffolk). Rendell features Suffolk in many of her novels, producing her own illustrated Ruth Rendell’s Suffolk. Make Death Love Me begins with a robbery at the Anglia Victoria bank in Suffolk, and – written under Rendell’s penname, Barbara Vine – Gallowglass is set in Sudbury, while she wrote about Orford and Aldeburgh for part of No Night is Too Long, Polstead and Nayland for A Fatal Inversion and Bury St Edmunds and its surroundings for The Brimstone Wedding.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) – a frequent visitor to Suffolk, the author Charles Dickens made several references to Suffolk in his work. For example, Satis House is featured in Great Expectations. When he became famous, he toured the county, giving recitals of his work – he opened the lecture hall for the Ipswich Mechanics Institute in 1851.
A more contemporary Suffolk writer is Erica James, who has written more than 19 books, including the Gardens of Delight, The Hidden Cottage and Summer at the Lake. The Dandelion Years was published in early 2015 and is set in Suffolk and Bletchley Park.
Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) was a high-profile anti-slavery campaigner who spent much of his life lobbying for the abolition of the slave trade. Born in Cambridgeshire, he won a scholarship to Cambridge University in 1779, where he won a Latin essay competition on the subject of whether it was lawful to make slaves of others against their will. He continued to campaign for abolition after leaving University, and, in 1787, he and Granville Sharp formed the Committee for the Abolition of the African Slave Trade. This Committee helped to persuade MP William Wilberforce to take up the abolitionist cause. Clarkson collected information and evidence about the slave trade from eyewitnesses, especially sailors who had worked on slave trading ships, and he used examples of equipment used on slave ships, including handcuffs, shackles and branding irons, as visual aids.
The slave trade was abolished in the British empire in 1807, and the following year, Clarkson published the book ‘History of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade and continued to campaign for the complete abolition of slavery. In 1833, Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act, which gave all slaves in the British Empire their freedom.
Clarkson retired to Ipswich and died on 26 September 1846.
Thanks to Ian Coles for bringing Martin Routh to our attention –
Although not famous by modern-day standards, Martin Routh was born in South Elmham, close to Halesworth, in 1755.
He was a classical scholar and became President of Magdalen College Oxford on 28 April 1791, and he held that position for 63 years until he died on 22 December 1854. This is still the record for a head of any UK College ever. He died in 1854 at 99, a very rare age then.
Suffolk Tourist Guide offers you everything you need to know about all the great things to do and places to see in the wonderful county of Suffolk.
Do you know of any famous Suffolk residents? Please send the details for inclusion to [email protected].