Our wonderful bunch of photographers who contribute to Macfilos have taken us to the furthest corners of the world and to dizzying heights. We’ve visited all continents, including remote districts of India, Myanmar and Australia. We’ve been up to Everest with Wayne Gerlach. We’ve even been to Scotland with a Frenchman, Jean Perenet.
But what of England, the home of Macfilos? I believe it is a beautiful and intriguing land with a great deal to offer the tourist, whether homegrown or foreign visitor. Sadly, so many visitors never go outside London.
The editor, Mike Evans, asked if I would take us on a short tour through an often neglected but beautiful corner of England. I know it intimately. It is the ancestral home of the “north folk” and the “south folk”. It is called East Anglia.
In my opinion, East Anglia’s most famous scene is at Flatford Mill in Suffolk, as painted by John Constable in his picture “The Hay Wain”.
Much of East Anglia is as it was many centuries ago, and jumping in the car and driving to some locations is like a journey back in time.
The designation “East Anglia” refers to the eastern outpost of the Anglo-Germanic peoples who settled here around 1,400 years ago, helping fill the vacuum left by the departure of the Romans. They were referred to as the “North Folk” and “South Folk”, hence the modern administrative counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.
Their Germanic compatriots, the Saxons, occupied a vast swathe of southern England and have lent their name to the modern English counties of Essex (the East Saxons), which lies partly in East Anglia, Middlesex (the mid-Saxons) and Sussex (the south Saxons). Wessex, the ancient kingdom of west Saxons, is a geographic area to the west but not an administrative county.
The counties of Norfolk and Suffolk are primarily agricultural and have been for the past millennium. In the Middle Ages, wool provided great wealth, not only for the city of Norwich but also for towns and villages throughout the area.
Just about every village has an impressive mediaeval church. However, there have been ups and downs in agriculture. The agricultural depression in the 19th century is one example. Many agricultural labourers moved away from East Anglia to find work in big industrial cities such as Manchester and Birmingham.
Today, modern agricultural methods enable big farming estates to flourish. And Norwich and Ipswich have diversified into a range of employment from financial services to light industry.
Our family moved from Sheffield in Yorkshire to Ipswich (Suffolk) in 1959, and my parents stayed here for the rest of their lives. I went to school in Ipswich, joined the Army, and on leaving the Forces, I moved back to Suffolk and have been here for the last 35 years
My grandparents (again from Sheffield) retired to Blakeney on the North Norfolk Coast in 1958 and stayed there for the rest of their lives.
With my connections to Norfolk and Suffolk, I feel I know East Anglia intimately.
Castle Acre Priory
For the start of my photographic journey around East Anglia, I will go back a thousand years. Below is the ruined Castle Acre Priory, which shows a sky similar to that depicted by John Constable in his painting, The Hay Wain.
Castle Acre Priory, completed in 1160, is in ruins. The destruction resulted from Henry VIII’s break with Rome in the 1530s when he formed the Church of England and dissolved over 800 priories and monasteries throughout England.
Lavenham is perhaps the most photogenic mediaeval village in East Anglia. Its prosperity came from the wool trade in the 15th and 16th centuries when it became one of the richest towns in Britain.
Evidence of this prosperity can be seen in the lavishly constructed “wool” church of St Peter and St Paul. It stands on a hill at the top end of the main high street and was completed in 1525. The 138ft-high church tower is particularly impressive.
Today, the church is one of the most visited in East Anglia. It was awarded four stars by Simon Jenkins in his 1999 book England’s Thousand Best Churches. He writes:
Many enthusiasts prefer it to Long Melford, finding it less ostentatious, more serene. To the purist, its tower is more original, its nave more Perpendicular, and its chancel arch more majestic. Against this must be set the dire Victorian glass but for that at least there is an easy answer. … Lavenham’s interior is one of the most dramatic in Suffolk.”— Simon Jenkins
The National Trust
The National Trust is a charity and membership organisation for heritage conservation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It has over five million members and is a venerable institution among retired folk. In Scotland, there is a separate and independent National Trust for Scotland.
Here in East Anglia, I will cover the Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo burial site and three grand historic properties, all of which are under the care of the National Trust.
However, other great properties within East Anglia are still in private ownership. At Helmingham Hall in Suffolk, the Tollemache family, which came over with William the Conqueror, has lived in the “new” moated hall since it was built in 1510. So, for the past 500 years, generations of the same family have lived on one property. Throughout these centuries, the drawbridge has been lowered and raised daily. The current Lord and Lady Tollemache open their gardens on some Sundays in the summer, but their house is not open to the public.
Also of note is the impressive Holkham Hall estate in Norfolk, owned by generations of the Earls of Leicester. The house and grounds are open to the public depending on the season.
The royal Sandringham Estate is perhaps the best-known “residence” of East Anglia. The house is open to the public when The King is not in residence.
A recently much acclaimed Netflix film, The Dig, drew attention to this part of East Anglia, and the subject of the drama was the discovery of the fabulous Sutton Hoo treasure.
The story will be well known to those who have watched the film. In essence, Mrs Pretty, who lived in a big house on the Sutton Hoo estate, dreamt one night that the ancient mounds contained treasure. Indeed this was true, and a buried Anglo-Saxon ship containing an unequalled trove was excavated in 1939.
The treasure is now on display in the British Museum. Replicas are also on display in the National Trust visitor centre.
I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Sutton Hoo, and the newly opened observation tower is well worth climbing for its views over the River Deben and the burial grounds.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the Blickling Estate was the birthplace of Anne Boleyn, and during the Second World War, RAF aircrew were billeted there. The present Blickling Hall was built in 1616 and has been occupied by aristocratic families until it was purchased by the National Trust in 1940.
Despite its fortified appearance, the moated Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk was intentionally built as a family home.
It was completed in 1482 for Sir Edmund Bedingfeld, and the Bedingfelds have lived here ever since. The family survived the Civil War, periods of near dereliction, and in the 20th century, the threat of demolition. It was sold to the National Trust in 1952.
The Hervey (pronounced Harvey) family created the present park and gardens out of a medieval deer park in around 1700. John Hervey was the 1st Earl of Bristol. The building of the new Ickworth House was started by the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry (1730 – 1803), known as the Earl Bishop.
A Bishop’s conceit — the present building was the conceit of a Bishop who did not go to church, and rarely visited his Irish see; who became the 4th Earl of Bristol, through a third son; and who, though growing up there, visited Ickworth only twice during his tenure. The building was designed to display an extensive art collection which was lost to Napoleon’s army. It was to reflect his passion for Italy through an Italianate style of architecture wholly unsuited to the Suffolk climate. It was to house a wife and family from whom the Earl Bishop was estranged. It was to be funded by the revenues from his Diocese, which should by rights have been used for the good of the church. Furthermore, it was neither completed, nor ever seen, by the Earl Bishop before his death in 1803”.— National Trust Guidebook
I imagine that the Earl Bishop was quite a character.
By 1803 only the massive rotunda had been built. The East and West Wings were completed in the 1830s. From wing tip to wing tip of the building, the frontage measures 180 metres (590 feet). The dome is 31.4 metres (103 feet) high.
The National Trust took complete control of Ickworth in 1996, and in 2002 the East Wing opened as the Ickworth Hotel, just in case you are looking for a superior base from which to explore the county.
To me, visiting Ickworth is a real joy. I particularly recommend seeing its art and silver collection.
Aldeburgh is a delightful coastal town, forever associated with the composer Benjamin Britten. He lived in the town and latterly moved to the Red House on its outskirts. The Red House is occasionally open to the public and has a museum attached to it.
In 1967, just five miles inland from Aldeburgh, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears instigated the conversion of the great malt house at Snape to make a concert hall to house the performances of their annual Aldeburgh Festival.
The hall, with its brilliant acoustics, and the smaller new hall concert venues and teaching rooms have now become a world-famous music complex. A memorable concert there for me was Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in August 2018 at the Snape Proms.
Aldeburgh was once an important fishing village, and I can remember seeing several fishing boats launched from the beach, but now there are only a couple of families involved in the fishing industry. But fresh fish is still available from the fishing shacks on the beach.
The bronze dog by the name of “Snooks” overlooks the model yacht pond near the Tudor Moot Hall and is worth a mention. The sculpture is a memorial to a dog which belonged to a husband and wife, both local doctors, and followed them everywhere on their rounds. It was commissioned after their deaths and was unveiled in 1961.
The Moot Hall is still used for Council business and is sometimes open to the public.
In a recent travel article in the Daily Telegraph (unfortunately behind a paywall), author Sophie Money-Coutts outlined “the nine poshest places for a UK holiday”, Southwold was prominently featured, using its new soubriquet of “Poshwold”.
It is true Southwold has a particular cachet among some visitors and second home owners, but I will just settle with the fact that it is one of the most picturesque seaside towns in England, posh or unposh.
A garden shed on the beach? These rather nondescript, colourful beach huts are a phenomenon of many British seaside resorts, particularly those in southeast England and, as above, in Southwold. On the face of things, they hardly evoke the term “posh”.
But appearances can be misleading. Residents will kill to get their hands on one of these tiny but superbly located little sheds. There are stories of people camping out for days when leases are up for the grabbing. The beach hut boom is a study in itself. All I need say, perhaps to stretch your credulity to its utmost, is that some of these little palaces change hands for several hundred thousand pounds. I’m not sure about Southwold pricing, but one hut in Sandbanks, near Bournemouth, was sold last year for £330,000.
The first thing which strikes you when visiting Southwold, which isn’t mentioned in any of the guidebooks or websites, is the overpowering hoppy smell emanating from Adnams Brewery, which dominates the centre of the town. It is not a common smell most of us encounter in day-to-day life.
What I find surprising is how Adnams brewery adopted the image of a 15th-century clock Jack, located at the west end of the church, to be their Jack brand for selling beer.
There are doppelgängers of Jack to be found all over Southwold. It is an interesting exercise to try and track down as many as possible.
Two Jack-come-latelies are obvious on the external walls of many buildings, but more can be found in the new Adnams Cellar and Kitchen Store and, of course, in the pubs themselves.
Visiting the North Folk and South Folk
East Anglia is as far east as one can go in Great Britain, and unless you have a purpose, it is not on any through route to the rest of the country.
This selective virtual photographic tour, I hope, has given you a flavour of these two distinctive counties, the lands of the East Angles.
Let’s finish with John Constable. Why not capture your own modern version of the River Stour as depicted in Constable’s painting “Stratford Mill”, only a few miles from the location immortalised in “The Hay Wain”.