In Search of Secret Suffolk – A Talk by Robert Leader

Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome Robert Leader to the Parish Room last Wednesday night where he enthralled our 45 plus audience with his delightful exploration of the heritage and landscape of his home county.

Robert considers himself a Suffolk Homing pigeon because, despite his lifetime’s thirst for travel, he has always returned to the county. Born in Brandon and now living in Bury St Edmunds, he joined the merchant navy at 17 and went round the world, leaving because “he saw a lot of sky and sea through portholes but did not get any feel for the atmosphere of the countries or of the people”. He has since fulfilled such longings by twice undertaking the overland trip to India and the Far East, whilst also crossing Africa from Tunis to Cape Town by Land Rover.

Robert’s series of guide books to the counties of East Anglia grew from the many photo feature articles he wrote for the Suffolk and Norfolk Journals and the Essex Magazine, concentrating on the history and heritage, with a wealth of ruined castles, abbeys and stately homes to explore. Following the coastline and the courses of local rivers from their source to the sea, his photo trips occupied most summer weekends, with articles mostly written in mid-winter, as he was then running a painting and decorating business. It later dawned on him that these articles could be incorporated into chapters for a series of souvenir guide books, which eventually morphed into the talks he now gives to history societies and the like.

His talk centred around the 100 or so slide photos he took himself, along with a commentary of historical and factual information which together kept us all well entertained for over an hour. His favourite subjects were the rivers of Suffolk, because “they vary so much, sometimes quiet and peaceful in the Suffolk countryside and other times extremely busy, as along the Orwell, always changing. Heritage aspects along the rivers also tell a story because before modern roads, rivers were the main county routes – much is related to them and has grown up along them”.

Robert’s talk covered a huge part of our delightful and varied county, far too much to detail in this review, so what follows are those aspects which particularly caught your reviewers attention:

Ickworth House

One of the brightest jewels of the National Trust, an Italianate marvel with its immense rotunda soaring high above the elegant palatial wings curving away on either side. Set in magnificent parkland where sheep graze under mighty oaks, the grounds contain many fine walks, a small breeze-rippled lake, a summerhouse, a vineyard, a private family church and a deer park. The house is a treasure trove of sculptures, paintings and objects’ d’art too numerous to mention.

Eye Church and Guildhall

The magnificent flint-panelled C15th Church of St Peter and St Paul towers over its elegant neighbour, the black and white timbered guildhall, built in the late C15th and restored in 1875; an original carving of the Archangel Gabriel can still be seen on one of the guildhall wooden corner posts. “There is a village atmosphere to the lovely small town with an imposing town hall”.

Bungay and Framlingham Castles

Norman castles were strongholds which Barons could hold for or against their King, or from which to sally forth to fight for or against their King, or against each other. The central characters in Suffolk were the powerful Bigods, who held both castles. Suffolk’s castles are a solid link with the great and infamous, the names and deeds of the past and a feast for the imagination, and “if you are lucky enough to catch one of the living history displays so much the better”.

Beccles

A fine market town dating to around 960 AD and Bungay’s slightly larger neighbour. Dominating the centre of the town is the great, grey square block of the C14th bell tower of St Michael and All Angels, where the tower stands separate from the church with its magnificently ornate south porch. There are wide greens along the river and at busy Beccles Quay, swans float serenely between the moored yachts and motor boats and the holidaymaker’s Waveney begins. In recent years the Waveney has been re-born with the advent of the modern leisure industry – from Beccles onward the river is broad and deep, prime cruising water “filled with chugging power boats and bright yacht sails of red, white and blue”.

Somerleyton Village Green

The river loops north to take the charming little village of Somerleyton and the red and white towers of splendid Somerleyton Hall into its loose Suffolk embrace. The village is a large, neat green flanked by lovely thatched and timbered cottages while the hall is a lavish Victorian Christmas cake built in Anglo-Italian style. There are 12 acres of beautiful gardens surrounding the hall, a glory of colours in summer and the highlight is its famous yew hedge maze, “an ideal place to lose yourself if you have an hour or two to spare”.

Walberswick Harbour

The walk along the river is “one of the most picturesque in Suffolk, an ever-changing vista of charming rickety boat landings and jetties stretching out from the mud banks, with the river filled with both pleasure and working boats”.

In Search of Secret Suffolk is 184 pages of fascinating reading, illustrated with more than 100 photographs. The book is now out of print but still available through Amazon and Ebay.

 

At our next talk, John Newman will discuss recent excavations at Sutton Hoo, made famous by the excavations of Basil Brown when commissioned by the site owner Mrs Pretty in 1938. There have since been further excavations: by Dr Rupert Bruce-Mitford between 1965 / 1971, by Professor Martin Carver between 1983 / 1992 and again during preparation for the new National Trust visitor centre in 2000.

We look forward to welcoming guests new and old to the Parish Room on Wednesday 16th March for what is going to be a fascinating evening.

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