Travels with an Eriba
T here are many reasons to want to visit Suffolk. It has a great coastline, beautiful and interesting towns and villages with timber-framed houses and huge historic churches, the famous Constable Country, lovely, peaceful countryside and many more attractions. Even though we normally choose to centre ourselves at a specific base for our trips and set out to explore the area within easy travel into the surrounding area, this trip was even more restricted in terms of distance. For a good part of the time we camped there I (Anne) was by myself and was reliant on walking and public transport - ie the local bus service - to go anywhere. As it turned out this restriction was a happy fault because it concentrated attention on this particular area just north of the Essex border, more or less in between the towns of Hadleigh and Sudbury.
Map of Suffolk
Polstead is a typical Suffolk village, a peaceful place with a fascinating history, beautiful thatched cottages and timbered houses, a most interesting church and links to a 7th-century saint. The saint was Cedd, who came here in AD 653 to convert the natives to Christianity. He was an Anglo-Saxon monk from Northumbria, sent by King Oswiu to convert the East Saxon kingdoms in what is now East Anglia. Cedd is believed to have preached by an oak tree, which later became known as the Gospel Oak. Sadly, the tree finally collapsed totally in 1953, after more than 1400 years! Today a descendant of the original Gospel Oak grows from the remains of the ancient tree.
More notoriously, Polstead was the scene of the tragic murder of a young woman, Maria Marten, by her lover William Corder in the Red Barn on the outskirts of the village. Apparently they met there planning to elope, but Maria was never seen again. Corder sent letters to her relatives saying she was in good health, but her body was discovered in a grain storage bin in the barn. Corder was tried for Maria's murder, convicted and hanged in Bury St Edmunds, witnessed by a large crowd. A timber-framed thatched house on Marten's Lane is identified as marking her home.
St Mary's Church is beautifully situated on a hill, unusually a little distance from the village. In fact some other visitor asked me for directions to it, but it was quite clear they didn't believe me! It dates from about 1160, but there were major alterations in the 1400’s and 1500’s. Its stone spire is the only remaining one of its kind in Suffolk. and the interior has rare Norman brick arches and much reused Roman material There is a 13th century font and a 16th century remnant of painted oak roof. There is a touching 17th century memorial to Jacob Brand, lord of the manor of Polstead, shown laying his hand on the head of his dead son Benjamin.
On the opposite side of the pond a lane goes up, past some lovely old houses, to a little green surrounded by the village hall, the community-run village shop and post office and the Cock Inn, which is a traditional 17th century coaching inn.
A Tour around Polstead & the local area
- 004-porch (Custom)
- 005-church-insideback2 (Custom)
- 006-norman brickwork
- 012-corderhouse (Custom)
- 019-poppyfield2 (Custom)
Hadleigh & the Surrounding Area
Hadleigh is a market town which, until the 17th century, had a thriving cloth-making industry. Consequently, it was a wealthy town and still contains some lovely old timber- framed houses with pargeting. Near the Church is a great gatehouse called the Deanery Tower which dates back to 1495 and is grade 1 listed. The Guildhall was built in the mid 15th century as the Market Hall, with shops on the ground floor. Over the years this building has been used for a variety of purposes including a workhouse and a corset factory! Opposite the Guildhall is the flint and freestone Parish Church of St Mary, which has the oldest bell in Suffolk that still marks the hours. When the cloth industry declined so did Hadleigh and it wasn’t until the railway arrived that the town really prospered again.
Boxford is a sizeable village of approximately 1200 people, an easily walkable distance fom the campsite near Polstead, six miles east of Sudbury and five miles west of Hadleigh. In common with many other places in the area, Boxford grew prosperous on the proceeds of the medieval wool trade, and wealthy wool merchants lavished money on St Mary's church and built some of the attractive timber-framed buildings that still line the village centre. In those days it was a busy place with a much larger population than today.
The parish church of St Mary is primarily 15th century, in a mix of Decorated and Perpendicular style. The North Porch itself is a fine example of decorated wood work and may well be the oldest of its kind in Suffolk. It is described by all as the finest wooden porch in East Anglia, and for date and richness of detail, probably the most notable in the country. The South Porch is very elegant. It was built in the middle of the fifteenth century of soft sandstone which was floated over from Caen on rafts. It was carved with great care by masons who, it is said, camped for very many months in what is now the closed churchyard.
Kersey is a most attractive little village its main street lined with thatched and timber-framed cottages. Several of the houses show medieval pargeting, or decorative plasterwork, a speciality of East Anglian houses. One has a plasterwork sun with the date 1334 set around it.
Kersey owes its wealth of historic buildings to its prosperity during the heyday of the Suffolk wool trade in the Middle Ages. Kersey was known for its coarse twill broadcloth, much of which was used for army greatcoats and uniforms. Many of the cottages in the village started life as homes for families of weavers. .Among the numerous medieval buildings is the Bell Inn, which has featured in several travelogue films. The medieval church of St Mary that overlooks the village is another fine example of a Suffolk 'wool church', well endowed by rich local merchants.
St Mary's Stoke-by-Nayland
Constable Country is the modern name for the area in and around the valley of the river Stour, which was the home and workplace of John Constable, England’s most famous landscape artist in the early 19th century, Constable often painted the landscape around the villages of Stoke-by-Nayland and Nayland. He loved the tower, and it appears several times in his paintings, not always in the right place!
Stoke-by-Nayland village is close to the border with Essex. It has many cottages and timber-framed houses and a beautiful church with some interesting features The most obvious is the tower, standing 120 feet high above rows of attractive cottages. It is a statement of the wealth and power of the medieval wool merchants who built the church and is one of Suffolk's finest 'wool churches'. It was started in the 14th century and enlarged and in the 15th, when the wool trade reached its height. The Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk, made a large contribution to the building and there is a reminder of this in the church in a brass to Katherine Molyns, Duchess of Norfolk and grandmother two queens; Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn, both married to Henry VIII and both beheaded.
Simon Jenkins, in England's 1000 Best Churches, says that when the bells of Stoke-by-Nayland ring, all Suffolk stops to listen.
Sudbury is an ancient market town set in the Stour Valley, which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its history dates back to the time of the Saxons and it has a long heritage in the weaving and silk industries. There are three silk factories still successfully manufacturing in the town today. The famous artist Thomas Gainsborough was born in the town and there is a statue of him in the Market Square, with St Peter's Church behind him. His birthplace is now open to the public and has been converted to a museum and art gallery.
A Walk from Sudbury to Long Melford
Via the Watermeadows and the disused railway line. The meadows are a very significant site for all kinds of flora and fauna because they have never been ploughed, nor has artificial fertiliser been used on them.
The Watermeadows 1
The Watermeadows 2
Along the Old Railway line
Three Notable "Wool Towns" near Sudbury
Clare, Lavenham and Long Melford
Clare, Suffolk's smallest town, is a lovely place with over 130 listed buildings, six of which are grade 1. It came into prominence in the medieval period as the wool trade expanded, Clare’s timber-framed buildings provide the visitor with interesting architectural details -Tudor brick chimneys, carriage entrances, and abundant examples of pargeting, the 16th/17th-century technique of decorative plastering.
I only had a short time to explore Clare, being dependent on local bus times, but I very much enjoyed the experience and would be very happy to revisit it. The features I concentrated on were the building known as the Ancient House, the parish church of SS Peter and Paul, and Clare Priory.
Clare Ancient House is one of Suffolk’s most frequently photographed pargeted buildings. It is a grade 1 listed building, and is recognised as having national importance. The West wing, on the High Street, is believed to date from the 14th century, and the more heavily decorated East wing may have been built in 1473, the date which appears in the plasterwork of the house. It is first mentioned in a will of 1502, which refers to the new and the old parts. The House was given to the town of Clare in 1938 by a local businessman Charles Byford to be put to a useful public purpose. Nowadays it's a museum.
An Aerial View of Clare Priory
Clare Priory is one of the oldest religious houses in England; situated in the shadows of Clare Castle on the banks of the River Stour, Suffolk.
It was established in 1248 at the request of Richard de Clare, who was also Earl of Hertford and Earl of Gloucester, The de Clare family first gained lordship of the area when it was given to Richard Fitzgilbert by William the Conqueror. It was the first house of the Augustinian (or Austin) Friars in England. Following its suppression in 1538, the house passed through many hands and uses until the Augustinian Friars purchased it in 1953 and so returned to their origins in England. Clare Priory today acts also as a Parish and Retreat Centre. It is the home of a mixed community of Augustinian Friars and lay people, open to both men and women, seeking to live the Christian life according to the Rule of St. Augustine.
In the peaceful grounds surrounding the priory there are remains of the original foundation. Among them are several reminders of the connection of the Priory to the powerful de Clares. One notable memorial refers to the daughter of King Edward I, Joan of Acre, who married Gilbert the Red, Earl of Clare, She is buried in the Priory’s chapel of St Vincent which she had had built. She is an ancestress of Richard III.
Impressions of Lavenham
A Short History of Lavenham
Although Lavenham dates back to Saxon times, it is best known as a medieval wool town. It was granted its market charter in 1257 and started exporting its woven cloth as far afield as Russia. By 1524, largely thanks to its wool making, specifically its blue broadcloth, the town was ranked as fourteenth richest in the country, despite its small size. It paid more tax than even the big cities of the time such as Lincoln and York.
The wealth of the town was flaunted with the construction of magnificent buildings such as the Perpendicular style church of St Peter and St Paul with its 141-foot tower and a 14th century painted rood screen..
During the reign of Henry VIII, trade sanctions and heavy taxes due to the imperial campaigns in France led to a decline in prosperity for the town and its people. In addition, Dutch refugees in nearby Colchester began weaving a lighter, cheaper and more fashionable cloth and the woollen trade in Lavenham began to fail. The town went through many years of poverty, but paradoxically this very poverty saved the medieval buildings because people couldn't afford to change them.
Nowadays it's a fascinating place to visit, but it has to be admitted that, like many other beauty spots, it can be very busy. Not surprisingly it has often been used as a film set as, used for example when it stood in for Godric's Hollow, Harry Potter's birthplace, in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1"
A video Tour of Lavenham
I first arrived in Long Melford having walked from Sudbury intending to visit the parish church of Holy Trinity there. What I had not bargained for was the two and a half mile long high street which is the longest in England. ‘Melford’ is derived from ‘mill’ and ‘ford’, and ‘Long’ doesn’t need explaining to anyone who has attempted to walk from the far end. I did manage to get far enough to see the church, but knew I'd have to return to do it justice. Several days later this was accomplished and the effort was well worth it. The bulk of the church dates from the period 1467-1497, and the style is decidedly Perpendicular. The impression inside is of light and space. Nearly all of the traceried windows contain their original medieval glass. The most striking figures are probably those of the medieval donors, who originally would have been set prayerfully at the base of windows of devotional subjects. Famously, the portrait of Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk is said to have provided the inspiration for John Tenniel's Duchess in his illustrations to Alice in Wonderland, To the north of the chancel is the Clopton chapel, with memorial brasses to Clopton family members ranging from the 15th-16th centuries. On the east side of the chapel, a doorway leads to a separate Clopton Chantry, containing the Purbeck marble tomb of John Clopton (d. 1497). The Clopton Chantry is known for its painted inscriptions, which run around the chamber at roof height.
The large Lady Chapel is almost a church in itself was added at the east end of the church by the Clopton family in 1496. The chapel is separate from the main church and has its own entrance. It is much plainer than the main body of the church but is an airy, peaceful place.
Just outside the Church is the brick hospital, founded in 1573, for twelve poor men and two poor women. On the far side of the green is the impressive Tudor house called Melford Hall.
Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford
Where we camped in Suffolk
Camping and Caravanning Site, Polstead
Set on the edge of a conservation area, the rural club site at Polstead is thoughtfully laid out and well maintained. Arranged over four small fields, there are 60 pitches in total. All are a good size and have a secluded feel. The site continues to get excellent reviews.