Some Suffolk Curiosities

I’ve moved on down to Aldeburgh a lovely little seaside town on the Suffolk coast. For a coastal resort it’s a funny place – it kind of turns its back on the sea – as walking down the High Street you would not believe that beyond the shops on the east side is a beach and fishing shore.

A Landmark

Aldeburgh has a local Landmark Trust property. It’s about a mile out of town and it’s a Martello Tower.

“This is the largest and most northerly of the chain of towers put up by the Board of Ordnance to keep out Napoleon. Built in the shape of a quatrefoil for four heavy guns, nearly a million bricks were used in its construction. It stands at the root of the Orford Ness peninsula, between the River Alde and the sea, a few hundred yards from Aldeburgh.” From The Landmark Trust website.

To me the exterior has very little appeal, the beach nearby is very stony and rocky and it’s a long old trudge from the town but I understand it’s possible to reach the roof from inside so there is somewhere outside to sit in privacy and enjoy a sea view so maybe it has something going for it after all.

A Purpose-Built Edwardian Resort

Just a couple of miles north of Aldeburgh is the quirky resort of Thorpeness. It seems to be having a revival these days.  When I visited one summer a couple of decades ago the place seemed rather quiet and run down but today children (and some adults) were enjoying rowing and sailing on The Meare and the shops and pub seemed buzzing.

Thorpeness was the brainchild of Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie the owner of nearby Sizewell Hall. He bought an area of coast and dunes and in 1910 set about establishing a purpose-built resort based on the fishing hamlet of Thorpe. He changed the name to Thorpeness. Like Aldeburgh Thorpeness also turns its back on the sea.

The Beach at Thorpeness

The main attraction for children and adults alike seems to be The Meare a manmade lake covering 64 acres with scattered islands and at no point deeper than one metre. The islands feature playhouses and characters from children’s books, in particular Peter Pan – Ogilvie was a friend of J M Barrie. The Meare opened in 1913 and many of the boats are 100 years old!

I had a leaflet outlining a trail around the village which included the Golf Club, the famous House in the Clouds, the windmill and the other eccentric and quaint seaside houses and cottages. It was good to follow the trail and see that the village was experiencing a resurgence in popularity since my last visit. Read the newspaper article that inspired me to revisit Thorpeness here.

The Former Water Tower – The House in The Clouds

A Clapperboard Holiday Bungalow – Thorpeness

Tudor Style Holiday Home

The Almshouses, Thorpeness

The Boat House with Clock Tower

Modern Sculptures

We missed many of our ports-of-call on our brief visit to the Suffolk coast this year but we did manage to get to one of our favourite places – Snape Maltings. This year we joined a River Trip on the Enchantress for a 45 minute cruise down the River Alde to Iken church and back. The highlight was seeing a family of harbour seals.

But on dry land I love to re-visit The Family of Man by Barbara Hepworth. It’s  such an evocative sculpture standing between the great concert hall of the Maltings and the acres of reed beds that so characterise this estuarine part of Suffolk.

Snape Maltings, [Barbara] Hepworth, Family of Man, 1970, group of three from the larger series, presented in memory of Benjamin Britten, wonderfully sited. The abstract – totemic appearance of the figures further suggests a non- western – timeless iconography, looking back to Hepworth’s earlier interest in Mexican sculpture and pointing to the universality of sculptural language across cultures.” ( )

Then on the beach between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness is Maggi Hambling which I also love to revisit – but didn’t actually fit in on this visit. I was last there in February 2010.

Aldeburgh, Beach, Scallop to celebrate Benjamin Britten, Maggi Hambling, with Sam and Dennis Pegg unveiled 8 November 2003, I HEAR THOSE VOICES THAT WILL NOT BE DROWNED; fine tribute, intensely disliked by most locals.”  ( ) How strange is that?


14 comments on “Some Suffolk Curiosities

  1. dianabirchall says:

    Always wanted to go to Aldeburgh because it’s where the Austen-Leighs lived, Lois Austen-Leigh the 1930s detective novelist, lived there, and one of her books is set in the Suffolk marshes. I’d like to see the Leigh Perrots’ house, Scarlets, which is near there too (I think). Though it might be in Berkshire. It’s a nursing home now.

    • I’d forgotten that you mentioned this once to the group, Diana. Still, as I always say, I have to save something for the next visit. There are other literary and, of course, literary connections and I’m saving them too.

    • ktsaxton says:

      I am in Cambridge and working on Lois Austen-Leigh’s novel(s) for the British Library Classic Crime series; I am having a difficult time figuring out how to get from Cambridge to Aldeburgh to check out where she lived (and the settings for her novels). My professorial income precludes a hired car and the trains and buses are totally confusing me–any ideas from anyone would be hugely appreciated! I would happily pay for a ride and company as well should anybody want to come poke around with me!

      • Sorry, I can’t help you, KT. Today I’m in Wales and tomorrow I travel to Ireland. Cambridge to Aldeburgh is not an easy journey by any method. Car would be best – good luck with your quest.

      • Not easy, but it’s ‘do-able’ by public transport – you can get a direct train from Cambridge to Ipswich, then a connection would take you as far as Woodbridge (lovely place, well worth a look), then a bus connects to Aldeburgh (First service 65); alternatively, pick up the bus at Ipswich, although personally I prefer to spend as little time on buses as possible!

      • ktsaxton says:

        Thanks so much! I appreciate the help.

  2. Nilly says:

    It’s a shame that Maggi Hambling’s sculpture is unpopular – it’s quite beautiful. Thank you for this visit to Suffolk – I know Norfolk well but have only visited Southwold in Suffolk.

  3. […] Family of Man. Only as recently as July I had come across an edition of this bronze work at Snape Maltings in […]

  4. Currently researching Thorpeness for an upcoming story, and thus found your delightful blog! The SO and I love the Suffolk coast, it has a slightly unreal, out-of-time quality to it that is both spooky and exhilarating – also, superb for birding!

    • Hello Alice and I’m so pleased that you enjoyed reading about the Suffolk coast here. I would love to have a link to your story when it’s done. Thorpeness definitely has all the properties for an interesting story!

  5. Dear Barbara, it seems we share yet another interest – sculptures! Delighted to find your images of Barbara Hepworth’s and Maggi Hambling’s here, especially the latter is absolutely beautiful and fits its surroundings so well. Will have to go there one day and see for myself.

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