The Ancient House, Clare, Suffolk


Earlier in December I spent a delightful four nights in this cosy, characterful property which has been for many years part of the Landmark Trust owned/managed collection. It occupies a central location in the small Suffolk town of Clare right opposite the church and shares its location with the small local Museum.

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‘The Church with the Painted Roof’ : The Work of the Huntingfield Paintress

Earlier this year I read ‘The Huntingfield Paintress’ by Pamela Holmes following reading a review in Country Life magazine.



Since very little is known about the family it’s a totally fictional account of the imagined life and real work of Mildred Holland the wife (and cousin) of the vicar of Huntingfield. It’s described here on the publisher’s website :

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Ickworth Grand Tour

The weekend before last I spent three nights staying near Bury St Edmunds at a National Trust cottage on the Ickworth Estate. A friend and I stopped to visit Ely Cathedral on our journey down from Yorkshire on Friday; we visited Bury St Edmunds Cathedral and The Moyses Hall Museum on Saturday and our plan for Sunday was to walk The Ickworth Grand Tour Walk. The IGTW is a seven mile walk that begins at the NT car park. In our case, we could begin it from our Horringer Park Gates front door.


Horringer Park Gates at Ickworth Main Entrance

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Four Speakers at Felixstowe Book Festival

Felixstowe Book Festival

This annual event takes place on the last weekend of June each year. Well, I say each year but last year was the first and this year the second time that the event has been held. In 2013 I was in Switzerland but it sounded good from the reports so this year I combined a visit with family in Norwich with a weekend  of books at Felixstowe in Suffolk.

“A weekend by the sea for all who love to read”. I’m afraid the weather in Felixstowe on both days was appalling – constant rain almost throughout – but at least I wasn’t regretting being inside – although picnic lunch outside in the hotel garden and walk to see the sea might have been nice!

Last year a couple of book group friends attended and this year a couple more: me and Diney Costeloe. Elaine (Random Jottings), who lives at nearby Colchester has been one of the volunteer helpers each year.

Diney Costeloe is a member of our group and a published author. It’s hard to write about a talk given by someone you know and like and whose books you believe deserve much more attention than they have been given. This was her first book festival talk although she has done author signings and book group discussions. Diney chose to talk about her ‘writing story’ with humour and anecdotes but also adding some of the frustrating struggles authors face trying to get published these days. I’ve read all her books and they are gripping stories each one brings to our attention an often neglected aspect of the First or Second World War.

The Ashgrove


Eight ash trees were planted in 1921 as a memorial to the men from the village of Charlton Ambrose who were killed in World War One. Now the Ashgrove is under threat from developers, and the village is torn between the need for more housing and the wish to preserve the memorial. Rachel Elliott, a local journalist, is reporting the story and uncovers a mystery… eight men and nine trees – in whose memory is the ninth tree and who planted it? As she researches the memorial a diary and letters are given to her and as the story they tell unfolds Rachel discovers her own links with the past and with the Ashgrove itself and this makes her determined to save the Ashgrove as a memorial to all the men who lost their lives.

A fictional telling of the shooting for desertion in WW1.

Death’s Dark Vale

Death's Dark Vale

“When Adelaide Anson-Gravetty discovers she is not who she thought she was, her search for her true family leads her to the convent of Our Lady of Mercy in St Croix in northern France.

The defeat of France brings German occupation to the village, the nuns are caught up in a war that threatens both their beliefs and their lives. Involved with the resistance and British agents, Adelaide and the sisters truly walk in the shadow of death as they try to protect the innocent from the evil menace of the Nazi war machine.” [source]

Fiction on the theme of the wartime resistance movement in France and involvement of British agents.

Death’s Dark Vale has links to some of the characters in The Ashgrove but both books can be read independently. In fact I read them in the opposite ‘order’.

Evil on the Wind

Evil on the wind

“It is Germany 1937. Fear and betrayal stalk the streets. People disappear. Persecution of the Jews is a national pastime. Her home destroyed, her husband arrested by the SS after an anti-Jewish riot, Ruth Friedman is left to fend for herself and her four children. Homeless, she is forced to live on her wits to protect her family. She alone stands as their shield against the Nazis. Where should she go? What must she do? Is Kurt alive? Wherever she turns, Ruth is faced with indifference, hatred, cruelty. Living with the rising tyranny of the Nazis and their determination to make their Reich Jew Free, Ruth and her family run a desperate race to escape the Nazi terror as it marches inexorably to its ‘final solution’ of the Jewish Problem.”

About the Kindertransport mission before war was declared on Germany.

One of the Festival themes was The First World War so I was interested to hear Jeff Taylor talk about The First World War in East Anglian Fiction. Like Jeff I’m interested in place in fiction. Here is what the Festival Guide says about Jeff and his theme:

“The First World War had a presence in East Anglian fiction almost as soon as the war began and this continues into the present day. From the work of H.G.Wells through to that of children’s author Michael Foreman, Jeff will summon a roll-call of imagined characters who reflect the reality of the time. Jeff wrote a long-running column on East Anglia’s rich literary heritage in the Eastern daily Press.”

Jeff told us that when first approached he only wanted to speak about R H Mottram’s ‘The Spanish Farm Trilogy’ but the festival had suggested he broaden the talk to include all East Anglian literature so towards the end, after his piece on “What if … ?” books, he rather rushed through more recent books with a 1st WW theme but managed to include Diney’s The Ashgrove which was partly inspired by Colchester’s Avenue of Remembrance.

Although I made a few notes of books to follow up Jeff offered to send a booklist to anyone who cared to leave there email address with him.

Alex Munroe is a jewellery designer and maker. I’d never heard of him but booked the talk on the strength of the enthusiastic blog piece that arrived from the festival a few weeks ago. He’s written ‘Two Turtle Doves: a memoir of making things’.

Two Turtle Doves

It’s out soon in paperback but I’ll be requesting the library buy it. He told us that he thought if his friend Edmund de Waal can write a book … then so could he (tongue in cheek). He was very self-effacing but also very funny.

Alex Munro signing

Alex Munroe meeting members of the audience and signing his book

 Elaine’s daughter Helen McCarthy spoke about her new book on women diplomats.


“Helen’s book, Women of the world: The Rise of the Female Diplomat, is the first serious attempt to explore the place of women in British diplomatic life since the 19th century. The two World Wars cast women as new players on the international stage. In this fascinating talk Helen traces their influence and experiences as wives, patrons, experts and eventually as diplomats in their own right. Helen is Senior Lecturer in History at Queen Mary, University of London and previously was a Research Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. Her first book was The British People and the League of Nations.” [Festival Notes]

All the events I attended were held in the Orwell Hotel and a couple of rooms were available for tea drinking and a local bookshop set a stall.

I stayed at a lovely old rectory B&B in the Suffolk countryside just beyond Sutton Hoo (NT) near Woodbridge.

The Old Rectory


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?

Strictly Agnes Strickland

So who is Agnes Strickland? And why am I writing about her today?

You may not have heard of her but she was a very well known author in her day. Although I had heard of her for a long time I can’t remember when I first knew that she was the author of a 12 volume history entitled : Lives of the Queens of England published between 1840 and 1848. Each volume was eagerly awaited by the public at the time.  I’ve kept a 2-page article about Agnes and her family, including her 4 literary sisters, which appeared in the Sunday Supplement to the Eastern Daily Press back in April 2009. Unfortunately, I can’t find a link to this article online.

Agnes first wrote what are now called ‘improving’ stories for children and later collaborated with her sister, Elizabeth, to produce her best-known work about the Queens of England. Elizabeth did not want her name included but Agnes was happy with her celebrity fame. Later her sister Jane Strickland wrote and published Agnes’ biography.

Two of her sisters found fame in Canada as writers – Catherine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie – Catherine’s The Backwoods of Canada (1836) became a classic as did sister Susanna’s Roughing it in the Bush (1852).  I could write more about the sisters but as I’ve called this post Strictly Agnes Strickland  I’ll stick to my subject.

Agnes was born in London in 1796. She was the second of six sisters and two brothers. Her father had business interests in London, Norwich and the small Suffolk town of Bungay. He encouraged his daughters’ education and reading habit. The family  moved to Reydon Hall in Suffolk in 1806.

Reydon Hall

When her father, Thomas Strickland, died in 1818 he had lost most of his fortune from acting as guarantor to a firm that failed. The family stayed at Reydon Hall and the daughters set about earning their livings. In 1832 the two younger daughters sailed from Southwold via Greenock to Quebec with their husbands to start new lives in Canada. When Mrs Strickland died in 1864 the family home was sold and after travelling around with various addresses Agnes decided to settle in Southwold in Park Lane in the house that is now called Strickland House.

She died there in 1874 and is buried in the churchyard of St Edmund’s parish church.

Jane Margaret, Thomas and Elizabeth Strickland tomb beside Agnes Strickland’s.

Agnes and Elizabeth carried out much of their historical research at the British Museum. The 12 volume Lives details the stories of 38 queens – from Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror, to Queen Anne. They also wrote a Lives of the Queens of Scotland and other histories.

“Agnes Strickland’s Lives of the Queens of England (1840-8) marked a new era in the writing of English history by women. ‘Facts not opinions’ was the watchword of these historical biographies, which were based on pioneering manuscript research.” (Publisher)

Last year I read the single volume selected and edited by Antonia Fraser. My friend Lyn has written a much better review than I could ever hope to do – especially as it’s some time since I read it.